This Week’s Top 10: VW settlements and indictments, EPA claims on FCA diesel emissions

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. VW settlements and indictments: Volkswagen continued to settle criminal and civil charges with U.S. federal agencies, while six VW executives were indicted by the Department of Justice tied to the German automaker’s diesel emissions scandal. One executive was arrested at a Miami airport while trying to leave for Germany, while five of the six were thought to be residing in that country. Additional VW executives are being investigated and may face charges, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said. In its settlements, VW agreed to pay a $2.8 billion criminal fine to the federal government, and will operate under the oversight of a court-appointed independent monitor for three years. The company will additionally pay $1.45 to settle civil claims filed by the Customs and Border Protection agency over violations of U.S. customs and environmental laws. The automaker will also pay the DOJ $50 million for additional claims falling under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). VW is also waiting to see the outcomes and costs coming from investigations by state attorneys general; and from lawsuits brought by shareholders who accuse Volkswagen of waiting too long to disclose the financial risk of its emissions cheating.
  2. EPA claims on FCA diesel emissions: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday accused Fiat Chrysler Automobiles of illegally using hidden software to allow excess diesel emissions to go undetected. About 104,000 affected vehicles include the light-duty model year 2014, 2015, and 2016 Jeep Grand Cherokees and Dodge Ram 1500 trucks with 3-liter diesel engines sold in US, the EPA said. FCA vehicles are being investigated for software that calibrates an engine’s performance and controls emissions levels, and that can shut off in certain situations. FCA shares plummeted with a possible maximum fine of about $4.6 billion possibly being filed. Share prices have stabilized in Europe since then. Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne rejected the allegations, characterizing the dispute as whether the automaker had completely disclosed software that protects the engine. Marchionne also said that FCA was planning updated software to address EPA concerns.
  3. EPA closes mid-term review: The EPA has finalized its move to end the mid-term review on 2025 fuel economy standards aiming for average mileage to be in the low-50s (and closer to upper 30s mpg on window stickers). The federal agency had received objections from automakers in November when it shortened the timetable for the mid-term review of its mandate to raise corporate average fuel economy of new vehicles; the agency had received public comments on whether to modify the 2022-2025 model year vehicle emission rules. Timing was moved up from April 2018 to January by the EPA, prior to the Trump administration taking over the executive branch. Automakers have been in talks with the Trump transition team, arguing that the strict rules impose significant costs and are not in line with consumers favoring pickups and SUVs over small, fuel-efficient cars. Consumers Union, the policy division of Consumer Reports, praised the decision for offering some protection from future gas price volatility and significant fuel savings, even if gas prices stay down.
  4. Bolt platform: General Motors CEO Mary Barra last week said a “huge range of vehicles” will be spun off from the Chevy Bolt electric car platform, while at the Detroit auto show; few details were given. “The Bolt is our platform that we’re going to continue on and have a huge range of vehicles,” Barra said, “so we haven’t announced them yet, but you’re going to see more coming.”
  5. ACT Expo: The Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo has released an agenda for the annual event, taking place May 1-4, 2017, once again in Long Beach, Calif. It offers an opportunity to gain insight on the latest trends and technologies driving the future of fleet transportation, including: Available near-zero and zero emission technology from leading OEMs; Volkswagen settlement funds and other lucrative grants and incentives; Current policy landscape: what to expect from the new Trump Administration; Future of heavy-duty trucks: ultra-efficient, platooning and automated trucks; Developments in electric vehicles and charging infrastructure for all applications; Increasingly sustainable and connected urban mobility; and, The role of fleet vehicle operations in Smart City. There’s a Call for Abstracts, due February 3, for presenters interested in speaking at the conference.
  6. Hybrid pickup: Honda is adding a dedicated hybrid pickup to its lineup for a 2018 rollout. It’s part of the Honda Electrification Initiative, which will add to the company’s electrified vehicles. That announcement was made by Takahiro Hachigo, Honda’s president and CEO, at the Detroit auto show. The hybrid pickup will be manufactured at a plant in the U.S. Honda set a global target for two-thirds of all sales to come from electrified models by 2030 and to halve its total company CO2 emissions from 2000 levels by 2050. “Half of the all-new models Honda will launch in the United States in the coming two years will be electrified vehicles,” Hachigo said. “In the long term, electrified vehicles are key to the future of carbon-free mobility.”
  7. DME-powered trash truck: Oberon Fuels said that it has its first customer demonstration of a Dimethyl Ether (DME)-powered Mack truck, a Mack Pinnacle. Oberon, a DME producer, and Mack are working with the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to operate the demonstration vehicle at the Fresh Kills Landfill, and evaluate performance and overall drivability. The test is the first step in the city’s evaluation of both DME trucks and DME fuel as a potential long-term strategy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050; and to achieve the city’s goal of sending zero waste to landfill by 2030.
  8. Self-driving Uber cars: Although Uber is setting up autonomous vehicle test projects around the country, the company has no plans to replace all its drivers with robots. Speaking last week at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit, Sherif Marakby, vice president of global vehicle system for Uber, said that drivers’ jobs will not be eliminated. The key benefit to bringing autonomous vehicles into its fleet will be to reduce costs to customers during peak demand times when prices can skyrocket up as much as five times the normal fare rate. Several Uber customers have been complaining about this “surge pricing” practice as a form of gouging. “The biggest problem in ride-sharing is supply — having enough drivers in peak times. Automated vehicles will help smooth out surge times,” he said.
  9. Free Tesla charging fading away: Supercharging is only going to be free for limited periods of time for Tesla drivers. Starting January 15, the company enacted a new program offering Model S and Model X owners that give them about 1,000 miles, or 400 kilowatt-hours, per year for free. From there, the cost for Supercharging will differ from state to state and province to province. Examples of what it will cost include a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a distance of 383 miles, that will cost about $15. Driving from Los Angeles to New York will cost about $120.
  10. Two electrified vehicles in Detroit: Guangzhou Automotive Corporation (GAC) was the only Chinese automaker at the Detroit auto show this month. Two thirds of its new launches are electrified vehicles. The GE3 is a new electric crossover, the first vehicle based on GAC’s new electric-car platform. It will be launched on in China in March. The platform will be used in an upcoming sedan, an SUV, and a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV). The GAC EnSpirit is a plug-in hybrid concept car previewing a sporty coupe-SUV. The third vehicle is a GS7, a five-seat gasoline-engine SUV. It is a smaller version of the existing seven-seat GS8 SUV. GAC is the fifth largest automaker in China, and builds vehicles with joint venture partners, FCA, Honda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota. The Chinese automaker also manufactures vehicles under its own Trumpchi brand. That brand name wasn’t promoted at the Detroit auto show.

Taking a look at expiring federal tax credits and available state incentives for PEVs

Nearly all the market forecasts you’ll read on plug-in electrified vehicles mention government incentives as essential for seeing sales numbers grow. These include tax credits and rebates, and in the U.S. that breaks down to available federal tax credits and a few states that are offering rebates and other attractive incentives.

As for the federal tax credits that come with purchasing a PEV, the highest credit of $7,500 applies to battery electric vehicles (with a few exceptions); plug-in hybrids are usually seeing tax credits in the $4,000 to $5,000 range. These tax credits do phase-out out eventually, based on how many PEV units have been sold. InsideEVs has published an analysis piece looking at the current state of tax credits per automaker.

Whether the new Trump administration will work to continue the tax credits is unknown. The program could be reviewed and adjusted sometime in the second half of 2017. It’s also possible that the new administration could let tax credit incentives fade out and disappear by not renewing them.

The IRS defines the tax credit phase-out process as: “The federal tax credit begins to phase out for a manufacturer’s vehicles when at least 200,000 qualifying vehicles have been sold for use in the United States (determined on a cumulative basis for sales after December 31, 2009).”

Each automaker’s qualifying PEV receives a federal credit until the 200,000th plug-in vehicle is registered inside the U.S.; at that point, tax credits are reduced and then phased-out over an allotted time period. Once the 200K mark is reached, the full tax credit continues through the end of that quarter and until the end of the next one. Credits on a $7,500 tax credit will drop to $3,750 for the next six months, and then to $1,875 for the next six months before going away. The chart below shows the phase-out quarter being the estimated time period when the tax incentive disappears.


