Electric Vehicle Landscape: Majors Vs. Startups Part 1

Plug-in electric vehicles arena’t going to take over new vehicle sales anytime soon, but the market is having a surprising comeback given that Covid-19 and economic jitters continue. Consumers are looking well beyond the basics, including entertainment during the quarantine, for electric passenger cars, while electric trucks are seeing a bit of movement as well.

While major players are making the headway in sales, startups are coming out of the shadows and playing a role in the market dynamics as well. Electric trucks are getting a lot of interest from investors.

This week: the major automakers are doing well.

Top 10 global EV brands in sales
this year through May

Brand 2021 Units Sold

  1. Tesla 276,459
  2. SAIC-GM-Wuling  161,610
  3. Volkswagen 118,856
  4. BYD 110,427
  5. BMW 105,419
  6. Mercedes-Benz 88,186
  7. Volvo 75,763
  8. SAIC 73,086
  9. Audi 60,763
  10. Peugeot 49,315

Source: InsideEVs

Strong sales of plug-in electric vehicles marked June sales results, and the first six months of this year. US sales more than doubled in the first half compared to that time period in 2020, versus a 29 percent increase of the overall new vehicle sales market.

In China, about 235,000 plug-ins were sold in June, which translated to 15 percent market share for the overall new vehicle sales market in that country. June saw an all-time record for new energy vehicles. About 12 percent of the overall market is battery electric vehicles. The Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV continues to lead the China market.

Europe saw plug-in vehicles taking an even larger share of its overall new vehicle sales than China. At over 237,000 registrations in June, these vehicles made up 19 percent of the total market. Year over year, it was a 157 percent gain in sales for plug-in vehicles sold in the European market.

Tesla numbers looking very good. Much of Tesla’s numbers have been fueled by the new Model Y small crossover taking off. The Model 3’s sales has been dropping and the Model S and Model X have been nearly absent compared to previous strong sales. The Model Y really took in the California market, where crossover SUVs remain popular with drivers.

Tesla Inc. just crossed a threshold on Tuesday when for the first time ever it announced quarterly profits without without counting on the sale of emissions credits to other automakers. Those credits had run out, and in the first quarter, Tesla reported a $534 gain in selling federal credits to competitors. Another gain expressed by Tesla executives was that it’s been able to sidestep the effects of a global chip shortage that has held back production for global automakers. The company will have to continue that sidestep as it attempts to satisfy growing demand for electric vehicles, they said. On the downside, Tesla said it had to once again delay its semitrailer truck, aLready two years late, with deliveries expected in 2022.

Tesla reported about $12 billion in revenue during the second quarter, nearly double Q2 2020. A profit of $1.1 billion was reporting, the eight sequential quarter without a loss.

The biggest surprise in global EV sales has been seeing a Chinese joint venture shoot up in sales since last year. The Wuling HongGuang Mini EV that starts at $4,500 — a tiny, two-door hatchback that seats only four people — has done very well since its introduction a year ago. It debuted in China and has only sold there so far, with plans on shipping it overseas. Its manufactured under a JV between Wuling, SAIC Motor, and General Motors.

SAIC was already a strong player in the market, coming it at 8th place in global EV sales so far this year through its broad lineup. The company did particularly well last year. Sales of its new energy vehicles (NEVs) saw a year-on-year increase of 73.4 percent to 320,000 vehicles in 2020, representing the fastest growth rate and highest sales figures in China. The major Chinese automaker produces EVs under several brands, including joint ventures — Roewe, SAIC Wuling, MG, Maxus, and SAIC VW. The luxury brand Roewe has been particularly important, with its new “R” logo rolled out last year for the Marvel-R electric SUV.

Volkswagen has been pleased to see its ID concept take off. The ID 3 and ID 4 have made up 50,000 units of its total EV sales so far this year through the end of May; though the production process and sales have been slower than analysts had expected for the ID series.

Still, VW is not anywhere near where it had pledged to be by now with 2025 being the lofty benchmark. The German automaker says that over the next 5 years, it will spend about $55 billion electrifying all its brands. In 2025 the company expects 25 percent of its global sales to be battery electric vehicles (BEVs), growing up to 60 percent by the early 2030s. Europe will see an even higher goal to reach, with VW recently raising its sales target for BEVs plus plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in Europe to 70% by 2030, up from 35%. All ICE production for VW brand will stop in Europe by 2035.

BYD Han EV was the Chinese automaker’s top seller with 32,865 units sold January through May. BYD continues to emphasize its fleet/commercial/transit vehicles with more units being sold abroad in the transport bus and commercial truck segments.

Three days ago, the company celebrated the production of the 100,000th Han model, which has been offered in China since Summer 2020 in two versions — all-electric and plug-in hybrid. Soon before that announcement, BYD reported that it sold in China 40,116 passengers plug-in cars, which is 207 percent more than a year ago, and a new monthly record. Plug-in electric vehicles made up about 81 percent of total BYD passenger vehicle sales in June, which matches the 81 percent record from December 2018, the company said.

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler recently said that it plans to invest more than 40 billion euros ($47 billion) by 2030 to be ready to take on Tesla in an all-electric car market, but warned the shift in technology would lead to job cuts. That will come through building eight battery plants with strategic partners as the German automaker ramps up EV production. By 2025, all new vehicle platforms will only make EVs, the German luxury automaker added.

Daimler is in a similar position as VW, Volvo, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, and other automakers: How do you take on Tesla? While EV sales has been gradually growing for these global automakers, none of them have crossed the tipping point they’d set in recent years to meet stringent government climate change and air quality regulations, and to meet growing demand for clean vehicles and sustainable products among consumer and corporate customers.

BEVs still dominate the global EV market. The top-selling plug-in hybrid in May was the Toyota Prius Prime at 5,850 sold worldwide that month with a similar pattern for the year and BEVs leading the way. There were only four plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the top 20 during that month.

And in other news………..

Ford announced that Romulus, Mich., will be the home of its new global battery center of excellence – Ford Ion Park – which is accelerating the company’s research and development of battery and battery cell technology – including future battery manufacturing. Ford Ion Park is aimed at driving high-volume battery cell delivery, better range, and lower costs for customers.It represents $100 million of Ford’s $185 million investment in developing, testing, and building vehicle battery cells and cell arrays.

“Ford already is delivering on our plan to lead the electric revolution with strong new vehicles including Mustang Mach-E, 2022 E-Transit available late 2021 and the 2022 F-150 Lightning available from spring next year,” said Anand Sankaran, Ford Ion Park director. “The new lab will help Ford speed up the battery development process to deliver even more capable, affordable batteries and is part of Ford’s renewed commitment to making Michigan a centerpiece of its focus on EVs.”

Amazon-backed electric truck startup Rivian raised $2.5B in its latest funding round amid reports of plans for an initial public offering. The funding round was led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor Co., and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price, according to a statement. Rivian has raised about $10.5 billion overall.

The market for hydrogen power generation technologies is transitioning toward maturity and wider adoption, buoyed by improving economics, growing government support, and demand for clean and reliable power, according to a new Guidehouse Insights report. Since around 2016, the hydrogen economy has gained significant momentum as countries, cities, organizations, and industries look to decarbonize. The emergence of commercially viable hydrogen vehicles and massive investments in electrolyzers for green hydrogen production have pushed hydrogen’s potential to new levels, the study says.

One company is set to tap into these growing market dynamics. Hyzon Motors Inc., a global supplier of hydrogen fuel-cell-powered commercial vehicles, has developed new onboard hydrogen storage system technology that it says is capable of reducing the weight and manufacturing cost of commercial vehicles powered by the company’s hydrogen fuel cells. The new patent-pending onboard hydrogen storage system technology has the potential to reduce the overall weight of the system by 43 percent, storage system costs by 52 percent, and the required manufacturing component count by 75 percent, according to the report.

Tesla expanding access to fast-charging network. CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that by the end of the year, the electric vehicle maker will be opening up its network of Superchargers to other EVs. Tesla has had a competitive edge with it network of over 25,000 fast chargers at over 2,700 stations globally.

Germany’s transport minister had said he was trying to convince Tesla to go this route; and President Joe Biden’s plans to put in $1.2 trillion on infrastructure, with $7.5 billion going toward EV infrastructure, could also boost efforts to open up EV fast chargers. Charging companies such as Volkswagen’s Electrify America, and Blink Charging Co., EVgo Inc., and ChargePoint, are also building out charging networks across the US.

Green vehicle sales data tough to find these days, but there is good news out there

If you’re fascinated with green vehicle sales, where do you go to find that information?

Not long ago, you would have gone to InsideEV’s EV Sales Scorecard, HybridCar’s Hybrid Dashboard, Electric Drive Transportation Association’s monthly report, Green Auto Market’s Extended Edition (for paid subscribers); regular coverage in Green Car Congress. EV-volumes.com, and CleanTechnica; and special reports that might be released by EVAdoption, International Energy Agency, BloombergNEF, Statista.com, and occasionally, other sources.

So, what have we got left these days?
After spending time researching that question, it looks like there are only three main sources available at this time:

US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The agency offers cumulative figures, and some details on the latest market developments, on hybrid electric vehicle sales, plug-in vehicle sales, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. You can also view charts on US plug-in vehicle sales since 2010, and mostly sales data for electric vehicles. The problem here is that you have to magnify the chart and gaze at lines of color to estimate those volumes.

CleanTechnica’s news coverage and quarterly US electric vehicle sales charts. CleanTechnica is a very good publication to follow for those interested in the state of renewable energy, climate change policies, energy efficiency, sustainability campaigns, and the role that electric vehicles is playing in the market. That might include EV models doing well in Europe and other global markets.

