Tesla faces battery and Autopilot challenges, High speed rail struggles in US

Spotlight on Tesla safety in China and the U.S.
The electric vehicle manufacturer is facing scrutiny over two safety issues that have dogged the company for years — fires starting in its battery packs, and crashes happening while its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system had been activated. Reports have emerged on a Tesla fire in a Hong Kong parking log. Weeks before, a video streamed on Chinese social media platforms showed a Tesla Model S bursting into flames in a Shanghai garage. Startup competitor Nio said last month that one of its ES8 models caught future in Xi’an while being repaired. In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report that Tesla’s Autopilot system was active at the time of a fatal Model 3 crash in Delray Beach, Fla. That involved a collision between a Model 3 and a semi truck on March 1st. NTSB reported that the Model 3 driver had activated Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision, and that for about eight seconds before the crash, the Model 3 didn’t detect the driver’s hands on the wheel. Tesla is rolling out an over-the-air software update for the Model S and Model X to improve safety and battery life as it continues investigating the cause of the Hong Kong fire; and issued a statement on the Autopilot incident.

CARB’s Mary Nichols confronts White House over emissions rules
California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols was set to deliver comments that won’t go well with the Trump administration today during a meeting with California air quality and transportation agencies. Nichols is arguing that the state will match any relaxation of federal auto rules with its own more stringent anti-pollution requirements on everything from fuel to the refineries producing it. The state may be joining a few countries in eventually banning fossil-fuel powered vehicles. These comments were made as the Trump administration readies a final plan for easing emission and fuel economy standards. “CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable — and continue to fight climate change,” Nichols said in draft remarks. “That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources — and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”

What will happen in GM’s Lordstown Plant?
Last week, President Donald Trump set off a wave of attention when tweeting that General Motor’s Lordstown Plant would be bought by Workhorse Group, Inc., even though the deal had not been settled. GM had been in discussions with electric truck startup Rivian, but those talks ended. Since then, Ford has since agreed to invest $500 million in Rivian. Details have yet to come out on GM’s role in the Lordstown Plant, and whether Workhore’s W-15 electric truck will be part of it. There’s also speculation out there that the plant could be where Workhorse builds electric mail trucks for the US Postal Service; but the company would first have to win that contract.

Check out Jon LeSage’s blog:
Interested in topics other than sustainable transportation? You can check out my blog to read about a few others, such as:
“Why I’m a pragmatist, and why you’re one too”
My favorite school of American philosophy, pragmatism, was based on what I see as a few simple questions: Does it work for me? Do I buy into it? What’s in it for me?
“Grocery shopping for Instacart customers who really really really need to have it delivered”
Grocery store shopping and delivery for Instacart, Incidents #1-5……….
 “How a failed rock critic turned working writer — and a big fan of Lester Bangs and rock ’n’ roll”
You may have noticed that my blog is defined as: “writings, reviews, and ramblings from a failed rock critic turned working writer.” Ok, what’s the story behind the failed rock critic? Was there an internship with Rolling StoneSpinEntertainment WeeklyBillboard, or American Songwriter that failed to turn into a job?
“Best rock n’ roll song moments ever in movies, in my opinion”
The Rolling Stones, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). Director Martin Scorsese is credited for forging a unique connection between pop music and film, and having a lot of influence on younger filmmakers who followed his lead. But wait, there’s more……..
“Mystery guest sits next to my hospital bed, nudging me to stay alive”
Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.
You’ll have to hit the Older Posts link at the bottom of the first page to see some of these blog posts, and there are more. You may be wondering why I do it, and placed an image of chimpanzees typing away, trying to write a book. I got hooked on writing when I was a child. My mother had been a newspaper reporter for a short period, and worked as a secretary. She would type our term papers, and boy did we get good grades. But she was my fist mentor in writing and editing. The best part is writing about topics I’m fascinated with and love learning more about. Telling the story teaches me a lot as well, and gives me a platform for sharing information that I want to spread with fans of electric vehicles and clean transportation, music and pop culture, spiritual/philosophical experiences (a la pragmatism), and more.
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High-speed rail takes off, but what about the U.S.?
High-speed rail continues to take off in Asia, with Thai companies building a $6.8 billion rail project that will link three major airports in the country. That follows Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi beginning testing of Alfa-X, a train capable of hitting a maximum speed of 400 km/h (248 mph). These projects support government efforts to boost investments in hi-tech industrials, robotics, and electric vehicles; and to begin unclogging traffic-jammed roadways.
What about the U.S.? The country continues to fail other leading countries, with California slowly moving forward on its long-promised high-speed rail project and other rail projects stalling. The money isn’t really there yet, but a few companies are looking for a way to bring the rail technology — which is popular in Europe and Asia — across the U.S. Automakers and air travel are fighting it, but the biggest block is funding. The U.S. has more cost per mile in building rail with resolving private property ownership, utility rules, environmental mitigation, and labor costs. Growing traffic congestion and air pollution are thought to be behind companies supporting innovative high-speed rail test projects around the country.

Electric trucks the star of the show at ACT Expo 2019

Electric trucks took up a lot of space in the exhibit hall at this year’s ACT Expo — and that meant medium and heavy trucks along with commercial applications such as electric delivery and refuse trucks. This time major truckmakers took center stage, and specialized makers had announcements to share as well. With about 4,000 attendees, it was the largest ACT Expo yet.

During his keynote speech, Roger Nielsen, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), the largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in North America, said his company will be putting about 50 battery electric test vehicles on roads by the end of this year through its Freightliner division, built at a renovated plant in Oregon. 20 of them will be medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks for Penske Corp. and NFI Inc., a major third-party logistics company, under a grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Near-zero-emissions natural gas medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are currently available and will continue from Freightliner as an interim solution until full commercialization of the battery-electric Freightliner eM2 and eCascadia, he said. Its Thomas Built unit will be rolling out Proterra-powered electric school buses.