  • BEV = battery electric vehicles or all-electric vehicles. PHEV = plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
  • Several of the vehicles listed on the U.S. Department of Energy’s have been discontinued from production, such as the Cadillac ELR, Chevrolet Spark EV, and Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid. The chart above only lists vehicles currently being sold at retail lots.
  • Phase-out estimates include vehicles previously sold qualifying for tax credits that have ended production and are no longer being sold.
  • $7,500 tax credits usually apply only to battery electric vehicles; however, manufacturers were able to get $7,500 credits for a few plug-in hybrids, including the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Chevrolet Volt, and Via Motors’ extended range trucks and vans.
  • Fuel cell vehicles (Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity) qualified for $8,000 federal tax credits, and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell for a $7,500 credit. These tax credits had been set to expire at the end of 2016 but could later be extended.
  • Manufacturers that have no phase-out estimates listed in the chart will take beyond 2021 to see their phase-out, as they’re far from reaching the 200,000 units registered units in the federal tax credits.

Tesla Motors has the earliest phase-out in this forecast. The Tesla Model 3, which will launch by late this year, is behind the estimate of Tesla being the first automaker to lose its available tax credits.

As for state incentives, Tesla reports that 15 states offer electric vehicle incentives, along with the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. California’s attractive $5,000 rebate not long ago was split in half to $2,500; Rhode Island is the second state to offer a $2,500 rebate, which is the highest available rebate in the U.S.

Tesla reports that only four states will have HOV carpool lane stickers available as an incentive to buy in that state. These states are: Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, and Utah. California isn’t listed as one of them, though the state reports that white clean air stickers for battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be available through the end of 2018; and green stickers for plug-in hybrids will be available indefinitely.

Incentives vary by state, where some programs include PEV purchasing and HOV carpool lane stickers, and others include charging and parking incentives. Plug In America offers a state-by-state PEV program map with detailed reporting by state.




This Week’s Top 10: Electrified highlights from Detroit auto show, Green car sales in December

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. volkswagen-i-d-buzzDetroit auto show: The North American International Auto Show has not been dominated by certain vehicle types, such as pickups and SUVs might have done in the past. Plug-in electrified vehicles have played their part, along with futuristic concept vehicles and mobility services. Back-to-back with the influential CES 2017 show in Las Vegas, the two car shows have had a few things in common. Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz has taken a lot of attention. The electric microbus of the future is built on the MEB platform and may be able to travel 270 miles once fully charged. It offers maximum space utilization with all-wheel drive, electric motors at the front and rear axles, a fully autonomous driving mode (“I.D. Pilot”), and a new generation of display elements and controls…. The all-new Chevy Bolt electric car continues to win big awards, taking the North American Car of the Year award. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan was named North American Utility of the Year, the first time the award has been given out, and it also comes in a plug-in hybrid variation….. BMW showed its new 530 iPerformance plug-in hybrid. At 248 hp, it will go to 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds. It will also deliver up to 14 miles in all-electric mode, earning an EPA-rated 64 MPGe. The rear-wheel drive version will start at $51,400 while the all-wheel drive xDrive version will begin at $53,700…… Ford presented its vision for the “City of Tomorrow.” It looks at how near-term mobility advancements – including autonomous and electric vehicles, ride-sharing, ride-hailing, and connected vehicles – interact with urban infrastructure and create a transportation ecosystem to deal with challenges such as gridlock and air pollution. Ford’s City Solutions team has been working with cities around the world to propose, pilot, and develop mobility solutions. The team also is beginning to collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies and its global coalition of mayors…… Toyota rolled out a redesigned 2018 Camry with more interior space, advancements in its drive system, and a hybrid version that gets Prius-like fuel economy……… Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced that the former Google self-driving car division has been able to drop the cost of its Lidar sensors from about $75,000 per vehicle to about $7,500, which will help lower the cost of autonomous vehicle technologies for interested automaker partners. These new Lidar systems will be installed soon in 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans that Waymo acquired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles…… Audi unveiled the all-new Q8 SUV plug-in hybrid that will be out in production next year. It will be Audi’s second plug-in hybrid to enter the U.S. market, following the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron station wagon.
  2. Green car sales: The Tesla Model S took back the No .1 spot in plug-in vehicle sales during December, bumping out the Chevy Volt, according to sales figures from and Baum & Associates. Chevrolet did have a good month with the brand-new Chevy Bolt coming in at No. 10 with 579 units sold, far more than a few other electric cars had seen at their birth in the marketplace. The Volt came in at 3,691 units sold (following the Model S at 5,300 in estimated sales). The Volt beat its previous all-time of high 3,351 sold. The Toyota Prius Prime did pretty well, closing the month at 1,641 units sold. Plug-in sales were up 64.8% over the previous month and up 73.9% over December 2015. Hybrid sales were up 21.2% over November and up 6.5% over December 2015.
  3. Faraday Future at CES: While the future of Faraday Future has been called in question with key executives leaving and as lawsuits have been filed by unpaid suppliers, CES 2017 turned out to be about as good for the startup as it was the year before. Revealing its FF91 electric SUV has gone well so far, with the company announcing that 64,124 reservations were placed within 36 hours of its launch at the show. The company didn’t clarify how many in this group made their $5,000 down payment. Faraday Future says that it’s a production car and deliveries will begin in 2018. Will the company be able to get through its tough times and have its North Las Vegas consistently running at full speed?
  4. ChargePoint Express Plus: ChargePoint has launched ChargePoint Express Plus, a fast DC charging solution that is ready for the electric cars, buses, and trucks. Express Plus can charge today’s newest electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, at their maximum rate; is equipped to charge upcoming EVs such as the Tesla Model 3 and is ready to deliver maximum charging speed to EVs coming to market in the years to come. A modular platform designed for businesses and charging centers along major roadways or transit depots, Express Plus can deliver up to 400 kilowatts (kW) to an EV, the company said in its release.
  5. Gigafactory starts up: Tesla Motor’s Gigafactory in the Reno, Nevada, area has started rolling its first battery cells off production lines to power the company’s energy storage products and, before long, the Model 3 electric car. More than 2,900 people are already working at the facility, and more than 4,000 additional jobs (including temporary construction jobs) will be added during 2017 through the partnership between Tesla and Panasonic Corp. Tesla also plans to begin shipping the Powerwall 2 home batteries by the end of this month, at prices that by some estimates are 30% cheaper than the closest competitor’s product.
  6. Chrysler Portal: Chrysler unveiled its 250-mile range Portal electric minivan Concept at CES 2017 that may have autonomous vehicle capabilities. The new EV will offer touch screens, ports, and social media options to find interest from Millennial car shoppers. Parent company FCA said it will be an urban mobility vehicle of the future. The six-passenger minivan “explores the possibility of what a family transportation vehicle could look like,” Chrysler said.
  7. Toyota AI concept car: Toyota Motor Corp. revealed the “Concept-i” at CES 2017. Embedded in the concept car is “Yui,” Toyota’s artificial intelligence system. Yui monitors driver behavior, interacting with the driver to facilitate the driver-vehicle relationship customized to the driver’s tastes, patterns, and road conditions. Toyota said it was built from the inside out, with a focus on making it immersive, energetic and, approachable. The Concept-i “will enhance that relationship between car and driver.” Toyota said it will be testing some of the concept vehicle’s technologies on Japan’s roads in the next few years.
  8. Volvo carsharing: Volvo Cars will establish a new shared mobility business unit as part of a broad expansion of its carsharing and mobility services strategy. It will be based around Sunfleet, one of the world’s first car sharing companies that has been operated by the automaker since 1998. Based in Sweden, the Sunfleet division has around 50,000 subscribers generating approximately 250,000 transactions in more than 50 Swedish cities, the company said.
  9. Clean Energy stock value: Natural gas prices have risen over 30% in the last two months to current levels of around $3.30 per million British thermal units since the beginning of November 2016. That rally in pricing should be good for business for Clean Energy Fuels, according to a Seeking Alpha investor and analyst. Clean Energy should be able to enter into fuel contracts at better prices. Growth may come from the transit bus and refuse truck markets. About 60% of new refuse trucks are operating on natural gas in the U.S., the analyst said.
  10. Battery cells for EVs: Volkswagen Group is weighing and balancing a big decision as it prepares to hit its ambitious target of manufacturing up to three million electric vehicles per year by 2025. The German automaker is reviewing bids from six battery cell suppliers for its EV lineup. Several other automakers are in a similar situation as VW – should they manufacture their own battery cells? Tesla Motors and Panasonic have started this process at the Gigafactory in Nevada this month, but other automakers are tending to see outsourcing to more than one battery cell manufacturer as the necessary way to go.

