OK, it’s probably not because of this past summer’s appearance by CEO David Demers on CNBC’s Mad Money, with bombastic host Jim Cramer. Nonetheless, recent filings revealed that legendary investor George Soros, through his hedge fund group Soros Fund Management, became the largest shareholder of Westport Innovations in the first quarter of 2010. Soros now has a 5% stake in the Vancouver based company.
It’s been quite a run for Vancouver based Westport Innovations. The Company, whose stock was going for barely $4 a share in late 2008, recently hit a high of $20.99, on July 23rd of this year.
Founded in 1996, Westport is a developer of environmental technologies such as high-pressure direct injection combustion technology. This technology allows diesel engines to operate on cleaner burning gaseous fuels, such as natural gas, without sacrificing performance or fuel economy. Westport grew out of a research project by Professor Philip Hill at the University of British Columbia’s Mechanical Engineering Department. Hill was developing a concept called high pressure direct injection (HPDI) of natural gas.
In 1994, through UBC’s University-Industry Liaison Office, Hill met current Westport CEO David Demers. In 1995, with HPDI technology as its principal strategic asset, Westport Innovations Inc. was formed. Today the company does more than $120 million in revenue (FY 2009) and has created valuable strategic alliances with some of the world’s largest engine and vehicle manufacturer, such as Volvo, Cummins, and Kenworth.
Recent improvement in technologies such as shale fracking and the production of liquefied natural gas from coal bed methane have driven up the supply of natural gas and subsequently sent the price plummeting. US Congress has prepared legislation, with bipartisan support, that would provide incentives to large fleet operators to switch to natural gas vehicles. There are currently more than 12 million natural gas vehicles in the world, but barely 120,000 in the United States.