This Week’s Top 10: DOE offering $55 million in funding, Details revealed on AltCar Expo next month

doe-logoby 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. DOE funds supporting advancements in electrified transportation
The US Department of Energy (DOE) is making $55 million available in funding for projects to move electrified transportation forward both in the vehicles and in the batteries. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said its part of a project launched in 2012 that aims to put plug-in electric vehicles on the same footing as internal combustion engine vehicles in terms of cost and convenience by 2022. DOE also is collaborating with the Department of the Army at a facility in Warren, Mich., on a research project focused on battery technology and reduced friction from vehicle powertrains. About 31 projects will be funded to help meet President Obama’s “Electric Vehicles (EV) Everywhere Grand Challenge” announced in 2012. Projects will include breakthrough technology for EV batteries, lightweight body material, powertrains, and lubricants.
2. Details coming out on AtCar Expo next month
NAFA Fleet Management Association will present a full track of programming at AltCar Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 19. Workshops will include “The Eight Disciplines of Fleet Management,” “Vehicle Fuel Management Boot Camp – Preparing for the Certification Exam,” and “NAFA’s Sustainability Standard.” Tony Seba, a lecturer at Stanford University, will discuss his new book, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation; and there will be a post Conference Reception at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. AltCar Expo, with its ride and drive and exhibits, will take place on Friday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, at the Santa Monica Civic. The industry and fleet conference on Friday, Sept. 19, requires a pre-registration with an advance price of $50 and an on-site price of $65; parking is $10 for those using the Civic parking lot.
3. Tony Posawatz joins INRIX board, and still no word on Fisker leadership
Tony Posawatz, former General Motors and Fisker Automotive executive, has joined the board of INRIX, a provider of traffic information and transportation analytics. Posawatz put in 30 years with General Motors and played a top leadership role in engineering and launching the Chevrolet Volt. He served as CEO of Fisker Automotive for about a year through August 2013. For the past year, Posawatz has worked as a consultant through his role as CEO at Invictus iCAR LLC.
4. Mazda is rolling out a diesel-hybrid car, but hasn’t announced when it will come to America
Mazda is finally joining the alternative fuel vehicle space with its diesel-hybrid option. Mazda may start building diesel-hybrids as early as 2016. The Japanese automaker was originally planning on rolling out a diesel version of its Mazda6 midsize sedan – complementing its fuel-efficient Skyactiv gasoline models. That launch was delayed until an unspecified time, and it may have changed over to its diesel-hybrid launch. Mazda hasn’t announced when it would come to the US, but it’s expected to offer high mileage. It could be an attractive option in the US market as American car shoppers become more interested in clean diesel and its price recently has become closer to gasoline.
5. Eaton may be gone, but Parker Hannifin offers a hybrid truck system
For fleets looking for medium-duty hybrid tucks, Eaton may be out of the game now, but Parker Hannifin is still playing. The company’s Runwise is part of its series hybrid drive systems using hydraulic pressure to move commercial vehicles such as garbage trucks. Its hydraulic drive system is distinct in the market; when starting up, the engine charges a high-pressure accumulator in the hydraulic system; hitting the brake pedal drives energy back from a reservoir into the accumulator – driving energy normally lost in braking back into powering the truck. It’s similar to regenerative braking systems currently being used in several hybrid passenger cars.
6. CarCharging Group added to list of publicly traded companies
One of the largest charging station network companies, CarCharging Group, has been added to Green Auto Market Extended Edition’s list of publicly traded companies to follow. Last month, the company announced that CarCharging Group and its subsidiary, Blink Network (which it acquired from the now-defunct Ecotality during its bankruptcy), are participating in Nissan’s “No Charge to Charge” program.
7. Renovo Motors shows off 500-hp electric muscle car in Pebble Beach
The Renovo Coupe was demonstrated Sunday at the Pebble Beach Concept Lawn as part of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Silicon Valley startup Renovo Motors showed off what it’s labelled “America’s First All-Electric Supercar,” a modified coupe outfitted with a 500-horsepower battery-powered electric supercar that can go from 0 to 60 in a mere 3.4 seconds.
8. Two Chinese electric carmaker startups made big announcements last week
Kandi Technologies Group, Inc., announced that the first 208 Kandi brand electric vehicles (EVs) were delivered as the official launch of Shanghai Jinshan public pure EV sharing program (the Shanghai Jinshan “Car-Share” Program) and Long-term Group Leasing Program. On August 14, 2014, ZuoZhongYou (Shanghai) Electric Vehicle Service Co., Ltd., which was formally established on June 16, 2014 in Shanghai by Zhejiang ZuoZhongYou Electric Vehicle Service Co., Ltd. hosted a launching ceremony at Jinshan District in Shanghai. All of 208 EVs were sent to rental stations in Zhu Jing, Shi Hua, Feng Jing and Ting Lin, four towns at Jinshan for users’ immediate use. Zap, an EV automotive company incorporated in California and headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., and its subsidiary Jonway Auto are realigning its resources to support volume production of their EV product line by putting in three parallel EV production lines in their manufacturing plant in Zhejiang Province. Two of the new EV production lines are already in full operation producing the Urbee, a city neighborhood vehicle that has drawn orders from multiple large dealerships in China, resulting in backlog over the next year of over 25,000 vehicles. The additional third new EV production line being put in place will switch from producing gasoline versions of SUV and Minivans, to supporting full electric vehicle models of the SUV and Minivan by 4th quarter of 2014.
9. German industrial gases and engineering company Linde AG will start small-series production of hydrogen fueling stations. Some of the stations are slated to open in California as Toyota debuts its Highlander hydrogen fuel-cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in 2015.
10. General Motors has released more information on its 200-mile range plug-in electric vehicle. It’s not a new vehicle with its own nameplate; this electric vehicle will likely be the next generation Chevrolet Sonic that will be launched in 2016 or 2017.