Will fuel cell vehicles be able to thrive and surpass plug-in vehicle sales?

toyota-mirai-at-hydrogen-stationThe question of which clean technology will prevail in the car of the future continues to permeate the auto industry. Plug-in electrified vehicle sales led the way in recent months, breaking the 1% mark of total sales in the U.S. for the first time in November; and seeing ambitious PEV product launch announcements from Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, and Toyota in the fall. That was triggered by Tesla receiving more than 400,000 down payments soon after showing its Model 3 reveal during the spring; and post-VW “dieselgate” scandal government crackdowns increased in Europe, the U.S., and South Korea.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are starting to see new vehicle launches and more stations being built, but it still has a very slight presence in the global market. But long-term, global auto executives think fuel cell vehicles will win out over PEVs in volume sales. One of the issues involved is that California’s zero emission vehicles mandate counts battery electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, but is phasing out plug-in hybrids; and nine other states are also following California’s ZEV guidelines.

A new study from KPMG took a deep look at this issue, and several other technology innovations and pressures shaping the next phase of the industry’s future. Here are a few key findings:

  • KPMG’s Global Automotive Executive Survey 2017 interviewed almost 1,000 senior executives from auto industry companies, including automakers, suppliers, dealers, financial services providers, rental companies, mobility services providers, and companies from the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Additionally, more than 2,400 consumers from around the world were surveyed to share their perspectives and have them compared against the opinions of leading auto executives.
  • As for top issues auto executives see shaping the industry in the near future:

No. 1:  battery electric vehicles (BEVs) with regulatory pressure pushing awareness for             electrification
No. 2: connectivity and digitalization
No. 3: fuel cell electric vehicles
No. 4: hybrid electric vehicles
No. 8: mobility as a service/carsharing
No. 9: autonomous and self-driving cars

  • Battery electric mobility shot up from No. 9 in 2015 to No. 1 in 2017.
  • KPMG consulting analysts see the success of BEVs depending on infrastructure and application. “Success of BEVs depends on infrastructure and application. Coordinated actions for infrastructure set-up, and a clear distinction of reasonable application areas (e.g. urban, long-distance) needs to be established,” said Moritz Pawelke, global executive for automotive at KPMG.
  • The report sees a few market trends clashing together, lost in translation, between evolutionary, revolutionary, and disruptive key trends that all need to be managed at the same times. Industry executive are “torn in between” as traditional combustion engines have become even more technologically relevant, but socially unacceptable. It’s also a new phase in the industry history where connectivity, mobility services, and automated vehicles are approaching faster than expected.
  • Executives are tipping toward fuel cell vehicles may be that they have a strong attachment to the existing infrastructure and traditional vehicle applications. That comes from fast fueling and liquid gas pumps at fueling stations, and an existing fueling infrastructure carrying hydrogen in pipelines and tanker trucks.
  • Setting up a user-friendly charging infrastructure is the problem leading 62% of the surveyed auto industry executives to believe that BEVs will fail.
  • In contrast, 78% of executives believe fuel cell electric vehicles will be the “golden bullet of electric mobility.”
  • “The faith in FCEVs can be explained by the hope that FCEVs will solve the recharging and infrastructure issue BEVs face today. The refueling process can be done quickly at a traditional gas station, making recharging times of 25-45 minutes for BEVs seem unreasonable. However, this technology is far from market maturity and will bring new unsolved challenges like the cooling of hydrogen or the safe storage in a car,” the study said.

I would also list a few other major challenges fuel cell electric vehicles face competing against PEVs and petroleum-powered vehicles:

  1. Less experience with the technology by consumers and fleet operators. There’s concern over safety, reliability, cost, and refueling infrastructure outside of California.
  2. Sales volume has been soft and will take years to grow. For example, HybridCars’ Dashboard reports that there were 1,034 Toyota Mirais, the top-selling fuel cell vehicle by far, in the U.S. during 2016. That compares with 29,156 Tesla Model S units and 24,739 of Chevy Volt units, the two top selling plug-in models in the U.S. last year.
  3. Europe is beating the U.S. in hydrogen stations, but the sales are still behind the limited numbers seen so far in the U.S. The European Alternative Fuels Observatory reported in December that there are over 75 hydrogen fueling stations in operation in Europe, more than double the U.S. with its current level being 33 as of early December, according to U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. EAFO also reported that there are about 500 passenger fuel cell electric vehicles on European roads, with only about 200 of these units sold during 2016.
  4. Fast chargers are breaking through in the U.S., and will see more activity in Europe and Asia. That’s being led by Tesla’s Supercharger network and the EVgo and ChargePoint networks in the U.S.; and German automakers in Europe.
  5. Hydrogen stations are being established as singular, hydrogen-only stations and not as part of existing retail gas stations. The KPMG study indicates that those surveyed and writing the report assume that hydrogen pumps will be added to gas stations, but that hasn’t been the case so far.
  6. Hydrogen stations cost about $1 to $2 million per station to build, and need to have their hydrogen supply trucked in or coming through a hydrogen pipeline. While the Shell hydrogen station in Torrance, Calif., sponsored by Honda and Toyota, has fuel coming in from a pipeline, the other stations usually have the fuel delivered by tanker trucks like the ones used at gas stations. Government backing is helping a lot of these hydrogen stations to be developed in California, Europe, and Japan, but long-term, the fueling question will need to be resolved. That would likely include the home hydrogen station concept being explored by Honda.

Here are a few more points to consider on the future of cars:

  • Automakers are still resisting spending enough on marketing PEVs to help get car buyers to take them more seriously. The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, a nonprofit group made up of air-quality regulators from eight states, just issued a report on this topic. Car companies are targeting them at a few select state like California and not going national like they are with gasoline-powered vehicles. Automakers are spending their finite ad budgets on vehicles known to sell well and generate profits, like pickups, SUVs, and luxury cars. PEVs haven’t become profitable for them yet.
  • Hybrids aren’t going away even if ZEV regulations are heading in that direction. Over the next 5 years, 53% of automotive executives in the KPMG study are planning to highly invest in plug-in hybrids and 52% in ICEs and full hybrids. Hybrids make up nearly 3% of new vehicle sales compared to plug-ins, and plug-in hybrids are doing very well including the Chevy Volt in the U.S. and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV in Europe.
  • Carsharing, ride-hailing, and ridesharing aren’t just a momentary fad. According to the KPMG study, by 2025, more than half of all car owners today will no longer want to own a car. That comes from 59% of auto execs and 35% of consumers surveyed. Auto execs think that disruption will led to more support for mobility as a service, and shared vehicles and trips. I would agree with other analysts who also believe vehicle electrification will play a big part in the shared economy. Young consumers tend to be more interested in electric vehicles and supportive of the technology, especially if it’s powered by renewable energy. They’re more likely to use Uber, Lyft, Zipcar, and other mobility services and have been losing interest in owning cars.
  • China is the leading auto market in the world, and sales of “new energy vehicles” are expected to grow. India will soon be the largest nation in the world, surpassing China’s population in the near future based on current birth rates. About two thirds of the auto executives interviewed think that the global share of new vehicle sales will reach 40% sold in China by 2030. Two-thirds of those interviewed think that India won’t come anywhere near China in new vehicle sales in 2030. PEV sales in India have been slight compared to China, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., and Europe.

This Week’s Top 10: Ford adding seven new electrified vehicles, China cutting subsidies for plug-in vehicles