Veloz.com: Veloz is a fairly new nonprofit organization dedicated to “leading the electric car revolution.” The NPO’s members come from key sector companies, agencies, and nonprofits. Its focus is on California, but its reporting does include national figures. The organization’s Sales Dashboard data comes from the California Energy Commission and includes the most current cumulative figures on zero emission vehicle (ZEV) sales in the state, including plug-in vehicle and fuel cell electric vehicle sales in California and in the US. You can also view cumulative data on California’s EV charger and hydrogen stations, and on California vehicle models available meeting the state’s ZEV guidelines.

What’s missing is monthly sales data on models. How is the Tesla Model 3 doing in US sales last month compared to a year ago? Two years ago? How many units have been sold since it was introduced in 2017? What are the closest plug-in models in sales from other automakers? These and other good questions can’t be answered now — unless you have a research firm that you’ve paid to do that project; or some of it may be provided to member organizations in NPOs and through alliances with government agencies. Even better yet, you get the automakers to provide their monthly sales data reports directly to you.

What happened to all that wonderful data?
In late 2019, and into the next year, announcements started being made that these sales reports would be coming to an end. As you can see on Argonne National Laboratory’s page: “As of November 2019, Argonne no longer reports the number of E-drive vehicles sold by make and model.”

Argonne offers details on where it’s data used to come from, but if you visit these sites, you’ll notice they’re missing — with or without announcements on the last of the detailed reports. I think the main reason for these changes was publications having less resources to spend the necessary time, and to tap into existing relationships, to get these reports done and published. Media sources were going through cutbacks in staff, mergers and acquisitions, and a perception that green vehicles were not the hot commodity for getting more active readers and advertisers. Maybe that would be going over to smartphone apps like Apple CarPlay, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and the latest and coolest high-performance cars powered by fossil fuels.

Green Auto Market stopped publishing these charts around this time to subscribers as well — that came from having less of the data available; and changes in my own career path that included stopping regular editions out for about seven months.

That being said, what is going on in green vehicles sales?
Here’s a few market trends that I’ve noticed:

  1. Battery and electric vehicle sales are coming back gradually, but the long-term effect looks pretty good.
    A total of 53,779 light-duty plug-in vehicles — 37,967 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and 15,812 plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) — were sold during May 2021 in the US, up 329 percent from sales in May 2020, says Argonne National Laboratory.

Cumulatively, 230,687 PHEVs and BEVs have been sold in 2021. US plug-in vehicle sales in 2020 totaled around 296,000 units, which was down significantly from the 331,000 in sales in 2019 due largely to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Platts Analytics Future Energy Outlooks’ report.

The chart featured above, from Argonne National Laboratory, supports the idea that plug-in vehicles are back on track for gradual growth and integration into new vehicle sales. That would go for North America, Europe, and China, according to this report and other sources.

  1. Light-duty trucks make up most of hybrid sales.
    Here’s a telling one…… light trucks (pickup trucks and SUVs) were on pace to account for 76.2 percent of all US new-vehicle retail sales in May 2021, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. The ratio was down for light trucks versus cars in hybrids, but the same trend carried over.

About 64 percent of US new hybrid vehicle sales from January through May 2021 were led by light trucks. During that month, 75,025 hybrid electric vehicles sales (27,085 cars and 47,940 LTs) were sold in the US,. It was up 170.5 percent from the sales in May 2020. Toyota is doing very well here. The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has been No. 1 lately in US hybrid sales, with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid at No. 2.

  1. Northern Europe leads the way.
    Plug-in vehicles are still down as marginal share of total new vehicles sales in the US (about 2 percent last year), but that’s far from true in a few other countries. Northern Europe is leading the way here. The top five (percentage of 2020 total new vehicle sales) were Norway (74.8 percent), Iceland (52.4 percent), Sweden (32.3 percent), Netherlands (25.0 percent), and Finland (18.1 percent).

That data from International Energy Agency, presented in a Pew Research Center study, shows the world average at 4.6 percent. Massive EV market China came in at 5.7 percent of new vehicle sales going to plug-ins last year.

  1. Tesla still dominates the market.
    While the Model 3 may not have total domination of the market anymore, it’s still doing very well. And it’s No. 2 behind the new Model Y. That new small crossover had 44,680 units sold in the US during the second quarter, while the Model 3 came in at 36,300. The Model S and Model X were down on the list of Q2 2021 US sales, but still in the top 10. Tesla had a slight decline in its share, but it still controls 71 percent of US plug-in vehicle sales this year.

Catalytic converters a hot topic for car thieves — and for a filmmaker who exposes ‘smog conspiracy’

How did catalytic converters become such a hot topic lately — whether that be about car thieves or an entertaining movie about its history and cover up by automakers? The technology has been around for years and was essential for automakers to meet state and federal rules on manufacturing vehicles producing less smog emissions, but there is something of high value to thieves beyond that purpose.

You may have noticed in local news coverage that catalytic converter units have been cut off and removed by thieves at an alarming rate over the past year. Many arrests are being made regularly, and recovery of stolen goods is being claimed by law enforcement around the country whenever possible.

The technology uses precious metals as catalysts that process raw exhaust gases and converts them over to less harmful gases in water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen.

Why are thieves stealing a lot of them these days? They’re not reselling the converters; it’s that the precious metals used in manufacturing catalytic converters have quite a lot dollar value to buyers, according to Roadshow editor Brian Cooley. Platinum, palladium, and rhodium, though in small quantities, make the theft worthwhile for these precious metals.

Where did it all begin? A series of air pollution and air quality federal laws starting in 1970 eventually led to a 1975 federal mandate on emission standards that included the catalytic converter. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 was another influential factor on the federal government adding the 1975 rules. States eventually enacted rules on aftermarket catalytic converters that would meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

That eventually evolved into California requiring the use of California Air Resources Board-compliant catalytic converters on Jan. 1, 2009. Other states followed along including New York (6/1/2013) and Maine (6/1/2018) mandating the use of CARB-compliant converters for certain model year vehicles. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, Colorado became the latest state to call for the use of. CARB-compliant catalytic converters typically use an enhanced combination of washcoat technology and higher precious metal load to meet the state’s stricter emissions conversions standard.

What the new movie deals with
No Sudden Move, a 2021 film streaming on HBO Max and starring Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, was directed by Steven Soderbergh. It’s a crime thriller about a 1954 theft of the first catalytic converter system. As mentioned, that air pollution reduction system did become mandated by the federal government in 1975 — but had been floating around in the backdrop for over two decades. That plays into the classic conspiracy theory about major automakers buying patent rights, or conducting legal battles in court or through lobbying efforts, to suppress clean vehicle technology. One idea here is that America already has a vast network of gas stations. Switching over to alternative fuels and energy would be incredibly costly; and who would foot the bill?

Actor Matt Damon plays an anonymous auto industry executive in No Sudden Move who becomes similar to “Deep Throat” in All The President’s Men. He refers to moves being made by automakers to control the catalytic converter and how big bucks would be paid to get the technology returned from the thieves. At the end of the movie, text rolls across the screen explaining how, a few years after the film’s historic placement of its storyline, the federal government sued major carmakers for conspiring to hide evidence that vehicles were causing pollution; and the automakers were suppressing catalytic-converter technology that could help combat the problem.

Damon’s shadowy character also responds to questions about the “redlining” of neighborhoods in Detroit that would later bring down housing market value and encourage crime waves in America’s black community neighborhoods. Redlining segregation went far beyond Detroit, the auto executive said.

The catalytic converter reference at the end of the film goes to a 1969 lawsuit by the US Dept. of Justice against American Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, who were charged with conspiring between 1953 to 1969 to delay both the manufacturing of pollution-control devices and their installation in cars. It took on the slang term, “smog conspiracy” in media coverage.

Soderbergh, best known for his Ocean’s 11 trilogy, has kept his hand in geopolitical battles and conspiracy theories over his career. Oscar-winning Erin Brockovich (2000), features Julia Roberts playing the title character on a crusade with her law firm employer to hold accountable Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) for its role in the Hinkley groundwater contamination incident. Traffic (2000) explored the drug trafficking industry and the futile attempts to suppress it by criminal law and enforcement; Contagion (2011) set the tone for Covid-19 when a business traveler having an affair in Hong Kong contracts a pandemic virus and brings it back to the US. Jude Law plays an anti-pharmaceutical industry activist — and conspiracy theory champion — who benefits financially from his own clandestine efforts to spread the story.

Automakers tend to stay out of these stories and accusations, choosing to focus more on winning high-performance racing competitions and growing sales and profit margins each quarter. In more recent years, they have tended to cooperating more with regulators and participate in discussions with California on zero emissions, fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen, and charging infrastructure. They also continue to ask for a national standard by the federal government on fuel economy and emissions.

Complying with catalytic converter rules is one of many that automakers must follow in safety, fuel economy, and reliability. Suppressing the technology is less likely these days, and after the 2015 Volkswagen diesel car debacle, they’re especially less likely to take on those types of risks.

The catalytic converter is likely one of several technologies that will eventually go away if the projected model of electric, autonomous, connected, and shared vehicles becomes the global industry’s norm. For now, state and federal laws require vehicles to be equipped with these transitional technologies, and for automakers to do their part in making sure it happens.

And in other news………
EA doubling infrastructure: Electrify America announced its “Boost Plan”  to more than double its current electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in the United States and Canada, with plans to have more than 1,800 fast charging stations and 10,000 individual chargers installed by the end of 2025. The expansion will increase the deployment of 150 and 350 kilowatt chargers – the fastest speed available today – and help pave the way for more electric vehicles in North America.

New Honda CEO on EV alliances: Honda Motor Co.’s new CEO Toshihiro Mibe said today that the automaker is willing to form new alliances to make electric vehicles profitable. One alliance partner is General Motors, and the two companies have said they will meet two objectives: introduce two jointly developed large-sized EV models in North America, using GM’s Ultium batteries, in 2024; and roll out several new models which feature a new EV platform they’re calling ‘e:Architecture.’