Peterbilt Motors Co. showed off new electric trucks, including the Model 220EV, Model 520EV, and Model 579EV. The 220EV is spec’d with the Meritor Blue Horizon eAxle and the 520EV will feature the Transpower mid-ship powertrain configuration, while the 579EV will feature the new Allison AXE Series e-Axle. Six of the 579EVs were demonstrated at the exhibit that have been finished for customers. “Today, we have 14 electric vehicles built, on our way to more than 30 by the end of the year, for real customer routes and to analyze performance so that our production options meet the standards customers expect when buying a Peterbilt,” said Peterbilt’s Chief Engineer Scott Newhouse.

While it was outside ACT Expo, Ford on Wednesday announced it’s putting $500 million into electric truck startup Rivian Automotive. Both companies have agreed to work together to develop a battery electric vehicle for Ford’s growing EV portfolio using Rivian’s skateboard platform.

Volvo Trucks North America Wednesday hosted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as they presented a $44.8 million check to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) for the Volvo LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) project. The Volvo LIGHTS project is a partnership among the Volvo Group, South Coast AQMD and industry leaders in transportation and electrical charging infrastructure. The project was created ti demonstrate the ability of battery electric vehicles to improve freight and warehouse efficiencies, reduce emissions, and improve air quality. As part of the project, Volvo Trucks will introduce all-electric Volvo VNR regional-haul demonstrators in California later this year, with vehicle sales planned to begin in 2020.

Other introductions at ACT Expo 2019 included:

  • BYD Motors will deliver 14 yard tractors to two BNSF Railway intermodal facilities in Southern California, adding to an ongoing demonstration project.
  • Chanje has partnered with refrigeration unit supplier Thermo King on a prototype zero-emissions refrigerated van.
  • Xos, the new name for electric truck startup Thor Trucks, will retrofit two Loomis Armored US cash-hauling trucks. An order for 100 more trucks awaits if the test models show the trucks’ value.
  • EV Connect is launching a program aimed at standardizing EV charger management and use for both transportation fleets and charging-equipment developers. The EV Charge Station Certification program already has been completed by seven of the industry’s largest charger makers.
  • Ryder’s booth featured a comprehensive charging infrastructure solution, provided by In-Charge Energy. In-Charge provides nationwide turnkey energy and commercial electric vehicle infrastructure solutions to ensure customers maximize the full economic benefits of adopting electric vehicles into their fleet. Its end-to-end model focusing on behind the meter solutions is an industry first.
  • An Amply Power Inc. white paper showed fleets saved an average 37 percent compared with traditional fuels by electrifying their buses and light-duty vehicles. Fleets that charged during off-peak hours could save as much as 60 percent, according to the white paper.
  • Tritium created the “world’s most powerful charger,” the Veefil-PK 175-475kW DC High Power Charger which can add nearly 300 miles range to an EV in just 10 minutes.
  • The first production fuel cell-powered heavy-duty truck jointly developed by Toyota and Kenworth Truck Co. is going forward. The new truck is the first of 10 planned under a $41 million California Air Resources Board grant matched by Toyota, Kenworth, and Royal Dutch Shell.
  • Penske Truck Leasing announced it will open commercial heavy-duty electric vehicle charging stations with 14 high-speed chargers at four of its existing facilities in Southern California. These will be among the first DC fast charging stations in the U.S. designed specifically for heavy-duty commercial electric vehicles.
  • The North American Council for Freight Efficiency recently released a report, Regional Haul: An Opportunity for Trucking, that looks at this growing market segment and was shared during a seminar at ACT Expo. Long-haul trucking isn’t what it used to be, according to the report. Forty five percent of the Class 8 tractors produced today are day cabs and a high percentage of those trucks are involved in regional haul operations.
  • Gladstein, Neandross and Associates (GNA) and the University of California at Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering – Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) announced the launch of the Low and Zero Emission Readiness (LAZER) Initiative. This new collaboration will support organizations —including transit agencies, refuse operations, trucking carriers, delivery fleets, school districts, municipalities, and more — in evaluating the real-world economic and environmental benefits of advanced transportation technologies.

Uber and Lyft go public, ACT Expo coming up

Feature: Mobility goes to stock market
Stock traders and institutional investors are carefully watching the Uber IPO and Lyft stock activity since its recent launch. While the two companies are credited with upending the ride-hailing industry, the big question will be: Should you buy the stock?

Uber’s initial public offering on Thursday reported that the company lost $1.8 billion last year, excluding certain transactions, on revenue of $11.3 billion. The prospectus also revealed that revenue growth has been slowing down.

Will Uber reach its hoped-for market valuation of $100 billion? Arch-competitor Lyft was valued at $24 billion last month as its IPO came together. Uber is much larger in transactions and revenue size, but it likely won’t reach that level of value. Silicon Valley neighbors Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet are hoping to hit $1 trillion sometimes soon, but that’s come after quite a few years of profitable growth and billions of customers; and having multiple lines of products and services, far beyond anything Uber and Lyft are likely to get into.

Tesla is valued around $46 billion now and General Motors is at about $56 billion. The love affair with Tesla has waned as stockholders want to see mass production Model 3s hit their scheduled target and profits increase during a time that the electric carmaker has seen several high-level management turnovers. Still, many shareholders continue to back Tesla as it prepares to launch the Model Y and autonomous functionality.

CEO Elon Musk may be in more hot water on the regulatory side with a Twitter comment made yesterday on the company producing 500,000 vehicles over the next year. Musk posted a similar tweet almost two months ago, where he said the company would build half a million units in 2019. That led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to argue Musk was in contempt of a settlement they’d reached last year. In an earlier interview, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (which has an astronomically high stock price of $314,250 per share today and a market cap at $515.25 billion), encouraged Musk to be more careful about what he writes on Twitter.

Lyft started last week at $74.45 per share, much better than its March 28 IPO price of $72. The week ended on a sour note by closing Friday at $59.90, its lowest price ever. That meant about $3 billion in dropped market capitalization to $17.1 billion.

There’s still a lot of talk about room-sharing giant Airbnb going public this year, along with Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing. Companies looking for global growth must have capital in high volume to pay for the technology, personnel, independent contractors, marketing, and systems development required to reach that level. Stock market trading can be a necessity when angel investors and venture capital firms can’t provide the cashflow needed to hit that profitable growth mark.

Launching an IPO, keeping stock value consistent, and providing detailed, honest financial reports are a tough call for these mobile app service providers. Uber and Lyft do benefit from strong brand identity and growing market reach. It’s rare to meet someone these days who’s never used their services; and customers do enjoy the cost, convenience, quickness, and avoiding the stress of traffic and finding parking.

