This Week’s Top 10: GM and Lyft bringing out self-driving Bolts soon, Battles ensue over autonomous vehicle rules

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. GM bringing out 1,000s of automated Bolts: General Motors believes enough in the synthesis of electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and shared rides to roll out “thousands” of self-driving Chevy Bolts through its Lyft alliance by 2018. That comes from two sources familiar with the matter who weren’t identified. GM’s Maven carsharing business unit is likely to be involved in managing some of the automated Bolts as well, sources said. That would make for the largest fleet deployment of self-driving vehicles ever seen, as Waymo, Uber, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and others prepare for commercialization of the nascent technology. Analysts think that the fusion of EVs, AVs, and mobility will be taking place in increasingly crowded, polluted cities around the world. Automated EVs can be recharged efficiently and cheaply, are much easier and cheaper to maintain than ICEs, and can converge more logically with computers already driving AVs. Human drivers are expected to deliver most of the trips for Lyft, Uber, Maven, Zipcar, and others in the near future, but autonomous vehicle trips are thought to provide a solution to mobility services getting hit with peak demand during periods when there aren’t enough drivers out there and fares are known to skyrocket.
  2. Battles ensue over future of autonomous vehicles: Thorny legal issues are being delved into as autonomous vehicle technology strides forward. Waymo, Uber, a few automakers, and industry groups are working against potential new state laws that would only allow automakers to test autonomous vehicles in those states. Michigan started it all off with a bill that was given input from General Motors limiting access to state testing to automakers. The state did revise the bills wording of “motor vehicle manufacturer” based on suggestions by Uber and Waymo to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems. Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois are reviewing bills in line with Michigan’s first version limiting access to automakers, Automotive News reports. Last week, executives from Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, and Lyft urged the U.S. Congress to unify the patchwork of state laws governing testing and development of self-driving cars. One of the problems has been how much the regulatory structure varies by state, with California wanting a more careful, phased in testing and adoption procedure and Michigan supporting fully autonomous vehicles in the near future. Ford Motor Co. has found that gradual, semi-autonomous vehicle testing hasn’t been the way to go; with several Ford engineers falling asleep during test runs. The rides have been relaxing enough for engineers to fall asleep and take away the human safety factor. Ford agrees with Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car division and a few other automakers that Level 5 fully autonomous is the way to go; there are also several other automakers who disagree over that one and think vehicles should stay at Level 3 for now and complete extensive testing.
  3. Fighting over fuel economy standards: Automakers and environmental groups are prepared for a long-term skirmish over the future of the 2025 federal fuel economy and emissions standards. Tension increased after a recent letter was sent o President Donald Trump signed by 18 auto industry executives asking him to reinstate a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of fuel economy regulations through 2025. Automakers say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unfairly cut the public comment period short before the Obama administration left office. Automakers had been sending out warning to the administration on job loss and heavy costs connected to manufacturing and marketing these fuel efficient vehicles; when the public has been showing more interest in SUVs, crossovers, and pickups. Environmental groups have been threatening legal action if the rule gets weakened.
  4. Some Nissan dealers love the Leaf: While the Nissan Leaf has been seeing softening sales in the U.S. in the past couple of years, some markets are very strong for the electric car. It depends a lot on the dealers. In Seattle, the Leaf is outselling the brand’s volume-leading car, the Altima. In Kansas, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota and Connecticut, Leaf sales have risen by double and triple digits in the past few months, according to Brian Maragno, Nissan’s director of electric vehicle marketing and sales. Boulder Nissan loves the Leaf and plans to sell a lot more them; other dealers are wondering what’s next for Nissan EVs in the pipeline. Ride and drive events work well for Boulder Nissan. “The Leaf now accounts for 80 percent of the new cars we sell here,” Ted Christiano, executive manager of Boulder Nissan in Boulder, Colo. “We’re doing a great business with them.”
  5. Prius Prime sales: The Toyota executive considered to the “father of the Prius” when it was launched 20 years ago thinks that the plug-in hybrid will hit the million unit sales mark faster than the original hybrid version. Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said he expects Prius plug-in hybrids to pass the one million unit sales mark in less than 10 years, which is how long it took for the hybrid Prius to reach that sales benchmark; that will include the original Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the new Prius Prime. The company expects to sell about 60,000 Prius Primes a year, with more than half of these vehicles being sold in Japan. The original Prius plug-in hybrid only had about 75,000 units sold from its launch in 2012 to its closure in 2015. “Environmental awareness has become a bigger issue today than it was 20 years ago, and demand for environmentally conscious products has increased,” Uchiyamada said.
  6. Greenest and Meanest: The Hyundai Ioniq Electric won the highest-ever green car score in American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s annual Greenest vehicle award, with the BMW i3 coming in a close second. Each car is given a green score by ACEEE based on an environmental damage index, which estimates pollution coming from vehicle manufacturing, the production and distribution of fuel that powers the vehicle, and vehicle tailpipe emissions. The Mercedes-Benz AMG G65 was named the Meanest vehicle on this year’s list, tying with the Chevrolet G2500 Express passenger van; these vehicles are considered to be the least friendly to the environment.
  7. Advanced biofuels: A new Lux Research study sees first- and second-generation biofuels bowing out to newer low-carbon fuels. Biodiesel is projected in the study to lose 26 percent market share by 2022 due to the rapid growth of low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels such as renewable diesel. The study predicts advanced biofuels will nearly double in five years to 9.6 billion gallons per year. “A new era of technology commercialization has brought the global biofuels industry to the cusp of a tipping point, as new facilities target low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels,” said Runeel Daliah, Lux Research associate and lead author of the report.
  8. Midwest coalition: A new group called Evolve will bring together supporters of electric vehicles from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The American Lung Association and other organizations are joining together with these states to promote the campaign. Evolve is also partnering with eight regional Clean Cities coalitions, which will be hosting more than 200 events across the Midwest states starting this year through 2020.
  9. Volvo electrified launches: Volvo will be bringing out a three-cylinder engine plug-in hybrid, a battery electric vehicle (its first production BEV), and a new 48-volt micro hybrid in 2019. This new three-cylinder PHEV will feature a 9.7-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery in the tunnel, an electric air conditioning compressor, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a 55-kW electric motor. Estimated battery-only range will be about 31 miles.
  10. Smart electric cars: Mercedes-Benz USA has announced that Smart cars is becoming an electric-vehicle only brand. For the U.S. and Canada markets only, the company will stop selling the gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo coupe and convertible later this year. The Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the all-electric Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio. “Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart product portfolio,” Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told dealers in the letter, which was obtained by Automotive News. “Therefore, with the launch of the fourth-generation Smart ForTwo electric drive this summer, the Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the zero-emissions Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio in the U.S. and Canada.”

India seeking solutions to oil imports, power blackouts, and polluting vehicles

India offers a look at steep challenges and vast opportunities for clean transportation and energy from the fastest-growing country in the world.

India is expected to soon have the world’s largest population at 1.25 billion people. The United Nations predicts India’s population will be larger than China’s by around 2030. Energy demand and oil consumption are expected to reach record levels as an increasing urban population with rising income has propelled greater use of cars, trucks, and motorbikes.

And plenty of electricity consumption, as the infamous blackout demonstrated. The July 30, 2012 blackout affected over 300 million people and was briefly the largest power outage in history in terms of the number of people affected. It’s a country where millions of workers are moving to cities for jobs, renting apartments and buying houses, and blowing out power stations through turning up air conditioners on hot and muggy days.

India has been dependent on coal for electricity, and oil imports for its transportation.