Carports with solar panels taking off in US and with automakers

Ford solar carportsCarport-mounted photovoltaic solar power panels are taking off in the US, offering a win-win for the solar and electric vehicle communities. It could also help alleviate some of the trade war battle with China as its companies dump low-priced equipment in the US market. US solar carports are taking off – GTM Research reports that it’s a burgeoning market in the non-residential solar market and the US solar industry as a whole. It increased 157 megawatts of energy in 2013; 2014 is expected to be the fourth consecutive year in which greater than 100 MW of solar carport installations will take place.

Detroit-based utility DTE Energy is betting it’s a worthy investment and is working with Ford Motor Co. to build what it calls, “Michigan’s largest solar array.” The project is funded by DTE Energy and will provide 360 covered parking spaces for 30 charging stations at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The carport is expected to generate 1.038 MW of electricity – enough energy to power 158 average-sized homes. The solar array is expected to offset 794 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and will be well positioned to charge Ford EVs such as the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi.

A number of automakers have been turning to solar, including General Motors, which has set up a large solar array at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, where it assembles the Chevrolet Volt.  And solar energy is providing a major chunk of the power needed to run Volkswagen’s big assembly plant in Tennessee.

Volkswagen last year solar-powered its 33-acre Chattanooga Solar Park outside its Tennessee assembly facility, which it dubbed “the world’s greenest auto plant.” Honda is using solar power to produce hydrogen for use in its FCX fuel-cell vehicles, and for the new fuel cell car it will begin marketing in Southern California next year. Last year, Honda agreed to invest $65 million into Solar City with the goals of offering customers in 14 states low-cost home solar charging stations for their EVs such as the Honda Fit EV or the Honda Accord Plug-In.

Tesla-Orama!: The latest on the luxury electric sports carmaker

  • Tesla storeCEO Elon Musk posted a comment on the Tesla Motors blog that the Model S drive unit warranty has been increased to match that of the battery pack. The 85 kWh model now has an eight year, infinite mile warranty on both the battery pack and drive unit. There’s no limit on the number of owners during that period.
  • Tesla Motors is now offering a replacement battery for the 2008-2012 Tesla Roadster, its first production electric cars. Musk said that the Roadsters range will be increasing from its original range (rated at 245 miles by the US Environmental Protection Agency) to about 400 miles. The company hasn’t offered prices, schedules, and any other information yet.
  • While staff at Consumer Reports initially fell in love while driving the Model S, the honeymoon has waned. One driver had the center screen go blank at a little over 12,000 miles, and Tesla had to repair it. Other quirks needed to be ironed out and it followed a report by Edmunds.com; the Edmunds team recently reported problems with its Model S test drives that included replacing the main battery pack after incidents in which the car stalled; a frozen touchscreen; a creaky steering wheel; and difficulties opening the car’s sunroof.
  • California may exempt Tesla Motors from some of its toughest environmental regulations as part of an incentive package to get the “Gigafactory” set up in the state. Tesla may get waivers on some of California’s legendary and controversial California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), which is alarming to some environmentalists. The pitch by the governor’s office also includes tax breaks that could be worth up to $500 million, or about 10% of the project’s total costs. California is working hard to compete with Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to bring the Gigafactory within its borders.
  • Saleen Automotive is best known for making customized American muscle cars from the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, and Dodge Challenger. The company just unveiled its first electric car, the 4Sixteen, based on the Tesla Model S. Founder and CEO, Steve Saleen, says it has him sold on electric cars.
  • Tesla stock closed at $259.94 yesterday. The price range has gone from $116.10 to a high point of $267.26 during the past year. The Consumer Reports coverage doesn’t seem to have hurt stock prices.