Feature: Are electric scooters going to make it?
Renting a small electric scooter from startups Lime and Bird is becoming pervasive in cities across the country. For $1, and about 29 cents per minute, you can easily get from Point A to Point B and avoid the hassles of finding parking, waiting for the bus, paying for an Uber or Lyft ride, etc. But how viable are these and other scooter companies going to be in the next few years?

It’s a hard industry to make money in with the cost of charging, the lifetime of the battery, repair costs, the depreciation of the bikes, and the impact of vandalism and theft. Bird and Skip have spoken more publicly about the rough reality of thriving in the sector.

Ofo, a China-based bikesharing platform has entered bankruptcy, according to report. Ofo later denied reports of impending bankruptcy and maintained that the company is doing just fine. News came out in March that Meituan Dianping, which owns Ofo-rival Mobike, will scale back its operations following losses.

Then there’s the question of safety. Only three e-scooter deaths had yet been reported as of late January, which is likely to increase as ridership grows in leaps and bounds.

A recent study by UCLA published in medical journal JAMA Network Open found that only 4.4% of e-scooter accidents in the Los Angeles area included riders wearing helmets. With an estimated 65,000 e-scooters on American streets and concerns over their safety has led to talks of banning the bikes unless safety guidelines are implemented.

News Briefs:
ACT Expo is coming up next week (April 23-26), and the full speaker roster has been released for the ninth annual show taking place at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California. Along with it, over a dozen co-located events have been announced, held in partnership with leading industry organizations and member-based associations across the commercial transportation space. Fleet Owner and ACT Expo are partnering on one of them, offering a new workshop for operations and maintenance professionals. Called “Workforce Development: Meeting the Vehicle Maintenance Challenge,” the day-long workshop on Tuesday, April 23 brings together a strong team of maintenance, operations, technology and training experts to take on some of the toughest issues facing maintenance providers.

GM backing away from Rivian:  Talks between General Motors and electric truck startup Rivian Automotive about the automaker taking an equity stake may be dead, people familiar with the matter said. Amazon.com Inc. has been supporting the startup EV maker that led to a $700 million equity fund raised in February. Plymouth, Mass.-based Rivian plans to bring all-electric trucks and SUVs to market. GM will likely be continuing to develop its own electric pickup, which is still in the early phase of development.

Audi campaign:  “Electric has gone Audi,” according to new billboard ads. Audi’s new marketing campaign is attempting to debunk perceptions about electric vehicles that have kept them from breaking into high-volume sales, including fears about range, charging infrastructure, and performance. For now, Audi is telling the story about its new e-tron electric SUV, which is the first of three all-electric vehicles that the Volkswagen division will be launching over three years. The first TV spot, called “Not For You,” starts by showing a man in his bathrobe gazing at this neighbor’s e-tron. He’s transported into a number of scenarios attempting to debunk the myths about range anxiety and other misconceptions.

SoftBank might be the most significant company of all of them to watch for those interested in smart mobility. The Japanese multinational holding conglomerate owns the sixth-largest phone company in the world and many other divisions. Softbank is betting about $60 billion in more than 40 companies in ride-hailing, car-sharing, delivery robots, and self-driving vehicles, according to chief Masayoshi Son. More than $13 billion of it will be going into the publicly trading Uber Technologies Inc.

Tesla has rolled out a leasing program for its Model 3 electric sedan for the first time while also making it harder to buy the $35,000 base version of the vehicle. The company said on Thursday that it would begin leasing the Model 3 “for a small down payment and competitive monthly payments.” But it won’t end the way the usual lease does. “Please note, customers who choose leasing over owning will not have the option to purchase their car at the end of the lease, because with full autonomy coming in the future via an over-the-air software update, we plan to use those vehicles in the Tesla ride-hailing network,” Tesla said in a blog post.

Hyundai generates power from hydrogen:  Hyundai Motor Company signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korean local energy firms Korea East-West Power (EWP) and Deokyang to generate electricity from hydrogen. The pilot project will deliver a 1 megawatt (MW) hydrogen fuel cell power facility, with Hyundai Motor building the fuel cell system, EWP managing the facility and sale of electricity, and Deokyang supplying the hydrogen. The system will be powered by multiple power models from Hyundai’s Next fuel cell vehicle. The facility can generate an annual supply of 8,000 MWh, enough electricity to power approximately 2,200 households at 300 kWh per month, while emitting zero greenhouse gases or pollution since it is fueled by hydrogen.

Adoption of autonomous vehicles may take longer than hoped for, Tesla trying to clean up SEC fight and poor quarterly report

Buying into self-driving vehicles:  What’s it going to take for autonomous vehicles to become typical on city streets? Perhaps longer than advocates of the advanced technology had hoped for. In a new study by Reuters/Ipsos, half the respondents believe that autonomous vehicles won’t be as safe as vehicles currently on roads. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. adults participating in the survey said they would not buy a fully autonomous vehicle, and the same amount balked at the prospect of paying significantly more for the added features. AVs will be staying in the test phase for a few more years. Companies such as General Motors, Tesla, Waymo, Alphabet, Uber, and Lyft, will continue testing the technology and trying out convenient mobility and shared ride experiences for users. Fleets will continue playing an important role in advancement of the technology through projects such as truck platooning, electric automated shuttle vans, and urban delivery showing positive signs of potential for adoption. Safe travel is a key issue, as Tesla and Uber have discovered in fatal incidents involving AV technology in recent years. But as marketers of electric vehicles know, building up mass adoption of a radical new technology takes millions of miles and a few years of positive driver experiences.

Electric automated trucks:  Speaking of adoption of the new technology, a new report by Wards Intelligence says it will take until the early 2020s for new electric and automated trucks to take root. Medium-duty truck fleets will lead the way in electrification, but “long haul will probably be the last to see electrification because they’ll probably need fuel cells to get the range they need, and those are still in development,” said Megatrends 2019 Trucking author, Jim Mele. Trucking fleets want to see longer range and faster fueling, so fuel cell trucks may have an edge here — with Nikola Motor and Toyota poised to take the lead.