Mibe, who took this job in April, made points during a press conference on issues affecting all automotive executives — the economic and regulatory pressures to share technology and costs with competitors, meet stringent clean air and climate change mandates, and to transition over to autonomous driving.

New ride-hailing startup: Finally! Something positive and constructive related to the ride-hailing market: a driver-owned cooperative in New York City. How a union organizer, black car driver, and former Uber executive, took on a huge challenge: building a new ride-hailing platform that gives profit and control to drivers. Read all about it.

RNG brings carbon negativity: Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) and Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) announced that California fleets fueled with bio-CNG achieved carbon-negativity for calendar year 2020. They also say that 92 percent of all on-road fuel used in natural gas vehicles in California last year was renewable natural gas (RNG). According to data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) the annual average carbon intensity score of bio-CNG in that mix was -5.845 gCO2e/MJ. The carbon intensity of California’s bio-CNG continues to drop. -0.85 in Q2 and -17.95 in Q3.

BYD sales skyrocket: BYD sold 51,015 vehicles in June, with 49,765 units of passenger vehicles and 1,250 units of commercial vehicles respectively. In China, the company’s new energy vehicles shot up 207 percent year-over-year in June. During the second half of 2021, BYD will continue increasing its production capacity to meet market demand and use innovative technologies such as the DM-i hybrid system and the blade battery to create more sales in the future.

Autonomous vehicle testing ramps up, but deployment is still years away

While post-pandemic road testing has started up again for autonomous vehicles in the US and other countries, reaching the commercial level is still a long ways off — at least the fully autonomous vehicle part of it. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) continue being included as standard equipment on new vehicles, and other pieces of the puzzle continue to fall into place — but all of the technology will remain under strict scrutiny for years. On the other hand, aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already commercialized and growing in production options. UAWs have always been years ahead of autonomous vehicles.

Nuro, Inc., has authorization for deployment of autonomous vehicles in California, which was granted on Dec. 23, 2020.

The potential is huge for fleets, transit agencies, transportation planners, ride-sharing companies, shuttles, technology giants, robotics manufacturers, vehicle makers, and more. The transformation into connected, electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles is on its way, but at a slower pace than many had hoped for.

“In recent years, private and government testing of autonomous vehicles has increased significantly, although it is likely that widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles — with no driver attention needed — lies many years in the future,” according to the April 2021 briefing by the Congressional Research Service.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just issued orders for manufacturers to report any crash that happens while a vehicle is automating some driving tasks and an injury or property damage is reported. It covers all vehicles that can partially automate functions, such as steering, acceleration, or braking. Fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) will go on the list later on, once they become available for sale. More will be revealed by NHTSA on the safety issues that AVs and ADAS face.

Safety has to be resolved
NHTSA’s move addresses the major roadblock for AVs to move forward to mass-market production: safety. The pace was slowed down after the 2018 death in Arizona of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle operated by ride-hailing firm Uber. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the fatality was caused by an “inadequate safety culture” at Uber. Two April 2021 fatalities in a Tesla vehicle that was operating with no one in the driver’s seat raised further questions about the safety of AVs.

The federal government has put in place an overview on AV laws, and for the states to carry out the specifics. That will come in the form of national safety standards and requirements. The feds would like like states to lead the way dialogue with tech innovators, industry, and government.

The majority of testing has been taking place in a handful of states: Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Washington. California remains the busiest hub for AV testing.

In California, there are 55 permit holders for testing a self-driving car with a driver onboard. Eight of them are also permit holders for driverless testing. One of them, Nuro, Inc., also has authorization for deployment of autonomous vehicle that was granted on Dec. 23, 2020.

Nuro is an American robotics company based in Mountain View, Calif. The company develops autonomous delivery vehicles, and was the first company to receive an autonomous exemption from NHTSA since its vehicles are designed to carry goods instead of humans.

It joins up with Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet, which opened up its fully driverless vehicles to all customers of its ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area back in October. Nuro and Waymo are operating and overseeing a fairly small number of AVs in the two states.

The other companies on the California permit holders list have been very visible in testing out AVs for nearly a decade. The list includes Apple, Argo AI, Baidu USA, BMW, Continental, Cruise, Delphi, DiDi, Honda, Intel, Lyft, Mercedes-Benz, Nio, Nissan, Nvidia, Pony.AI, Qualcomm, Ridecell, Telenav, Tesla, Toyota Research Institute, Volkswagen, and Waymo. Exploring some of the AV technology that these companies are developing, many times with partners, can be eye opening. The investment has been sizable, and thousands of employees have devoted their workdays to exploring and testing the technology.

Uber and Lyft go on to other things
Another clear sign that AV is a market segment that’s still years in the making is that companies are leaving after having invested substantially into it. Lyft recently sold its AV unit to a Toyota subsidiary, Woven Planet, for $550 million. Uber sold its business to Aurora, a startup headed by Chris Urmson, who played a key role in Google’s self-driving car division before it was named Waymo.

For the companies still in the business — automakers, Waymo, and a few startups, they’re likely to spend an additional $6 billion to $10 billion before the technology makes it to the commercial level.

“This is a transformation that is going to happen over 30 years and possibly longer,” Urmson said.

There may have been too much hype during 2014-15 after Google rolled out its self-driving test cars and every automaker, tech giant, and startup, claimed it would change the world within a brief time period.

Self-driving trucks is a segment that may see success before driverless passenger cars. Both Ways and Aurora are developing autonomous trucks along cars. The routes are simpler and less drivers involved. Daimler and Volvo are expected to do well in commercial autonomous trucks. Tesla has that opportunity, too.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is known for making bold, sometimes outlandish, statements about Tesla rolling out breakthrough technology way ahead of competitors. That’s certainly been the case with fully autonomous vehicles, but Tesla owners have had enough of it. Musk’s bold claims go back to 2018, and then again in 2019 when his first promise didn’t come through. His wording changed over to a “feature-complete” system that would still rely on the driver’s attention, which most recently rolled over to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta. As usual, that test program is taking much longer than he’d hoped for. Musk had promised that an update should be coming “no later than June.” But Tesla owners went after him on Twitter as the month ended, and Musk had to back down.

Nearly all states considering laws or have them in place
States are taking it very seriously, with many of the rules governing testing of the vehicles. Forty-eight states have laws or regulations — or those that are under consideration — related to autonomous vehicles. Twenty-nine states have enacted legislation related to AVs, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.

These 29 states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin (and Washington D.C.). Governors in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.

Drones have been leading the way
Look up drones on Google, and you’ll be scanning through hundreds of Amazon listings on small drone aircraft used by teenagers and adults as a hobby. Some of the drones, aka UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), are being used for commercial purposes — weather and traffic reports, deliveries, and many other functions. For those working in the industry, aerial and water drones are far ahead of driverless cars; and reconnaissance aircraft, which have been used by the US military for over 40 years, lead the way.

One company, DroneDeploy, offers aerial inspections with UAVs. DroneDeploy works with clients such as construction companies, building inspectors, planning agencies, and designers, to keep upgrading its products for effective scrutiny of construction projects.

“Today you have to count on a superintendent walking by the right thing at the right time and taking a picture. Capturing everything with a drone will help you catch issues that you’re not catching now,” according to Austin Lay, Visualization Coordinator/sUAS Flight Specialist, Layton Construction.

On April 21, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration passed final rules for remotely identifying drones and allowing operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. The Remote Identification (Remote ID) rule provides for identifying drones in flight and the location of their control stations, reducing the risk of them interfering with other aircraft or posing a risk to people and property on the ground.

“Drones can provide virtually limitless benefits, and these new rules will ensure these important operations can grow safely and securely,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The FAA will continue to work closely with other Department of Transportation offices and stakeholders from across the drone community to take meaningful steps to integrate emerging technologies that safely support increased opportunities for more complex drone use.”

Major aerospace and defense companies have been making moves in this space for several years and have been working with government officials to comply with rules. Amazon Prime Air — a future delivery system from Amazon — is being designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones.

Boeing builds the MQ-35 Stingray aerial-refueling drone for the Navy. The company is also working on the Airpower Teaming System or “Loyal Wingman” military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). 

Northrop Grumman has played a leading role in the deployment of pilotless aircraft for the military. Its RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone grabbed attention in 2019 after it was shot down by Iran while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Its MQ-4C Triton, based on its Global Hawk drone, is playing a part in marine environments; Fire Scout, a rotary-wing drone, is being used in Navy ships.

Lockheed Martin builds the Stalker XE for special forces units, Desert Hawk III for UK forces, and the avionics for small quadcopter drones used by police. The company has also invested in artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Its AI team was a semi-finalist in Darpa’s dogfight challenge. In May 2020, the company announced a partnership between the Air Force Test Pilot School and the company’s Skunk Works division to strengthen the Air Force’s drone technology with AI.

Workhorse Group and AeroVironment have a presence
Electric truck builder Workhorse Group is best known for building battery-powered trucks and vans that have been winning a lot of fleet purchase deals. While recently suing over not winning the the U.S. Postal Service’s contract for electric trucks, Ohio-based Workhorse Group is up there with Rivian for gaining a significant presence in the commercial electric truck market.

The company’s Horsefly UAV product is expected to do well in the package delivery space. Horsefly Is a custom built, high-efficiency delivery UAV that is fully integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric delivery trucks. The Horsefly system is designed to conform to the FAA guidelines for UAV operation in the US, the company said. Most notably, being fully integrated with delivery trucks, the system is designed such that a driver or driver’s assistant can maintain line-of-sight operation of the UAV delivery process.

Not long ago, California-based AeroVironment had a significant role to play in the U.S. electric vehicle charging infrastructure. But in June 2018, the company sold its charging and test systems business to Webasto Group. AeroVironment employees in this division were carried over to their new employer.