This Week’s Top 10: More revealed on what plug-in owners think about charging and paying for it, Four green cars made the list for Vincentric Best CPO (certified pre-owned) vehicle values

Nissan Leaf chargingby 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. More on what plug-in owners think about charging and paying for it: More is being learned about the charging habits and preferences of electric vehicle drivers, based on a study by Morepace Inc. A community of more than 250 battery electric vehicle (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners were polled in June and July on usage of public charging stations and other chargers. BEV owners are much more likely to have home chargers, with a rate of about 90%. BEV owners tend to use public charging stations when necessary, while PHEV owners use them whenever they’re available. About 88% of all the owners said they could always find an open charger when visiting stations – and they prefer to visit establishments that do have charging stations than those that don’t. As for how much they’ll pay, respondents said they’ll generally pay about $2-to-$3 for a one-to-two hour charge. About 71% do pay to charge their vehicle; of those who do not pay, about half said they will still not pay to charge if there was a fee required. All different types of payment schedules will need to be explored, according to the research company. Paying a monthly fee for a charger is only going to be worth it to the driver using that charger frequently.
  2. Four green cars made the list for the Vincentric Best CPO (certified pre-owned) vehicle values in the compact hatchback (Nissan Leaf), premium compact hatchback (Lexus CT 200h), compact sedan (Honda Civic Hybrid), and wagon (Volkswagen Jetta Diesel) segments for 2014. Vincentric’s list includes 41 segments and the vehicles that offer the best value for resale after initial ownership.
  3. Tesla Motors resolved a trademark dispute in China –Zhan Baosheng, who had registered rights to the company’s name in China before the automaker had entered the market, agreed to settle the dispute last week “completely and amicably,” Tesla said in an email statement.
  4. Why I enjoy getting my daily email from Green Car Reports – Catchy titles and spot-on analysis. Here are a few of today’s stories…… Don’t Be Fooled: Only Three Electric Cars Are Sold Nationwide Today……. Electric Cars Bought By Fleets: Cost Still An Impediment ……… Where Are Natural-Gas Vehicles Most Popular And Most Numerous? ……… More ‘Tesla Truth’ Reveals Depths Of Derangement Over Electric-Car Maker.”
  5. Propane and natural gas vehicles have new and expanded websites – Propane Education & Research Council launched a new website, Propane.com, to serve as a source for information about propane safety and newly developed propane-powered technology across the fuel’s top markets: agriculture, commercial landscape, industrial, on-road fleets, and residential. NGVAmerica launched a new website with improved and expanded features. The homepage features a navigation bar and drop-down menu with a new Stations section that provides current station counts and analysis, as well as detailed pages covering CNG and LNG station design, construction, and economics.  The Vehicles section now contains content covering the consumer, fleet, and high-horsepower market segments.
  6. Nearly three quarters of Americans surveyed by Consumer Federation of America (CFA) favor that truck manufacturers be required to increase fuel economy of large trucks to reduce their fuel costs – with much of that saving being passed on to consumers. A new CFA report estimates that the average American household spends $1,100 extra on consumer goods and services to cover the cost of fueling up inefficient medium- and heavy-duty trucks. These costs are passed on by companies to consumers through price hikes on everything from milk to large appliances.
  7. National Electric Drive Week 2014 will be taking place Sept. 15-21, 2014; cities across the US will host their own ride and drive events on one of these days. Each event is led by local plug-in electric vehicle drivers and advocates; they typically include some combination of EV parades, ride-and-drives, electric tailgate parties, press conferences, award ceremonies, informational booths, and more. Plug In America, Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association serve as the national team providing support to the events throughout the country.
  8. Clean transportation and advanced vehicle technologies were key themes at this year’s CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., organized by Center for Automotive Research….. Lighweighting vehicles is bringing significant side benefits to automakers hoping to increase fuel economy……. Dodge Ram 1500 EcoDiesel sales have been strong since launching the highest-mileage ever full-size pickup……. Advanced technologies like active grille shutters are another way automakers are moving forward on hitting the CAFÉ standard of 54.5 mpg by 20205….. The race for domination in pickup truck fuel economy is getting more intense.
  9. Biofuels groups are taking on Big Oil again for playing a role in squeezing the Renewable Fuel Standard and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s stance on it. Taxpayers for Common Sense say that oil companies paid only 11.7% of US income on federal taxes during the past five years, compared to the statutory 35% corporate tax paid by other companies. Fuels America released its list of the top 10 people that benefit from a weakened Renewable Fuel Standard including Big Oil executives and oil spill cleanup crews.
  10. Volkswagen is taking a “holistic approach” to offset its carbon emissions including a carbon reduction project to offset emissions created from e-Golf production and distribution. The automaker also named SunPower as its official solar energy partner power provider; Bosch Automotive Service Solutions as its preferred home-charging and installation services provider, and selected ChargePoint to provide charging stations to its dealer network and to provide US e-Golf owners access to its network of more than 18,000 charging stations nationwide.

