This Week’s Top 10: DOE offering $4.5M in Clean Cities funding, Tesla announces more price-competitive model

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. The US Department of Energy is now offering $4.5 million more in funding for alternative fuel vehicles through Clean Cities. The goal is to increase consumer outreach, training, and strategic planning; technologies and fuels include plug-in electric, natural gas, propane autogas, and flex-fuel vehicles. Concept papers to apply for funding are due the beginning of next month, Aug. 1, 2014. Areas of focus are on-the-road demonstrations, safety-related training, and emergency preparedness. Read more about the announcement and find the link to apply for funding here.
  2. A long-awaited announcement came out last week on a more price-competitive model from Tesla Motors. Starting in 2017, Tesla’s Model III car will be introduced with a starting price of $35,000. That model will follow the upcoming Model X crossover and is thought to compete directly with the BMW 3 Series. It will be the first time Tesla enters the market somewhere between the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in starting prices. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it will get 200 miles on a full charge, and will be about the same size as the BMW 3 Series.
  3. The US Environmental Protection Agency may be rethinking fuel economy ratings. Automakers may have to road test their vehicles to verify mileage claims posted on window stickers, according to a proposal being considered by the EPA. The EPA is requesting more accurate information in the wake of Ford, Hyundai, and Kia overstating fuel efficiency on some of its models. “Some automakers already do this, but we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers,” Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, told The Wall Street Journal.
  4. Google Earth Outreach is working with Environmental Defense Fund to map out natural gas leaks under the streets of Boston, Indianapolis, and New York City’s Staten Island. Google is providing cars and drivers traveling streets to measure leaking natural gas, which is mostly methane, through its Google Street View mapping; along with sensing and analytical technologies to measure environmental indicators. Two years ago, the California Air Resources Board launched a mapping tool using Google Earth that allows users to locate major sources of greenhouse gases and examine the emissions of each facility. Along with Street View and driverless car technology, another recent move by Google was a $500 million acquisition of Skybox Imaging in June. Skybox Imaging provides commercial high-resolution satellite imagery, high-definition video, and analytics services. It will be interesting to see where Google is going with telematics, mapping, and autonomous vehicle technologies.
  5. Level 2 charging will grow 14-fold by 2020, says research by GlobalData. The market could grow from $67 million in revenue this year to $947 million by 2020. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided attractive incentives for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations installations, according to the study.
  6. LG Chem is working on second-generation batteries for electric vehicles that can travel more than 200 miles per charge when it comes out in 2016. The battery maker, based in South Korea, currently supplies batteries for General Motors, Renault SA, and other automakers.
  7. The Government Car Service in the UK is considering a few Tesla Model S deliveries to transport officials. The government has dedicated 5 million pounds ($8.6 million) for the program designed to buy more than 150 ultra-low emission vehicles.
  8. Volvo is setting up a global partnership with ABB to co-develop and commercialize electric and hybrid buses along with fast charging systems. Their first project will be the implementation of Volvo electric hybrid buses and ABB’s automatic e-bus chargers in the Luxembourg public transport system; 12 Volvo Electric Hybrid buses will be running on existing lines by 2015.
  9. Tesla Motors offered a $10,000 prize at a hackers conference for any one of them that could hack into a Model S. Chinese hackers at the SyScan360 conference in Beijing say they’ve found a vulnerable entry point. A post on the social network Weibo said that the IT department from Chinese company Qihoo 360 Technology Co had been able to take control of the car’s door locks, horn, headlights and sunroof. Tesla Motors has promised to fix any “legitimate vulnerability” to the Model S.
  10. Student Transportation Inc.’s 435 school buses operating in Nebraska’s Millard and Omaha public school district were able to gain cost saving of $5,000 per day switching over to propane autogas. That data comes from a one-year test program. The buses travel between 100 to 150 miles per day for an average of about 50,000 miles each year, as was learned during the one-year test program; that equates to about 4.2 million fewer pounds of carbon dioxide being released after switching over to propane.

Green Vehicle Marketing: Logic is one thing, but feelings and personal viewpoints are more important

emotional car shopperThe smartest way to increase sales and market share for electric and other green vehicles is proving that they can deliver three benefits: being cost effective; convenient for the user’s lifestyle; and reducing emissions along with petroleum dependence. Just take a look at websites and ad campaigns on Youtube for the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Tesla Model S, and other models. Those making the vehicle acquisition decision must be convinced on all three levels – but sometimes it’s not enough to nudge the purchasing decision.

The question always comes up: What’s the best way to make the case that buying a green vehicle instead of a fuel efficient gasoline-engine model is the best way go? As several marketing experts have stated, logical reasons for making the purchase decisions will ride in the backseat. The emotional, personal decision will drive the decision; and that’s the case for personal, business, and fleet vehicle acquisitions. Personal opinions and viewpoints will vary.