Tesla and SEC dispute settlement and quarterly report:  Tesla is still trying to clean up problems that have been building in the past year. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was “very happy” about a federal district court judge telling the company and the Securities Exchange Commission to settle the SEC’s complaint out of court. The SEC asked the court to hold Musk in contempt for violating their previous settlement over a tweet they thought violated rules over what the publicly traded company can divulge or express opinions over. This time around, the SEC filed a complaint in court over a photo musk had posted on Twitter of the electric automaker’s manufacturing plant — that Musk said would be able to produce 500,000 vehicles in 2019; he recanted that tweet, going back to the original forecast of 400,000 units being what the company expects to deliver. Another tough one has been reporting to investors that sales saw a big drop in the first quarter of this year. About 63,000 Tesla vehicles were delivered in the first quarter — a 31% drop compared to the prior quarter and the the largest drop ever for the company. Some commentators have wondered if an April 19th event for Tesla investors on new autonomous vehicle improvements will be an attempt to deflection attention on the poor performance.

BMW beats Tesla in Europe, Prediction on electric fleet trucks

Competitors beating Tesla in Europe:  While Tesla dominates electric vehicle market share in the U.S., Europe is benefiting local automakers even more. BMW just issued a report conducted by IHS Markit based on new vehicle registrations from Feb. 2018 to Feb. 2019. BMW has 16 percent of plug-in vehicle market share in Europe, while Tesla ties for fifth place with Volvo. Volkswagen, Nissan, and Renault came in 2nd through fourth place. In Germany, BMW has 20 percent share with Tesla coming in at 3 percent. In Norway, the largest EV market in Europe, BMW has nearly 77 percent of that market while Tesla saw its sales drop there in the fourth quarter. Lack of retail stores in key European metro market areas is probably a factor. Tesla is tied with China’s BYD for first place globally, with Beijing Auto coming in second and BMW third. China is expected to play a big role in the future of EV sales. Tesla is getting ready to open its Shanghai production plant in May; while BMW was granted permission last year by the Chinese government to increase its stake in Brilliance China, the first company to take more than 50 percent in one of the joint venture vehicle manufacturers with factories in China. BMW hopes to lower its costs in that market, with EVs expected to be part of its growing presence.

Ford building more EVs and AVs in USA:  Ford has recommitted to building more electric vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology at its North American plant, with less emphasis on AVs. The $900 million Ford had planned to spend on AV production in its Flat Rock Assembly plant in Michigan through 2023 will instead be largely dedicated to EVs and the next-generation Mustang, the company said. The Flat Rock plant will become the production home to vehicles from the company’s “next-generation battery electric flexible architecture.” These vehicles will follow the all-electric performance SUV coming in 2020 from Ford’s Cuautitlan, Mexico, plant. Autonomous vehicles will be coming from a new AV manufacturing center in southeast Michigan. The company said that production of Ford’s first autonomous vehicles will begin in 2021 for deployment in commercial services to move people and goods.

Trump attack misses the point:  In the aftermath of a bitter Twitter feud with General Motors and the United Auto Workers in previous days, President Trump visited Ohio to continue attacks. After viewing the Lima, Ohio-based Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, which makes the 1M Abrams tank, on Wednesday, Trump attacked deceased Sen. John McCain and blamed Democratic union leaders for GM’s decision to close a plant in Lordstown, Ohio, eliminating about 1,700 jobs. All of this comes after announcements by GM and Ford late last year to initiate layoffs and close more plants to offset losses in the slowing economy and the steep tariffs implemented by the Trump administration. Tesla stirred up its own controversy last week after announcing it would close its U.S. retail stores and go to online sales to cut costs — which CEO Elon Musk later cut down to an expected 10 percent to 30 percent store closures. Tesla is joining several major global companies feeling pressure to close retail stores as shareholders put more pressure on management to increase performance and profits. Stores may not be worth the cost as companies such as Amazon lead the revolution toward online shopping and fast delivery services, analysts say. Overall, GM, Ford, Tesla, and competitors are facing a wave of changes in the imminent future impacting profits and market share. Job losses will continue as industries consolidate, robotics take over plants, and consumers want less retail stores and more digital transactions. The issues are much deeper than merely job losses at plant closures in Ohio and Michigan.

Model Y reveal:  Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the company’s Model Y a week ago, a compact SUV that had been mentioned long before. It shares the same architectural platform with the Model 3 compact electric car. It’s more conservative than Tesla’s other SUV, the Model X, with its falcon-wing doors. It’s putting safety and cost savings before flash, as Tesla continues to reach out more to middle income consumers with its Models 3 and Y. It offers the perks of a hatchback such as the Toyota Prius with the advantages of driving a smaller vehicle through crowded cities instead of a large SUV. The Model Y’s Standard Range model will roll out in the spring of 2021 with a $40,200 price tag and a 230-mile range.

Plug-in sales for February:  EDTA’s Electric Drive Sales Dashboard on U.S. sales in February reported 17,239 plug-in vehicles sold, made up of 6,792 plug-in hybrids and 10,447 battery EVs. The 34,279 plug-in vehicles sold so far in 2019 represents a 19 percent increase over the total sold thru the same period last year. The association will be including fuel cell electric vehicle sales data in future reports.

Prediction on electric trucks:  GNA’s Erik Neandross shared his thoughts on the boom coming this year with electric trucks coming to market at major trade shows and through compliance with government policy. Much will be learned in the next one-to-three years as a wave of electric work trucks come to market. Fleet managers and operators will be taking a close look at operating costs as more EVs go into daily fleet operations.

Tesla closing most of its stores, China showcased on 60 Minutes

Tesla closing stores, revealing Model Y:  Tesla is taking a giant leap on the car-selling front: closing down most of its shopping-mall stores, switching to online sales to cut down the high costs of running sales offices. Tesla wants to keep its pricing competitive especially on the Model 3 that starts at $35,000 while increasing the profit margin. The company does benefit from hosting invitation-only ride-and-drive events in major cities, which takes away some of the imperatives to operate retail stores. It will also be the hub for the next electric vehicle coming out, the crossover Model Y. Tesla will be revealing it March 15 at an event at the Los Angeles Design Studio, according to a recent tweet by CEO Elon Musk. It’s said to be 10% larger than the Model 3 and will cost about 10% more and will have slightly less range from the same battery. It will also share the same platform to save costs. It won’t have falcon wings like the Model X. The goal is to reach volume production of the Model Y by the end of 2020.