India’s auto sales, including commercial vehicles and motorcycles, rose 9.2% last year to 21.9 million, according to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers. It’s the fifth largest auto market in the world. The country needs a lot of oil to fuel its fleet. Oil consumption set a record by growing 11% last year. Demand for gasoline jumped 12% last year to 23.7 million tons, while diesel demand grew 5.6% to 76.7 million tons.

Ever-increasing urban air pollution and the government’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions are drivers for change. India has also been quite concerned over its dependence on foreign oil imports, mostly from the Middle East. Neighboring nation China has very similar concerns. More than 80 percent of India’s crude oil demand is being met through foreign oil suppliers.

Along with air pollution, climate change, and the geopolitics of importing oil, India faces capital intensive road and infrastructure issues. Poorly developed roadways and infrastructure will be another hurdle for the Indian government – and Indian and foreign automakers – to clear for vehicle transport to become more viable.

India’s goals include more domestic oil production; electrified transportation; liquefied natural gas for commercial vehicles; compressed natural gas for light-duty vehicles; and renewable energy replacing coal. The nation would also like to see its rail system expand.

Like China, India has put in place incentives to get automakers to build plug-in electrified vehicles in the country, and to import their PEVs from elsewhere. India’s renewable energy ministry launched a program in 2010 that included a reduction of battery import duties from 26% to 4%, and consumer rebates of up to 20% off the window sticker price.

The PEV market could offer huge potential in coming years for Indian and foreign automakers. Finding a charging infrastructure will also be an issue blocking car shoppers, as will be cost, and trying out a new technology that they have little experience with.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., a subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corp. of Japan, is India’s largest provider of passenger vehicles. Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. are two leading automakers in India, with other Indian commercial vehicle and motorcycle manufacturers doing well in sales in that market. Korean maker Hyundai has been another leading foreign import company in India along with Suzuki’s subsidiary. An Indian government program called “Make In India” has been helping the auto industry grow and create jobs in India.

Mahindra & Mahindra’s electric vehicle division has been selling its e20 small electric car in the country, and its eVerito electric sedan, but there are few import PEVs to choose from. Mahindra Electric just introduced a new electric car, e20Plus. The challenge for Mahindra Electric has been selling the idea of idea of owning and driving an electric car, according to Mahesh Babu, chief executive officer. Making people understand the need for “sustainable mobility” has been a very important point to make, the Mahindra Electric chief said.

Babu sees the need for developing an ecosystem with adequate infrastructure to encourage consumers to try out the new technology.

The company had increased its production capacity to 5,000 vehicles a year, and would like to sell its cars globally. As for now, meeting the aspirations of Indian customers has been challenging enough, he said.

A government program, “Make In India” is considered to be helping the automotive sector grow robustly and create jobs for locals.

While there’s interest from India’s national government to see more electric vehicles come to its streets, its product selection and sales volume pales in comparison to Asia’s leading auto markets, China, Japan, and Korea. Tesla will be opening up in India by this summer, and Mahindra has been the EV market leader so far.

Maruti Suzuki, a subsidiary of Suzuki Motor Corp. of Japan, has reported selling 100,000 hybrid variations of its vehicles as a way for consumers to find fuel efficiency, reduced running costs, and lower carbon emissions. The automaker has about 50% of the overall market share in the Indian market.

Tesla, Inc., is taking its global outreach very seriously this year. Tesla’s website says that outside the U.S, the company has a presence in Mexico, Canada, Europe, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Taiwan. The electric automaker will soon be adding India, Dubai, and South Korea to its list.

CEO Elon Musk on February 7 tweeted that Tesla is hoping to open a store in India during summer 2017. Musk has been thinking about entering the Indian market for a few year now; in 2015, he mentioned setting up a Gigafactory in that country.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his delegation toured Tesla’s California corporate campus in fall 2016. Tesla was invited to be a part of India’s strategy to become a global center for renewable energy leadership. Modi was particularly interested in Tesla’s Powerwall energy storage product as part of its own renewable energy campaign. The country has a serious problem to overcome in distributing energy evenly, and affordably, across the country and Powerwall could help accomplish the government’s goals.

One thing to keep in mind is that vehicles built for the Indian auto market are similar to the UK market – steering wheels are placed on the right side of the vehicle. Tesla’s manufacturing plant in Asia, which is expected to be located in China, will have to accommodate that need.

Tesla will be entering the Middle East to sell and service its electric vehicles through online sales and a retail store in Dubai. Tesla said that it’s opening a store at the Dubai Mall. A Tesla service center will be opened on Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road in July. At a Dubai press conference, Musk recently said that a store and service center will open in Abu Dhabi in 2018, with plans by the company to expand to Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia.

Tesla is preparing to enter the Korean market in May following the South Korean government’s approval, and will establish Tesla service centers. The service centers will also offer Superchargers and will oversee Tesla autonomous driving features. Tesla went into talks last year to set up a Tesla store at what has become South Korea’s largest shopping mall, Starfield Hanam, which opened in September.

JSW Group, an Indian power and metals conglomerate, will be building electric cars by 2020; that’s coming from expectations the India government will further promote PEVs and falling battery prices will make them more affordable. The Mumbai-based corporation will set up the PEV business on its own and initially buy batteries from suppliers, Chairman Sajjan said in an interview. The company will consider setting up a joint venture for making batteries in the longer term.

The Indian government has set a few goals to reduce oil imports, improve air quality, and reduce carbon emissions. Objectives include more domestic oil production, liquefied natural gas for commercial vehicles, compressed natural gas for light-duty vehicles, and renewable energy replacing coal. Strong demand for oil and fuel production has led Indian refiners to spend billions of dollars in recent years to meet market demand, especially in nationalized companies. State-run Indian Oil Corp. has been expanding its existing refineries across the country.

India is seriously considering LNG as a replacement for oil. Indian conglomerate Tata is bringing long-distance trucks powered by LNG as a replacement to diesel-fueled trucks to the market. Public transport, taxis, rickshaws, and quite a few private cars have been converted to compressed natural gas (CNG), which is cheaper and cleaner than diesel or gasoline. The country is looking for economic stability and environmental gains from reducing its dependence on oil and coal.

VW establishes $2 billion Electrify America subsidiary as part of emissions settlement

Volkswagen’s settlement of the its “dirty diesel” scandal took a step forward last week with formation of the Electrify America LLC subsidiary. The new business unit, led by longtime executive Mark McNabb, will carry out $2 billion in investments in zero emission vehicles, infrastructure, and public outreach over the next decade. As part of the settlement, VW has been directed to make its outreach and education programs “brand neutral,” and not become VW electric vehicle marketing campaigns; and, its charging stations are to be accessible to all plug-in electrified vehicles.

The $2 billion settlement presents a big opportunity for stakeholders in the field to find funding and support for their own contributions of PEVs, fuel cell vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, charging and fueling infrastructure, and public education and outreach. It’s all part of the automaker’s settlement last fall on excess diesel emissions from nearly 600,000 U.S. vehicles; it requires that $800 million be spent in California and $1.2 billion be invested throughout the rest of the U.S. VW has already agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the U.S. on diesel emissions cheating settlements to address claims from owners, regulators, U.S. states, and dealers; and has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting vehicles. The German automaker has other settlements to reach in Europe and Asia.