AeroVironment has been strengthening its role as the Pentagon’s top provider of drones, but that’s not the end of it. The company said its Raven drone “is the most widely used unmanned aircraft system in the world today.”

The company built the Mars helicopter Ingenuity for NASA which performed the first controlled flight on another planet in April. It gained quite a lot of attention for the company and a lot more customers. Other achievements include bringing in oil giant BP (BP), the National Park Service, and law enforcement agencies have been drone customers.

And in other news…………

Infrastructure funding moves to Senate: The US House of Representatives approved a $715 billion surface transportation and water infrastructure bill Thursday in what Democrats say is the first step in sweeping infrastructure legislation that Congress hopes to finish by September. The vote passed 221-201 and goes to the Senate.

It includes provisions from the Biden administration’s $2.3 billion infrastructure proposal authorizing electric vehicle charging stations; spending on safety for roads, bridges, and highways; and rail, transit, and drinking and wastewater infrastructure. One major project could be $11.6 billion directed to connect New Jersey and New York’s Penn Station in Manhattan via four modern transportation tubes beneath the Hudson River.

Called the “INVEST in America Act,” the $715 billion contains more than $44 billion added during the amendment process to make greater investments in infrastructure.

President Joe Biden faces a set of political challenges getting through this funding round with more bills approaching asking for up to $6 trillion when all the numbers are totaled. Compromises and negotiations will continue with moderate Democrats clashing with the party’s left wing, and from Republican legislators.

The Senate just passed another transportation infrastructure bill last month. Many elements will have to be working out with Congress, which has its own set of priorities lad out in the INVEST in America Act.

U.S. PIRG sees that the INVEST in America Act would devote a record $547 billion to public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and wildlife crossings, while emphasizing a fix-it-first, climate-friendly approach to transportation. It would improve water infrastructure, protect drinking water, and repair and expand the nation’s transportation system, the organization said.

Last November, Environment America and U.S. PIRG released Blueprint for America, an infrastructure plan to make American families and communities safer, healthier, and more resilient by focusing specifically on the areas of energy, transportation, water, solid waste, and natural infrastructure.

“No one wants dirty air, polluted water or unsafe roads. Adopting common-sense solutions to these problems is in the interest of all Americans and we applaud members of the House for coming together to do so today with the passage of the INVEST in America Act, said U.S. PIRG President Faye Park. “This bill shows a healthier, safer future is possible and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to address all our infrastructure needs.”

Virgin Hyperloop is hoping that federal funding will include funding for some of its high-speed transportation projects. On June 16, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed S. 2016, the Surface Transportation Investment Act, which includes multiple provisions that will allow the continued development of hyperloop in the US, with bipartisan support.

“We applaud Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), and all the Members of the Committee for their inclusion of provisions that will further the advancement and growth of the hyperloop industry,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group. “This is an important step to bringing hyperloop travel to Americans across the country.”

ACT Expo live investor summit: The Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo’s inaugural live Investor Summit will offer attendees a full picture of the current state of the industry, as well as key trends and projections for the coming year. The summit, taking place at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California, will be held on Monday, Aug. 30, kicking off the event. The conference and expo will be running Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. While it’s been a very tough time over the past year, clean transportation has seen a few gains being made. Investment in advanced clean commercial vehicle technologies and fuels are at an all-time high, with special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, investments in the industry grabbing headlines throughout this past year. Investment is expected to grow this year and into 2022. ACT Expo of this opening panel will offer attendees a good look at funding opportunities and significant projects taking shape.

AltWheels Fleet Day coming up in October: On Monday, Oct. 4, AltWheels Fleet Day will continue virtually and offers speakers, panels, and presentations on critical issues facing fleets and other stakeholders in alternative fuels and vehicles. Fleet managers will learn more about funding programs and emerging trends. More details will be coming out soon on speakers and subject matter. Last year, the conference went virtual for the first time and featured an impressive line-up of 19 expert speakers along with several sponsor videos.  The event drew 378 registrants to hear keynote talks from Anirban Basu, Chairman & CEO, Sage Policy Group, and Bill Van Amburg, Executive Vice President, CALSTART; as well as a series of panels and interviews of industry leaders from organizations such as Ford, Toyota, UPS, National Grid, US Environmental Protection Agency, Verizon Connect, and Blackburn Energy to name a few.

Past Co-Hosts of this event have included: NAFA Fleet Management Association Chapters in New England, NY, and NJ; MA Motor Transportation Association; ME Motor Transportation Association; MA Highway; Massport; MA Executive Office of Transportation; ME Dept. of Transportation; Clean Cities Coalitions (CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI); American Public Works Association of New England; and many more.
As a Co-Host, you will receive several benefits including free admission for all members; listing of your organization as a Co-Host on the Fleet Day website, with link, logo, and brief description; and other promotional activities provided by the Co-Hosts. For those interested, contact Meg Rivett, Event Director, at 508-498-8020 or by email at meg@classic-communications.com.

New vehicle emissions comparison study: Reuters has released analysis of data from a model that calculates the lifetime emissions of vehicles, a hot topic for debate in advancing electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to meeting climate targets. That comes through comparison of several electric vehicle (EV) models with traditional internal combustion engine choices that car buyers make. For example, if you own a Test Model 3, you’ll have to drive about 13,500 miles before you’re doing less harm to the environment than a gas-guzzling vehicle. The model was developed by the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. The detailed methodology includes thousands of parameters from the type metals in an EV battery to the amount of aluminum or plastic in a car. The study was conducted with Argonne’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies, which provided its GREET model for the study. GREET is now being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board.

Ford makes leap in electrified sales: Ford sales of electrified vehicles jumped 117 percent in June, capping off a new first-half sales record on sales of 56,570 vehicles, hitting a record level. Mustang Mach-E sales totaled 12,975 vehicles, while F-150 PowerBoost Hybrid added an additional 17,039 vehicles to the total. Escape Hybrid and Escape Plug-in Hybrid sales totaled 15,642 – up 45.9 percent over last year. Ford’s Mach-E grew its sales 26.7 percent compared to May.

Automaker factory robotics: What it means for jobs and electric vehicle production

The use of robotics in vehicle manufacturing will continue to grow at a fast enough pace to speed up production — and to remove quite a lot of jobs. Of course, job loss is nothing new in auto manufacturing where downsizing plants and moving some of them overseas has been taking place since the 1980s.

For the auto industry, it all started with General Motors testing out prototype spot welding robots in 1961. By the 1980s, billions of dollars were being spent by automakers worldwide to automate fundamental tasks in their assembly plants. Automation system deployment did decline in the 1990s, but innovative technology did help it to rebound in the next decade.

Today, it’s a common part of factories, and it’s starting to become another revenue source for automakers through providing robotic services to other companies. These companies are selling the advantages of protecting workers from injuries and making factories more efficient and streamlined by bringing in the best of robotics. There’s also the point about making the job less repetitive and boring for workers, which could also help improve retention.

At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 earlier this month, three auto executives spoke to the issues. Max Bajracharya of Toyota Research Institute, Mario Santillo of Ford, and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai described how their companies are now viewing the technology. It’s not about the auto industry, as much it its for these companies to make names for themselves — and clientele — in the robotics sector.

“I think all automakers are recognizing that there won’t be the automotive business in the future as it is today,” Bajracharya said. “ A lot of automakers, Toyota included, are looking for what’s next. Automakers are very well positioned to leverage what they already know about robotics and manufacturing to take on the robotics market.”

Yet on the factory job front, there still are expectations for machines replacing humans. A 2019 report from Oxford Economics estimates that about 8.5 percent of the global manufacturing workforce stands to be replaced by robots, with about 14 million manufacturing jobs lost in China alone out of the 20 million projected to be displaced by 2030. Over the next decade, the US may lose more than 1.5 million jobs to automation. The number of robots currently in the global workforce, 2.25 million, has multiplied threefold over the past 20 years, doubling since 2010. Of course, these statistics go far beyond automakers with manufacturing including computers, consumer electronics, clothing, parts and components, packaged food, and other segments.

Four companies dominate the general industrial robotics market: Fanuc, Yaskawa, Kuka, and ABB. Automakers sometimes work with more than one of them, and other partners in automation.

There’s a correlation being made by automakers between robotics and EVs — through building and converting more factories into electric vehicle production and robotics playing an integral role. The connection seems to be more about electric autonomous vehicles and mobility. Robotic manufacturing might be included in the campaign they’re describing, at least for a few automakers.

Here’s a look at where all that’s going, starting with the big question: Will robotics take a leap forward, transforming vehicle manufacturing plants and upending the workforce?

BMW: The German automaker is betting on selling autonomous mobile robotics (AMRS) to the logistics sector. That will be through its Industry-Driven Engineering for Autonomous Logistics unit, which abbreviates to IDEAL and has the formal name of IDEALworks (IW). BMW Group started this unit in late 2020. The company has been partnering with Nvidia to develop mobile robots for internal use in their factories, primarily around automated material handling at the last mile, for a number of years. IW builds on this internal development and expands the scope to include autonomous robots in the logistics sector, and that could expand to couriers, 3PLs (third-party logistics), retailer stores, and online retailers.

The robot deployed is referred to as the small transport robot (STR) and is equipped with a Lips 3D camera and Sick sensors for safety. All robots rely on the Nvidia AGX hardware and makes significant use of NVIDIA’s SDK. BMW hopes to relieve employees from mundane and repetitive tasks so they can do better in their core competencies.

A year ago, the company confirmed it will cut about 6,000 jobs in Germany in an effort to cut costs as the automotive sector continues to struggle to recover from the Covid-19 outbreak. The German automaker and its works council agreed the workforce reduction will be achieved via a mixture of redundancies, early retirements, and not renewing temporary contracts, along with not filling new vacancies. It’s the first time since the financial crisis of 2008 that the company has had to cut staff. The company also tied the cuts to expanding focus on electric mobility and autonomous driving while boosting corporate efficiency.