Lyft goes public:  Lyft has beaten ride-hailing giant Uber to the stock market with its initial public offering on Friday, raising about $100 million from placeholders. It will be traded on the Nasdaq market under the stock ticker LYFT. If Uber does make it soon the stock market, shareholders will be buying into companies that have been growing substantially while taking significant losses. Lyft’s net loss climbed to $911 million in 2018 from $688 million a year earlier. Uber lost $1.8 billion last year, according to a recently released filing by the market leader. Investors have to decide whether losses will continue for the next few quarters. Uber and Lyft have been fast-growing businesses inspiring many other mobility startups, which is part of the appeal. Lyft estimated last fall that it had reached 35% of U.S. market share. Market analyst firm Second Measure reported in October that Uber held 69.2% of U.S. market share, and Lyft had 28.4%.

DOE research funding:  The U.S. Department of Energy announced availability of up to $51.5 million for research of technologies for trucks, off-road vehicles, and the fuels that power them.  Funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this FOA addresses priorities in gaseous fuels research, including natural gas, biopower, and hydrogen; heavy-duty freight electrification; hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies for heavy-duty applications; and energy efficient off-road vehicles. “As the fastest growing fuel users, trucks offer an important opportunity to use innovation to improve energy productivity,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes. “Through research and new developments in both energy efficiency and domestically-sourced fuel technologies, we can not only strengthen our energy security but also improve transportation affordability for our nation’s trucking industry – helping those who deliver American goods and those who use them.”

China’s EV market explored:  The “60 Minutes” news show recently broadcasted an in-depth look at China’s booming “new energy vehicle” market. Even with the possibility of generous government incentives being cut back, China is still the hottest electric vehicle market in the world. The U.S. had been the hub for years, but has been falling behind China in consumer and fleet EV purchases. Government incentives are getting harder to find as the Trump administration backs away from EV income tax incentives; and talks between the federal government and California on the state’s zero emission vehicle program have reached a stalemate. Chinese EV startup Nio was featured in the “60 Minutes” report, which helped its stock prices shoot up 8 percent last week. Nio sees itself as a Tesla-competitor. The startup has benefited from its price being about half of that of a Tesla in the Chinese market, and it doesn’t pay import taxes as it manufactures locally. Tesla hopes to cut that down, along with competition from majors in the market, by setting up its own plant and cutting away shipping costs and import taxes.

California and feds blocked on emissions agreement, Greenlots acquired by Shell

Talks breakdown between CA and feds:  Officials from California and the federal government have reached a stalemate over fuel economy and vehicles emissions standards, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Representatives from California Air Resources Board had been meeting in December with Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials to reach a compromise between the state and federal standards. The goal had been to reach agreement by late March or early April to modify the Obama administration’s corporate average fuel economy rules. Tensions between California and other states that follow California’s zero emission vehicle guidelines had been building. The conflict has been exacerbated during a time California has been leading a group of 16 states in a lawsuit to block Trump’s use of emergency powers to build the border wall. While federal representatives didn’t respond to requests for comments, the fuel economy and emissions stalemate was acknowledged by CARB. “The administration broke off communications before Christmas and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise — or offered any compromise proposal at all,” CARB spokesman Stanley Young said in an email. “We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point.”

Amazon backs Rivian:  Electric truck and SUV startup Rivian just announced that its $700 million funding round is being led by Amazon. Rivian, a Plymouth, Mich.-based vehicle manufacturer, is raising funds to finish development and launch production of the all-electric R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV for deliveries beginning in 2020. These prototypes were displayed at the LA Auto Show in November. The investor group Amazon is leading for Rivian also includes the investment arm of a Saudi Arabian conglomerate whose holdings include a major Toyota car and truck distributorship. Sumitomo Corp. also has invested in Rivian. General Motors had been eyeing the startup as an investment, but was not part of the Amazon-led funding round.

Heavy-duty pickups hot:  Detroit automakers are moving even farther away from fuel-efficient, clean cars through the very profitable heavy-duty pickup segment. Ford has been taking the lead, and has been exhibiting a refreshed Super Duty F-Series pickup at the Chicago Auto Show. Ford has been marketing the truck’s advanced driver-assistance technology and new powertrains that will make the Super Duty its most powerful vehicle offering. Ford’s commercial vehicle business earned $10 billion in 2017 profits on $72 billion in revenue. The competitive climate is taking place at a time Ford and General Motors have announced moves to shut down production of cars for trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and vans. The heavy-duty truck market has failed for Ford in South America, as the automaker just announced it would be closing down its Brazilian truck plant to end losses being taken in the region.

Greenlots acquired by Shell:  Greenlots, a leading electric vehicle charging and energy management software company, has signed a deal to become a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell New Energies US LLC, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc. Greenlots’ network operating system, SKY, delivers comprehensive, open standards-based EV infrastructure management capabilities for site hosts and grid operators. The company was selected as the sole software provider for Volkswagen’s “Electrify America” charging program. Shell sees it as an opportunity to meet demand for low-carbon energy while making EV charging more accessible to utilities and businesses. Greenlots sees it as an opportunity to expand in global markets and support eco-mobility. “As power and mobility converge, there will be a seismic shift in how people and goods are transported,” said Brett Hauser, Chief Executive Officer of Greenlots. “Electrification will enable a more connected, autonomous and personalized experience. Our technology, backed by the resources, scale and reach of Shell, will accelerate this transition to a future mobility ecosystem that is safer, cleaner and more accessible.”

 

CES and Detroit Auto Show highlights, Tesla goes to Shanghai

CES and NAIAS take place in January: Has the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas become the most important trade show for automakers and tech partners to attend? It depends on who you ask, but don’t forget about the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In fact, it clearly beat CES in online attention. The Detroit auto show’s week of news conferences and other events (Jan. 14-17) got nearly 60% more mentions in news and social media than automotive news and topics the week before at CES. That comes from a study by Talkwalker, an advisory company in online marketing.