Is General Motors holding back with the Chevrolet Volt?

Chevy Volt redesignedGeneral Motors Corp. has been championing the next-generation 2016 Chevrolet Volt that’s scheduled to debut at the Detroit auto show in January. “You’ll see improvements all the way across, from technology to design,” Tim Mahoney, GM’s chief marketing officer for Global Chevrolet, told reporters last week. “Detroit seems like the right place to do that.”

GM is holding back on information – it will be “good value,” but no details have been released on what it will cost, if the battery pack can deliver longer range than its current 38 miles, and what these technology and design improvement will look like. Automotive News reported that it will have a third seat in the rear and will feature a downsized, 1.0L, three-cylinder engine compared to its current 1.4L, four-cylinder engine.

If I were present at the Management Briefing Seminar in Traverse City, Mich., I may have mustered the courage to ask Mahoney two questions:

  1. How many Volts does GM plan to build and deliver this year and next?
  2. How committed is GM and Chevrolet to marketing the Volt through corporate advertising and supporting and encouraging its dealer network?

Mahoney also said that GM considers the Volt “not a mass-market” vehicle any longer. I would ask another question: When has it ever been one? When the plug-in hybrid was introduced in late 2010, former GM CEO Dan Akerson thought the automaker would produce 60,000 Volts in 2012. The reality has been that GM has only built and sold about 65,000 units in nearly four years.

GM has been proud to build the best-selling plug-in hybrid in the US, but it potentially could have been much higher in sales volume. It was competing neck-to-neck with the Nissan Leaf, but the Leaf left the Volt in the dust several months ago.

To my colleagues at GM and Chevrolet, here are a few points to consider:

  • You have passionate, loyal fans out there – many of them Volt owners and some of them looking forward to owning their first. Mahoney mentioned that GM plans on doing it, including on social media. What about on TV commercials during sporting events? Ride and drives and event sponsorships also make much sense. The Chevrolet brand is popular with many Americans, and experiential testimony from Volt users could be a tipping point for car shoppers.
  • If you’re able to extend the range on a charge, why not get on the stump and hawk that point? Volt drivers many times have been amazed how many miles they’ve traveled on battery only and what the actual extended range could be if driven correctly. Their testimonials would help, and emphasizing that benefit in ads would do so, too.
  • Consider building more of them and getting them out to more dealer lots around the country. Like other EVs, sales have been heavy in just a few markets. There is interest in other markets, though it would need more advertising and showing the product. That’s where the Chevrolet brand image would come in handy – GM considers the Volt to be a “halo” in its Chevrolet marketing and that could be exploited much more. If the price is coming down, and with incentives for buyers and good leasing deals, that would help. As for production, GM has been happy enough to see cost-saving results in Volt assembly at its Hamtramck plant that it decided to invest $121 million more there late last year. You’ve got best practices in place – why not assemble and deliver more Volts?
  • Promote the EV charger options owners have. Last year, Bosch unveiled a new $450 Level 2 charger, which is the preferred charger for the Volt. It’s cheaper and simpler to set up and use than other chargers have been. That’s a key stumbling block for car shoppers.  They’d be impressed if the charging station were more affordable; and if dealers could get them assistance on having the charging stations installed at their homes.
  • Show off the technology.  GM’s Voltec powertrain has been strong enough to move beyond the Volt to the Cadillac ELR. Volt owners are finding that the Volt’s electronic and cooling systems are working well – they’re experiencing lack of range degradation. It also helps that the Volt emerged from its NHTSA-investigated lithium-ion battery fires a few years ago, while Tesla Motors still faces questions about the fire-proof safety of its li-ion battery pack.
  • Speaking of safety, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2014 Volt a Top Safety+ rating. That followed a crash test on a dozen small cars including the Volt along with the Nissan Juke, Mini Cooper Countryman, and the Ford C-Max Hybrid; the Volt was the only model to receive the institute’s coveted safety rating.

BMW i electric cars and Greenlots expanding electric transportation in Singapore

BMW i in SingaporeBMW Group Asia is working with Greenlots to bring BMW i electric cars and to expand open standards-based technology to Singapore. BMW’s 360º ELECTRIC program is being combined with Greenlots technology solutions to support Singapore’s first home and public charging network and the country’s burgeoning electric vehicle (EV) adoption. The network is based on the Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), the global standard for open charger-to-network communications.