Here are two examples from recent discussions…………

  • One colleague thinks clean transportation is an honorable cause. He believes the debate over whether climate change is for real is meaningless; air pollution is certainly a problem, he said. He thinks of himself as being a good steward for future generations. He’s a fly fisherman and practices conservation tactics, and gets very frustrated with irresponsible fishermen. Two topics that he’s very interested in, and passionate about, are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and healthy foods. Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont are being irresponsible pushing for GMOs. McDonald’s and Nestles should be boycotted. “Look at where the subsidies go,” he said. “Agricultural subsidies are based on junk food.”
  • An environmental group leader that I know is proud to drive a Tesla Model S, has native plants in her front yard that need little water, and believes it’s important for government and industry to take environmental issues seriously. She’s very concerned about the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas and its impact on the environment. On the other hand, she thinks that natural gas vehicles utilized in a fleet is a very good, clean way to go.

Both of these people were passionate in sharing their opinions on sustainability issues, though their assumptions have been different. Diversity in opinions on environmental and sustainability issues is another marketing theme that needs to be addressed. For example, while speaking out against GMOs (and Monsanto) is top priority for a lot of people, for others it’s not a concern – or for them it’s so pervasive in most of the food we buy at grocery stores that you’d have to go to extremes to avoid GMOs, such as growing all your own food or only buying organic foods.

Other Americans will prioritize the Keystone XL pipeline as the leading issue, and for others fracking must be stopped. Consumers most concerned about climate change generally have strong opinions on some or all of these issues. For other consumers in the US, environmentalists are seen as being extreme and too far to the left; they may value conservation, clean air, and job creation, but don’t support an all-encompassing paradigm such as climate change.

Authenticity and social responsibility seems to be valued by most consumers. As covered recently by experts during a GreenBiz webinar, transparent, honest, and accurate reporting is being expected by consumers and in the business-to-business (B2B) environment. As panelists discussed during “Understanding the B2B Green Marketing Landscape,” B2B companies are especially demanding – requesting unprecedented amounts of information about products’ environmental and health attributes. Sustainability is one of the top values influencing opinions by individuals and businesses (according to several studies in the past five years), and it’s been tied firmly to ethics and social responsibility.

The point being made here is that frequently-asked questions about alternative fuel vehicles need to be addressed by salespeople and through educational materials. It’s probably a good idea to take a broad viewpoint on sustainability and environmental issues when marketing these vehicles.

It’s even more important to offer a hands-on, emotional experience to vehicle shoppers. That’s likely to come to them while test driving the vehicles, having conversations with experienced owners of these vehicles, and connecting the vehicles to environmental and economic issues that they’re passionate about. If buying and driving an EV, hybrid, or other alt-fuel vehicle brings feelings of community service, fulfillment, and practical gains, a lot more of these vehicles will be sold.

Robotics and autonomous vehicles raise fear factor in more jobs going away

roboticsIf you’ve spoken lately with students and 20-something Millennials, or with their parents, you may have heard about their interest in robotics for career opportunities – in engineering, management, public policy, computer sciences, and academics, among other fields. For those interested in finding out about the 10 best American universities to attend for education in artificial intelligence and robotics, check out this Business Insider article.

Career opportunities and realities are changing and will continue to do so for young people – and for older people from the Baby Boomer and GenX generations. Robotics is being introduced in several industries now, with the US Dept. of Defense (DOD) leading the way. Armed drones have been flying over Iraq lately to protect US military personnel assisting Iraqi forces from the unexpected uprising; unmanned ground vehicles continue to be tested as well. Lessons learned by the DOD eventually disseminate onto university and government research labs; there’s a growing demand for workers who can act as service technicians for robotics, along with those trained in designing and managing the next generation of robotic technologies.

Automotive executives from Nissan and a few competitors attended the Automated Vehicles Symposium last week; Nissan reiterated a bold statement – it will be the first automaker to roll out an autonomous vehicle by 2020. Daimler AG chief executive Dieter Zetsche said his company will have more to say about the next steps “in the not-too-distant future.” While it will take a few years longer than 2020 for autonomous vehicles to spread across US highways, the implications are huge for people making their living driving a car.

While speaking this spring at an economic think tank hosted by the American Enterprise Institute, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates said that within 20 years, a lot of jobs will go away and will be replaced by software automation (“bots”).  “Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. …  Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set,” Gates said.

Auto assembly plants will see jobs go away as robotics take their place. Last year, BMW took a step in that direction with a handful of robots working side-by-side with human workers at its Spartanburg, SC, plant. For those employed as drivers – such as taxi and limo drivers, shuttle services, and commercial trucks – robotics and autonomous vehicles will mean job loss.