While CES is about much more than cars, both are significant events, probably the most important shows for new product launches and concept previews. So, what were some of the highlights at these leading auto industry events? Here are just a few.

Nissan unveiled the Leaf e+ at CES, with 40% more range than its predecessor — coming up to 226 miles per charge from its previous 150-mile range. There are minor exterior changes made the front-end design, and a new “e+” logo on the back end. It will go on sale in the U.S. this spring. The new version of the Leaf was supposed to be revealed at the LA Auto Show in November, but things got put on hold once former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn was arrested. At the Detroit Auto Show, Nissan showed off an elevated, electrified sport sedan that will deliver 483 hp, 590 lb.-ft. of torque, and 380 miles of range.  It’s said to be one of seven EVs Nissan will launch by 2022.

Ford and Qualcomm made announcements at CES on 5G C-V2X cellular technology. That’s been a problem for other automakers who still support dedicated short range communications (DSRC). NHTSA, under the Trump administration, hasn’t decided yet on whether the initial plan to require installing DSRC equipment in new vehicles beginning in 2020 or 2021 will be mandated. That’s given C-V2X an opportunity to gain supporters. Audi stayed committed to DSRC in its technology announcements at CES. There’s been a lot of pressure on automakers to come up with the next generation technology to strengthen data streaming vehicle-to-vehicle as more applications and devices become integrated with cars. Ford says that but 2020, all of its vehicles will be equipped with built-in cellular wireless connectivity from AT&T in the U.S., Vodafone in Europe; and China Unicom in China. The automaker said that the initial systems will enable over-the-air updates.

Several automakers opted out of the Detroit event this year (and the auto show will be moving to June next year to get out of the freezing cold time of year in which it’s been taking place for many years). But it’s still a place for several product launches with crossovers and electric vehicles playing a big role. Cadillac will supplant Chevrolet as GM’s lead brand in EVs in the next few years.  Cadillac previewed an all-electric Tesla competitor that will be the first vehicle derived from GM’s dedicated EV architecture.  A variety of body styles will eventually be offered, but the electric crossover will come out next year. Nissan’s 380-mile range concept vehicle (previously mentioned) goes by the name Nissan IMs Concept for now. It’s spacious interior offers a wide video screen dashboard, gold details, and a distinct rear cabin with a large center seat and smaller side seats.

The Hyundai Kona/Kona EV won the utility category at the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards in Detroit. The company just announced pricing for three variations of the EV with its 150 kW, 201 hp electric motor with a single-speed reduction gear. MSRP will be: SEL at $36,450, Unlimited at $41,150, and Ultimate at $44,650. (Freight Charges for the 2019MY Kona EV are $1,045.) “The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure. It’s the kind of EV that could convince the most ardent EV-skeptic.”

And in other news……..

  • On January 7, Tesla broke ground on its new Chinese Gigafactory in Shanghai. The electric carmaker plans to produce Model 3 and Model Y electric vehicles at that plant along with its battery packs. CEO Elon Musk said initial production in China of the Model 3 will start towards the end of this year, with volume production coming next year. Tesla is on its way to being the first wholly-owned car plant in China operated by a foreign company.
  • Owners of the electric Porsche Taycan, which is coming out later this year, will be getting three years of free charging stations in the U.S. that have a minimum of two 350 kilowatt chargers per site. One very attractive feature for Taycan owners will be the ability to add more than 60 miles of charge in four minutes. That comes from an 800-volt battery that can absorb these fast-charges. That will beat Tesla, which is promoting its 120-kilowatt supercharging stations that are capable of charging about 80% of the battery in about 30 minutes.
  • Electric scooter rides have taken off in the past year in Southern California and in other parts of the country. With it comes the risk and danger factor. A recent study looked at scooter-related injuries of 249 patients at two Southern California emergency rooms between September 2017 and August 2018. Riders, with an average age of 34 years and 58% of them male, had a lot more injuries than pedestrians,. While they only make it to a top speed of 15 miles per hour, less than 5% of riders reported to have been wearing helmets. About 40% of them had head injuries and nearly one third had broken bones. A study in JAMA Network Open found a lack of operator adherence to traffic laws or warning by the electric scooter companies.

Welcome to 2019, and what to look for in clean transportation and mobility

All-new electrified models:

  • Audi joined the electric vehicle race with the Audi e-tron crossover SUV, its first all-electric production model. The e-tron gets over 200 miles per charge and shows of a luxury design and has all-wheel drive performance.
  • The Jaguar I-Pace was launched, with a sporty design and luxury appointments, and a 240-mile all-electric driving range.
  • The Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is an all-new version of the plug-in hybrid model. It’a powered by a 3.0-liter gas engine and a 136 hp electric motor.
  • The Range Rover P400e is a plug-in hybrid variant of the Range Rover SUV. It comes with a 2.0-liter gas engine and a 114 hp electric motor.
  • The Hyundai Kona is now available in an all-electric variant that delivers 258 miles of range.
  • The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV finally made it to America. The full-size SUV runs off of a 2.0-liter gas engine and two electric motors, plus greater efficiency and AWD.
  • The all-new Volvo XC40 compact SUV, the first model built on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), features an efficient four-cylinder Drive-E powertrain.
  • Toyota has changes to its hybrid lineup. The Avalon Hybrid is longer and lower and higher mpg, with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and all-new Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain. The all-new Lexus ES 300h comes with a fourth-generation hybrid system delivering a class-leading 44 combined mpg. The Lexus UX entry-level luxury model now comes in the UX 250h hybrid version.
  • The Honda Insight comes in its third-generation version with an advanced two-motor hybrid system that delivers an EPA estimated 55 highway mpg.
  • Kia and Hyundai will launch electric crossovers in 2019, named the Niro and Kona respectively. Hyundai also has a new fuel cell vehicle, the Nexo, available in regions where it can access hydrogen filling stations.
  • On the commercial vehicle and fleet side, Workhorse Group has closed a financing round of $35 million with Marathon Asset Management, with $25 million being a revolving credit line to meeting existing and future purchase orders of its electric trucks.
  • Daimler Trucks is leading a $155-million investment round in electric bus maker Proterra; with Tao Capital Partners, a San Francisco investment firm, as the other lead investor. Daimler sees a growing market for electric buses as public transit districts and school systems in the U.S. and around the world move to reduce emissions. Proterra and Daimler also have an agreement to explore the electrification of a few Daimler heavy-duty vehicles.