BYD: On March 2, Beijing Horizon Robotics Technology R&D Co., Ltd. (Horizon Robotics), an AI chip supplier, held a strategic cooperation signing ceremony with BYD Co., Ltd., at BYD’s Shenzhen headquarters.
Horizon Robotics, a five-year-old company specializing in AI chips for robots and autonomous vehicles, sees huge potential in automotive partnerships. Horizon’s OEM and Tier 1 auto partners, according to the firm, include Audi, Bosch, Continental, SAIC Motor and BYD. Based on its own deep chip and intelligent technology accumulation, BYD says it will be cooperating with Horizon’s leading artificial intelligence chips and algorithms. It gives BYD a leverage point for adding AI, robotics, and automated vehicles, into its catalogue tied to electric vehicles and advanced batteries.

FCA: Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s robot unit Comau was spun off before the merger with PSA, for the benefit of all shareholders of the combined company. The Jan 19, 2021, $52 billion merger between FCA and PSA Group created Stellantis, now the fourth-largest automaker in the world. Comau is an Italian industrial automation company specializing in processes and automated systems that improve corporate manufacturing production through four core offerings: Controls; Teach Pendant with its ergonomic human robot interface; Auxiliary Equipment enabling equipment for increased functionality; and Software, offering digital tools to enhance processes.

Comau considers itself to be a leading company in the industrial automation field on the global playing field. The full portfolio includes: joining, assembly and machining solutions for traditional and electric vehicles, robotized manufacturing systems, a complete family of robots (including collaborative and wearable robotics) with extensive range and payload configurations, autonomous logistics, and asset optimization services with real-time monitoring and control capabilities. Tesla just because one of its clients this year.

Ford: In April, the company announced that at its transmission plant Livonia, Mich., where robots help assemble torque converters now includes a system that uses AI to learn from previous attempts how to make the production process more efficient. Inside a large safety cage, robot arms wheel around grasping circular pieces of metal, each about the diameter of a dinner plate, from a conveyor and slot them together.
Ford uses technology from a startup called Symbio Robotics that looks at the past few hundred attempts to determine which approaches and motions appeared to work best. A computer sitting just outside the cage shows Symbio’s technology sensing and controlling the arms. The enhanced automation allows this part of the assembly line to run 15 percent faster, a significant improvement in automotive manufacturing where thin profit margins depend heavily on manufacturing efficiencies, Ford said.

General Motors: General Motors announced late last year that Factory ZERO, Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center, the company’s all-electric vehicle assembly plant, is the first automotive plant in the US to install dedicated 5G fixed mobile network technology. Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service is operating now at Factory ZERO, with its exponential increases in both bandwidth and speed supporting the ongoing transformation of the plant as it prepares to begin producing EVs in 2021.

It offers considerably faster download speeds and greater bandwidth than 4G networks. Factory ZERO is being completely retooled with a $2.2 billion investment, the largest ever for a GM manufacturing facility. Once fully operational, the plant will create more than 2,200 good-paying U.S. manufacturing jobs, the company said.

General Motors embraced smart manufacturing in 2018 through its Zero Down Time robot program in partnership with Japan’s Fanuc. Dan Grieshaber, GM’s director of global manufacturing integration, recently told Automotive News that the program includes 13,000 robots across GM’s 54 global manufacturing plants. The robots upload their data to Fanuc where the results are measured against GM’s performance expectations.

GM is using the system to troubleshoot maintenance issues and other quirks before they become serious. Another goal: helping prevent fatigue for workers that use repetitive motion. The sensors, actuators and tendons — comparable to the nerves, muscles and tendons in a human hand — increase dexterity for the worker. GM also uses collaborative robots or “cobots” that can operate around the human workforce without a safety cage.

Hyundai: In December, Hyundai Motor Group and SoftBank Group Corp. agreed on a transaction that placed Hyundai at an 80 percent controlling interest in Boston Dynamics in a deal that values the mobile robot firm at $1.1 billion. The deal came as Hyundai Motor Group envisions the transformation of human life by combining world-leading robotics technologies with its mobility expertise.

The two owners hope it will establish a leading presence in the field of robotics, and it will mark another major step for Hyundai toward its strategic transformation into a Smart Mobility Solution Provider. The Korean company said that it has invested substantially in development of future technologies, including autonomous driving technology, connectivity, eco-friendly vehicles, smart factories, advanced materials, artificial intelligence (AI), and robots.

Boston Dynamics produces mobile robots with advanced mobility, dexterity and intelligence, enabling automation in difficult, dangerous, or unstructured environments. The company launched sales of its first commercial robot, Spot, in June of 2020 and has since sold hundreds of robots in a variety of industries, such as power utilities, construction, manufacturing, oil and gas, and mining.

Nissan: As Nissan prepares to build a new generation of electrified, intelligent and connected cars, the company is making a series of investments to upgrade its production technologies and facilities, but the company is emphasizing the benefits that will come to employees more than cutting costs. Nissan’s mission is improving efficiency in terms of preventing mistakes, maintaining quality, ensuring that workers are freed from monotonous tasks, and reducing strain and fatigue from work.

One way to make improvements will be choosing when to automate. Certain assembly line processes are best suited for robots, particularly if they’re simple and repetitive yet relatively strenuous for humans. Another area of focus will be on industrial robots that work on things like welding and assembly are ordinarily kept in cages for safety reasons, due to their size, strength and speed of movement. Cobots (collaborative robots) seem to the answer here, for manufacturing processes where people and machines need to work closely together. Cobots offer robotic arms with limited strength and speed of movement. In addition to being extremely nimble, they can be easily reprogrammed to learn new tasks, Nissan said.

Tesla: Tesla and Stellantis-owned Comau are setting up a new series of automation equipment for manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont Factory in Northern California. According to permits submitted by Tesla to the City of Fremont, Tesla will begin to anchor and install Comau’s products that entail highly automated and effective manufacturing techniques that are designed for electric vehicles.

Before Tesla started building its Model 3 compact sedan in 2017, CEO Elon Musk laid out a vision for its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant to become the factory of the future. But Musk had to learn similar lessons that what General Motors tried in the 1980s. GM saw its efforts backfire, as robots sprayed paint on each other and welding machines damaged vehicle bodies. Tesla’s efforts met a similar fate, as Model 3 production got off to a much slower start than the company had predicted. The delays were severe, and Musk later admitted he was wrong for trying to lean so heavily on automation. But the challenges persist, according to current and former Tesla employees. Mechanical problems are continuing at the Fremont plant, but this time are not cutting off production targets.

Toyota: Toyota has been developing industrial robots since the 1970s and has been bringing them into their manufacturing systems to improve quality and reduce costs. Robots are primarily used in their welding, painting, and assembly processes. In recent years, everything has been shifted over to Toyota Research Institute (TRI). Most recently, TRI has been refining its technology and service to be applied to the home. As societies age, there will be huge demand for increased caregiving, systems that enable us to live independently longer, and assistance for an increasingly aging workforce, the company said. Robots and automation can play a key role in freeing up people to spend more time with family, assisting people with tasks they enjoy, or helping them perform work for their jobs.

It will be drastically different than the machines Toyota has set up to make its factories more efficient. Here’s where machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) methodology come to play. To address the diversity a robot faces in a home environment, TRI teaches the robot to perform arbitrary tasks with a variety of objects, rather than program the robot to perform specific predefined tasks with specific objects. In this way, the robot learns to link what it sees with the actions it is taught. When the robot sees a specific object or scenario again, even if the scene has changed slightly, it knows what actions it can take with respect to what it sees.

Volkswagen: Speaking of the aging global population, Volkswagen plans to use robots to cope with a shortage of new workers caused by retiring baby boomers. According to the company, the move to a more automated production line would ensure car manufacturing remains competitive in high-cost Germany. Similarly to other manufacturing outlets, VW predicts many of its workers will retire between now and 2030. Plus, a lack of skilled employees joining the business is forcing the company to look for alternative solutions.

The German automaker is also moving forward on automation at its electric vehicle plants. VW Passenger Cars and VW Commercial Vehicles divisions have ordered more than 2,200 new robots for the planned production of EVs at the German plants and the US plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. The company ordered more than 1,400 robots from the Japanese manufacturer Fanuc for their production facilities in Chattanooga, and from Emden in Germany. Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles is purchasing 800 or more robots from the Swiss manufacturer ABB for the carmaker’s Hanover, Germany, plant. The robots will be primarily used in body construction and battery assembly.

Volkswagen had been doing a lot of business with Kuka, bringing in thousands of robots to its plants all over the world. There’s been speculation that since Kuka was taken over by the Chinese technology group Midea in spring 2016, Volkswagen has been trying to become more independent of the robot specialist based in Germany. But the company has rekindled its relationship, including giving part of the production duties over to Kuka for its ID Buzz electric vehicle.

And in other news……….
Supercharger network opening up: Tesla will be breaking one of its golden rules: don’t let anybody beyond Tesla owners use its charging network. The company has told Norwegian officials that it plans to open the Supercharger network to other automakers by September 2022. A decade after deploying the first Supercharger, Tesla now has over 25,000 Superchargers at over 2,700 stations around the world. But opening it up has been in the works. Last year, CEO Elon Musk said that Superchargers are now being used “low-key” by other automakers.

A German official recently announced that they have been in talks with Tesla to open up the network to other automakers. In Norway, Tesla wants incentives from the government to open up its Supercharger network. Government officials confirmed that
Tesla told them that it plans to open the Supercharger network to other automakers by Sept. 2022, and they will approve the incentives as long as Tesla goest through with the initiative.