As for today, growth in ridesharing is pushing fear factor buttons. As Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, and other companies make ridesharing services booked on mobile devices easier and more plentiful, taxi and chauffeured transportation drivers are starting to feel the pinch. Ridesharing and carsharing are starting to change the business model for transportation companies and automakers. Intelligent transportation systems, connected cars, and autonomous vehicles are in the works. As Bill Ford, executive chairman at Ford Motor Co., says, there’s a radical shift taking place over the next 20 years: automakers will become personal-mobility companies.

The fast-changing work environment presents challenges and opportunities for everyone. Robotics is one of several technologies impacting job retention and creation, but I think there are several other factors to continue monitoring and preparing for…….

  • Next-generation lithium batteries used for electric vehicles and consumer electronics. Tesla Motors is moving forward on an ambitious lithium battery factory subsidiary, and several other major automakers are investing heavily on battery R&D.
  • Mobile devices on smartphones and tablets – people around the world are becoming more dependent on their mobile devices all the time and expect more applications to be delivered. Android Auto is a good example of major technology companies like Google partnering with automakers.
  • Ridesharing and carsharing services are in their early phases but seem to be finding a lot of users in Europe and the US, with other markets like India starting to show interest; automakers and car rental companies know this very well and are getting into the business.
  • Robotics and artificial intelligence need a trained workforce – for autonomous vehicles, factory production, testing labs, cargo container management, and many other applications. As high school and college students and workers are discovering, it does make a great deal of sense to prepare for the future and gain job skills in advanced technologies.

This Week’s Top 10: US plug-in sales doubled over the past year, Now you can read Green Auto Market from your mobile device

Total US Plig-in Electric Vehicle Sales - June 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. Plug-in vehicles are continuing to see strong sales increases – nearly double what they were in total US sales a year ago, according to data from Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA). The total number of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) sold since their launch in late 2010 reached 222,590 by the end of June 2014; that’s 99% growth over the 111,962 units sold through the end of June 2013. Plug-in hybrid sales had more than 1,500 units sold for the month of June 2014 – 6,511 plug-in hybrids versus 4,982 battery electric vehicles. EVs are seeing stronger initial returns in their first three-plus years on the market compared to hybrids in their first years, according to a recent study by IHS Automotive. Why is that? As far as I’m concerned, it comes down to a few decisive factors:  there are a lot more EV product offerings than the early days of hybrids and they’re a diverse mix; some of these cars have seen high consumer interest early on, especially the Tesla Model S and the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Leasing and purchasing incentives are reducing a big chunk of the EV ownership costs, making the acquisition decision easier; charging stations are becoming more plentiful in several metro markets with high EV ownership; the cost of home charging station units and their installation has been coming down. Workplace charging is getting better, as is retail store charging. (Multi-unit dwelling charging stations at apartments and condos need more support, though – FYI.)
  2. Does the layout of Green Auto Market look different to you? It did change over last week using a new template on WordPress; it’s designed to be more responsive to mobile devices like the iPhone, Android, and iPad. I do like reading e-newsletters easily from my phone, and have had that request made by a few readers. You should also know about two new social media sites for Green Auto Market — @GreenAutoMkt on Twitter and a new Companies page on LinkedIn. Some people are getting a lot out of Google+ and Facebook with its 1.5 billion users; as for me, Twitter and LinkedIn make the most sense for connecting with interested and like-minded people.
  3. China is a huge, important market to enter, but watch out for trademark infringement lawsuits. Zhan Baosheng said he registered the rights to the Tesla name before Tesla Motors entered the Chinese market. In the filing, Baosheng requested that Tesla shut down its showrooms, service centers, and superchargers; plus stop all sales and marketing activity in the country and pay him about $3.9 million in compensation.
  4. Clean diesel cars continue to grow in popularity with US car buyers – sales increased by 25% during the first six months of this year. Sales increases seem to reflect the number of diesel vehicles now available to consumers – 27 cars and SUVs, nine vans, and 10 pickups come in diesel engine versions to the US market. Getting great mileage through advanced technologies like turbocharged direct injection (TDI) seem to be helping, too.
  5. Comments filed by an impressive list of NPOs called for several changes to the Federal Trade Commission’s Fuel Economy Advertising Guide. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, Safe Climate Campaign, Sierra Club, and Union of Concerned Scientists joined together on the comments. The groups called for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) miles per gallon ratings to be included in passenger vehicle advertising, the banning of anything but EPA ratings in ads, and outlined the most effective ways to present MPG ratings.
  6. Sandia National Laboratories released a study finding that a larger network of hydrogen fueling stations may soon go live. The study says that 14 of the 70 California gas stations reviewed for integration of hydrogen into existing gas stations can accept hydrogen fuel now; an additional 17 stations could accept hydrogen with property expansions that would comply with National Fire Protection hydrogen technologies code.
  7. Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) is hosting a webinar on July 17th at 12:00 EST. ROUSH CleanTech will provide the guest speakers discussing the usage and success of propane autogas; how switching can benefit your industry; and how to conduct proper use and handling, maintenance, and service requirements of propane autogas vehicles.
  8. Tesla Motors now can officially sell its cars in the state of Pennsylvania, now that Gov. Tom Corbett has signed the bill into law. Tesla had been battling with dealer associations, and eventually both the state House and Senate voted to allow Tesla to open up to five retail stories in Pennsylvania.
  9. Nissan is taking on Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on how charging should be paid for. “No Charge to Charge” program is being expanded by Nissan, from about 10 US markets to more than 25 by next June, with the possibility of more in the future. New Leaf buyers can join the program and get two free years of charging at any participating station, many of which will offer DC quick chargers. It’s being carried out through a partnership between Nissan and PlugShare. “No Charge to Charge” is using PlugShare’s charging station locator and EV driver community app with participating stations.10.
  10. The US Environmental Protection Agency may be rethinking fuel economy ratings – automakers may have to road test their vehicles to verify mileage claims posted on window stickers. The EPA has a proposal requesting more accurate information in the wake of Ford, Hyundai, and Kia overstating fuel efficiency on some of its models. “Some automakers already do this, but we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers,” Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, told The Wall Street Journal.