It’s important to follow, as many leaders in the field have indicated, and here are the latest developments…………

  • Timing: Volkswagen Group of America will accomplish its 10-year mission over four 30-month investment cycles. The four $500 million investment cycles must receive approval from the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • 22 deadline: For those institutions submitting proposals, that process began in December. Initial ZEV Investment Plans are being shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board by February 22. The first 30-month investment cycle received proposals through January 16. Electrify America says that “noteworthy concepts received now could be included in our plans for subsequent investment cycles.”
  • Chargers: Construction of PEV chargers will start in 2017, in about 15 metro areas with 300-plus stations at Level 2 or DC fast chargers in the 50 to 150 kW range. A cross-country network of fast chargers will be set up at 200 or more stations, and these may include multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, retail locations, and community centers including municipal parking lots.
  • Phase 2 and beyond: Following the first cycle, Electrify America says that other “promising ZEV initiatives, such as hydrogen fueling stations or national ZEV car-sharing or ZEV ride-sharing services, will be considered in later investment cycles.”
  • Outreach: Public awareness and outreach will be carried out through information on charging availability, the benefits of electric mobility promoted through various methods including ride and drives, multi-channel advertising, website, social media, and educations programs.
  • Future concepts: A Green City initiative will be launched in a California municipality to pilot future concepts supporting sustainable mobility, a ZEV-based shuttle service using PEVs or fuel cell vehicles, PEV-based carsharing services, or ZEV transit vehicles.
  • VW executive: Mark McNabb, has served as executive vice president and COO for EVP and for Volkswagen of America. He has overseen the diesel settlement program and will continue to do so in his new role as head of Electrify America.
  • California sales: While VW is to remain brand neutral in the campaign, California wants the company to sell more PEVs in the state. In December, California said VW would be rolling out three new PEVs in the state by 2020, including an SUV. The automaker also agreed to selling at least 5,000 PEVs annually in California through 2025.
  • I.D. electric vehicles: VW has been rolling out its I.D. family of all-electric vehicles since the Paris Motor Show last fall showcasing a compact-sized hatchback. That was followed later by an electric SUV and a microbus MPV. These EVs are said to be coming out between 2020 and 2022. Overall, VW has said it will launch 30 all-electric vehicles by 2025 through its brands.
  • Hot topic: How this $2 billion will be spent has become an important issue to follow at industry conferences and through information resources. It’s a topic being discussed now at Energy Independence Summit 2017 in Washington, D.C, which goes through February 15. It will also be an issue discussed during ACT Expo in May 2017 in Long Beach, Calif.
  • Reaching out to state legislators: National Propane Gas Association and Propane Education & Research Council are working with state associations for development of mitigation plans at the state level; NPGA is relying on its extensive grassroots operation to advance this initiative. There are still several steps that need to take place before funding is made available, but the momentum is already building in the states to develop mitigation plans, according to NPGA. States are being given funds to replace older, dirtier diesel vehicles with clean vehicles. Propane has been successful in replacing diesel fleets, and other alternative fuels and clean vehicles are being considered, as well.
  • Charging fairness: Charging infrastructure companies have asked regulators to take give fair competition a chance – so that VW doesn’t build and install its own chargers or favor one or more suppliers over others in the market. ChargePoint, which operates the largest U.S. network of charging stations, requested an intervention in federal court in October, stating that the settlement could have an “enormous, and if not modified, potentially disastrous” effect on the market. Chargepoint was one of 28 companies and organizations that sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an independent regulator to ensure VW’s spending doesn’t take away competition in the market.

This Week’s Top 10: Prius drops from hybrid top spot, Super Bowl ads not so green

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. Hybrid and EV sales: The Toyota Prius dropped out of the top spot for the first time in January, with the Ford Fusion Hybrid finishing first in U.S. sales. The Prius hybrid drop goes beyond the usual sales decline at the time of year, dropping 28.1% in sales from January 2016, according to HybridCars’ Dashboard. The Fusion has been doing well lately, also finishing in the third spot in the plug-in hybrid category for January. The Prius Prime plug-in hybrid had a good month, finishing ahead of the Toyota Model S in sales. The plug-in vehicle market leader was the Chevy Volt, with 1,611 units sold in the U.S. last month. Another interesting result was seeing the new Chevy Bolt all-electric car come in at 1,162 units sold, right behind the Model S, which had 1,200 units sold. Overall, plug-in sales were down 52.4% from December but up 65.1% from the previous year; hybrids were down 32.3% from the previous month and up 7.6% from a year ago.
  2. Super Bowl ads: While the controversial Trump administration policy on immigration had its share of references in Super Bowl commercials, green car spots were a bit light this year. The game started with the long “2017 Ford Go Further” ad showing people getting stopped from what they want to do. It was full of mobility services Ford is getting into including bike delivery and Chariot van shuttles, but it only gave a brief nod to one of its electric vehicles being charged. Toyota’s Mirai fuel cell vehicle saves the life of a poor daisy being choked to death by fossil fuel pollution. Comic Melissa McCarthy gets to use the 2017 Kia Niro Eco hybrid to drive forward and help save whales, pine trees, ice caps, and rhinos – each time narrowly escaping death in painfully hilarious outcomes. “It’s hard to be an ecowarrior, but it’s easy to drive like one,” says the Kia voice over.
  3. Job loss from federal regs: Ford CEO Mark Field’s claim that going forward on the Environmental Protection Agency’s finalized fuel economy and emissions rules will cost the auto industry a million jobs was overstated and inaccurate, according to analysis of the data. During a speech last month at the NADA conference in New Orleans, Fields said that a few studies had shown these results; more recently, a Ford spokeswoman clarified that the analysis came from one report by Center for Automotive Research. The huge job loss was one of several scenarios that the report delved into, with another possible scenario finding that about 144,000 jobs could be created in the auto industry from the federal rules. For the potential million jobs lost, only 322,000 jobs would be in the automotive sector, according to the study. The remaining 805,000 jobs lost would indirectly relation to vehicle manufacturing.
  4. Fleet lawsuit against VW: Volkswagen Group is being sued by a company that had acquired a large number of VW diesel vehicles drawn into the emissions “cheating” scandal. German fish distributor Deutsche See sued the automaker for misrepresenting a fleet of vehicles it leased as environmentally friendly. Duetsche See leases about 500 vehicles from VW, and said it had been able to reach an out-of-court settlement. This is the first corporate customer to sue in Germany. The automaker faces several lawsuits from VW owners, regulators, states, and dealers, with many of them coming from U.S. class-action suits.
  5. Ioniq coming to America: For those wondering when the first electrified Ionics will be released by Hyundai, a company executive said that will happen this week. Mike O’Brien, vice president-product planning for Hyundai Motor America said that the hybrid and all-electric variations are coming to the U.S. sometime this week. The plug-in hybrid version will roll out in September. The automaker sees the Ioniq sedan, especially the hybrid, playing a big part of its green vehicle strategy. The Ioniq hybrid’s 58 mpg rating should make it competitive with the Toyota Prius.
  6. BYD electric buses: Major Australian airport ground transportation provider Carbridge has placed orders for 40 more all-electric buses from BYD. The contract was signed three months after the first BYD Electric Blu bus made its commercial debut at Sydney Airport. The Electric Blu can carry up to 70 passengers and has a range of 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) per charge. “We are the first Chinese company to crack Australia’s electric bus market, having come a long way since the trial of our electric buses at the country’s busiest airport in Sydney in late 2014,” said Liu Xueliang, General Manager of BYD’s Asia Pacific Auto Sales Division.
  7. Tesla owners get Ontario incentive: Owners of fully loaded, expensive Tesla Model S and Model X vehicles can now tap into a revised electric vehicle rebate in the Canadian province of Ontario. Consumers are now eligible for the rebate that can go up to $14,000. A cap has been taken off for vehicles that can go over $150,000 in price, such as a Model S P100D.
  8. Musk not quitting Trump panel: South African-born U.S. citizen, and Tesla CEO, Elon Musk said he won’t be following Uber CEO Travis Kalanick in quitting President Trump’s economic advisory panel over the immigration issue. Musk claims that he managed to get the immigration ban discussed “first and foremost” on the meeting agenda where it wasn’t even going to be mentioned at all; and that he raised the climate change issue once more. Musk and General Motors CEO Mary Barra were scheduled to meet with Trump at forum on Friday, according to Automotive News. The two main topics were said to be immigration and corporate taxes.
  9. NGV annual report: Check out NGVAmerica’s annual report for the latest on legislative policy issues and how to make the case for the benefits of using natural gas vehicles. One bipartisan bill, if passed, would increase cost savings for using heavy-duty NGVs. The association reports that “the Natural Gas Tax Parity Act of 2016 (S.3372 and HR 6111) would provide a permanent 35 percent exclusion from the 12 percent FET for heavy-duty trucks powered by natural gas. This would result in an average tax savings of $7,000 per heavy-duty truck. NGVAmerica worked closely with Sen. Cassidy and Rep. Ryan to write this legislation that would help level the playing field for natural gas among other transportation fuels.”
  10. LCFS summit: The agenda is available on the Clean, Low-Carbon Fuels Summit hosted by Calstart to be held Feb. 27-28, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. One panel will include a briefing on the California Public Utilities Commission “SB 350” proceeding, which has recently received proposals by the state’s three largest utilities to collectively invest more than $1 billion in charging infrastructure, with a focus on medium and heavy duty vehicles. A roundtable for truck and bus fleet operators will focus on Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) distributors and farms and other businesses that are sources of biogas. Speakers will include Henry Stern, State Senator, California State Senate; Mike Britt, Director of Maintenance & Engineering, UPS; Richard Corey, Executive Officer, California Air Resources Board; Karen Hamberg, Vice President of Natural Gas Industry and Government Relations, Westport; and Janea Scott, Commissioner, California Energy Commission.