It would be viable for Tesla to open its chargers throughout Europe, where its Supercharger network uses the CCS connector, which is standard in the region. However in North America, Tesla would have to offer an adapter since it uses a proprietary plug on its vehicles and charging stations in that market.

Ford and Argo report on AV improvements: Ford just released more details on its self-driving vehicle development, the first time since its 2018 safety report to the US Dept. of Transportation. In addition to working with Argo AI to advance the development of a robust Automated Driving System to guide Ford vehicles on roads, the automaker continued to research and develop an improved customer experience, fleet management capabilities, behind-the-scenes transportation-as-a-service software, and more.

In addition to Miami, Ford plans to launch its self-driving service in Washington, D.C., and Austin, Texas. In all three of these cities, Ford established robust testing and business operations, including terminals and command centers to manage these fleet of vehicles as they transport people or deliver goods. Ford’s newest self-driving test vehicles are built on the Escape Hybrid platform, taking advantage of increased electrification capabilities and featuring the latest in sensing and computing technology. The Escape will be utilized to initially launch the service with.

Alongside testing in Miami, Austin and Washington, D.C., Argo AI continues to test the Automated Driving System in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Palo Alto, Calif. These projects have helped the company integrate self-driving test vehicles directly into its business pilots, offering real-world insights into what is required to run an efficient self-driving business.

Ford hopes to be a part of city transportation systems and provide a service that helps make people’s lives better. An example is the collaboration in Miami that created a Ford-designed smart infrastructure. Ford worked closely at the city, county, and state level to begin researching complex intersections. The data will help Ford and transportation officials better understand how autonomous vehicles can better navigate through busy or tricky intersections.

Argo continues to make significant advances toward enabling commercialization — including the recently announced Argo Lidar sensor with sensing range capability of 400 meters. This new technology enables Ford and Argo to test vehicles on highways and help connect vehicles to warehouses and suburban areas, expanding potential service areas for ride-hailing and goods deliveries.

EV sales incentives coming out of the shadows, and options for car shoppers look good

With the onslaught of Covid-19 last year, concern over climate change and air pollution was set aside. The Trump administration had already pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord, and there was no support for clean vehicle incentives and renewable energy.

What’s the latest on incentives and public education drives? Two vehicle manufacturers have been bumped from federal tax incentives after crossing the cap placed per automaker, but all the other automakers have access to it (and one more is approaching the cap.) This year, clean vehicles and energy are coming back. While it seems like cryptocurrency has become the hot topic, there’s been a lot of movement on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, demand for renewable energy, and serious moves by automakers to get back on track. Perhaps losing 15 months has inspired many stakeholders to revive their commitment to hitting targets set in recent years.

But the federal legislature is considering more incentives that could go even higher than the $7,500 tax incentive. There’s also a move being made for medium- and heavy-duty EVs that being considered in Washington.

Don’t forget that EV sales get a lot of support at several states across the country. It does require a bit of study and analysis to tap into.

As for public education campaigns, Plug In America has made a big difference here, including starting to break through the wall between dealers and consumers. A new study by an EV advocacy group brings even more hope for the retail and fleet markets.

Edmunds looks at federal tax credits
Federal tax incentives are still in place, but they will run out in their current state. The current federal tax incentives are applied to each manufacturer and continue until the automaker sells 200,000 qualified vehicles, with most going up to $7,500 tax credits for plug-in electric vehicles. Tesla hit the milestone first in July 2018. As a result, there are no federal tax credits for Tesla now.

In the last quarter of 2018, GM became the second carmaker to sell 200,000 qualified plug-in vehicles, Edmunds reported. Nissan is next in line for a credit phaseout, but Edmunds analysts think it could go into 2022 before the sales benchmark is hit. All other makers are trailing far behind in plug-in vehicles.

The incentive is based on the electric vehicle’s battery size. For example, the Toyota Prius Prime only qualifies for a $4,502 tax credit.

New incentives being considered in Washington
The federal tax incentives for EVs might be replaced with new legislation in Washington. A new bill called “Clean Energy for America” that passed the U.S. Senate Finance Committee this week would raise that to $12,500.

The legislation would keep the $7,500 level in place but would then add $2500 if the EV was assembled in the U.S., and another $2500 if it was made at plants represented by a labor union. The bill also sets a maximum MSRP for qualifying EVs at $80,000. The current EV tax credit has no price limits.

The bill now moves to the full U.S. Senate for consideration and approval.

Fleets operating medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are asking for more incentive from the federal government. CALSTART’s zero-emission transportation coalition is tapping into the Biden Administration’s FY22 Budget Request proposal for an upfront cash payment option in a zero-emission tax credit.

A broad coalition of 60 organizations called for congressional action on the option in a letter. Partners who co-signed include leaders in truck manufacturing, technology partners, and charging and fueling infrastructure companies. Tailoring a tax incentive amount to offset a large portion of the incremental cost with the option to monetize the credit, as the FY22 Budget proposal does, will help aggressively knock down this barrier to deployment, CALSTART said.

What Fisker thinks about it
Henrik Fisker, CEO, Fisker Inc., has asked the federal government to consider his plan, called “75 and more for 55 and less.” It would be a point-of-sale rebate of $7,500 plus $10 per mile of certified driving range for battery electric vehicles (BEVs) priced at $55,000 and less.

With a $7,500 rebate plus the range incentive, access to battery electric vehicles become more widespread by becoming a reduced transaction price, especially when received at the time of sale, and not as a delayed tax credit, he said.

“That driver of demand is magnified when applied to vehicles with a sticker price of less than $55,000. According to Cox Automotive, the average selling price of a new vehicle in the United States is $41,000, and over 80% are transacting under $55,000,” Fisker wrote.

The base price of the 2022 Fisker Ocean will be $37,499. Many buyers will qualify for the $7,500 federal EV tax credit, bringing the price down to less than $30,000.

State incentives available around the country
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia provide an incentive for certain EVs and/or PHEVs, either through a specific utility operating in the state or through state legislation.

Several states have a dozen or more programs; some of them are designed for fleet and transport operators using medium- and heavy- duty vehicles. Many of the incentives are geared only to businesses and not individual personal vehicle owners. Some credits come in the form of exemptions from fees and inspections. Others are non-monetary incentives such as carpool lane access and free parking.

California offers plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) and zero emission light-duty vehicle (ZEV) rebates through its Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP). It offers rebates for the purchase or lease of qualified vehicles. Qualified vehicles are those light-duty ZEVs and PHEVs that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved or certified. Under the program, CARB offers rebates of up to $4,500 for fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), $2,000 for BEVs, $1,000 for PHEVs, and $750 for zero-emission motorcycles.

California’s Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) and Low NOx Engine Incentives, CARB provides vouchers to eligible fleets to reduce the cost to purchase qualified electric and hybrid trucks and buses at the time of purchase. Vouchers are available on a first-come, first-served basis and range from $2,000 to $315,000 depending on vehicle weight and type. Only fleets that operate vehicles in California are eligible. Voucher amounts vary depending on whether the vehicles are located in a disadvantaged community. 

PlugStar Program bridges the EV sales gap Plug In America’s PlugStar Program has really taken off and is bridging a wide gap between dealers and advocates of EVs, including automakers ramping up production of these vehicles and needing a proactive dealer network to sell them through. The non-profit EV advocacy group began its PlugStar EV dealer training and certification program in 2018. Since then, thousands of dealer sales staff and hundreds of dealerships across the country have been trained in the program.

Plug In America just conducted a study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Key findings include: 

–PlugStar trained sales staff sell four times more EVs than their untrained counterparts.
–PlugStar certified dealers sell 20 percent more BEVs than non-PlugStar dealers.
–PlugStar dealers are two times more likely to get 5-star customer ratings than non-PlugStar dealers. 

The study also explored the major batteries that exist in getting through to EV shoppers and given them the service level they need — bridging what’s called the “EV Sales Gap.” Barriers in getting through to consumers include: consumer awareness of the varying aspects and benefits of EV ownership, including EV fueling and incentives.

Barriers for making it work with franchised auto dealers include finding ongoing support in a rapidly changing EV ecosystem, confidence in selling a new technology, and alignment of automotive dealership incentives for selling EVs.

And in other news……….
ID.4 AWD details come out: The new Volkswagen ID.4 AWD electric SUV revealed on June 17 will offer Americans yet another reason to embrace sustainable driving. With two electric motors, max 295 horsepower and an estimated 0-60 mph time of 5.7 seconds for the AWD Pro model, the ID.4 AWD offers performance and all-weather traction at a starting MSRP that no other all-wheel-drive electric vehicle for sale in the U.S. can beat. It’s MSRP is $43,675 and has an estimated range of 298 miles on the European WLTP test cycle.

“We’re committed to making EVs the default choice for Americans,” said Scott Keogh, President and Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen of America. “The all-wheel-drive ID.4 merges the utility and zero-emissions driving delivered by the rear-wheel-drive vehicle with the performance from our sporty vehicles.”

Ford brings in charging management partners: Ford announced June 17 it is acquiring Electriphi, a California-based provider of charging management and fleet monitoring software for electric vehicles. This puts Ford in a solid position to resolve a hurdle for fleets attempting to adopt electrification — managing charging for efficiency. Electriphi’s team and services will be integrated into Ford Pro – a new global business within Ford committed to commercial customer productivity and to developing the most advanced charging and energy management experiences. “As commercial customers add electric vehicles to their fleets, they want depot charging options to make sure they’re powered up and ready to go to work every day,” said Ford Pro CEO Ted Cannis. “With Electriphi’s existing advanced technology IP in the Ford Pro electric vehicles and services portfolio, we will enhance the experience for commercial customers and be a single-source solution for fleet-depot charging.”