 

Bill Ford shares ideas on the transformation of automakers into personal-mobility companies

Bill Ford“With a growing global population and greater prosperity, the number of vehicles on the road could exceed two billion by midcentury. Combine this with a continuing population shift toward cities, with a projected 54% of the global population in cities by 2050, and it becomes clear that our current transportation model is not sustainable. Our infrastructure cannot support such a large volume of vehicles without creating massive congestion that would have serious consequences for our environment, health, economic progress and quality of life.”  — Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Co.

Bill Ford’s comments, which you’ve just read, were featured recently in The Wall Street Journal’s 125th anniversary issue where leaders were asked to predict what’s coming up. Ford is in a unique position in the auto industry – being the great-grandson of Henry Ford, who “redefined mobility for average people,” along with articulating bold, forward-thinking ideas on where automakers need to go in the next 20 years. Bill Ford understands the inner working and challenges faced by global automakers in moving forward, along with the market dynamics that will likely cause automakers to transform their identities.

Ford Motor Co. has been on the front lines with these issues – whether that be through having to clean up another miles-per-gallon overstatement, or producing lightweight aluminum-body pickup trucks and selling more hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Bill Ford sees the landscape changing overall for the global auto industry in addressing these potential solutions………

  • Space-efficient vehicles that run on gasoline or alternative energy sources.
  • Beyond the energy fueling the vehicles, Ford says that using materials and manufacturing processes committed to sustainability are very important. Aluminum is a good example, as is carbon fiber, in approaching the life-cycle supply chain from a new perspective.
  • Rethinking the role of vehicles in transportation – making them “smarter and more integrated into the overall transportation system.” OEMs will no longer be just car and truck makers, but will redefine themselves as “personal-mobility companies.”
  • Cars will need to be able to interact with each other in a city’s infrastructure, networking with other transportation modes like trains, buses, and bikes.
  • Ridesharing and carsharing companies like Lyft, Uber, and Zipcar symbolize a major shift in thinking – from individual ownership to transportation alternatives.
  • Bill Ford is a believer in connectivity – with “wireless communication, infotainment systems and limited functions for automated driving and parking” being of much importance.
  • Autonomous driving is becoming possible, and is already starting to show up in technology features making cars safer and easier to drive. Beyond completely driverless cars, Ford says that some entrepreneurs are looking into the feasibility of flying cars.
  • The auto industry has entered a new phase in its history. “The next 20 years will see a radical transformation of our industry, and will present many new ways of ensuring that my great-grandfather’s dream of opening the highways for all mankind will remain alive and well in the 21st century and beyond,” Ford wrote.

 

Green Garage Certification program offers sustainability standard for parking structures

Green Garage Certification standardThe growing popularity of carsharing may be indicating that consumers are expecting more from the overall transportation experience, and that includes parking their cars. Green Parking Council (GPC) is supporting parking sustainability solutions through its Green Garage Certification program.

The certification program offers a rating system defining and recognizing sustainable practices in parking structure management, programming, design, and technology. For those interested in qualifying for its certification program, or working with parking vendors active in the program, you can start with the Green Garage Certification Owner’s checklist to see if that parking facility is ready for move forward with certification.

GPC is a nonprofit organization and an affiliate of The International Parking Institute that provides educational and technical services to parking professionals and to the public. GPC, led by Executive Director Paul Wessel, believes that garages of the future will support electric cars being powered by renewable, clean energy and guided by smart grid technology. Carsharing and intermodality are part of the group’s philosophy along with making parking garages convenient services and well-designed urban assets.

The Green Garage Certification’s standard is based on 48 elements including descriptions, options for achieving recognition, documentation requirements, and industry and reference standards. Certification is open to all types of structured parking facilities including commercial, university, municipal, hospital, retail, and hospitality.