What are the top selling global plug-in vehicles and what do forecasters think will be next?

From a U.S. market perspective, the Nissan Leaf has been taking a dive in sales in the past couple of years. Viewing it by global sales volume provides another perspective.

In 2016, the all-electric Leaf came in fifth place in the U.S. with 14,006 units sold. Leading the market were the Tesla Model S at 29,156, the Chevy Volt at 24,739, the Tesla Model X at 18,028, and the Ford Fusion Energi at 15,938 units sold. Globally, the Leaf followed close behind the Model S in 2016 with 50,931 units sold for the Model S versus 49,220 for the Leaf; and since its launch, the Leaf is the clear market leader for cumulative global sales, far ahead of the Model S and nearly double sales of the Chevy Volt, according to HybridCars.

Automakers take the U.S. market very seriously for launching and marketing a new technology like plug-in electrified vehicles. But it’s not all about the U.S., and some automakers have given other markets more weight in the initial phase of the car. The Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid has been a leader in Europe and was the fifth top selling PEV globally last year – which has yet to be launched in the U.S. BYD has three of the top selling PEVs in the world and has just started seeking a second EPA certification to start selling it e6 electric vehicle in the U.S.

Here’s how the list played out last year:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nissan’s partner Renault topped the European market last year, just passing by the Outlander PHEV with 21,337 units sold last year compared to 21,328 units, respectively. The European Alternative Fuels Observatory reported that the Nissan Leaf finished in third place in that market last year, with 18,557 vehicles sold. The VW Passat GTE plug-in hybrid had 13,248 units sold and the Tesla Model S came in fifth place in the European market with 12,353 vehicles sold last year. The Nissan Leaf switched places with the Model S, which dropped 26 percent from 2015 sales in Europe.

The all-electric BMW i3 did better in Europe than the U.S. last year, with 9,726 units sold in Europe and 7,625 vehicles sold in the U.S. (The i3 numbers do include a few sold with the range extender plug-in hybrid option).

The European Alternative Fuels Observatory said it will be watching to see how the Opel Ampera-e MPV and Smart ED rollouts do in the BEV segment; and the BMW 530e and second generation Porsche Panamera do in the plug-in hybrid segment.

As for other vehicles to watch during 2017, there are six new vehicles that could make a difference. Long-range EVs are expected to help sales pickups. According to Matt Bohlsen, an investment advisory in Seeking Alpha, here are six EVs to watch this year:

Company Model Availability Battery (kWh)        Range EPA

miles (kms)

Price

($US)

1. BYD Co e6,Qin EV300,e5 300 Now (China) 48 188+

(300+ km)

35-45,000
2.BAIC BAIC EU 260 EV Now (China) 41.4 162 (260 km) 37,500
3.Renault Zoe LR December 2016

(Europe, UK)

41 186

(300 km)

17,500 (13,995 GBP) + battery lease costs (from USD 47pm)
4.GM Bolt/Opel

Ampera-e

December 2016

(Global)

60 238 (381km) 37,500
5.Nissan Leaf September 2017

(Global)

40 150

(240 km)

29,900
6.Tesla Model 3 Mid-late 2017

(Global)

est. 60 215 (344 kms) 35,000

 

 

This Week’s Top 10: VW starts up cash for clunkers program, GM and Honda building fuel cell stacks