Plug-in vehicle sales:  Finalized plug-in vehicle sales figures will be coming out in the next few days for December and all of 2018; but so far, it was clearly a year of record-setting plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles sales in the U.S. Through November, U.S. sales were at 312,887 for plug-in vehicles, compared to 194,479 for all of 2017, according to Electric Drive Transportation Association. Assuming 350,000 units will be sold in 2018, the increase would be about 55% over the previous year. InsideEVs estimates the Tesla Model 3 closed the month with 25,250 sold in the U.S. That compares to 18,650 sold in November. Lately, there’s been a wide gap between the Model 3 and every other plug-in vehicle sold in the U.S., with top sellers like the Tesla Model S and Model X, Chevrolet Bolt and Volt, and Toyota Prius Prime, each hovering somewhere around 3,000 units sold per month. The Nissan Leaf was able to see its first sales increase in a long time.

Mobility going mainstream:  Mobility services like ride-sharing and car-sharing are moving beyond initial excitement by early adopters and over to the mainstream. The Mobility Revolution: A Primer for Fleet Managers, explores four trends that are shaping the near-term future of vehicles and transportation — connected, electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles. The study was sponsored by NAFA Foundation as a tool for fleet professionals to prepare for the near future. The pressure is on for fleet managers and operators to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, make their fleets safer, and to try out connected, automated systems for these goals and cost containment. The paper delves into ways that fleets are already testing and exploring these changing technologies and methods, featuring a few successful case studies. Another watershed moment in this new year will be seeing ride-hailing company Lyft beat much-larger rival Uber in filing for an initial public offering. Lyft has been valued at about $15 billion, with its IPO slated for the first half of 2019, sources have told Reuters. Uber is expected to pursue an IPO next year that could value it at about $120 billion. Room rental company Airbnb Inc, valued at $31 billion, is also seen listing in 2019.

Autonomous vehicle test projects:  When, oh when, will autonomous vehicles move beyond the testing phase and be given the green light? It’s not clear, but more companies are entering the testing phase in California and others states. Uber is starting to recover from nine months ago when one of its autonomous test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. The return to road testing in Pittsburgh will be at a much smaller scale than the company’s previous program. Another significant event was learning that Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrids have been through nearly two dozen attacks from irate locals in the Chandler, Ariz.. Over the past two years, irate locals have expressed frustration with tire slashings and pelting these vehicles with rocks. One local resident made multiple attempts to run Waymo vehicles off the road using his Jeep Wrangler, including driving toward one of the Waymo minivans head-on before turning away. He said it came from a Waymo vehicle nearly hitting his 10-year old son while the boy was playing in a neighborhood cul-de-sac.

The battery war continues:  Battery maker 24M just received $22 million in funding for its SemiSolid lithium-ion battery that would beat Tesla and other automakers in electric vehicle driving range and energy storage. The startup company, made up of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists and a former A123 Systems co-founder, offers longer driving range, lower battery cost, and faster manufacturing time. The company is also targeting the grid energy storage market, competing with Tesla’s energy storage unit, along with Daimler, BMW, Renault, Nissan, and other automakers. The SemiSolid speeds up the manufacturing process by cutting out a number of steps typically used in EV battery production. It also cuts down the need for materials such as copper, aluminum, and plastics. That will bring down the battery’s costs and the amount of energy needed to charge up the EV batteries.

Renewable energy trends:  Renewable energy went up a point in 2018 — up to 8% of U.S. power generation through the third quarter of 2018. There’s been a lot of concern over America’s trade war with China that includes renewable energy, but demand continues to grow. One study sees growth continuing in 2019, based on emerging policies that support renewable growth; expanding investor interest in the sector; and advancing technologies that boost wind and solar energy’s value to the grid, asset owners, and customers. Growth was driven by declining wind and solar generation costs, improvements in battery storage, and grid operators’ growing experience in integrating intermittent renewable power into the grid. Demand was strong, as well, with voluntary procurement (purchases not driven solely by government incentives) representing 52% of utility-scale solar projects in development and 73% of projects announced in the first half of 2018.

The trade war may change course:  The U.S. and China may be ready to end, or adjust, the trade war started last year by President Donald Trump. A U.S. government delegation will be traveling to Beijing next week to hold trade talks with Chinese officials, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke with Bloomberg. The Trump administration launching the trade war — which added more than $200 billion worth of imports from China by the third quarter of 2018 — is considered a key factor in destabilizing oil prices last year. It’s also hurting China’s weakening auto sales, which is seeing its first decline in two decades — during a time U.S. auto sales are expected to decline. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and other automotive executives were pleased to see China reduce tariffs to 15 percent from 40 percent after that meeting. Tesla was able to lower prices for its Model S, Model X, and Model 3, which are scheduled to be delivered to customers early next year. BMW AG and Daimler AG were able to cut prices on their U.S.-made luxury vehicles, bringing prices down to the level there were at before the extra duty was added last July. Automakers in the U.S. are waiting to see whether Trump will be hitting vehicle imports with tariffs.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and stations:  Hyundai has delivered its first Nexo hydrogen fuel cell SUV in the U.S. market. The 2019 Nexo – which replaces the Tucson Fuel Cell – can go up to 380 miles, starting at $58,300 (including $13,000 on its hydrogen fueling card). It joins the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity in the fuel cell vehicle market.
The California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board released a report in late December with some interesting numbers:

  • Public support and public funding remain necessary to achieve the 100-station goal, and more funding will be needed to support the 200-station goal.
  • The current network of 65 stations (including those still in development) provides enough fuel for the existing FCEV population, but capacity will need to double by 2024 to meet projected FCEV growth.
  • Estimated greenhouse gas emissions reductions from funded stations are nearly 76,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2024.
  • More than 5,000 FCEVs are registered in California as of October 2018, nearly double the number from the previous year.