BMW’s 360º ELECTRIC program is based on four key pillars that will come standard with the purchase of every BMW i3 or i8 – home charging with the BMW i Wallbox Pure and a basic installation package for the 230 volt wallbox; public charging through BMW i’s ChargeNow that provides BMW i drivers with access to a network of public charging stations located in office buildings, shopping malls, hotels, industrial parks, and buildings in Singapore; customized flexible mobility solutions that cater to occasional long-distance trips outside the city by using the BMW 320i sedan for up to five days during the first year after purchasing a BMW i vehicle; and assistance services offering various solutions to ensure confidence in driving an EV including BMW ConnectedDrive, BMW i Remote App, and BMW Roadside Assistance.

Greenlot’s open standards-based SKY Smart Charging platform will administer ChargeNow, BMW i’s public charging program, in Singapore. That will enable local BMW i customers to access its expansive network of AC charging units by using the BMW ChargeNow card and Greenlots mobile app. Drivers will be give real-time information on the availability and location of these stations.

Greenlots has had a presence in the Singapore market since 2009, says Lin Khoo, senior vice president of Greenlots. The company began working with Bosch on a government-funded infrastructure in 2010 on installations and maintenance. The alliance with BMW assists the automaker in bringing its i3 and i8 luxury electric cars to the market and supports Greenlots in expanding the open-standards charging infrastructure to houses and to shopping malls, universities, workplaces, and other public charging locations, Khoo said.

Greenlots’ global reputation and past experience working together is how BMW chose the open standards-based technology company, said Brett Hauser, CEO of Greenlots. Open standards have been gaining more support in the past few years from several automakers and other stakeholders in electrified transportation, he said.

Hauser said that one example of this support came through the Multi-State ZEV Action Plan recently adopted by California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. One action adopted in the plan is to promote access, compatibility, and interoperability of the EV charging network. This ensures that EV drivers have the information and freedom to use any public charging station by allowing common forms of payment, not requiring subscription or membership status, encouraging open-source protocols, and making fees transparent to customers.

This Week’s Top 10: Plug-In 2014 Conference downsizes to better serve its audience, Sales of plug-in electric vehicles were solid in July