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. VW settlement: Volkswagen will be managing a program similar to the federal government’s cash-for-clunkers program that started in 2009. The German automaker will be buying back or fixing as many as 562,000 diesel vehicles in the U.S. into 2019 as part of its diesel emissions cheating settlement. While the federal government gave out about $3 billion subsidizing gas-guzzling vehicles for fuel efficient vehicles, VW may spend about $10 billion on new-vehicle purchases to replace diesels with excessive emissions. VW has hired about 1,300 contractors to process its diesel program-related paperwork and staff call centers, shortening the average hold time to less than five minutes, said Hinrich Woebcken, who became VW of America’s CEO last April. More than 1,000 cars have been fixed and returned to the used-car market, he said.
  2. GM and Honda fuel cell plant:  Hydrogen fuel cell vehicle alliances are continuing to move forward, with General Motors and Honda announcing a plan to invest $85 million to build hydrogen fuel cell stacks at a factory in Michigan. The joint venture, Fuel Cell System Manufacturing, will begin producing the fuel cell systems around 2020 at GM’s Brownstown Township, Mich., plant south of Detroit. GM has been using that plant to produce battery packs for its hybrid and electric vehicles. The companies say that at least 100 new jobs will be created to make the hydrogen fuel cell stacks. In 2013, GM and Honda created a long-term, definitive master agreement to co-develop next-generation fuel cell system and hydrogen storage technologies. Sharing patented information has been part of the relationship with the companies collectively filing more than 1,200 fuel cell patents between 2002 and 2012. Earlier this month, Toyota, BMW, Daimler, Honda, and Hyundai, announced that they’re joining up with several other companies to invest a combined $10.7 billion in hydrogen-related products within five years. Thirteen automakers, and energy and industrial companies, are forming a hydrogen council to support hydrogen fueling and FCEVs; and to provide another channel beyond battery power to hit the zero emission vehicle mark.
  3. Model S No. 1:  The Tesla Model S was the world’s top selling plug-in electrified vehicle for the second year in a row. Tesla hasn’t confirmed the number but it’s estimated to be at 50,931 units sold last year. The Nissan Leaf still has the highest sales volume with 61,507 units sold in 2014. In 2016, the Leaf came in at 49,226 and second place for the second consecutive year. Chinese automaker BYD, which was the top global selling maker of PEVs last year, had three of the top 10 selling electric cars. The crossover SUV BYD Tang plug-in hybrid came in at No. 3; the Qin plug-in hybrid finished at No. 8; and the e6 sedan, China’s top selling all-electric car, came in at No. 9.
  4. Daimler and Uber partnering on self-driving vehicles:  Daimler AG has made an agreement with Uber Technologies to include the German automaker’s self-driving vehicles in Uber’s ride-hailing network in the “coming years.” Details haven’t been released on the agreement, but it does indicate Uber’s willingness to work with other partners beyond its Volvo alliance. The agreement doesn’t include plans to team up on jointly developing technology for autonomous vehicles, according to a Daimler spokesman. In other news, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick has been under attack on the internet for allowing Uber drivers to access JFK Airport in New York as taxi drivers refused to do business there; boycotting the airport was part of a protest by the taxi industry against the Trump administration’s recent decision to close the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries. Uber issued a statement in support of Uber drivers who are citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen and live in the US but have left the country, and won’t able to return for 90 days. “This means they won’t be able to earn money and support their families during this period,” he said. The statement also announced creation of a $3 million legal defense fund to help drivers with immigration and translation services. Lyft has also been pulled into the scandal and has agreed to donate $1 million over the next four years to the ACLU to defend the U.S. constitution.
  5. Accessing EVgo network:  Nissan and BMW are working with EVgo to increase public access to DC Fast charging stations across the U.S. That will come through access to an additional 174 locations in 33 states now available to all electric vehicle owners in those markets, and over 50 more planned to be installed in 2017, supported by the partnership. EVgo’s fast charging network now totals 668 dual-port DC Fast charging stations installed and available to all EV drivers across the U.S., with access to new chargers continually being added.
  6. Green Car Award winners named:  Three winners of Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards were announced at a Washington Auto Show press conference. Named 2017 Connected Green Car of the Year is the Mercedes-Benz C350e, with the 2017 Green SUV of the Year awarded to the BMW X5 xDrive40e, and the 2017 Luxury Green Car of the Year going to Acura’s new NSX. The Mercedes-Benz C350e delivers all the luxury and driving enjoyment expected of the automaker’s popular C Class with the additional benefit of efficient plug-in hybrid power. BMW’s X5 xDrive40e iPerformance features appointments appreciated by BMW drivers combined with efficient plug-in hybrid power. The Acura NSX is powered by a 500 horsepower Sport Hybrid SH-AWD powertrain integrating a 3.5-liter mid-ship V-6 and three electric motors. It can go 0 to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds while still delivering over 30 percent better city fuel efficiency than the model’s previous generation.
  7. Ford in Super Bowl ad:  Ford Motor Co. will be running a 90-second commercial highlighting its mobility solutions on Super Bowl Sunday, tying into the opening of its FordHub center in New York showcasing these technologies and services. The Super Bowl ad highlights Ford’s advancements in ride sharing, electric vehicles, bike sharing, and self-driving cars. FordHub is a 2,900-sqare-foot hands-on experiential center located at the Westfield World Trade Center in New York City. Visitors will be able to try out exhibits and learn more about Ford’s vision as an evolving mobility company offering transportation solutions instead of just making vehicles.
  8. Dealers and EVs:  Audi of America President Scott Keogh spoke last week at the J.D. Power Automotive Summit on how Audi and other dealers can break through in selling and servicing plug-in vehicles. Dealers have been known to divert car shoppers away from EVs and over to higher profit margin traditional vehicles. Home-charging station installation and other services needed by EVs could be excellent service opportunities for dealers, he said. The German brand will be launching three new battery electric vehicles in the U.S. by 2020; it will be part of parent company Volkswagen’s campaign to launch 30 BEVs by 2025 in the wake of its diesel emissions scandal. Keogh said that Audi will need its dealers supporting the effort for the electrification campaign to succeed.
  9. SMART Center Gains $45 in funding:  Ohio Governor John Kasich last week announced that the State of Ohio and the Ohio State University are funding the $45 million Phase 1 expansion of the Transportation Research Center’s (TRC) all-new 540-acre SMART (Smart Mobility Advanced Research and Test) Center – a state-of-the-art hub for automated and autonomous testing, to be built within the 4,500 acres of the nation’s largest independent automotive proving grounds. TRC has been testing different types of vehicles – cars, trucks, buses, ATVs, military vehicles, specialty vehicles – and components on its 4,500-acre facility in East Liberty, Ohio for more than 40 years, including testing automated and autonomous vehicles over the last two decades. Phase 1 of the expansion will include a flexible platform and infrastructure; the industry’s largest high-speed intersection; the industry’s longest and most flexible test platform (a space the width of more than 50 highway lanes and the length of 10 football fields end-to-end); an urban network of intersections, roundabouts, traffic signals; and a rural network including wooded roads, neighborhood network and a SMART Center support building.
  10. Car2Go adds to its fleet:  Car2go will be adding thousands of 2017 model year Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA four-door, five passenger vehicles to its fleet. The carsharing company anticipates that Mercedes-Benz vehicles will comprise the majority of its North American fleet by the end of 2017. The compay says this comes right after car2go’s recent upgrades to its member experience with the rollout of thousands of new, improved, car2go smart fortwo vehicles to its U.S. and Canadian network. “At Mercedes-Benz we see the four key pillars for future mobility as connectivity, autonomous driving, carsharing, and electrification,” said Dieter Zetsche, CEO of owner company Daimler AG. “Today we take another step toward that future by adding the new Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA to Car2go’s North American fleet.”

Two studies look at the state of vehicle electrification

ChargePoint and McKinsey & Co. have put out studies in the past week offering an interesting look at the state of plug-in electrified vehicles and the charging infrastructure in the U.S. and abroad.

California continues to be the leading U.S. market for registered PEVs on its roads, with about half of all battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales taking place there, according to the ChargePoint study. Georgia, known for its generous PEV incentives, was No. 2 on list. Washington was No. 3, but a surprising ranking was Oregon coming in at No. 9 when it’s been very competitive with Washington and California as part of the PEV charging highway infrastructure. Florida and Texas came in at Nos. 4 and 5 on list. Four other strong markets made the list with New York at 6, Michigan at 7, Illinois at 8, and New Jersey at No. 10.

As for the PEV market growth, another surprising state made the list, with Utah at No. 1, followed by Nevada, North Carolina, Colorado, Kansas, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida, and Arizona. ChargePoint compiled the report’s findings with date provided by IHS Market through the third quarter of 2016. Growth figures for these top 10 states represent growth over Q3 2015.

As for cities seeing the strongest presence based on PEVs in operation, California had three of the cities, with Los Angeles at No. 1 over San Francisco at No. 2 (another surprise), and San Diego at No. 5. New York came in at 3, Atlanta at 4, Seattle at 6, Chicago at 7, Washington, D.C. at 8, Detroit at 9, and Portland, Ore., at 10.

As for PEV growth cities, several of them are considered to be significant business centers for conferences and meetings. Charging stations are being installed at airports, hotels, retail stories, and workplaces, supporting regions that have economic growth and interest in PEVs. Las Vegas was the No. 1 city in PEV growth in the past year, followed by Kansas City, Raleigh/Durham, Denver, Miami, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

The charging company also reported on the Top 5 PEVs sold in the U.S. last year. The Tesla Model S was No. 1, followed by the Chevy Volt, Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, Tesla Model X, and the Nissan Leaf. According to Baum and Associates and InsideEVs.com, it split at 53% battery electric and 47% and for plug-in hybrids.

Gasoline prices were an interesting trend to see studied in the report. PEV sales used to be very tied to gas prices, but for over two years these prices have stayed down in and stable in the U.S. Consumers had been very interested in saving money. Now the sales chart shows that PEV sales have gone up as gas prices have stayed down. Consumers are interested in PEVs for reasons beyond gas savings, according to the study.

McKinsey on seeing breakthroughs in PEV sales

A new study by global consulting firm McKinsey & Co. looked at where consumers in key markets, and automakers, see adoption of PEVs going in the next few years. Electrifying insights: How automakers can drive electrified vehicle sales and profitability digs into consumer tastes and interests, and where auto manufacturing is heading in response.