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Ford announces seven of 13 electrified vehicles: Ford CEO Mark Fields gave a speech this morning announcing the introduction of an all-new battery electric small SUV, coming by 2020, which has been engineered to deliver an estimated range of at least 300 miles. It’s one of seven of 1ford-electrified-vehicle-announcment3 new global electrified vehicles the automaker plans to introduce in the next five years, including hybrid versions of the F-150 pickup and Mustang in the U.S., and a plug-in hybrid Transit Custom van in Europe. A high-volume autonomous hybrid vehicle designed for commercial ride hailing or ride sharing will be launched globally in 2021, starting in North America. Ford will also launch two new, pursuit-rated hybrid police vehicles. The automaker will be adding 700 direct new U.S. jobs and investing $700 million during the next four years, creating the new Manufacturing Innovation Center at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan.
  2. China cutting new energy vehicle subsidies: Makers of plug-in cars, commercial trucks, and buses will have their generous subsidies cut this year by the Chinese government in the wake of misreporting of production and sales to the government. The Ministry of Finance put caps on subsidies and increased technical specifications required to receive funding, Reuters reported. News had surfaced in September about a scandal with false reports being submitted, along with failure to meet technical requirements needed to gain more “new energy vehicle” government funding for plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Subsidies have been considered to be primary driver for making China the world’s largest market for EV sales. Busmakers had their subsidies cut in half, from a previous cap of 600,000 yuan (about $86,000) down to 300,000 yuan ($43,000) per vehicle. For plug-in passenger cars, incentives started being reduced with a 20% drop in 2017. Medium and heavy-duty trucks, and specialized-use vehicles will be capped at 150,000 yuan ($21,584). Local government subsidies will be capped at 50% of what the national government is making available. Technical specs include measuring by energy density and range requirements. Fast chargers for buses will receive more in subsidies. The national government has also been adding automakers to its list of companies being granted licenses to manufacture plug-in vehicles and receive subsidies. A division of Jiangling Motors became the seventh company allowed in the system in late December; Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group, owner of Karma Automotive and A123 Systems, was added earlier in the month.
  3. Nissan plug-in hybrid: Nissan may be manufacturing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, according to a senior Nissan official. The collaboration forged last year between Nissan-Renault and Mitsubishi would mean that the new plug-in model will use technology from the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Takashi Shirakawa, head of R&D for Nissan Europe, said that the Nissan plug-in hybrid will use Mitsubishi technology. The Outlander PHEV has become the top-selling plug-in electrified vehicle sold in Europe. It’s due to come the U.S. sometime this summer. Nissan so far has had all-electric models in its lineup, the Leaf and the e-NV200 concept van. In the first part of December, Japan’s Nikkei reported that Nissan-Renault will be collaborating with Mitsubishi on a common EV platform. The global automaker said the goal of the common framework was to reduce the price of an EV by about 20 percent, and more in line with the price of gasoline-powered vehicles. Key components, such as the motor, inverter, and battery, will be shared by Nissan-Renault and Mitsubishi.
  4. Self-driving Fusion Hybrid: Ford will be showing its next-generation Fusion Hybrid with autonomous vehicle features at CES starting this week in Las Vegas. It’s said to have more computing power, advanced Lidar sensors, and a more targeted field of vision than previous self-driving test Fusions. Ford is using the car as part of its larger strategy to have production-ready fully autonomous vehicles available in the next few years. New features along with the enhanced Lidar system include cameras and radar, algorithms for location and path planning, computer vision and machine learning, highly detailed 3D maps, and adequate computing space and power. “The car must be able to perform what a human can behind the wheel,” said Chris Brewer, chief program engineer for Ford’s Autonomous Vehicle Development, adding that “our virtual driver system is designed to do just that.”
  5. From Volt to Bolt: It’s taken a little less than 10 years from the introduction of the Chevy Volt concept at the 2007 Detroit auto show until affordable, long-range electric Chevy Bolts started being delivered to the first buyers. Automotive News covered the history of these plug-in vehicles, including General Motors’ bankruptcy and the important role both the Volt and Bolt have been playing as GM has reinvented its corporate identity in the industry. It’s been over 20 years (1996) since GM launched the EV1 in very limited numbers; but that electric car has been credited many times in the history of electric vehicles; including GM now working hard at making up for having quickly pulled the EV1 off the assembly line. GM’s investment in ride-hailing firm Lyft and their joint testing of self-driving Bolts marks a landmark in the changing role automakers are taking on in electrification, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services.
  6. Lamborghini Urus plug-in hybrid: Lamborghini R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani said a high-performance plug-in hybrid SUV will likely be revealed in 2017 and go on sale in 2018. The Lamborghini Urus will also be released as a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8 model, he said. Turbocharging will be part of the performance power for the PHEV and twin-turbo V8 versions. The Volkswagen-owned sports car brand says it will become “the ultimate super athlete in the SUV segment.”
  7. Autopilot features added: Tesla Motors continued putting the pieces in place for its fully autonomous hardware to move forward – and to keep it integrated with the semi-autonomous Autopilot system. CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday about the company beginning testing Autopilot safety features through a software upload to 1,000 new Tesla vehicles that have been built with the fully-autonomous hardware. Model S and Model X vehicles built after October have the fully-automated features built in, in what Musk calls “Hardware 2;” these new vehicles had Autopilot safety features left out for testing later to make sure they’re compatible. The 1,000 vehicles received a software upload with the Autopilot safety features added over the weekend to work out any problems; and to bring them in line with older Model S vehicles that had received Autopilot hardware once it started being added in September 2014.
  8. Propane vehicles sales growth: Roush CleanTech has found converting and selling propane-powered school buses to be taking off in the market, along with its propane vans and heavy-duty pickups.  It took the company six years to sell over 14,000 propane vehicles, but the company is on track to sell 6,000 more vehicles converted to run on propane autogas by the of 2017. The company says that it’s been able to make the business case that propane makes for a better, more cost effective alternative fuel than compressed natural gas.
  9. LCFS summit: Calstart is holding the fifth annual Clean, Low-Carbon Fuels Summit on February 27-28, 2017, in Sacramento. The Summit is known for being one of the premier gatherings which brings together legislators, regulators, and industry executives to discuss what is needed for the low-carbon fuels industry.  This year’s program will jointly focus on opportunities for California, as well as developments happening in other states and Canada. We will also be taking stock of what the incoming US presidential administration means for the clean, low-carbon fuels industry. For the first time, the Summit is open to the public. You can receive the early bird rate if you register by January 14.
  10. FCA automated electric car: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled a new, semi-autonomous electric minivan at CES in Las Vegas yesterday. Called the Chrysler Portal, the vehicle was “created by millennials for millennials,” according to FCA. The automaker worked with Samsung Electronics as its provider of 360 degree cameras and other sensors, and Panasonic Automotive as its supplier for infotainment, wireless connectivity and audio systems, the company said.

Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017, Part 2: Looking at autonomous vehicles, urban mobility, infrastructure, and renewable fuels and energy

Here’s part two of my analysis of 2016 events and a forecast of 2017 trends in clean transportation and mobility:

Autonomous vehicles:

Uber autonomous vehicle test projectMichigan now leading the way: Last month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills to clear the way for self-driving cars to operate on public roads and re-establish the state as the leader in automotive innovation. The Michigan bills establish regulations for the testing, use, and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology, and were crafted to more clearly define how self-driving vehicles can be legally used on public roadways. The new laws allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human control – which aims to propel Michigan ahead of California, which had been the leading state in the U.S. for testing autonomous vehicles.

The federal government is going in that direction as well, issuing long-awaited guidelines backing fully autonomous vehicles in September. The U.S. Department of Transportation would like to see uniform, national policies applying to autonomous vehicles. In a joint appearance, Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, released guidelines that encourage technology innovations from companies balanced with concerns over public safety.

Uber continued testing its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, but decided to move from California to Arizona. Uber last month used Otto flatbed trucks to move its autonomous Volvo cars to Arizona after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked registration of the company’s self-driving cars. California had made regulatory threats to Uber, and things got worse when the ride-hailing company refused to purchase $150 permits for testing autonomous cars that the state requires. There may be more than the 16 self-driving vehicles that had been tested by Uber in San Francisco, and the company hasn’t provided a date on when testing will begin in Arizona.

Google has renamed its Self-Driving Car Project as “Waymo.” Waymo will be an independent unit within the Alphabet parent company. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. Google co-founder Larry Page has been reported to be rethinking his company’s mission. Alphabet/Google, along with Apple, are now looking into partnering with automakers as technology suppliers rather than investing heavily, and going through the complex regulatory process, needed to manufacture their own autonomous vehicles.

Honda has been in talks with Waymo to test out some of the autonomous vehicle technology in Honda’s vehicles. Both companies said that it’s a research project and not a manufacturing agreement to jointly manufacture autonomous vehicles. Honda may choose to provide Waymo with vehicles that are modified to run on Google’s self-driving system; those Honda vehicles would join the existing Waymo test vehicles currently being tried out in four U.S. cities.

Honda follows Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in creating a self-driving vehicle test program. FCA announced in December that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for Waymo. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids (plug-in hybrid vehicles) recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant. Google and parent company Alphabet have also been reported be in talks with FCA about starting up a ride-hailing and ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Tesla Motors is planning to demonstrate a Tesla vehicle traveling cross country in fully autonomous mode by the end of 2017. During a fall conference call announcing fully autonomous capable hardware, CEO Elon Musk said the company’s goal is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling safely from Los Angeles to New York using the new technology by the end of this year. The software for reaching the fully self-driving mode will need to be validated and approved by regulators before being released to the public. Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well, Musk said. Semi-autonomous features will continue to be available through the Autopilot feature, but Tesla has separated Autopilot from the new fully autonomous features after the fatal crash in Florida was reported last summer. If all of this works out and receives government approval, Tesla would likely lead the market in autonomous technologies. Tesla may have a fully automated vehicle for sale by 2018, beating Ford and BMW, which have committed to rolling out fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.