Plug-In 2014by 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. Smart grids, fast charging, and an open integration platform for electric vehicles were topics covered last week at Plug-In 2014 Conference in San Jose, Calif. Now in its seventh year, the annual plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) conference changed gears – there was no exhibit hall this year and a schedule with two simultaneous breakout speaker panel sessions instead of three. According to comments from attendees, it continued to be a much-needed resource for peer networking and staying current on what’s happening in the industry; the exhibit hall and extra speaker panels weren’t necessary and the conference has needed to be streamlined. During “The Last Word” panel on Wednesday afternoon, Tom Turrentine from the PH&EV Research Center, Institute of Transportation Studies, at UC Davis, talked about a study he’s been part of finding out the challenges auto dealers are going through in effectively educating customers on PEVs and charging. The other panelists, including Ed Kjaer, director, transportation electrification at Southern California Edison, and Chelsea Sexton, founder, Lightning Rod Foundation, agreed with Turrentine that education of dealers and car shoppers is still very much needed. Looking at real data from PEV driver experience over the past three-and-a-half years is another resource to tap into; along with key stakeholders (utilities, automakers, and infrastructure suppliers) setting aside technology disputes and supporting the larger movement toward electrified transportation, should be high priority, Kjaer and Sexton said. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which organizes the conference, announced an alliance with utilities and automakers to develop and demonstrate an open platform to integrate PEVs with smart grid technologies. The platform will offers customer-friendly interface where PEV drivers can more easily participate in utility PEV programs, such as rates for off-peak or nighttime charging. With more than 225,000 plug-in vehicles on US roads, these vehicles will also play a significant role as a distributed energy resource to support grid reliability, stability, and efficiency. Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, and Toyota have joined together with major utilities and regional transmission organizations. During another announcement at Plug-In 2014, NRG eVgo, a subsidiary of NRG Energy, Inc., said that its partnering with BMW on its new ChargeNow DC Fast program. Now, BMW i3 drivers in California can enjoy unlimited, no cost 30 minute DC fast charging, at eVgo Freedom Station® sites equipped with DC Combo Fast Charging, through 2015.
  1. Sales of plug-in electric vehicles were solid in July. There were 3,117 Nissan Leafs sold – 62% more than July 2013. Nissan thinks that its No Charge to Charge promotion worked well. The Chevy Volt saw its best sales month since December, with 2,020 units sold. Tesla Motors reported building 8,763 Model S units in the second quarter and delivered 7,579 of them to customers. The company expects to deliver 7,800 of them this quarter. Tesla reported second quarter revenues of $858 million, up 55% from a year ago; and the automaker saw gross margins rise to a record 26.8%.
  2. The California Energy Commission approved about $60 million for hydrogen fueling, battery electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid projects. About $8.1 million also has been allocated for electric vehicle placements and $4.3 million for natural gas vehicles.
  3. The agreement on the “Gigafactory” between Tesla Motors and Panasonic Corp. has been confirmed. Panasonic, which currently supplies battery cells to Tesla, said it will manufacture and supply cylindrical lithium-ion cells and invest in the equipment, machinery and other tools based on the two companies mutual approval. Tesla role will be to prepare, provide and manage the land, buildings, and utilities. The dollar amount Panasonic has agreed to invest hasn’t been revealed.
  4. Toyota Motor Corp. has a name for its $69,000 fuel cell vehicle:  Mirai. That’s a Japanese word for “the future,” according to a person familiar with the decision. The US version has been called the FCV, and the car is expected to go on sale in the fall of 2015.
  5. The 2014 Chevy Volt with the optional Forward Collision Alert system was the only one out of 12 cars tested to earn the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s 2014 Top Safety Pick award. The plug-in hybrid also received an acceptable overall score in IIHS’ small overlap front crash test. The small overlap front crash test simulates a frontal collision that impacts the driver’s side corner at 40 mph. Other cars tested included the Nissan Juke, Mini Cooper Countryman, and the Ford C-Max Hybrid.
  6. “The Musk Who Fell to Earth” will be an upcoming episode on an upcoming episode in the 26th season of “The Simpsons.” This will be Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s second appearance on the show, though the first time that he’ll speak. During the episode, Mr. Burns, an iconic series character and billionaire nuclear energy tycoon, loses all of his money to Musk.
  7. The US Commerce Department is increasing penalties on Chinese imports for dumping solar cells, panels, and other equipment into the US market at very low prices to grab market share. Duties could reach as high as 165% for some Chinese producers and 44% for manufacturers in Taiwan. The tariffs will become permanent if the department confirms its initial finding that the practices hurt the US solar industry.
  8. The Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis is offering an online tool called EV Explorer helping car shoppers made a decision over the best choice for themselves – a plug-in electric vehicle, a hybrid, or a regular gasoline-engine vehicle. By entering a starting address and ending destination, EV Explorer offers a bar graph comparing the total annual energy costs of up to four vehicles simultaneously.
  9. A new report from Research and Markets forecasts that the global biodiesel market will grow at a compound annual rate of 8.1% between 2013 and 2018. One prominent market drivers is expected to be the advantage of using biodiesel over diesel. For those seeking a clean source of energy, biodiesel offers reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints.

Facing perplexed looks on what LeSage Consulting actually has to offer

Obama perplexedWhile attending Plug-In 2014 Conference last week in San Jose, I learned something beyond the state of the charging infrastructure: how people perceive what I do. That usually came across as a perplexed look on a person’s face – during an interview, seated for lunch, or during  a conversation while standing outside a seminar room. As I left San Jose McEnery Convention Center, I had the same question. What is it that LeSage Consulting offers?

I think some of the confusion deals with a perception gap between me playing a press/media role and a consulting role. In the past few years, people have known me through doing video interviews with Automotive Digest, phone interviews, sitting in on stakeholder conference calls, or chatting at a conference – while wearing my media badge. Several people congratulated me earlier this year after starting the consulting practice, and could see the logic behind it – industry expertise, market analysis, and the ability to pull it all together in content such as this weekly newsletter. For some of us, there is a crossover between the research and editorial sides. I spent a few years in market research/intel and have met a number of people who’ve been in media and now work in market research and analytics. Jobs have been changing for many of us in recent years. I think it’s my duty to keep Green Auto Market accurate and thorough – but it does come from my perspective on what’s taking place and worth paying attention to. That’s one of the more rewarding trends in the internet age for writers like me.

Since launching LeSage Consulting in January of this year, the game has changed for me. I’ve learned much more about where companies and organizations are heading in the next few years, and how my skillset and resources are perceived. I understand that for key stakeholders in automotive and transportation, it’s about much more than deciding what alternative fuel vehicle to build or buy. The landscape will be changing radically in the next 20 years, driven by growing concern over traffic congestion, emissions, safety, and what types of jobs will be available as the technology changes.