Mercedes partnering for US charging expansion: Mercedes-Benz USA, together with its charging partners, is committed to raising the bar on EV charging with Mercedes me Charge – the official charging ecosystem of the EQS and other future electric mobility products. Mercedes me Charge offers important innovations and convenient charge management services for the groundbreaking new all-electric EQS Luxury Sedan including a partnership with ChargePoint that simplifies the process of finding, using and paying for charging sessions on all major networks in North America. Through the Electrify America program, Mercedes me Charge enables complimentary 30-minute charging per session for the first two years from account activation and allows customers to simply “Plug & Charge” at all Electrify America DC fast chargers.

Mobility and delivery sector surviving pandemic, but is that really good for the economy and workforce?

As the fog starts to lift and we all head out more without face masks, what will be retained from our past 15 months of experience? Some businesses and sectors are poised to grow, while small businesses and age-old brands may continue to shut down.

Mobile-app based services were in place by 2015 with Uber and Lyft driving a lot of taxis out of the market. Food delivery and grocery shopping and delivery followed close behind with brands like Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart becoming known and tried out by consumers — mostly Millennial and Generation Z at first, followed by their parents.

Those that have thrived during the pandemic have been clearly in demand by people stuck in their homes, according to a few economists, analysts, and business publications.

Markets and companies that have done well during Covid 19

  1. Streaming services led by Netflix, and those seeing fast growth such as Disney+
  2. Online courses
  3. Video game sales
  4. Amazon
  5. Walmart
  6. Zoom
  7. Hand-sanitizing products
  8. Tesla
  9. Instacart
  10. DoorDash

Tesla continues to boom with consumers who have retained their jobs and personal wealth, and need to get out of their original Tesla vehicle or add another one. That includes markets outside the US.

You’ll notice that Uber and Lyft are not on this list, as the two companies were hit hard with riders not wanting to take the risk of getting in a car possibly driven by someone who’d tested positive for the virus; and vice versa. But they’re expected to come back, and Uber is pleased to see that it’s food delivery unit, Uber Eats, has been doing very well lately.

Bloomberg Second Measure reported that in April, DoorDash had 56 percent of the US market for restaurant/fast food delivery, Uber had 26 percent with UberEats at 21 percent and Postmates at 5 percent, and GrubHub had 18 percent. Postmates was in a much stronger position about five years ago, but has steadily been losing share in part by trying to delivery anything — groceries, auto parts, pharmacy drugs and over the counter medications, meals, and specialized wine and beer/ale stores. Some observers wonder if Uber did that acquisitions to diminish competition on the food delivery side.

On the grocery delivery side, Instacart has the lead, but Walmart is at a close second. The two companies have also entered into a marketing alliance to get more customers to shop online at Walmart using Instacart for the delivery. Shipt, which is owned by Target, had a good run two years ago after it launched, taking share from Instacart in a few cities but that’s been in decline for a while.

What could come out of all this? It’s still getting worked out. Last year, Uber took steps on organizing meal delivery through buying Postmates and beefing up Uber Eats, which is on its own app separately from Uber rides. Uber drivers are getting better paid now as more of it gets transferred over from what Postmates used to serve.

Uber is pushing Eats Pass, a $9.99 per month subscription service that charges $0 delivery fee at eligible restaurants, though you’ll still get charged service fees. The other benefit is 5 percent off orders over $15 at eligible restaurants. Unlike TV subscription services like Paramount+ where you have to subscribe or you won’t get to see The Daily Show, the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, or many other programs unless you pay, you can take the Eats Pass plan or stick with what gets charged for individual orders. Amazon is creeping along with its Whole Foods Markets chain and its own Amazon Fresh grocery deliveries. Amazon.com offers free two-hour delivery and one-hour pickup of Whole Foods Market items with a Prime membership. But its one of many services Amazon would like you to try out for its all-encompassing, multi-tier strategy. Amazon doesn’t seem to be clearly committed to dominating healthy and organic grocery shopping, pickup, and delivery; but that could happen in the years ahead.

Consumers are depending more on grocery shopping services. For those of us who’ve had our grocery shopping done and delivered by Instacart, Shipt, or in-house services for grocery store chains, we’re likely to stay with it in some format. For many consumers using Instacart in recent years, that experience has been tarnished by shoppers replacing missing items with something else, whether the customer requested it or agreed to the choice. Shoppers might speed through and pack their shipping carts, deliver the groceries, and jump into the next order. Dissatisfied customers are tapping into alternative delivery or pickup options that are being run in-house by Kroger and its grocery stores, natural and organic grocery store Sprouts, Amazon’s Whole Foods subsidiary, and others. They don’t want to be dependent on Instacart, Shipt, or any other third-party service that may cause them to lose customers.

Market growth is expected to continue long after the pandemic. US gross merchandise value (GMV) sales will more than double to $27.33 billion at Instacart and $27.58 billion at Uber Eats by 2025, surpassing Target.com, whose GMV sales are forecast to climb to $24.44 billion in 2025 from $14.87 billion in 2020, according to a new study by Edge Retail Insight. Target is counting on its Shipt grocery delivery subsidiary taking off, and having more of its customers pull into its parking lots to pick up their online orders made with Target.com.

Will Instacart really bring in robotics? Instacart is making moves in that direction and has been in league with Uber and Lyft committing to get rid of drivers for autonomous vehicles. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that it gained access to documents that involve building automated fulfillment centers around the US, where hundreds of robots would collect dry and canned goods while humans could retrieve produce and deli products. Some facilities would be attached to existing grocery stores while larger standalone centers would process orders for several locations, according to the documents.

Instacart would be essentially duplicating Amazon’s model — if it gets carried out. The company has fallen behind schedule, according to people familiar with the situation. And though the documents mention asking several automation providers to build the technology, Instacart hasn’t settled on any, said the sources. Workers will be furious over this move if it rolls out, with many of them depending on Instacart income during a period of time when it’s quite difficult for most people to find a good job.

It got ugly after California ballot proposition: Mobility and food delivery giants rigged the election — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates spent over $200 million campaigning for Proposition 22, the most expensive ballot measure in California history, successfully convincing voters to back it. The argument they made — speaking for independent operators to adjust their work lives around their time restrictions. The mother who has to pick up her kids at 3:30, a young man who has to take care of his grandparents, and other sympathetic stories, were told. They might have to disappear from the market if they had to pay workers more and give them benefits. Voters bought into it and passed it into law.

But these companies didn’t attempt to stay in that likable business model. Prices started going up in mid-February with Uber, Grubhub, Lyft, and Instacart, leading the way.

The good times of tapping into these businesses is long gone. It used to be fun to take shared Uber and Lyft rides and chat with drivers and fellow riders. You could get wonderful deals and great service from food delivery services and from Instacart. That’s all changed. If you’ve taken an Uber ride recently, you became distracted and annoyed hearing the bings aimed at getting drivers’ attention — enticing them with another attractive ride right after that customer gets dropped off. But they’re not impressive. Is it really worth it to speed off for another ride when you’re going to make $4 on the short trip? The good times are over for independent contractors.

As for the US economy, these mobile app services are raising the bar on the level of choices and service that consumers can expect for rides, meals, and groceries. But for real economics, there’s little to be gained from investment in the economy and supporting a stable workforce.

And in other news…………

Watching TV and looking for news varies greatly depending on how old you are
Here’s my Time Capsule 21st Century website exploring what it’s like to live in this century. The latest piece looks at a disturbing lack of news and public information accessed by those in Generation Z, along with some of the Millennials. Gaming is very big (much bigger than watching TV, reading, etc.), but somebody in their 20s is more likely to have their opinions shaped by somebody with a YouTube talk show than with traditional media sources on TV, print, and radio/podcasts. Beyond fake news, conspiracy theories, and QAnon, here’s my thoughts on addressing it if we’re interested in continuing the democracy we live in. Good timing for me, as I head into a graduate program in journalism/communications aimed at becoming a college instructor.

Attention Fleet Operators! With the growth of electrified fleets, the subject of infrastructure and especially charging capabilities and management has become increasingly important. CALSTART and member organization AMPLY Power have partnered to assess market knowledge of managed charging strategies across industry. You can follow the link to complete the first of two brief surveys, with the second coming later in the year. Thank you in advance for your participation!

CALSTART Releases Automated Transit Vehicle Readiness Guidelines. Transit agencies across the US are planning for how best to roll out Automated Vehicles (AVs). CALSTART, with support from more than 17 connected- and automated-cohort transit provider members, have developed detailed guidance to planning for and deploying AVs into transit operations. These simple steps can help interested transit agencies successfully deploy transit AVs.

Goodbye Keystone: Canada’s TC Energy Corp. and the Albertan provincial government are bringing the Keystone XL pipeline controversy to an end. The decision had been expected after President Biden used his first day in office to revoke a key permit for the pipeline to cross the country’s northern border, shutting down construction. t marks a historic victory for environmentalists who for a decade have made Keystone XL, which would have run from Alberta to Texas, the focus of a campaign to block new pipeline construction as a way to limit oil consumption that contributes to global warming.

Solar power takes off: The US solar market surpassed 100 gigawatts (GWdc) of installed electric generating capacity, doubling the size of the industry over the last 3.5 years, according to the US Solar Market Insight Q2 2021 report, released today by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and Wood Mackenzie. Solar had a record-setting Q1 2021 and accounted for 58% of all new electric capacity additions in the United States. Renewable energy accounted for nearly 100% of all new electric capacity in Q1.

Auto sales revived including EVs, Musk and Tesla beyond mega-celebrity status

Welcome back to Green Auto Market, which went on hiatus in October 2020. Where was I the past seven months? More on that later. If that article doesn’t get published by editors I’m pitching to, it will run in my new sibling publication, Time Capsule 21st Century.

While it looked like auto manufacturing assembly plants were going to be closed for the remainder of the year, there was enough production for 14.5 million units to be sold in the US last year. That was down from 17 million the year before, but it seemed astonishing that it could be anywhere near it. Some believed that the private car was perfect during the pandemic — a good way to stay sealed off and separated from fellow humans. 