China would like to become the world’s largest market for plug-in and autonomous vehicles. The Chinese government released a policy report on setting national standards for autonomous vehicles. It’s taking an optimistic approach: “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. The report also forecasts that “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) will make up 40% of the 38 million new vehicles sold in China during 2030. That would make for about 15 million new plug-in vehicles coming to market that year. By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

Impact of autonomous vehicles on fuel consumption: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have conducted a study of a vehicle-platooning scenario and determined the best ways to deploy vehicles in order to save fuel and minimize delays. Their analysis, presented last month at the International Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics, shows that relatively simple, straightforward schedules may be the optimal approach for saving fuel and minimizing delays for autonomous vehicle fleets. The findings may also apply to conventional long-distance trucking and even ride-sharing services. Navigant Research may not agree with those findings. Navigant just released a study which analyzed how fuel is likely to be affected by the growing use of automated mobility systems in light-duty passenger and medium-to-heavy duty goods vehicles. Usage of petroleum and alternative fuels is likely to go up with growing transportation demand in developing nations like China and India; and in developed countries that are seeing surging demand for mobility services and automated systems.

Urban mobility

Urban mobilityAutomakers took serious steps forward during 2016 showing their commitment to mobility services and the changing identity of automakers in the near future.

GM’s investment in carsharing brand Maven, along with $500 million in Lyft and $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, seemed to start the trend. GM will be testing self-driving versions of the Chevy Bolt all-electric car with Lyft. Maven is considered to be a serious competitor to Zipcar and other carsharing services.

Ford Motor Co. last year acquired shuttle service Chariot and forged a partnership with bike-share program Motivate. The automaker sees the importance of tapping the market value by turning to low-fixed cost and less capital revenue streams like Chariot and Motivate, said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. In March, the company the creation of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a new subsidiary formed to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services.

Toyota launched a Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to support emerging mobility services like carsharing. The platform will be used to collaborate with service providers and telematics insurance carriers. In May, Toyota and Uber forged an alliance that will create new leasing options. Car buyers can lease their vehicles from Toyota Financial Services and cover their payments through earnings generated as Uber drivers. Toyota also created another alliance tied to the launch of MSPF with U.S. carsharing company Getaround. The two companies will start a pilot program this month in San Francisco.

BMW is moving its ReachNow carsharing service forward. During the L.A. Auto Show’s AutoMobility days, BMW announced that four new services will be launched in four North American cities. A new ridesharing service competes with Uber and Lyft and offers members an on-demand ride service where a driver shows up with a car. ReachNow Ride was scheduled to start up as a pilot program in Seattle last month, and it will be available to all members in early 2017.

Tesla Motors will launch Tesla Network with self-driving capabilities in 2017. In his “Master Plan, Part Deux” in July, Tesla CEO Elon Musk included a system in which a Tesla owner could add a car to a shared Tesla fleet using a mobile app. That’s where Musk introduced the concept of the Tesla Network where the electric automaker will be entering into ridesharing and carsharing services that will be a revenue model for Tesla. The company has been released a few more details lately on its blog and website. Tesla doesn’t want its car owners to use these electric cars for Uber and Lyft rides. “Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car-sharing and ride-hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year (2017),” according to a recent Tesla website statement.

Volkswagen made a series of announcements as it emerges from the “Dieselgate” scandal and commits to vehicle electrification and globally competitive mobility services. The German automaker kicked things off earlier this year by investing $300 million in on-demand transportation service Gett. At that time, the cab-hailing startup had operations across about 60 cities around the world. The German automaker also launched its Moia brand last month, stating that it expects it to become one of the largest mobility providers in the world. The new business will initially offer electric ride-hailing and carsharing services. Electric shuttles will likely be the first fleet vehicles rolled out to customers and they’ll soon be automated, the company said. VW also bought Vancouver-based parking-payment operator PayByPhone, which processed more than $250 million in transactions this year. The automakers wants to become the leader in mobile payments for parking. VW’s financial services unit had previously taken a 92 percent stake in Sunhill Technologies GmbH, Germany’s market leader for mobile parking payments. Another recent announcement by VW was adding a ride-hailing service in Rwanda as part of its mobility services to compete with Uber’s strong presence in Africa and other regions.


ev-corridor-in-fhwa-mapThe Federal Highway Administration released a map in November showing 55 routes across the U.S. for charging plug-in vehicles and refueling alternative fuel vehicles, with 48 designated charging routes in the new corridor. The Alternative Fuel Corridors covers 35 states and nearly 85,000 miles, according the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FHWA. More miles will be added to the network to accommodate electric, hydrogen, propane autogas, and natural gas vehicles as more alternative fueling and charging stations are built.

The designation of these corridors comes from the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act, which was signed by the president in December 2015. In July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx put the alternative fuel station provision in motion by calling on states to nominate national plug-in electrified vehicle charging and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling corridors along major highways.

You can view an Alternative Fuel Corridors resources page that includes a map showing each of the charging and fueling networks. There’s only one electric charging route linking the nation, which crosses the Great Plains with Highway 70 bridging between Utah and Colorado. Charging station routes are concentrated in the Northeast, East Coast, Great Lakes region, Texas, and the West Coast. Compressed natural gas will have corridors very similar to charging networks. Hydrogen fueling routes will be concentrated in California, Colorado, the Midwest, and the Northeast.

Electric vehicle charging network EVgo kicked off the nation’s quickest fast-charging station in Baker, Calif., at the site of the World’s Tallest Thermometer. Drivers going from Los Angeles and Las Vegas can see how hot it’s getting out there, and can pull over for a very fast charge. These days,

50-kW CHAdeMo or Combined Charging System (CCS) fast chargers are about as fast it gets. EVgo has started constructing a 350-kW fast charging station in Baker. The charger company says that these chargers will be seven times faster than any fast chargers currently available, and that they represent a new level of convenience. Electric vehicles with the biggest battery packs that travel the farthest per charge will be able to get 80% charged in less than 20 minutes.

Renewable fuels and energy

renewable-energyRenewables:  While not yet officially announced, Scientific American just reported that renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind are expected to account for 8% of U.S. electricity-generation capacity in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar growth is behind much of it.

For the first time ever, new solar-generating capacity is expected to exceed new generating capacity for wind and natural gas, according to the report. The federal report won’t be available until March, but Scientific American reported that the volume of new solar installation and their energy capacity is expected to outpace both wind and natural gas as energy sources. Natural gas isn’t counted as a renewable energy, but has become an important source of energy powering electric plants in recent years as the country has been moving away from coal power.

RFS and LCFS: American Petroleum Institute (API) estimates that 2017 gas station fuel volumes will put the ethanol-to-gasoline ratio at 10.4%, higher than the 9.7% ration recommended by the oil industry association. That comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s adjustment of biofuel blends last year. However, California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) may be taking off as the fuel source of choice for many sustainability advocates. A recent study by Lux Research that LCFS may become the new standard for government policies to meet emissions reduction goals, calling it the trend “a new generation of policies is based on technology-agnostic carbon intensity metrics.”

Renewable diesel and conventional electricity used to power electric vehicle will be the near-term winners in low-carbon transportation fuels under the Lux analysis, followed by renewable electricity to charge EVs in third place. Canada has embraced LCFS as its national standard. In November, Canada announced that the country will adopt a national clean fuels standard. The national standard studies low-carbon fuel standards being used in California, Oregon, and British Columbia, according to a report.

This Week’s Top 10: EPA and NHTSA differ on fuel economy decisions, VW showing second electric vehicle in I.D. family at Detroit Auto Show

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week………..