GPC also announced that it received a Clean Cities grant to survey parking operators and owners about alternative fuel vehicle use and interest. Parking operators in the Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland markets are participating in the survey. GPC will also be sharing information about its certification program, energy efficient improvement in lighting and ventilation, and its Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking (LEEP) campaign. Those who would like to participate in the survey or receive more information can email Wessel or call 203-672-5889.

This Week’s Top 10: Leaf still No. 1 in plug-in sales, Tesla Model S drivers wreak havoc in Los Angeles

Nissan Leaf sales successby 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. The Nissan Leaf continues to lead plug-in sales, delivering 2,347 units during June. While that’s 770 units lower than May’s best-ever Leaf sale volume, it set a record for June and was up 5.5% over a year ago. That makes for 16 straight months of record sales for the Leaf and deliveries up almost one third over the first half of 2013. The Chevrolet Volt saw an increase in sales in June versus May – 1,777 units sold versus 1,684. That was down from its best-ever June sales. Volt sales are stabilizing, but they are down about a third from the first half of 2013. Another interesting trend to watch is that the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid beat the Volt for the first time in monthly sales — 1,939 deliveries beat the Volt’s 1,777 units sold. Tesla doesn’t report its monthly sales, but it’s estimated to have sold about 1,200 Model S units in June. That’s much more than luxury electric car competitor BMW and its i3, which closed the month with 358 units sold.

2. Two drivers wreaked havoc in Los Angeles during separate incidents on July 4th, with both of them driving a Tesla Model S. A Tesla driver hit the back end of a Toyota Corolla at 10:35 pm on Highway 14 in Palmdale; three passengers in the Corolla were killed and two seriously injured while the Tesla driver suffered minor injuries and was released from the scene late Friday. One person was injured and is in critical condition after another crash on Friday morning in West Hollywood; the injured person may have been an unidentified driver who stole the Model S. The car had been stolen early Friday morning, most likely from the Tesla service center on the 5800 block of Centinela Ave. The driver led police officers on a wild chase, getting near 100 mph and eventually crashing in West Hollywood. The Model S collided with a light pole that split the car in half. The front half of the car caught fire after the battery pack was ignited. Prior to the crash, police officers chasing the Tesla crashed their police car near La Brea Ave. The two police officers were treated for minor injuries. Several other drivers were hurt in the Tesla crash, although it is still unclear how many.

3. Fleet managers are gaining more experience with electric vehicles and are making the business use case for acquiring them, says Morgan Davis of Electric Power Research Institute in this segment of our recent video interview. Check out the Plug-In 2014 website for more information on for the conference taking place later this month – July 28-30 in San Jose, Calif.

4. A webinar is being offered to learn about an important area for alternative fuels – emergency planning for communities hit with disasters. The National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) is presenting a webinar on July 17th at 4:00 pm eastern time to explore the benefits and opportunities of integrating alternative fuel vehicles in energy assurance planning. Panelists Linda Bluestein, National Clean Cities Director for the US Dept. of Energy, and Jeff Pillon, Energy Security Director for NASEO, will help participants examine strategies to promote information sharing and stakeholder coordination among state energy offices and Clean Cities coordinators. To register for this webinar, visit this site.

5. Toyota Motor Corp. has requested a two-year exemption from a rule governing electric cars to clear the way for the company to sell its upcoming hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle in a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Toyota says that the federal rule, FMVSS No. 305, would render its vehicle inoperable. The rule requires automakers to isolate high-voltage parts in electric cars in the event of a crash. The company’s new fuel-cell car doesn’t fully meet this requirement because a mechanism for protecting against electrical shocks in lower-speed crashes would render its vehicle inoperable, Toyota said. Toyota has taken another approach to insulating the car’s high-voltage cables and surrounding components, and would like more time to work this out with NHTSA.

6. The Tesla Model S has taken yet another award – this time winning the annual Total Quality Index study issued by market-research firm Strategic Vision. The study is based on responses from 38,361 vehicle owners and “encompasses positive and negative product experiences including reliability, actual problems, driving excitement and other measures.” Earlier this year, Strategic Vision ranked the Model S the single “most-loved car” in the US. The Nissan Leaf also ranked high on that poll.

7. Tesla Motors heard some good news from the Pennsylvania legislature – the automaker has been given more approval in the state to directly sell its cars to consumers even though dealers have been objecting. Tesla will be able toincrease the number of stores in Pennsylvania and add more service centers. The bill that was already approved by the state senate would allow for as many as five retails stores in the state; it still needs to be signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett.

8. Electric buses and trucks have secured more private funding. Proterra, a builder of electric municipal buses, has raised $30 million in fourth-round venture capital funding that was co-led by KPCB and GM Ventures. That makes for a total of $180 million raised with another $10 million expected to close in coming weeks. Motiv Power Systems raised $7.3 million for an electric school bus. Motiv provides a power train control system that can power a truck or bus chassis with commercially available battery packs and motors.