Two studies were conducted with consumers interested in PEVs and consumers who own them. About 3,500 people were surveyed in the U.S., Germany, and Norway; and a second study was done with about 3,500 people in China interested in, and owning, PEVs.

The core issue for automakers is being overwhelmed by new technologies to invest in to meet emissions standards around the world, and to prepare for growing interest in PEVs of all types. As automakers invest a great deal of capital in fuel efficient technologies like start-stop, turbocharging, and lightweighting, investing sufficiently in battery packs and other needed components loses some of its value. That’s been intensified by growing interest in connected, autonomous vehicle systems.

Consumers are becoming more interested, and have a few factors they’re questioning and considering:

  • About half the surveyed consumers in the U.S. and Germany say they understand how PEVs work. Between 30-and-45 percent of vehicle buyers in the U.S. and Germany, respectively, have considered a PEV purchase. Strong demand is being seen in Norway and China, where incentives have been ample and have been seen in sales results.
  • The study sees reaching the other half of consumers in these countries to be an important opportunity, but the message will need to be revised.
  • Making batteries with more capacity will be a big part of getting past limited sales, and getting their cost down for manufacturers is part of it. The study says it’s costing automakers about $13,600 for the battery pack with 60 kWh of power. There are other costs that go into it such as the electric motor, high-voltage wiring, on-board chargers, and inverters.
  • There’s also keeping it all within economies of scale. Adding a new PEV and building it at decent numbers means a lot of capital being place in opening up a new factory, or opening lanes at an existing plant, tooling, R&D and getting the product to market through dealer networks retail stories, and launching marketing campaigns.
  • Premium luxury cars by Tesla Motors and a few competitors are taking a lot of the sales, but there’s been a bit of a void for consumers interested in a wide selection of small cars, SUVs, and crossovers. McKinsey sees this as one of the opportunities, especially for consumers living in cities looking for more options and spending less on their vehicles.
  • Automakers and dealers would be smart to sell PEVs from a different perspective. Instead of purchase price and lease deals, focusing on total cost of ownership (TCO) would be a better way to go. For example, PEV owners are typically paying about 20% to 40% less on maintenance costs over a five-year period compared to vehicles with internal-combustion engines.
  • Growth in ride-hailing, carsharing, and peer-to-peer car rental are expected to have strong PEV market potential, according to McKinsey. The study found that more than 30 percent of consumers surveyed would prefer a PEV model over an ICE when using ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft; and about 35 percent would pay a premium to ride in a PEV.
  • Carsharing provides an opportunity to get consumers to try out a PEV through promotional offers. Companies such as Maven, Zipcar, and Car2go could tap into this market potential.
  • Another service to provide could be P2P (peer-to-peer) car rental. Consumers who own a PEV could make money renting out their car when it’s not being used.

This Week’s Top 10: California utilities request approval for major charging projects, Tesla not facing recalls over Autopilot crash

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. Utilities supporting charging: California’s three large investor-owned utilities have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to support more than $1 billion in funding for electric vehicle charging stations. Southern California Edison asked for permission to collect $570 million from customers over five years to pay for equipment installations supporting about 1,800 charging stations for electric trucks and other projects. Pacific Gas & Electric requested $253 million to meet several objectives including charging systems for electric buses and delivery trucks. San Diego Gas & Electric applied for $246 million for installation of up to 90,000 charging stations at single family homes in the utility’s service area; and other projects, including installing up to 45 charging ports to enable electrification of about 90 new pieces of ground support equipment at San Diego International Airport. The utilities intend to install thousands of chargers at homes, workplaces, airports, and port locations. It ties into the state’s goal of cutting emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
  2. No recall for Tesla: Tesla Motors was cleared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following an investigation over the fatal crash in Florida last May where the driver had been using Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous system. Investigators didn’t find a defect in Autopilot requiring a safety recall for Model S and Model X owners who have purchased that option. NHTSA analyzed changes made to the system since the crash, including how the crash rate dropped by nearly 40% for the Autosteer component, which can safely change lanes, became available. The crash rates in the study compared airbag deployment crashes before and after Autosteer installation.
  3. Wireless charging: Automakers, Tier 1 suppliers, and technology companies have reached agreement on the upcoming SAE Recommended Practice Wireless Power Transfer and automated parking alignment and charging of electric vehicles. Taskforce members have agreed on specifications for the SAE J2954 Test Stations; automakers will use that standard as a basis to develop their wireless charging systems, and to make sure they can interoperate with charging systems and vehicles sold by other automakers. The meeting held in Ingolstadt, Germany, is expected to set the foundation for moving wireless charging forward. Several automakers, suppliers, and technology providers see wireless charging being pivotal in helping move forward both electrified and autonomous vehicles.
  4. ZEV rules in Quebec: Automakers are upset that the Quebec province has followed a mandate similar to California and nine other states’ zero emission vehicle policy. Starting with the 2018 model year, 3.5% of all vehicles sold in the province will need to be all-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. That bumps up to 15.5% for 2025 models. Companies that don’t hit the marks will have to buy credits from automakers that do. Penalties for failing to comply haven’t been spelled out yet. The legislation, which was passed last October, should be delayed, according to David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada. Electric vehicle sales make up less than 1% of new vehicle sales in Quebec and 0.5% of all new vehicle sales across Canada.
  5. EPA chief nominee: Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general being considered as the new EPA administrator, is working at taking a more civil approach in his new role (which still needs Senate approval). He’s pledged to be a good listener and lead the agency “with civility,” especially when dealing with controversial issues like climate change and the EPA’s decision on the midterm review of 2025 mpg standards. He said the EPA’s proposal to finalize light-vehicle greenhouse-gas standards for 2022-25 model-year vehicles just 14 days after the comment period expired was a bit rushed and “merits review.” In related news, the EPA was sent a notice by the new administration temporarily halting all contracts, grants and interagency agreements pending a review, according to sources. The EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management ordering the freeze on Monday. It’s not known yet whether this move will have an effect on the auto industry.
  6. Elio Motors reports losses in SEC filing: Elio Motors has been taking losses in the past year, which has been investigated by a news channel in its corporate hometown. Local news channel KTBS in Shreveport, La., found in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the three-wheel carmaker had $101,317 in cash and about $123.2 million in accumulated deficit as of Sept. 30, 2016. The document also reported having about $6.8 million in cash and a deficit of about $2.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2015. The news channel also found that the company has once again postponed the launch of its affordable, 84 mpg three-wheeler, this time until 2018.
  7. Renault-Nissan top spot: Renault-Nissan has sold more than 400,000 electric cars globally and has plans for further investments to maintain its market lead, CEO Carlos Ghosn told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We are going to increase investment, we are going to have lot of new cars coming, better batteries, better performance, lower prices,” he said. Nissan’s Leaf opened up the auto industry to a mass produced all-electric vehicle, which was followed two years later by alliance partner Renault’s Zoe, a hatchback subcompact.
  8. CARB on midterm review: The California Air Resource Board last week published a 667-page Midterm Review of Advanced Clean Cars Program report. It finds that the state’s original intentions are being met, and the elements are in place to continue making advancements well beyond the 2025 target. The CARB staff, “recommends that California make a major push now to develop new post-2025 standards while working with automakers, federal regulators and partner states to further develop the market for electric cars,” according to a statement. The report also addressed the state’s zero emission vehicle policy, stating that more support is needed to grow the charging infrastructure. The agency will likely be pleased with proposals submitted this week by utilities to grow the state’s infrastructure.
  9. Ford PHEV vans: Ford has established a 12-month trial with the Transport for London agency’s fleet. Ford will provide 20 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle Transit Custom vans that the automaker says improves fleet productivity while reducing emissions. Scheduled to start in the fall, the test project will receive 4.7 million pounds ($5.9 million) in UK government funding. Ford and Transport for London will invite commercial fleets into the trial project.
  10. Infiniti performance EV: Infiniti is getting ready to roll out its very first electric car, though the launch date and other details have yet to come out. In 2012, the Nissan luxury division showed the LE electric concept car that was supposed to roll out in two years, but has yet to show up. Infiniti boss Roland Kreuger says he’s driven the prototype of this electric car as it’s “very good.” Krueger does however note that this is an “early” prototype, meaning its years away from production. The company will tapping into Nissan’s electric car technology, but will build a dedicated platform for the Infiniti model. Autocar and InsideEVs did a bit of speculating on it: it could be a 2020 Infiniti performance battery electric vehicle with its own platform packed full of Nissan’s EV tech.