  1. Federal fuel economy standardsFeds differ on fuel economy rules:  It appears that the Environment Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are taking different approaches to working with the new administration on the fuel economy and emissions regulations; it may also signify the Obama administration supporting the standards but encouraging flexibility with automakers on how it’s all carried out. Last week, the EPA told lobbyist group Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers that the midterm review deadline won’t be extended beyond the Obama administration leaving office. That agency’s decision was expected by auto lobbyists who had appealed the EPA’s earlier ruling. About that time, NHTSA responded to a petition from groups representing automakers postponing the increase in penalties for noncompliance with the fuel economy standards. That increase would have gone back to 2015 model-year vehicles, but the amended version begins with 2019 model-year vehicles. In a separate decision, NHTSA granted a request for a formal rule-making process to be put in place – to resolve differences between greenhouse-gas standards overseen by the EPA and the fuel-economy standards administered by NHTSA. The penalty increase had comes from a law enacted last year for all federal agencies to raise penalty fees as a deterrent and to keep up with inflation.
  2. VW van:  In teaser photos sent out with a brief announcement, Volkswagen said that it’s now designing the second electric vehicle in the I.D. family. This one may be closer to a classic VW van or microbus, and is said to be “a multi-functional vehicle for a new era” that “links between the legendary origins of the Volkswagen brand and its electrifying future.” Like the I.D. sedan concept launched at the Paris Motor Show, it’s based on the Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB). The German automaker says that I.D. can stand for purity in design language, and for a new generation of fully connected, all-electric vehicles from the company. Drivers will have a fully autonomous vehicle where the steering wheel retracts into the dashboard; and laser scanners, ultrasonic and radar sensors, and cameras monitor other vehicles and the electric VW’s surroundings. It’s another step in the automaker’s post-“Dieselgate” vehicle electrification strategy; and it’s scheduled to be revealed in more detail next month at the Detroit Auto Show.
  3. Tesla wins owner survey:  Tesla Motors won the owner satisfaction brand award from Consumer Reports’ readers for the second year in a row. For those taking the survey, 91% of Tesla owners said they would buy their Tesla vehicle again, while 84% of No. 2 Porsche owners would buy that same vehicle again. Tesla, Porsche, Audi, and Subaru remained in the top four spots from last year. In October, Consumer Reports recommended that Tesla resolve two structural issues in its Model X electric SUV – including problems getting the Falcon Wing doors to work correctly. Tesla owners who took the survey seemed to be less concerned about it than did Consumer Reports’ editors.
  4. DOE grants on alternative fuels:  The U.S. Department of Energy has announced more than $18 million in grants awarded supporting vehicle electrification, propane direct injection, and other alternative fuels. Odyne Systems will receive $2.9 million to develop and demonstrate plug-in hybrid work trucks (class 7) that reduce fuel consumption by more than 50 percent and eliminate fuel consumption during stationary operations. Blue Bird Corp. will receive $4.9 million to develop and demonstrate a battery-powered electric school bus that improves propulsion energy efficiency by 20-30 percent and that can connect to the electric grid (vehicle-to-grid). Blossman Services is being awarded $2 million to develop a 4.3L propane direct injection engine and emission control system that will be demonstrated on a package delivery vehicle.  PacifiCorp will receive $3.9 million to accelerate electric vehicle adoption by developing electric highway corridors along I-15, I-80, I-70, and I-84 in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. Gas Technology Institute (Des Plaines, IL) will receive $4.9 million to deploy multi-fuel stations (including electric vehicle charging stations, compressed natural gas, biofuels, and propane stations) and alternative fuel vehicles (including electric drive) along I-94 from Port Huron, Michigan to the North Dakota border.
  5. Uber moves to Arizona:  Uber used flatbed trucks, managed by its Otto subsidiary, to transport 16 Volvos used in its self-driving car test project from California to Arizona. While Otto specializes in running self-driving commercial trucks, it appeared that these trucks were operated by drivers. Uber’s move came after California’s Department of Motor Vehicles revoked the registration of the ride-hailing company’s self-driving cars because the company refused to get the $150 permits for testing autonomous cars that the state requires. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey invited Uber to cross state lines on Wednesday and Thursday, including through a social media campaign; on Thursday, Uber left California for Arizona. There may be more than 16 self-driving vehicles that will be tested by Uber in San Francisco, and the company hasn’t provided a date on when testing will begin in Arizona.
  6. Sustainability report:  Waste Management this month released its annual sustainability report, which announced that the company recycled and composted more than 14 million tons of materials from the waste stream in 2015; and as a company, Waste Management is a net greenhouse gas reducer. Its fleet uses more 5,100 natural gas vehicles, which the company says is the largest fleet of its kind in North America. The company reported using technology at landfill-gas-to-energy facilities to power the equivalent of 470,000 households, offsetting 2.5 million tons of coal per year and 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. You can view the report here.
  7. Honda and Waymo discussing self-driving cars:  Honda Motor Co. has been in talks with Google’s new self-driving car unit, Waymo, to test out some of the technology in Honda’s vehicles. Both companies said that it’s a research project and not a development deal for full-production vehicles. Honda may go beyond the preliminary phase to provide Waymo with vehicles that are modified to run the self-driving system; those Honda vehicles would join the existing Waymo fleet currently being tested in four U.S. cities. Honda follows FCA in making a self-driving vehicle test program. Michelle Krebs, an analyst at Cox Automotive’s, sees Google and Apple more likely to enter technology partnerships with automakers rather than face the capital intensive and demanding regulatory clearance that vehicle manufacturers must go through.
  8. Land-fill free target:  General Motors has beat its landfill-free target four years early. In 2011, the automaker had set a goal to operate 150 landfill-free sites by 2020. This year, it added 23 of these sites, and now has 152 facilities globally that send zero waste to landfills. The company accomplished this through recycling used water bottles into engine cover insulation and recycling grinding wheels as sandpaper, among other initiatives. GM also partnered with Herman Miller and Green Standards to repurpose and recycle tens of thousands of pieces of office furniture and equipment.
  9. Hydrogen stations growing 10-fold:  Nikola Motor Co., which operates hydrogen fuel cell semi-trucks, will be rolling out a nationwide network of hydrogen fueling stations that will be accessible to other fuel cell vehicles. That would increase the U.S.’s present status of 33 hydrogen stations more than 10-fold to 364 more stations built by Nikola. This infrastructure network will begin construction in a year, in January 2018, and will begin opening in late 2019, according to CEO Trevor Milton. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, and other automakers developing fuel cell cars, will be very interested in seeing this happen.
  10. VW ride-hailing in Africa:  Volkswagen has added a ride-hailing service in Rwanda as part of its mobility services, and to access a market that Uber hasn’t yet gained presence. Uber operates in several African countries, including Kenya where it launched in early 2015 and now faces competitive pressure from local companies. VW is working hard at expanding its electrified vehicle offerings and mobility services as it emerges from the “Dieselgate” scandal. Rwanda is thought to be a less competitive market, and a good one for VW to establish its presence in the region. The German automaker has been active on the ride-hailing front this year, having invested $300 million in Gett.

Clean transportation’s pivotal events in 2016, and what to watch for in 2017

chevy-bolt-in-cityPlug-in sales trends and new car launches:  Plug-in hybrid was the top-selling category over all-electric vehicles in 2016, which switched over a sales trend that had been led by the Tesla Model S and Model X, and Nissan Leaf, in all-electric vehicle sales. The revamped 2016 Chevy Volt has been the top seller in the U.S. and the Ford Fusion Energi nearly doubled its sales in November over the previous year. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been leading the electric vehicle market this year in Europe, beating the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf.

The all-electric Chevy Bolt has been taking center stage lately as it rolls out to dealers in California and Oregon, and the rest of the country next year. The 238-mile per charge EPA rating, and $37,496 pre-incentive price have driven the enthusiasm and interest. Earlier this year, Tesla Motors unveiled its 200-mile plus, $35,000 Model 3 in the spring, and started taking $1,000 down payment pre-orders; over 400,000 consumers opted in by summer time. The Bolt vs. Model 3 race has become more significant and news worthy than the Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt launches in late 2010. Both General Motors, and especially Tesla, are gearing up for production levels beyond what’s ever been seen in plug-in sales. The Model 3 forecast is much bigger than that of the Bolt with 100,000 units planned for 2017 and 400,000 units in 2018; but there’s always the possibility that GM will scale that up to stay competitive.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (plug-in hybrid) was significant for the being the first electric minivan, and for being the first time Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has taken a plug-in vehicle all that seriously. The Fiat 500e has been a “compliance car” to meet California’s ambitious and strict zero emissions vehicle targets, with only a small volume produced and sold in the state. FCA has been showcasing the Pacifica Hybrid at the LA Auto Show and other events, while the gasoline-engine Pacifica been highly visible in billboard ads and online campaigns. FCA’s decision to launch the plug-in hybrid version along with the gasoline-engine version shows that automakers see utility vehicles (especially crossover SUVs) being very important for increasing plug-in sales.

The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell represented a step forward for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and for a standalone green car product line. Like the Prius being offered in four technologies (including the refreshed Prius Prime plug-in hybrid), the Clarity will later come out in all-electric and plug-in hybrid versions. Honda sees the Clarity as its brand offering three electric variants, with the first one, the Clarity Fuel Cell, having the best mileage in its class. The Clarity Fuel Cell has 366 miles of range in the EPA rating, which beats the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell. This car faces the challenges of all fuel-cell vehicles: limited fueling stations beyond California, and making the big leap to get car buyers to take the new technology seriously. Electric vehicles are making strides forward beyond early adopters, but that’s taken nearly six years through what is now a wide range of product offerings, charging infrastructure improvements and expansion, competitive pricing, and hands-on experience with the technology.