9. Hybrid electric vehicles used in commercial vehicles just lost a supplier. Eaton is exiting the market in North America for utility trucks and parallel drives for delivery trucks; that comes from weakened market demand, especially in the US, the company said. Contributing factors include expiring government incentives, a general stabilization in diesel prices, and the rise of natural gas as a heavy duty vehicle fuel.

10. Natural gas vehicles might be selling like hotcakes in China. About 3.8 million cars, trucks and buses in China will be fueled by compressed or liquefied natural gas by 2020, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China is the world’s largest energy consumer and emitter of greenhouse gases; China would nearly double the number of its natural gas vehicles by 2020 as President Xi Jinping seeks to reduce smog.

Will driverless cars, Google, DMV, and highway patrol officers control our mobility?

Google driverless carsDriverless, autonomous vehicles have been gaining a lot of attention recently – whether that be through Google claiming it will build its own prototype autonomous vehicles before existing automakers reach that milestone; or Daimler AG announcing it will roll out a commercial truck by 2025 that will be able to steer, brake and accelerate without a human driver behind the wheel. Then there’s Cruise Automation, a startup company that says it will roll out a $10,000 aftermarket driverless device that so far is only suited to operate on Audi A4 or S4 vehicles.

So what gives? Can we expect to see lots of driverless, autonomous vehicles on our roads within the next 10 years?

As far as state legislatures are concerned, four of them have already passed bills allowing autonomous vehicles to eventually make it to their roads – Nevada, California, Florida, and Michigan, plus the District of Columbia. It’s under consideration in 11 states – Hawaii, Washington, South Dakota, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. And it’s failed in seven states – New Hampshire, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Oregon.

It was fascinating to see Google initially test its driverless car technology on a converted Toyota Prius hybrid. Nissan rolled out its driverless test model in a Leaf electric car. AutoTrader.com analyst Michelle Krebs thinks that driverless cars long-term will be like hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) – they won’t take over completely but will play a role in how automakers and government officials are looking at the future of transportation. “There are certain places this approach makes sense, such as heavy commuting cities where autonomous cars could run essentially like train cars without a track — mass transit. That makes brilliant sense. Or these cars could be programmed to handle most responsibilities on long, boring drives, including commutes. In those ways, they will extend the mobility of aging baby boomers, which is where the biggest market is, if you believe that Millennials really don’t want to drive,” Krebs told Forbes.

For those autonomous vehicles that do sell in the future, Krebs thinks they won’t be driverless only. They’ll be “cars you have the choice to drive or not drive. There are so many legal and insurance and regulatory issues, and none of them are being resolved.”

There are some big questions that need to be answered in the next decade for autonomous, driverless vehicles to take off:

  • If there’s a collision involving a driverless car, who will be liable? The car owner? The automaker? The state government? The insurance company? Will liability be doled out and shared by all the above?
  • Then there’s the American civil liberty tradition. Will “big brother” be breathing down our necks? How much personal privacy will citizens have in the future?

I estimate that driverless, autonomous passenger and commercial vehicles will make up a large share of sales in the next 25 years – up to 25% of new vehicles sold in the US. Here are a few market forces that could shape that trend:

  • Traffic congestion is getting worse all the time – as the “urbanization” trend goes strong and more Americans work in, and live in, cities. While mass transit and bicycling are gaining a lot of support, in the end, new vehicle sales will likely stay strong for years to come and traffic congestion will be getting worse. Driverless, autonomous vehicles seem to have the best shot at dealing with the gridlock problem. That will require an interdependent relationship between state highway officials, DMVs, highway patrols and city police departments, automakers, and technology suppliers like Google.
  • Commercial truck makers are exploring the option. Along with Daimler, Volvo Trucks has been testing out autonomous solutions. Volvo has participated in the Safe Road Trains for the Environment (SARTRE) a European Commission-funded project. It’s a tested concept where several vehicles are electronically linked together in a “road train,” with only the lead driver in active control – many times a Volvo truck driver. Big rigs could play a critical role, as they do take up a lot of space on highways and have a major impact on safety and the flow of traffic.
  • Cars are already going in that direction. You’ve probably noticed that with every new model year, automakers brag about offering the coolest, advanced technologies with the latest in connectivity, safety, fuel efficiency, and convenience. After recently test driving a driverless car, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R—Ind.) said it was “the next generation of cruise control.” EVs are typically considered to be part of the cool technology trend – especially the Tesla Model S. For some people, driverless cars will probably be a logical extension of where all of the technology seems to be inevitably headed.
  • The perks will be getting better all the time. If you ever own a driverless car, there will be several benefits gained. For one, the former-driver-now passenger could do something else besides drive the car – play video games, watch a “Breaking Bad” episode, finish up some work, read a mystery novel, or talk to their significant other over a two-way TV screen. Car commuters will become more like train passengers, feeling more relaxed and replenished when they come home. There’s also the likelihood that riding in a vehicle will become safer as more and more of them become automated and driverless. Then there’s improved fuel economy, as these automated vehicles will probably drive routes and speeds based on efficiency. Best of all, gridlock will probably recede as driverless systems place vehicles at peak performance in speeds driven, braking, lane changes, fluctuations tied to weather conditions, and other factors eliminating human error. Cars will be interconnected and can communicate with each other, making traffic smoother and safer.

