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The 10 most innovative companies in transportation in 2022

How BYD, Polestar, JetBlue, and others are leading the true mobile economy.

The 10 most innovative companies in transportation in 2022

Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. We’ve selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative logistics, enterprise, and consumer goods companies.

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This year’s list of the most innovative transportation companies showcases efforts to improve safety, performance, and sustainability across a range of vehicle types—cars, trucks, planes, scooters, and even school buses. Autonomous driving remains a major focus, with makers of lidar systems, such as AEye, helping vehicles—with or without drivers—to quickly and accurately identify and steer clear of threats on the road. Cupertino-based Plus offers an assist for drivers of heavy trucks, helping out with highway driving. With more countries and auto makers signing on to meet ambitious zero-emission goals, innovation in batteries and charging technologies is accelerating—see FreeWire and Ample. China’s BYD not only built a better battery for EV cars, trucks, and buses, it has also become the world’s second-biggest maker of new energy vehicles, nipping at Tesla’s heels. Polestar, while ramping up production of its luxury EVs, is taking important steps to trace raw materials in its vehicle and carbon embedded in their manufacture. Airline JetBlue made major commitments to buying sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) for its flights out of Los Angeles and New York, with a goal of converting 10% of its total jet fuel use to SAF by 2030. Meeting growing demand for flexible mobility options, scooter maker Superpedestrian is deploying its e-scooters, with new safety features, in cities worldwide, including traditionally underserved parts of Los Angeles. HopSkipDrive offers a school bus alternative for nonroutine student transport, helping school districts address budgetary challenges and a serious driver shortage. As e-commerce continued to drive soaring demand for trucking services, Merchants Fleet launched programs to help put 15,000 new and refurbished vehicles on the road, helping customers deliver 3 million packages per day. The company plans to electrify 50% of its fleet by 2025, including 12,600 new EVs from GM-owned BrightDrop.

1. BYD

For building a battery that makes EVs affordable

The Warren Buffett-backed Chinese battery company, one of China’s largest private enterprises, has become a major player in electrifying the auto industry. Backed by innovations such as its DM-i plug-in hybrid system and lightweight, lower-cost lithium iron phosphate (LFP) Blade battery, BYD grew sales of its “new energy” (hybrid or all-electric) passenger vehicles by more than 231% year over year in 2021, selling nearly 600,000 new energy passenger cars. Tesla is the only other carmaker to sell more. Toyota tapped the company to partner on batteries and others tech for a new all-electric EV for China, still in development, with a reported price tag under $30,000. BYD is also one of the biggest makers of EV buses, trucks, and forklifts—it sold 70,000 electric buses worldwide last year, and its U.S. commercial vehicle plant employs about 750 unionized workers in Lancaster, California.

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BYD is No. 20 on this year’s list of the World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies.

2. Polestar

For bringing supply-chain accountability to EV manufacturing

This Volvo (Geely)-owned EV maker aims to sell cars in 30 markets around the world in 2022, up from 18 at the end of 2021. In 2021, the company met its global sales target of 29,000 vehicles, representing 185% year-over-year growth. With increasing focus on the environmental impact materials used in EV manufacturing, in 2019 Polestar started using the blockchain to trace raw materials “where environmental or human rights risks have been identified,” starting with cobalt used in its batteries, with the aim of eventually tracking nickel, mica, manganese, graphite, and lithium, too. In 2021, Polestar began using the blockchain to track CO2 equivalents, including “embedded” carbon throughout its supply chain, with the goal of making a car that is carbon neutral in its operation and manufacturing by 2030.

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3. JetBlue

For making a market for sustainable jet fuel

The U.S. air carrier became a major buyer of sustainable aviation fuel in 2021, inking big deals on both coasts. In July, it signed up Boston-based World Energy to supply SAF for its operations at Los Angeles International Airport, committing to buy 1.5 million gallons of the blended biodiesel for at least three years, or about 5% of JetBlue’s LAX fuel. In September, JetBlue tapped Philadelphia-based SG Preston to deliver at least 670 million gallons of SAF for flight operations across its three New York airports, the airline’s largest single jet fuel contract, part of its goal to convert 30% of its fuel buy in the region to SAF.