Clean fuels and energy: looking into the next decade

If you were to study the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s chart on transportation sources/fuels used during 2015, it could end up being depressing – unless you’re set up to do well investing in petroleum. If jet fuels were removed from the chart, the share of gasoline and diesel would increase and dominate the pie chart even more; the other categories would increase, too. Biofuels and natural gas lead the way in alternative fuels, while electricity and propane autogas are lumped together in the “other” category, along with a few other types. If you were to look at what’s fueling electric power plants, renewable energy is in a similar situation compared to fossil fuels; though it has gotten better.

The market is also showing real signs of getting better for clean fuels and energy over the next decade or more. Several new electric, fuel cell, and alternative fuel-modified vehicle models will be launched and produced in higher volumes; the charging and fueling infrastructure will continue to grow; and breakthroughs in advanced fuels, renewables, and technologies are beginning to see positive signs of reaching commercial-grade production.

Trump and economics: The Trump administration is clearly unsupportive of decarbonization, renewables, and other clean fuels. But the market forces appear to be large enough to more than compensate for the impact of a fossil-fuel friendly administration, and whichever man or woman follows Trump to the White House in the next decade.

“Based on the signals it has sent so far, the administration seems to have little incentive or appetite for getting in the way,” Matt Tomich, who was appointed Energy Vision’s president last year, wrote in a recent GreeBiz.com column.

That level of investment is substantial; while Silicon Valley and other venture capital groups pulled away from renewables and electrification starting in 2008 (and over to mobile apps and devices), some of them are coming back. That can be in alliance with a few government entities as well. China invested $100 billion in renewables last year, according to Tomich. Clean energy is surging toward becoming a multi-trillion-dollar market; and the U.S. is seeing renewables generate more energy than any other country except China. Along with clean energy, Energy Vision is projecting that several promising renewable energy markets are emerging, including renewable natural gas. It burns as cleanly as geologic natural gas and can use the same pipelines for delivery. It’s made from biogas emitted by decomposing organic materials such as farm waste, food waste and municipal wastewater, which are renewable, ubiquitous resources, Tomich said.

RNG and RD:  Renewable natural gas and renewable diesel are seeing incentives increase, and demand for the fuel growing from fleets. California’s low carbon fuel standard includes them as qualifying fuels, which helps infrastructure suppliers make that investment. In October, the city of San Diego joined a growing list of cities in California adopting renewable diesel. As part of the city’s goal of cutting its greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2035, it will soon fuel its entire municipal vehicle fleet with renewable diesel, making it the largest in the nation to embrace the clean fuel.

Renewable energy: Scientific American recently reported that renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind are expected to account for 8% of U.S. electricity-generation capacity in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar growth is behind much of it. For the first time ever, new solar-generating capacity is expected to exceed new generating capacity for wind and natural gas, according to the report.

DME:  Oberon Fuels said that it has its first customer demonstration of a Dimethyl Ether (DME)-powered Mack truck, a Mack Pinnacle. Oberon, a DME producer, and Mack are working with the NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) to operate the demonstration vehicle at the Fresh Kills Landfill, and evaluate performance and overall drivability. The test is the first step in the city’s evaluation of both DME trucks and DME fuel as a potential long-term strategy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050; and to achieve the city’s goal of sending zero waste to landfill by 2030. DME has quite a few supporters, as it has the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel but can lower CO2 emissions by 95%

Advanced batteries:  Lithium-ion batteries are starting to see improvements being deployed in new electric vehicles for better energy storage capacity, with more technology innovations just around the corner. Along with lithium-iron phosphate batteries, researchers are fascinated with the potential of nanotechnology. In Europe and the U.S., innovative nano-material based supercapacitors are set to bring mass market appeal for PEVs much more possible; with graphene being well received as a potential nano-material. The amount of energy in which supercapacitors are able to store is generally about 10% that of electrochemical batteries. The ElectroGraph project is being supported by the European Union and a consortium of 10 partners from research institutes and industries. One of their main objectives is to develop new types of supercapacitors with significantly improved energy storage capacities.

Wireless charging:  Some analysts see wireless electric vehicle charging being as, or more, important than fast charging in supporting adoption of plug-in electrified vehicles (PEVs). Some automakers are showing interest, but mass adoption is still years away. Mercedes-Benz will be the first on the market, offering wireless charging on its S550e plug-in hybrid this year. Wireless uses inductive charging with two coils of wire in two objects, such as a pad on the electric car connected to its battery and a separate pad on the ground. When the pads are close enough, an electromagnetic field transmits current and charges the battery. Suppliers, including Qualcomm, Momentum Dynamics, and Evatran Group, are in talks with automakers about integrating this technology into their product planning.

Advanced biofuels:  Signs are in place that producers are adopting advanced fuels over traditional corn-based ethanol that makes up about 10% of gasoline sold in the U.S. Cellulosic ethanol has major corporate backing from DuPont, POET, and Abengoa. Synthetic Genomics and ExxonMobil recently extended their agreement to conduct joint research into advanced algae biofuels after making significant progress in understanding algae genetics, growth characteristics, and increasing oil production. Gevo, Inc., just announced that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved the pathway for isobutanol produced at Gevo’s Luverne, Minn., plant to be an advanced biofuel under the Renewable Fuel Standard program. The company also announced that a 12.5% blend of its bio-isobutanol with gasoline marketed for use in automobiles has begun to be sold in the Houston area.

PEV sales volume:  More than 700,000 PEVs were sold in China, Europe, and the U.S. last year, with China in first place and about double the size of U.S. sales, then came the U.S., Norway, U.K., France, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, Sweden, and Canada. Sales numbers have been shooting up in the past two years, with incentives and a wide variety of PEVs available, driving growth in China. The U.S. and Europe are also seeing impressive gains. If this trend continues over the next 15 years, PEVs will make a decent share of global new vehicle sales, well beyond the current level of about 1% of global sales.

Long-range: The Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 were thought to be bringing the future of longer-range rides in a PEV to the market. That’s already starting to be seen with the Chevy Bolt getting a 238 miles per charge rating by the EPA. The new Renault Zoe all-electric small car was launched last year with 250 miles per charge based on Europe’s NEDC standards, which would be less in the U.S. under EPA standards. While it will take until the end of this year for the 200-mile plus Model 3 to roll out, Tesla just broke through another barrier – the 300 miles per charge level. Tesla just launched a Model S 100D with 335 miles of range per charge and a starting price of $95,800 (plus destination) before incentives. It’s powered by a 100 kWh battery, and is awaiting an official EPA rating on its range following the agency’s preliminary estimate. The electric automaker also launched the Model X 100D with a 100 kWh battery and 295 miles of range, based on the preliminary EPA estimate. Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, and Honda have each committed to launching an impressive lineup of PEVs through 2025. Startups like NextEV, Lucid Motors, Faraday Future, and Fisker, Inc., are preparing for their first wave of launches taking on Tesla in the high-performance end with bragging rights for the fastest, longest-range all-electric supercars on the market.