A year of chaos and change for automakers that won’t be ending anytime soon

According to a series of in-depth reports by NPR’s Marketplace, three factors are shaping the future of the economy: new technology, globalization, and corporate profit. While auto sales are coming close to a record high in the U.S. (which surprised market analysts), that may be a temporary blip. Foreign automakers have 19 assembly plants in the U.S., but General Motors is closing four American plants and Ford is going through a major reorganization. Even so, U.S. auto plants have the capacity to make three million more cars that they can sell. Analysts think that this year’s strong sales come from higher fleet sales, lower unemployment, and Tesla’s rapid production ramp up. Shareholders are putting a great deal of pressure on automakers to lead the way in new products, advanced vehicle technology, and strong profit margins. Automakers have been taking big steps to change over their product lineups (less cars, more trucks and SUVs) and prepare for launching mobility services and a higher volume of electric vehicles. Here’s a look at some of the major events that have been shaping market dynamics in the U.S. and global automotive landscape — and its impact on green vehicle sales and adoption of new technology and mobility………….

Trade war with China:  The Center for Automotive Research released a report warning that auto sales could plunge up to two million vehicles a year over the huge tariff increase launched by President Donald Trump. That could mean a loss of about 715,000 American jobs and a $62 billion hit on U.S. GDP. In September, Ford CEO James Hackett said at a Bloomberg conference in New York that steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration had cost the company about $1 billion. On Nov. 27, Trump publicly chastised GM CEO Mary Barra over her decision to close four plants in the US because of sagging demand for sedans (that includes ending production of the Chevrolet Volt). That came from his emphasis on keeping U.S. manufacturing alive and well, and keeping Americans working in the plants. The reality is that GM and other automakers have been investing heavily in global production and sales while staying as profitable as possible. The trade war with China hurts those strategies as China remains the largest auto market by far, including EV sales. On the bright side, a move three days ago by China to ease auto import tariffs are helping prices go down on imported models such as the Tesla Model 3.

Nissan loses its chief:  Nissan Motor Co.’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested again by Japanese prosecutors under allegations of financial misconduct — adding 10 more days to his month-long stay in jail. The original arrest and Dec. 10 indictment came from allegations of Ghosn understating his income from Nissan by 4.8 billion yen ($43 million) over five years through March 2015; he was then re-arrested at that time for understating earnings through March 2018. Ghosn had been credited for leading the Nissan Renault alliance and championing the all-electric Nissan Leaf and its first-ever leadership in EV sales. The next generation Leaf is expected to be revealed next month at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with a battery pack at around 60-kilowatt hours. The company will also be revealing its vision for an all-electric Infiniti crossover at the Detroit Auto Show. For now, the Nissan e-NV200 electric van is making its way to fleets, with its 40kWh battery that can go between 124-187 fully charged, depending on the payload being carried.

Musk forges through Tesla’s toughest year:  Tesla CEO Elon Musk exercised his typical blunt and brutal style during a recent interview on “60 Minutes” — clarifying his jabs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “I want to be clear: I do not respect the SEC,” he said to interviewer Lesley Stahl. Musk made a stock fraud settlement with the SEC in October that took away his chairman title (telecommunications exec Robyn Denholm was made Tesla chairwoman on Nov. 8). The SEC playing babysitter is “not realistic” because “I’m the largest shareholder in the company and I could call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want,” Musk said. The Tesla CEO had made a Twitter post about taking the company private to address financial turmoil coming from the cost of ramping up production of the Model 3. While the company’s stock and the chief’s reputation have gone up and down during 2018, its EV sales haven’t. The Model 3 had U.S. sales of 18,650 in November, a ten-fold increase over January’s sales of 1,875 units. It’s now listed in U.S. Top 10 sales for its sedan class. The Model S and Model X have also done well this year, competing with the Chevy Bolt and Volt in the top 5. The company has been invited by Ohio Governor John Kasich to consider buying a GM factory in the state the company will be shutting down next years. Musk is considering doing it to have the needed capacity to build its cars — and not have to use a tent to meet demand, as was the case this year at its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant.

A strong year for natural gas:  Natural gas is taking off as a transportation fuel and as an energy source for power stations, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) playing a big role in it. Trump would like to see the U.S. be a major exporter of LNG, and competes with several other countries to take the lead. Renewable natural gas (RNG) is having a very good year as well and more compressed natural gas (CNG) stations have been built and opened this year. In its annual sustainability report, Waste Management said that growing its CNG truck fleet played a big role in reducing corporate emissions. Waste Management is playing a big role in making gains in recycling, renewable energy generation and carbon sequestration; it’s also part of the company producing its own RNG from waste materials.

SoftBank believes in mobility:  SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that started out as a PC software company and now owns Sprint and a large Japanese mobile phone carrier, is making investments from its $100 billion tech investment pool, Vision Fund. Companies receiving financial backing from Vision Fund include Uber, WeWork, food delivery startup DoorDash, ParkJockey, Cambridge Mobile Telematics, and robot-pizza maker Zume. SoftBank’s focuses on autonomous driving, ride-hailing, on-demand delivery, and real estate.

Here’s a quick look at other significant events of the year:

  • Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo division launched the first-ever commercial autonomous vehicle ride service in early December. That’s taking place in the Phoenix area with plans to spread out.
  • Propane autogas had a strong year with school bus fleets embracing the clean fuel and bringing in more propane-powered buses and fueling stations. The west coast and northeast have been particularly strong markets. Overall, more than 13,000 propane-powered vehicles were sold in 2017 with this year looking good.
  • At the LA Auto Show, a few competitors displayed concept cars that they hoped would light up affluent buyers who had been leaning toward Tesla. They included Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, and start-ups Rivian and Byton. Jaguar just put its I-Pace electric SUV on sale, and German automakers started ramping up production of Tesla-competitive models for distribution to dealerships starting next year.
  • The bitcoin cryptocurrency, a form of electronic cash that became extremely important last year, has seen its price go from $16,960 in January to $4,078 on Dec. 20. Like EVs, and autonomous vehicles, it will take a few years for it to reach mass adoption.
  • Tesla and GM are facing the end of federal tax credit incentives, and it looks like continuation won’t be supported in Washington. State rebates will become more important, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom is likely to support clean vehicle incentives when he takes office next month. Volkswagen’s Electrify America program is continuing to add EV chargers throughout the state, with the company announcing its second wave of projects in October.