Clean transportation involves electric vehicles, hybrids, fuel cell, and other alternative fuel vehicles, and the charging and fueling infrastructure that drives it. There’s also the question of producing fuel-efficient vehicles that will meet federal mandates; and building them in environmentally sustainable factories. Advanced vehicle technology is the baseline, and is leading toward autonomous vehicles in the not-too-distant future. The theme of urban mobility is also another deciding factor, which several automakers are preparing for, in the context of carsharing and ridesharing, parking, and other aspects of making ground transportation work in a fast-changing, crowded world.

When I returned from Plug-In 2014, I revised my mission statement and service offering descriptions to get more clear about all of it, and to articulate that to colleagues. Here’s the latest…..

Mission Statement:  LeSage Consulting creates content, marketing communications, and market intelligence serving stakeholders in clean transportation, advanced and autonomous vehicles, and urban mobility. Content channels include the Green Auto Market weekly e-newsletter and through an alliance with Automotive Digest.

How it works:

Content creation:

  • Feature articles
  • Newsletters
  • Websites and blogs
  • Webinars and speaking engagements
  • Video and audio
  • Green Auto Market and Green Auto Market Extended Edition
  • Information products including white papers, reports, and e-books

Marketing communications:

  • Promotional content such as coverage of company news, product launches, and special events
  • Social media placement
  • Multiple content channels including articles, newsletters, press releases, video, audio, and webinars
  • Direct marketing through postal and email
  • Public information and marketing campaigns
  • Green Auto Market and Extended Edition sponsorships and event promotions

Market intelligence:​​

  • Surveys
  • In-depth interviews with stakeholders
  • Analytical reports focusing on emerging trends, vehicle acquisitions, technology innovations, legislative and regulatory environment, and global markets
  • Consulting and research services to clients with sustainability targets
  • Industry metrics including hybrid and EV sales; alternative fuel prices; stock market performance for companies in clean transportation; US charging and fueling stations; and green vehicle specifications and incentives.

Thanks very much for the questions and perplexed looks. I realized that it had to start with me getting clear on my purpose. Some of the main reasons I chose clean, advanced transportation as my main focus in recent years has been passion for the topic; seeing its integration with environmental and economic issues; and facing big changes in the media landscape. I’ve truly enjoyed connecting with several of you during conversations on these topics. That’s driven me in starting and building LeSage Consulting – supporting people who are passionate and committed to their mission statements in clean, advanced transportation.

Car rental a new market for microGreen oil filter as fleets face cost and carbon challenges

microGreenCar rental companies, like other fleet operators, face two core challenges: cost containment and carbon reduction. As experienced by the automotive and transportation industries, taking a multi-tiered approach is required to hit those targets – involving more than the vehicle acquisition process. Abrams Consulting Group, Inc. (ACG), the leading specialized consulting and research firm serving the global vehicle rental and lease industries for over three decades, and SOMS Technologies LLC (SOMS), the manufacturer of the microGreen® Extended Performance Oil Filter, are working together to bring a vehicle maintenance solution to new market segments.

The two companies have announced a collaborative effort to introduce the microGreen filter into the car rental and fleet management industry sectors. The two-in-one filter design combines a high-quality full-flow filter with a patented microfilter system to maintain oil quality over time. The difference with traditional oil filters is huge – the microGreen oil filter program allows the vehicle owner to replace engine oil every 30,000 miles as compared to a more standard 3,000-7,000 miles, depending on normal practice and manufacturer guidelines. The filter fits most light- and medium-duty vehicles, and is installed and removed like a conventional oil filter.

Car rental companies stay on top of maintenance – their vehicles are extensively used and add mileage faster than other fleets. “The car rental industry is one where…. vehicle maintenance, including oil, filters, and labor, is a significant expense, and there is mounting pressure to improve the environmental profile and reduce the carbon footprint,” said Miles Flamenbaum, president of SOMS. The microGreen filter “can significantly reduce oil and filter maintenance costs while helping to protect the environment.”

Neil Abrams, ACG founder and president, has worked with car rental companies and suppliers on cost containment – and in more recent years on environmental sustainability goals. “Over our 32 year history, it has been extremely rare that ACG would work with a product manufacturer of a mundane, after-market replacement part such as an oil filter,” Abrams said. “However, after reviewing the success already achieved by the microGreen filter with tens of millions of miles of testing and hundreds of millions of miles of usage in commercial fleets, as well as undertaking an analysis of the benefits to be derived by rental and fleet operators, the value proposition was obvious and compelling. There are potential annual savings of 10s or 100s of thousands of dollars — millions of dollars in some cases — depending on the size of the fleet.”

SOMS has been working with fleets since 2009 – police departments, limos and taxis, school buses, carsharing, and telecommunications companies, among others. “The fleet manager is looking at rising costs in vehicle acquisition and maintenance,” Flamenbaum said. “When oil prices go up, that goes into engine oil. Fleets need to keep their costs down.”