Hybrids softening in used vehicle market values, according to NADA report

Toyota Prius - Sea Glass PearlNot long ago, the market values of used hybrid electric vehicles, especially the Toyota Prius, were very strong. It made for optimistic trend forecasts on increasing sales of new hybrids and strong retention values – making them all the more appealing to consumer and fleets. More recently, used vehicle values have been softening on hybrids. Other green vehicles are still up in the air, such as plug-in electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles. NADA Used Car Guide has covered these topics in-depth lately.

NADA Used Car Guide’s Perspective edition for June covered the topic of used hybrids. Here are a few highlights of the report along with what’s been happening with natural gas trucks…….

  • Hybrid electric vehicles have been seeing decline in US new vehicle sales. Hybrid share of total new vehicle sales went from 3.1% of all new vehicle sales down to 2.9% this year. That’s the first non-production related decline since 2010, according to NADA.
  • The Toyota Prius is feeling it harder than the market’s overall 10% drop in hybrid sales this year. Year-to-date, Prius sales are down 19%, while deliveries of the smaller Prius C were only down by 1%.
  • Roles reversed between the Prius and the Toyota Corolla. In 2013, the one-year old Prius saw its retention fall to 70%, three points lower than the Corolla’s 73%; as for this year, the Corolla’s retention has been 75%, six points above the Prius’ 69%. The Prius has always been the bellwether symbol of hybrid performance – it’s likely to influence other valuation analyses for other hybrids.
  • Gasoline price spikes in 2008, and periods of price increases at lower levels and for shorter periods since that year, boosted sales of new hybrids and strengthened their resale values. But more recently, improvements in fuel efficiency of internal combustion engines (I CEs) and stabilized gasoline prices have softened demand for hybrids. Hybrids usually cost more than fuel efficient gasoline-engine cars, making them less appealing to many car shoppers. As automakers gear up for ambitious fuel economy targets and car shoppers remain interested in better mileage, fuel efficient cars and crossovers are doing well in new vehicle sales and used vehicle value retention.
  • With more natural gas trucks showing up in the commercial vehicle market, NADA’s used truck report devoted a section to resale value trending. The report said that natural gas trucks are starting to show up in the secondary, used vehicle market; however, it’s still too early to tell much about their used vehicle performance. There’s yet to be a published benchmark yet for comparing commercial truck resale values to past model years. This has influenced buyers and lenders to be more hesitant about natural gas truck acquisitions, according to the report.
  • Owners of hybrids, natural gas trucks, plug-ins, and other alt-fuel vehicles, will need to have a comprehensive lifecycle analysis. For consumers and fleets, the overall reasons for acquiring hybrids or other green vehicles will need to make sense compared to ICEs – even if their resale value is lower (or their residual value for lease holders, which are many times OEMs and their captive finance companies). Fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, environmental gains, and lower maintenance costs for hybrids and EVs may still be sizable enough to offset their used vehicle value retention loss.

This Week’s Top 10: Workplace charging and Plug-In 2014, Audi enters plug-in space with its A3 Sportback E-Tron

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

workplace charging1. Workplace charging and Plug-In 2014 conference
Workplace charging has become the most discussed topic in the plug-in electric vehicle (PEV)  infrastructure community. Check out comments from Electric Power Research Institute’s Morgan Davis on some of the issues that will be discussed next month at Plug-In 2014 in San Jose, Calif. Scheduled speakers from Google, SAP, Nissan, Georgia Power, and San Diego Gas & Electric, will talk about their experience with deployment of workplace charging stations. Other topics being explored at the conference include:  the future of DC fast charging; PEV incentives and economics; the latest in vehicle technology; and, two pre-conference seminars: vehicle-grid integration and fleet implementation of PEVs.

2. Audi enters the plug-in space with A3 Sportback E-Tron
Audi AG began rolling out its A3 Sportback E-Tron plug-in hybrid model; it’s the first of four plug-in hybrids that will roll out and compete with BMW for luxury electric vehicle customers and its first-ever plug-in model (and eventually with Tesla as it increases its presence in Europe). The A3 Sportback E-Tron is said to get 31 miles of battery power. There is a price – it starts at 37,900 euros ($51,700) in Germany – 15,100 euros more than the base gasoline-powered version of the A3.