The unexpected victory of the Trump campaign will take a while to be sorted out for advocates of clean transportation and energy. Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency was the first blow, along with the impression gained that the 54.5 mpg by 2025 phase two period for 2022-25 vehicles would be postponed and softened. Pruitt and other agency appointments have been distressing for environmental and cleantech groups. The latest news has included acting EPA Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe telling the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in a letter that the agency won’t be extending the deadline for a review of the fuel economy and emissions standards. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has gone in the other direction – that enforcement agency is postponing the enforcement of the rules starting with 2015 model year vehicles to the 2019 model year; and NHTSA will allow for more input from automakers in the rule-making process on clarifying discrepancies between the greenhouse gas emissions standards regulated by the EPA and the fuel-economy standards enforced by NHTSA. Automotive executives, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, are taking a business-first approach to dealing with the Trump administration. Musk, along with GM CEO Mary Barra and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, accepted Trump’s invitation to participate in a Strategic and Policy Forum that frequently will advise him on economic issues and jobs growth.

Some cleantech and clean energy analysts expect to see growth in solar and wind power, vehicle electrification, alternative fuels, battery energy storage, and energy efficiency, during the Trump years. There’s been substantial growth in these technologies in recent years, along with more acceptance and interest from end users; government incentives and policies may not be as important as they were during the Obama administration. There’s also stringent mandates, and generous incentive programs, still in place in Europe and Asia, that will support growth in vehicle electrification and renewable energy.

The Volkswagen court settlement on October 25 has gained a great deal of interest in the clean transportation community. To address the excessive NOx emissions from Volkswagen’s diesel cars, $2.7 billion has been allocated to fund the Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT). The portion of the settlement to reduce NOx exposure and air pollution allows for each state to allocate EMT funds within court settlement guidelines; it’s based on the number of VW diesel vehicles sold and registered in those states and will be spent by VW over a 10-year period. Of that total, $2 billion will go to supporting zero emission vehicles. Of that $2 billion, VW will invest $800 million in California and $1.2 billion throughout the rest of the nation. The EPA says that ZEV funding from VW is to be spent on things such as Level 2 charging at multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, and public sites; DC fast charging facilities accessible to all vehicles utilizing non-proprietary connectors; and brand-neutral education or public outreach that builds or increases public awareness of ZEVs. The $700 million remainder from the EMT funding could also provide opportunities for suppliers of other alternative fuels and infrastructures including natural gas, propane autogas, biofuels, renewable natural gas, and renewable diesel.

Five global automakers have committed to rolling out rolling out millions of new plug-in electrified vehicles in the next few years – and that list doesn’t include Tesla Motors. Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai, and Toyota have made serious commitments this year to design, develop, and launch over 40 new models by 2025 and manufacture several million per year. That’s being driven by Tesla quickly gaining over 400,000 down payments on the upcoming Model 3. Another market pressure comes from the “Dieselgate” scandal, prompting governments in the U.S., Europe (primarily Germany), and Asia to tighten emissions rules and enforcement.

Volkswagen was the first to make an announcement – that it would be introducing 30 new all-electric vehicle models by 2025, and would produce two-to-three million EVs per year by that time. Both Daimler and BMW announced a few months later that their global sales will include 15-to-25 percent all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles across their brands within 10 years. Combined, that would be about three quarters of a million up to one million new PEVs sold per year starting in about 10 years. Daimler previewed its new EQ electric car brand through the Generation EQ concept at the Paris Motor Show. For Hyundai, the all-electric Ioniq was scheduled for launch by the end of this year, with plug-in hybrid and hybrid versions to follow. The Korean automaker said it will roll out a new electric car model every two years to keep pace with how quickly electrified technology is emerging in the market. As for Toyota, in late November Toyota President Akio Toyoda said that he’ll be heading the company’s newly formed electric car group. Toyota had backed away from its previous alliance with Tesla and became committed to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. More recently, the company has committed to hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, and PEVs to meet global regulations and to remain competitive in the global market. Toyota has been seeing breakthroughs in its battery technology, which seemed to help the Japanese automaker commit to rolling out new PEV models.

Next week, part two: autonomous vehicles, infrastructure, urban mobility, and renewable fuels and energy.

This Week’s Top 10: CPUC approves PG&E charging station plan, Leonardo DiCaprio promoting BYD electric vehicles

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week………..

  1. pge-charging-stationPG&E charging network:  A years-long struggle over Pacific Gas & Electric’s initial plan to run a 25,000 electric vehicle charging project has ended with a California Public Utilities Commission decision scaling the network down to 7,500 chargers. On Thursday, CPUC unanimously supported what will be the country’s largest utility-led charging deployment. The “Charge Smart and Save” plan includes 7,500 EV charging points in workplaces, multi-unit residential buildings, and disadvantaged communities, and is capped at a cost of $130 million – much less than the $650 million that had been earmarked for the 25,000 unit plan. Electric Vehicle Charging Association, which represents EV charging companies, and other groups had asked CPUC to consider an alternative plan; they seem to be satisfied that they’ve been given mostly what they’d been seeking. PG&E will be limited to how much of the charging network it can own, which had been a key stumbling block in the past. “This proposed decision accelerates the adoption of EV charging in northern California in a way that preserves innovation and competition,” said Pasquale Romano, ChargePoint’s CEO.
  2. DiCaprio backs BYD:  Former Fisker Karma advocate Leonardo DiCaprio has signed on to promote China-based BYD’s electric vehicles and zero emissions campaign. It comes at a time when BYD has been promoting its “Cool the Earth by 1°C” campaign for the creation of a “Zero Emissions Energy Ecosystem.” BYD and Oscar-winning actor DiCaprio will spread the word on plug-in cars, utility vehicles, buses, solar energy, renewable storage, and light electric monorail systems – all of which are being developed and produced by the company. DiCaprio launched a documentary on climate change, “Before the Flood,” in which he starred, at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; the film featured an interview with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
  3. VW settlement in Canada:  Volkswagen AG has agreed to spend up to C$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) to buy back or fix 105,000 diesel vehicles and compensate owners over the emissions scandal, the automaker said. The German automaker also agreed to pay a C$15 million ($11.18 million) civil administrative penalty along with the Canadian settlement. That brings up the total to more than $18 billion to address diesel emissions issues in North America. VW expects to soon settle a deal on another U.S. recall involving buybacks or fixes for another 80,000 polluting U.S. diesel 3.0 liter Porsche, Audi, and VW vehicles. In a related story, German auto supplier Robert Bosch GmbH may be settling a lawsuit filed by U.S. owners related to the diesel emissions cheating scandal for more than $300 million. Bosch had previously called the lawsuit “wild and unfounded” after it was filed last year. VW owners have claimed the supplier had helped design the “defeat device” software that VW had been using for years to pass diesel emissions tests.
  4. Musk and Kalanick join panel:  President-elect Donald Trump has named Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to a Strategic and Policy Forum that frequently will advise him on economic issues and jobs growth. Musk and Kalanick will join General Motors CEO Mary Barra on the panel, along with several other top-ranking executives from U.S. companies. Trump’s transition team said they’ll be part of a forum that is composed of “some of America’s most highly respected and successful business leaders” that “will be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his economic agenda.”
  5. Toyota’s environmental report:  Toyota will be lighting up its new U.S. corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas, with solar power. That was part of the recently published 2016 North American Environmental Report, where Toyota outlined these positive impacts. Over the past year, Toyota’s North American operations have reduced water usage by nearly 100 million gallons. The company also announced plans for a 7.75 megawatt solar array at Toyota’s new headquarters campus in Plano, Texas, which will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 7,122 metric tons, or the equivalent of the electricity used by almost 1,000 homes in a year. It’s all part of Toyota’s Environmental Challenge 2050, which focuses on completely eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicles, operations, and supply chain.
  6. DOE grants:  The U.S. Department of Energy has issued two grant funding programs involving advanced, clean transportation. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced that its Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids (REFUEL) program will convert low-cost renewable energy into a transportable chemical fuel and use these fuels for transportation applications, while reducing production costs and environmental impact. Most selected REFUEL projects target the production of ammonia or its conversion to hydrogen or electricity. DOE also announced that $19.7 million, subject to appropriations, will be granted to support research and development of advanced vehicle technologies, including batteries, lightweight materials, and advanced combustion engines; and innovative technologies for energy efficient mobility. Its purpose is to accelerate energy efficient transportation and systems.
  7. Plug-in hybrids taking lead:  Navigant Research predicts that the current level of electrified vehicles making up 3% of global sales will go up to 9% by 2025. That includes hybrid, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles. The research firm thinks hybrids and plug-in hybrids will switch places; with hybrids currently making up 73% of electrified vehicle sales; and by 2025, plug-in hybrids trading places, coming in at 72% of sales. The Chevy Volt has been leading the way in U.S. plug-in electrified vehicle sales and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been leading in Europe. That market presence will grow as automakers roll out more plug-in offerings, including new, larger vehicle body types. All-electric vehicles aren’t typically designed to go this route as much as plug-in hybrids tend to be, said the study.
  8. SDG&E trucks:  San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has signed an agreement with XL Hybrids, a developer of hybrid truck solutions, to purchase up to 110 of its plug-in electric hybrid truck systems between 2017 and 2020. The XL Hybrids’ system will convert commercially available gasoline-powered trucks into electric hybrids, powered in part by energy generated by the sun and wind. The conversion of these trucks will deliver a 50% improvement in miles driven per gallon, reduce operating costs, extend the life of the vehicles, and increase the overall range of SDG&E’s fleet.
  9. Lucid Air launchStartup electric carmaker Lucid Motors, formerly known as Atieva, unveiled its Air “executive sedan” last week, which the company says will be able to travel up to 400 miles on a charge. That power will be stored in a 100 kWh battery pack, and its motor will be able to hit up to 1,000 in horsepower. The company is taking deposits on the car now and plans to begin deliveries in early 2019. A company executive acknowledged it’s an ambitious plan to roll out its first car in two years, but also said the company is confident it will be reached.
  10. Boring concept:  Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted several times over the weekend about his next grand, visionary dream: digging a below-ground tunnel for some sort of vehicle to deliver passengers. “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging …” he posted on Twitter. That was followed with more. “It shall be called the Boring Company”, and another tweet read: “Boring, it’s what we do.” Will these be Hyperloop pods traveling at lightning speeds underground? We’ll have to wait to read more.