Carbon credits are being looked at more carefully these days by fleets, Flamenbaum said. But for fleets, the microGreen filter offers a more direct approach – just like LED light bulbs offer with energy efficiency. “They look at low-hanging fruit,” he said. “It’s a small piece of the puzzle, but an easy part, based on efficiency.”

This Week’s Top 10: The mystery of Tesla’s Gigafactory may be unfolding, Wanxiang Group announces a second Fisker model

Tesla Gigafactoryby 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. More details revealed on Gigafactory – Was it Col. Mustard with a dagger in the billiard room? The mystery of the Tesla “Gigafactory” is beginning to be solved. Panasonic Corp. has reached a basic agreement with Tesla Motors to supply machinery to make lithium battery cells; and an investment of about 20 billion yen to 30 billion yen ($196.4 million to $294.7 million) initially, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Details are being worked out, with an official announcement expected by the end of this month. In May, Panasonic said it wanted to be the sole battery partner in this factory. Analysts expect the factory to need about $5 billion to get up to speed, and that Panasonic may put in $1 billion of it. And while Tesla has officially looked at three sites in the US to build the plants, the decision might have already happened. Greentech Media reported that the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory will be built near Reno, Nev. One unnamed source took pictures of about 50 earthmovers clearing a site estimated to be large enough to house the proposed 10 million-square-foot Gigafactory. This source has also heard whispers about the secret project from construction industry folks and locals. There are still permitting and licensing issues to be worked out, and Tesla says it’s potentially the site of a pizza factory…… We shall see……….
  2. Fisker’s new owner announced second modelFisker Automotive may launch its second model in 2017, though no details have yet been released. Lu Guanqiu, the billionaire chairman and founder of Fisker’s owner, Wanxiang Group, Inc., thinks that this can happen in the next three years with the Karma luxury sports car returning to market well before then. The Karma will be built once again in Finland, and Wanxiang hopes to bring production to the US.
  3. Los Angeles will be added to Nissan’s “No Charge to Charge” promotional campaign on Aug. 15 for its Leaf electric vehicle charging program. Leaf drivers get an EZ-Charge card for public charging stations for two years. The program was launched in Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston in Sept. 2013; since then, it’s been expanded to San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Nashville, Phoenix, Washington, Portland, Ore.; and Sacramento, Calif. Nissan plans to add 14 more markets in the next year.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is late on creating rules governing electric vehicles (EVs) making noises to warn pedestrians as EVs pass by, and automakers say they’ll need more time to adopt the rules to vehicles. That rule was supposed to be released in January, so automakers are urging a delay in the schedule that requires them to start phasing it until 2016. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers jointly issued a letter asking NHTSA to postpone full compliance until Sept. 1, 2018.
  5. General Motors Opel subsidiary won’t be offering the Ampera (the European version of the Chevy Volt) after the Volt is redesigned for the US market for the 2016 model year. Opel will launch its own successor, an electric vehicle, sometime between 2014 and 2018.
  6. Samsung isn’t just rolling out new Android smartphones – the South Korean technology supplier has expanded its partnership with BMW to produce lithium-ion battery cells for the BMW i3, BMW i8, and additional hybrid models that will come out later. That partnership started in 2009 and now Samsung has agreed to enhance developments of its battery cells.
  7. Natural gas vehicle supporters were unable to gain necessary support for a diesel gallon equivalent that would govern the sale and pricing of natural gas for heavy duty vehicles. NGVAmerica says that they were unable to get the votes necessary to move it forward at the National Conference on Weights and Measures in Detroit. The gasoline gallon equivalent was adopted in 1994, but the industry needs the diesel equivalent standard for realistic comparisons.
  8. Renewable energy saw more gains in the first half of 2014. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects reported that wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower made up 55.7% of newly installed electricity generating capacity in the first half of this year. Natural gas provided most of the balance of new generating capacity.
  9. Stop-start technology yields a 5% to 7% improvement in fuel economy and C02 reduction, according to a AAA study. The AAA tested three vehicles equipped with automatic stop-start systems using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “urban” driving cycle.
  10. Nissan has been able to save $938,000 per year at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant using the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Superior Energy Performance program. Savings at the plant that assembles the Leaf and other Nissan vehicles comes through using the ISO 50001 energy management standard. Nissan made changes at its plant such as rescheduling work shifts, reducing motor spends in industrial hardware, and improving startup and shutdown procedures. The $331,000 investment was paid back in four months and led to annual savings; it was much less capital intensive than buying new hardware or doing expensive retrofits, according to the DOE.