4. Plus

For helping out on the long hauls

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The Cupertino-based maker of self-driving truck technology started delivery of its PlusDrive system in 2021. PlusDrive, which can be installed on existing trucks, offers drivers an assist, taking over and driving, supervised, on the highway in all traffic conditions. In June, Amazon announced it would buy 1,000 of the systems for its heavy trucks, and PlusDrive will also power 7,000 heavy trucks made by FAW. In 2021, the company conducted a successful demonstration of driverless autonomous trucking technology, without a human safety driver, on a public highway.

5. HopSkipDrive

For making nonroutine school transportation no big deal

Almost 30% of school transportation spending goes toward providing federally mandated, individualized transportation needs for students experiencing homelessness, in foster care, or with special needs. Using a full school bus for these individualized needs is inefficient and impractical, especially with a nationwide shortage of drivers. HopSkipDrive offers an alternative for these and other “nonroutine” student transportation needs, deploying a network of vetted drivers—nearly 20% in hybrid or EV vehicle—instead of whole buses. In 2021, the Los Angeles-based company signed more than 100 new district contracts and launched in four new markets: Spokane, Washington; Austin; Milwaukee; and Madison, Wisconsin. In July 2021, the company raised $25 million in funding, led by Energy Impact Partners.

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6. Superpedestrian

For making scooters safer and more accessible

In 2021, Superpedestrian launched the first large fleets of its Link e-scooter in 50 cities worldwide, including Seattle, Madrid, and Los Angeles, where the company will deploy 5,000 scooters, many of them in neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked mobility options. The scooters come equipped with an onboard “pedestrian defense” system that detects and corrects a range of unsafe driving behaviors in real time, and geofencing, which keeps them from driving into crosswalks and other hazards. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company had revenue of about $20 million in 2021, up from $1.4 million in 2020.

7. FreeWire

For providing a charge-up even when the power is down

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FreeWire‘s Boost Charger enables fast charging anywhere, delivering high power DC charging by tapping into existing low-voltage grid infrastructure, and working even when the grid is down, thanks to integrated lithium-ion batteries. The Boost is the only commercially available battery-integrated fast EV charger in the U.S.; in the U.K., BP plans to install up more than 500 chargers at stations. With $50 million in new funding this year plus a $3.4 million grant from the California Energy Commission, FreeWire aims to deploy more than 5,000 of its ultrafast charging stations by 2025.

8. AEye

For making lidar that sees the small stuff

This Bay Area company’s next-generation, software-configurable lidar sensor offers four times the range and five times more “detects” than conventional lidar, enabling better stopping and avoidance capabilities at highway speeds. Ultrahigh resolution enables vehicles to quickly and accurately identify and classify threats, especially small objects, in order to avoid accident, with scan rates 10 to 20 times the speed of conventional lidar. In 2021, German multinational Continental AG announced that it would integrate AEye’s lidar into its automated driving platform, starting volume production in 2024. AEye also partnered with autonomous technology company TuSimple for heavy-duty trucking applications, and with Nvidia to integrate AEye into its autonomous vehicle platform.

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[Illustration: Daniel Salo; Photos: MicroStockHub/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Vladimiroquai/iStock/Getty Images Plus (Ample)]

9. Ample

For building a modular solution to EV battery swapping

In 2021, San Francisco-based Ample unveiled a Lego-style modular battery swapping technology that uses stations manned with robots to swap out modular battery packs in EVs from any carmaker, which the company says is three to four times faster than current charging solutions. In January, Ample landed a partnership with Uber, which will use the swapping stations at some Bay Area locations and in Europe, where Uber aims to electrify half of its rides in major cities. Ample is also working with Japanese energy company ENEOS, Singapore’s public transit operator SMRT, and EV fleet operator Sally, which launched the first yellow taxi EV fleet in New York City. The company raised a total of $210 million in 2021, from backers including Blackstone and Banco Santander.

10. Merchants Fleet

For going the last mile for pandemic-slammed customers

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As online shopping surged and customers faced unprecedented demand for last mile and logistics services during COVID-19, this nearly 60-year-old New Hampshire fleet management company put more than 20,000 delivery vehicles on the road in 2021, helping them convey 4 million packages per day. As the pandemic dried up the nationwide supply of used vehicles, the company launched Merchants Commercial Sales, making pre-owned commercial vehicles available to customers, and started the GuaranteeBuy program to let clients sell underutilized fleet vehicles for a guaranteed fair market price. In 2021, Merchants Fleet announced an initiative to electrify 50% of its fleet by 2025, with plans to order 18,000 new EV600 and EV410 electric vehicles from GM-owned BrightDrop.

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