The latest in autonomous, shared, electrified rides from Uber, Google, FCA, Tesla, and China

uber-volvo-self-driving-vehicleUber has been testing its autonomous, shared rides for the past month in California, and it may be blocked by the state government from continuing these trips. The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday sent the ride-hailing company a cease-and-desist letter demanding it must stop its self-driving car tests in the state.

That hasn’t stopped Uber so far. On Friday, the company said it will continue the tests despite the DMV’s statement. The California Attorney General has threatened an injunction if Uber does not comply. Uber said that its semi-autonomous car system isn’t different from what owners of Tesla vehicles can do with the Autopilot driver assistance systems and that other automakers’ cars offer with parking and collision avoidance.

Launched in Pittsburgh this past September, Uber’s pilot program has been testing about 100 self-driving Volvo XC90s plug-in hybrid SUVs and Ford Focus hybrid sedans, each one with an engineer riding along to monitor it and take control if necessary. Customers are allowed to decline rides in the self-driving cars if they choose and wait for a regular Uber ride. In San Francisco, the company is using 11 sensor-packed Volvo XC90s. Some are meant to pick up customers, and others will be used to log mapping and sensor research miles.

In both Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the cars are not capable of being driven without active physical control and monitoring, according to Uber. The company said it has asked the DMV what is different about its technology compared with Tesla’s, which have an Autopilot partially self-driving feature. Uber said that it hadn’t yet received an answer.

As least 20 other companies have applied for and received the DMV permits to test on California roads, including Google, Tesla, Ford and Nvidia.

Google names project Waymo, may back away from fully autonomous
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project was renamed “Waymo” last week. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. A technology news media website, The Information, reported that the growing competitive climate with several companies entering the space has caused Google co-founder Larry Page to rethink his company’s mission.

Waymo will be an independent unit within the parent company. Alphabet executives said the company is close to bringing its autonomous driving to the public and will reveal more later.

While autonomous vehicles used to be nothing more than a testing project for several automakers and tech companies, lately it’s become a much more viable sector for commercializing a new technology. Page is concerned that Alphabet and Google could be left behind. Google may be in a better position to provide technology to automakers rather than go through the capital-intensive, lengthy, and complex regulatory process of building and selling its own autonomous cars.

It may have been behind Chris Urmson leaving Google this year. Urmson, a longtime champion of fully autonomous vehicles as he headed Google’s self-driving car project for years, left in August. The New York Times had reported that Urmson wasn’t happy with the leadership of John Krafcik, formerly the head of Hyundai America, who was hired in 2015 to be chief of the project. The Times report also said that Urmson had argued with Google co-founder Larry Page over where the division was headed. Urmson may be starting his own autonomous car software firm, according to media reports.

FCA delivers self-driving minivans to Google, discussing ridesharing service
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced yesterday that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for the new Waymo subsidiary. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

Google parent Alphabet also has been in talks with FCA about starting up a ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Google would like to utilize a semi-autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that it’s developing with FAC for the new service as early as the end of 2017, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The ridesharing service will be tied into the 100 Pacificas that the two companies agreed in May to develop together – and that FCA has completed. They’ll be using the plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica minivan during the self-driving testing process.

FCA has been enthusiastically marketing the new plug-in hybrid version, which it calls the Pacifica Hybrid. The automaker will reveal an all-electric version of the Pacifica during the CES electronics show in Las Vegas next month, sources said. FCA has been looking for ways to roll out more zero emission vehicles as the global regulatory front tightens up on emissions.

Other automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, Toyota, and General Motors, have made serious investments with partners this year to stride forward in ride-hailing, ridesharing, and carsharing mobility services.

Tesla wants to control how its cars are used for ridesharing
Tesla Motors may not like to see the presence of a startup firm that has taken the name “Tesloop,” which is offering Tesla vehicles for share rides to its customers. In October, Tesla said that it wants to launch its own shared ride service and doesn’t want to see its electric cars used outside that network.

Tesloop, based in Los Angeles, offers city-to-city shared vehicle trips. The startup seems to be structured more like longtime transportation companies than ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft. The Tesla vehicles used in the Tesloop fleet have a California TCP number on the rear bumper, which means the company is certified as a commercial passenger carrier in the state. The company has to follow commercial vehicle insurance and driver guidelines that other transportation service providers have to follow; including more extensive driver background checks than Uber and Lyft so far have to comply with.

In October, Tesla announced that it will not allow any of its electric vehicles to be used by owners to drive for ride-hailing companies such as Uber or Lyft. While sharing rides with family and friends is fine, the company said it doesn’t want to see its self-driving vehicles used for revenue purposes outside of its own Tesla Network, which will be launched later on.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” the company said.

Tesloop works with drivers now, which it calls “certified Tesloop Pilots,” but the firm is enthusiastic about tapping its autonomous systems as soon as possible. “As autonomous car technology improves over the next three years to the point where it is safer than human drivers, we expect this to become a common reality,” the company said on its website.

As for now, trips in a Tesla Model X and Model S are driven by a “certified Tesloop Pilot” and carry passengers to points throughout Southern California and out to Las Vegas. As a marketing message, the company sells $39 trips between cities.

The company will be spreading its network in the San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara areas. Vacation spots like Palm Springs are emphasized. The company uses Tesla’s Supercharger network of fast-charging ports.

China aims to be No. 1 in electrified and autonomous vehicles
China has ambitious plans to continue being the leading global market for plug-in electrified vehicles, and would like to play a leading role in autonomous vehicles – according to a planning document that was revealed recently in Beijing.

By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

The report estimates that semi-autonomous vehicles, called “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% of sales by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. That would mean four million fully autonomous vehicles would be sold each year.

Things are already in the work in China – and in the U.S., in what may also end up in China. Chinese company Baidu is teaming up with Nvidia to use artificial intelligence to building a platform for self-driving cars. LeEco, NextEV, and Lucid Motors are tapping into cutting-edge autonomous technology and talent directly from California. That may end up in vehicles sold the in the Chinese market, too.

China’s policies also include some ambitious emissions reduction targets through these measures. It also encourages foreign countries to share their best electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies with Chinese partners – or be blocked from having access to the market.

General Motors has found out recently how serious the Chinese government takes guidelines such as these. The automaker, which plays a large role in China’s auto market through its partnership with Chinese companies, is under investigation by the Chinese government for potential anti-trust violations. Forbes thinks that the risk of serious damage is low, and that China uses such tactics to keep foreign companies a little bit off balance and to follow China’s lead.