3. US Supreme Court stays out of California low-carbon fuel standard ruling
The US Supreme Court has decided to let stand a ruling from September by the 9th circuit court of appeals in San Francisco upholding the California low-carbon fuel standard – at the chagrin of out-of-state ethanol producers and oil companies. Ethanol producers from the Midwest challenged the fairness of the rule, as their fuel is given higher cost to buyers due to the state’s “carbon-intensity ratings.” California’s rating system is giving out-of-state producers a higher price for their credits than identical fuel being produced in California. Oil refiners also challenged the standard’s premise that the cost of transportation and processing for bringing the fuel into the state is adding more carbon. California Air Resources Board recently approved a funding of $200 million in the 2014-15 budget to encourage the deployment of more low-carbon transportation choices. Rebates of $2,500 for battery-electric vehicles and $1,500 for plug-in hybrids will be available; fuel-cell electric vehicle buyers will be eligible for $5,000 rebates.

4. Longer wait expected for next-gen Prius
Toyota Motor Corp. has decided to delay the launch of the fourth-generation Prius until December 2015 instead of next spring. The automaker hasn’t announced reasons for the delay, but those familiar with the matter confirmed the delay; one of them said Toyota engineers are trying out various configurations to improve fuel economy including adjusting the body and chassis. Production of the plug-in Prius may take even longer – sources say that will begin in October 2016. Also, more details have been announced on its first-ever hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. It will debut in the Japan market next April for around 7 million yen ($69,348); it will go on sale in the US and Europe by the summer of 2015, according the company.

5. Pennsylvania takes action on Tesla corporate stores and sets limits
The Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed a bill last week after it was amended to cap the number of factory-owned stores allowed at five. The bill only applies to Tesla Motors and goes now to the Pennsylvania house. The original bill had no cap on the number of retail outlets that Tesla could have set up; that drew pressure on the state from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the major trade group representing 12 automakers but not Tesla.

6. SAP and Cox Enterprises add to their corporate sustainability campaigns
Software giant SAP will is taking a three-prong approach to promote sustainable driving behavior:  economic incentives for employees to lease electric vehicles; bringing in a new app from Toyota and Verifone that will get them by dashboard of mobile device to determine fuel levels, get to the closest gas station, authorize electronic payments, and receive personalized coupons; and in collaboration with Volkswagen, SAP will try out a pilot project that uses SAP’s mobility and cloud services that will help drivers locate parking and nearby food offerings in urban settings. Cox Enterprises (which owns Manheim Auctions, AutoTrader, and Kelley Blue Book) is utilizing an energy storage system at its Manheim Southern California auction location in Fontana, Calif. An 18 kilowatt PowerStore system provides the location with real-time data analytics that are used to optimize efficiency and reduce electricity costs. Since 2007, the Atlanta-based company has prevented approximately 120,000 tons of carbon from entering the environment and saved more than 125 million gallons of water.

7. Greenlots will bring open standard DC fast chargers to San Francisco Airport
Greenlots will install four open standards-based DC fast chargers at the San Francisco International Airport; it’s part of a two-year pilot program supported by the California Energy Commission through the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. The chargers will be part of its “Sky” electric vehicle charging platform that utilizes Open Charge Point Protocol (OCPP), the largest open standard for charger-to-network communications. Sky “obsoletes the subscription-based model by providing drivers with flexible payment solutions including dynamic queuing and pay-by-phone,” the company said. The charging station host can mix and match charging station types, while setting pricing options: by kilowatt-hour, session, or length of time charging.

8. Minnesota starts 10% biodiesel blend
Minnesota has become the first state to require that a minimum blend of 10% biodiesel be sold in diesel fuel sold at retail fuel station pumps. Biodiesel sales are expected to jump from 40 million to 60 million gallons per year through the new Minnesota standard. That will bring three production plants in the state up to their capacity to make biodiesel that’s typically coming from soybean and other oils.

9. Ford bumps Toyota off on greenest automaker list
While Ford is getting chastised for again overstating its mileage ratings, Interbrand has been impressed enough with the global automaker to name it the world’s greenest brand. Conducted with Deloitte Consulting, the annual survey (taken long before the latest MPG controversy) gauges consumer perceptions in markets around the world, combined with data on how companies operate internally and report their environmental behavior.

10. Zap Jonway electric cars going on sale as Urbees in China
Zap Jonway, an electric vehicle manufacturer headquartered in Santa Rosa, Calif., received from SunRa (which is also called Xinri Electric Vehicle Company) a volume purchase agreement for its Urbee electric car through its subsidiary Jonway Auto for the Chinese market. It’s an agreement by SunRa to purchase 1,000 Urbees per month from Jonway Auto to sell through its distribution network in China, starting with the first shipment of 500 units from Jonway Auto’s production line in June 2014.