Thursday in San Francisco, it was easier to get an electric bus than an electric car. Proterra, a commercial hybrid- and electric-vehicle manufacturer in Golden, Colo., finished its weeklong California clean bus tour in the city by the bay. The sleek EcoRide BE35 climbed the hills of San Francisco, flaunting its environmental and fiscal charms before California municipal and transit stakeholders.

EcoRide 35Getting bus-y? Proterra’s EcoRide BE35.

Why California? Besides being the ultimate destination for fair-weather roadtrips, the California Air Resources Board mandated that 15 percent of all municipal urban bus fleets purchased for the 2012 model-year and beyond must consist of zero-emission buses.

The EcoRide features an energy storage system that can be charged under 10 minutes as well as a regenerative braking system, which captures over 90 percent of the vehicle’s kinetic energy available while braking.

Proterra claims that a BE35 can result in up to a 400 percent improvement of fuel economy, which the company calculates to be a $310,000 savings in fuel expenses ($3.50 per gallon of diesel) over the lifetime of the vehicle. Sarahjane Sacchetti, a spokesperson for Proterra, declined to state the retail price for an EcoRide, but said that it was competitive with the fuel economy savings.

The most high-profile contract that Proterra has signed to date is the supply of a hydrogen fuel-cell bus to the city of Burbank, Calif.

In other green auto news …

• Tesla will demonstrate its prototype Model S sedan at the end of March. Because of Tesla’s agreement to build powertrains for the smart ed, CEO Elon Musk also promised customers it would be profitable this year.

• The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released its list of the greenest cars of 2009. The natural-gas powered Honda Civic GX makes the top three while the Jetta TDI clean diesel, Green Car Journal‘s Green Car of the Year and Motor Week‘s “Best Eco-Friendly” title winner, misses the list of 12.

• Marking its first foray into biofuel tech, Toyota is working with Japanese companies to bring cellulosic ethanol to market.

• The Chicago Auto Show opens to the public on Friday, Feb. 13. Green cars of note include the propane-powered Saturn Vue hybrid and a 42-mpg, three-wheeled TriFun.

• Nissan asked for loan from DOE to retool its Smyrna, Tenn. plant for EVs.

• Everybody’s favorite climate-change-skeptic General Motors executive, Bob Lutz, will retire at the end of 2009.