Charging by speed and energy source:  As of one year ago, Tesla had 253 Superchargers installed in the U.S., there were 1,530 CHadeMO chargers, and 387 CCS/Combo fast chargers in place, according to Fleet Carma. That number has gone up in the past year and makes up over 10% of what the Department Energy says makes for a total of 15,315 charging stations in the U.S.; with Level 2 chargers also being a significant growth area in recent years. Utilizing renewable energy sources to charge PEVs still has a long way to go, but the current numbers became more impressive over the past year. California makes up about 50% of PEV sales in the U.S. Last year, about 27% of its electricity retail sales were powered by renewables including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and small hydroelectric. The state’s aggressive Renewables Portfolio Standard is aiming to reach 33% by 2020 and 50% by 2030; which looks possible to accomplish. Another factor to consider is that a lot of PEV owners charge their vehicles through their own clean power source, usually solar panels on their houses.

New hydrogen fuel cell alliance:  Fuel cell electric vehicles are way behind PEVs and other alternative fuels in vehicles sold in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Automakers are still dedicated to the fuel and technology, though, as spelled out recently in a KPMG study. That became more evident last week when Toyota, BMW, Daimler, Honda, and Hyundai, announced that they’re joining up with several other companies to invest a combined $10.7 billion in hydrogen-related products within five years. Thirteen automakers, and energy and industrial companies, are forming a hydrogen council to support hydrogen fueling and FCEVs; and to provide another channel beyond battery power to hit the zero emission vehicle mark.

“The world of energy is transforming very, very fast,” said Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland; Shell is one of the alliance’s partners. “Hydrogen has massive potential.”

Other OEM alliances:  Other FCEV alliances were created in recent years with General Motors and Honda exchanging patents. Toyota and BMW created an alliance to share technology and funding. Another consortium had been set up with Nissan, Ford, and Daimler. It’s been a slow process, with Nissan announcing its first fuel cell cars many not come out until 2020 or the next year. A fuel-cell version of Daimler’s Mercedes GLC may be launched this year; however, it isn’t clear whether its technology is a result of the partnership with Nissan and Ford.

Hydrogen stations:  Nikola Motor Co., which operates hydrogen fuel cell semi-trucks, will be rolling out a nationwide network of hydrogen fueling stations that will be accessible to other fuel cell vehicles, the company recently announced. That would increase the U.S.’s present status of 33 hydrogen stations more than 10-fold to 364 more stations built by Nikola. This infrastructure network will begin construction in a year, in January 2018, and will begin opening in late 2019, according to CEO Trevor Milton. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes, and other automakers developing fuel cell cars, will be very interested in seeing this happen.

Propane autogas: According to a study prepared for the U.S. Department of Energy, propane vehicle sales are expected to increase from 12,900 in 2014 to about 34,750 per year by 2020, and then to about 52,500 vehicles per year by 2025. Market segments include fleets using light-duty and medium-duty work trucks. While the introduction of new vehicles and engines has been slower than anticipated, and greater market penetration will be delayed somewhat by the decline in the propane fuel cost advantage caused by lower oil prices, the availability of new emissions-certified engines and the growing acceptance of propane vehicles by commercial vehicle fleet operators, irrigators, and commercial landscapers will lead to continuing growth in these markets.

Roush CleanTech has found converting and selling propane-powered school buses to be taking off in the market, along with its propane vans and heavy-duty pickups.  It took the company six years to sell over 14,000 propane vehicles, but the company is on track to sell 6,000 more vehicles converted to run on propane autogas by the end of 2017. The company says that it’s been able to make the business case that propane makes for a better, more cost effective alternative fuel than compressed natural gas.

Natural gas: Earlier this month, NGVAmerica commended the release of a new study by scientists from West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions. The study published online by Environmental Science & Technology was supported by the Environmental Defense Fund and numerous organizations from the natural gas industry, including a variety of NGVAmerica members. The industry is seeing significant advancements where technologies are being deployed in the latest generation of natural gas engines and fueling infrastructure. These are dramatically lowering emissions, providing North American fleets with the ‘greenest’ choice, said NGVAmerica President Matthew Godlewski.

The industry group also commented on the fact that the WVU study did not examine the increasing role renewable natural gas that can reduce total GHG emissions by more than 80%. NGVAmerica estimates that 20% to 30% of all natural gas used for transportation is now RNG.

Refuse giant and NGVs: Waste Management this month released its annual sustainability report, which announced that the company recycled and composted more than 14 million tons of materials from the waste stream in 2015; and as a company, Waste Management is a net greenhouse gas reducer. Its fleet uses more 5,100 natural gas vehicles, which the company says is the largest fleet of its kind in North America. The company reported using technology at landfill-gas-to-energy facilities to power the equivalent of 470,000 households, offsetting 2.5 million tons of coal per year and 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. You can view the report here.

Biofuels: As previously mentioned, advanced fuels are pivotal to the future of biofuels. The EPA last week denied a request from oil refiners to waive some of their advanced biofuels use requirements from 2016 in the Renewable Fuel Standard. The agency in a letter to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers said it was denying the group’s request to waive some of the volumes that previously the agency said would be required for use in 2016, citing short supplies. EPA had set up a waiver credit system to help oil companies meet annual targets set by Congress for required use of cellulosic ethanol. Development of the advanced biofuel industry has been slower than lawmakers expected when they established annual targets in 2007.

Biodiesel:  Biodiesel so far has been the leading advanced biofuel qualifying for Renewable Identification Credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard. It has an advocate in the industry – General Motors – which has not backed away from selling diesel vehicles after the emissions scandal and so far hasn’t been pulled into it. Biodiesel adds another appealing element to the fuel for the automaker and its fleet clients.

GM and biodiesel:  During the National Biodiesel Conference this month, John Schwegman, director of commercial product and medium duty for GM Fleet, announced GM will add to its lineup of B20-capable vehicles, making for the auto industry’s most expansive lineup of diesel-powered vehicles this year. That biodiesel-capable vehicle lineup includes Chevrolet Express full-size vans; Silverado HD full-size pickups; the Colorado midsize pickup; Low Cab Forward commercial truck; 2017 Cruze compact car; and the 2018 Equinox compact crossover SUV. Schwegman said that GM is “very optimistic on the diesel market.” The company has more than two million diesel vehicles on the road today in the U.S. and is making all its existing and future diesel vehicles B20 compliant.

New EPA head on RFS: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who will soon be EPA administrator if approved, is expected to crack down on federal fuel economy and emissions standards; unless the process is too long and dragged out to reverse EPA’s January decision, and if there are clean energy mandates made by the Obama administration that are more important to the Trump administration to overturn. As for the Renewable Fuel Standard, lawmakers from Midwestern states asked about his views on biofuels during the Senate confirmation hearing. Pruitt said he would support the U.S. renewable fuels standard, which requires biofuels like ethanol to be blended in gasoline, but said the program needed some tweaks.

He has taken measures against the RFS. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt in 2013 filed a friend of the court brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in which he argued the EPA ignored the risks that gasoline with more than 10 percent ethanol can pose to vehicle fuel systems as well as the RFS requirement’s possible effect on food prices. He has been prone to support fossil fuel companies. In Oklahoma, he’d received more than $318,000 from fossil fuel companies for his election campaigns. Ethanol advocates have said they’re going to work on being heard by Pruitt. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) would like to speak with him about it. “I look forward to working with the president-elect and his nominees to continue the success of domestic biofuels,” Grassley said.

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

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

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