Global car sales had a similar trend, but electric vehicle sales were slightly higher than in 2019. International Energy Agency thinks it would have been up even higher if additional stimulus measure could have been taken by governments. 

So what does the global auto industry look like this year as the Covid-19 chokehold continues to loosen up? While the semiconductor shortage is creating a drag on production and sales, global new vehicle sales are expected to rise 8-10 percent this year — bringing it to 83-85 million new vehicle units sold versus about 77 million last year, according to an S&P Global report

Electric vehicle sales, which include battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, are expected to make up 6-8 percent of the global new vehicle share this year, after making up 4.4 percent in 2020 and 2.5 percent in 2019. The European market is expected to drive much of the growth with EVs making up 15-20 percent of European new vehicle sales in 2021.

S&P Global says EVs will play a role in green-led economic recovery from Covid-19 with three telling signs backing up their argument: the Green Deal in Europe, the ambitions of the Biden Administration to drastically curb emissions in this decade, and the Chinese government’s targets to increase the proportion of EVs to 20 percent of sales by 2025 (from 5.5 percent in 2020).

Tesla continues to lead the global market with 16 percent share of plug-in vehicle sales in Q1 2021 making up 184,500 units sold. China’s SAIC came in second place at 145,034 units, followed by Volkswagen Group at 130,563 (12 percent share vs 13 percent), BMW Group: 77,873 (7 percent share); and Stellantis: 66,613 (6 percent share). Stellantis N.V. is a Dutch-based automaker, formed in 2021 as a 50-50 cross-border merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and PSA Group.

How’s Musk doing beyond his rock star status?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk continues to enjoy mega-celebrity status through his recent appearance hosting Saturday Night Live, with a guest appearance by his mother and many references to cryptocurrency. Displaying a bit of vulnerability was part of it.

“I’m actually making history tonight as the first person with Asperger’s to host SNL,” he said. “Or, at least the first to admit it, so I won’t make a lot of eye contact with the cast tonight. But don’t worry, I’m pretty good at running human in emulation mode.”

He was acting differently than we’d ever seen him, which says more about the requirements of hosting SNL than about what his personality is like. But don’t forget the power of celebrity, especially in the US. Musk represents a classic story in this country — born overseas (South Africa), immigrating first to Canada and later moving to the US as a Canadian student and eventually gaining US citizenship. How he was able to keep his equity in what was soon to become PayPal, and did very well when the company went public at a $1.5 billion valuation in 2002. 

Now he’s up there with Warren Buffett and Jeff Bezos as the business titans of the 21st century — but his Tesla and SpaceX companies do continue to demonstrate impressive achievements. What about strong performance during the worst pandemic in over 100 years? 

On Wednesday, Tesla had a $563.4B market cap compared to $55.53B for General Motors, $12.11B for Ford, $159.29B for Toyota, and $34.10B for BMW. A year ago, Tesla stock had dipped way down to about $165.50.

As for other impressive Tesla numbers: 499,550 global deliveries in 2020 compared to 112,000 deliveries in 2019. Tesla’s sales in China more than doubled last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a recent filing. The carmaker’s sales in China of $6.66 billion last year accounted for about a fifth, or 21 percent of the $31.54 billion total. 

Then there was another major achievement, at sister company SpaceX: its Starlink is now delivering initial beta satellite internet service both domestically and internationally, and will continue expansion to near global coverage of the populated world in 2021. Musk said that its Starlink subsidiary could be going public, although SpaceX won’t be. 

Labor relations continue to be tense with Musk and those who’d like to see the United Auto Workers represent them. In March, the National Labor Relations Board decided that Tesla violated labor laws when it fired a union activist, and when CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter in 2018: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

There’s been less attention on how tough of a boss Musk can be for management staff working at Tesla or SpaceX. He’s mostly being depicted in the media as a legendary corporate magnate who has excellent tips on how to make your company succeed. It appears his credibility increased quite a lot as the numbers increased during the worst pandemic we’ve ever seen. 

And in other news:

Ford electrified vehicle sales totaled 11,172 in April – up 262 percent and a new all-time monthly sales record. Mustang Mach-E sales totaled 1,951, F-150 PowerBoost sales totaled 3,365, while Escape electrified sales totaled 3,695 in April. President Joe Biden visited one of Ford’s test tracks in Detroit, and was able to take an electric F-150 Lightning out for a ride. He figures it goes from 0 to 60 in about 4.4 seconds. Ford was also pleased to see that demand for the Mustang Mach-E has shot up, with about 70 percent of customers who ordered them being new to Ford.

Daimler Truck and Shell New Energies said on Thursday they have signed an agreement under which Shell commits to setting up hydrogen-refuelling stations for heavy-duty trucks that Daimler Truck will sell to its customers. Under the agreement, Shell will from 2024 launch heavy-duty hydrogen-refuelling stations between the green hydrogen production hubs at the Port of Rotterdam in the Netherlands and in Cologne and Hamburg in Germany. Daimler Truck meanwhile aims to start delivering heavy-duty hydrogen trucks to customers in 2025.

Time Capsule 21st Century, a sister publication to GAM, just kicked off. Here are a few of the highlights…….. If time capsules were affordable, structurally sound, and placed in areas where future generations — hundreds and thousands of years from now — could be guaranteed access to the material, would you participate? What would you place in that time capsule? A Julias Caesar murder mystery, Catholic prayer kit, ‘Even Babies Love Him’ campaign flyer, are among my items you can see and read about. ………. Here’s a non-official survey I conducted when asking people who’ve avoided get ting a Covid-19 vaccination on why they went that route………. Do you think rock n’ roll has died? Are you way behind on who’s winning music awards, selling out concerts, and filling the airwaves/streaming services? Have you lost your favorite tapes/albums/CDs? There is hope. Start making your own playlists. Do you love music as much as I do? Read on for more on why you should pay for a music service and craft your own playlists……………Here’s one from 2006. How close did I get? “Forget Nostradamus. I Got Your Predictions Right Here.”

Here’s how you can participate in Time Capsule:

  • Post your comments in a forum on your experience with the vaccination:
  • Leave a comment at the end of any of the posts
  • Let the editor know if you’d like to share your writing with readers. Please email me at jtlesage1@yahoo.com if you’re interested in being part of it.
  • Put your name on the subscriber list (see top of right column) for free newsletters. 

Ever hear about What3Words? Developers of this advanced tracking technology have released to the world something that can track you by your cell phone down to a 3 x 3 meter square. Much better than Phase 1 that could only identify where you were in between cell phone towers that were miles apart. Then Phase 2 came out after that tapping into the GPS on your cell phone along with beaming off satellites and cell phone towers to narrow it down to 99 square meters. Now it gets much closer, and its starting to show up on tracking software. Some people may be upset that their personal privacy is being violated even further, but others don’t have that complaint — especially if they’re stuck on a mountainside and could have frozen to death unless the helicopter could find them and save their life. 

On Wednesday, May 26, The State of Sustainable Fleets report will be released and discussed by an expert panel. The repot gathered real-world data directly from early-adopter fleets across the US to provide deep sector-specific insights into the adoption of natural gas, propane, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles, against a baseline of diesel and gasoline vehicles. The analysis includes public, private, and for-hire fleets, including school, municipal/shuttle, urban delivery, refuse, utility, transit, short-haul, and long-haul sectors. This first-of-its-kind report includes unique insights into vehicle sale trends, anticipated vehicle development timelines, real-world infrastructure and fuel costs, and the growing adoption of renewable fuels.

That day, featured panel speakers will include John Morris, Executive Vice President and COO, Waste Management; Drew Cullen, Senior Vice President, Fuels & Facility Services, Penske Truck Leasing; Rakesh Aneja, Head of eMobility, Daimler Trucks North America; and Patrick Carré, Vice President, Commercial Road Transport Sectors & Decarbonization, Royal Dutch Shell.

Bye for now from the Editor, and a long list of Elon Musk’s wild ideas

Sorry to say it, but Green Auto Market will be put on hold for now. You may see it — or short variations of it — sent out in the months ahead; but not the semi-regular publishing schedule it’s been on this year; or the regular editions that stared going out to readers in June 2013.

While it was at first completely unexpected during this turbulent year, I’ve started a new job on a new career path. It’s a demanding, good paying, rewarding, full-time job that I started in mid-October. As for now, you get to make a guess on the new job from the following list:
—Editor of a transportation newsletter
—Communications manager at a Cal State university campus
—Public safety dispatcher at a law enforcement agency
—Manager at a Tesla retail store and service shop
—Market analyst at a consulting firm in Orange County

Clean transportation, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, mobility, and autonomous vehicles continue to be fascinating topics. I do look forward to seeing where all of it goes after the election season closes and the new year begins.

I appreciate your reader feedback and interest in the subject matter — and for those of you’ve who’ve done lengthy interviews with me and contributed guest columns. Thank you for your contributions; and thanks so much for opening and reading many, many issues of this newsletter.

I expect I’ll continue writing on this subject matter, as it is so fascinating and covers a wide spectrum of topics and critical issues.

I will be putting out a newsletter. I will be writing and publishing NEWSLETTER!!! when I have time do so. Click here to see the first version of it (actually the first since 2004) that will cover topics such as my favorite conspiracy theories and where housing is headed as we continue through Covid-19.

Story idea: Elon Musk’s big ideas and where they stand today
Writing about Tesla and chief Elon Musk has taken up quite a lot of my time over the past decade-plus, but I’ve gotten a big kick out of it. Here’s my latest idea for a story, though I’ve run out of time to do the research and writing. It’s yours if you want to pursue the project. Here’s what I see as the subject matter……..

  1. Underground transit tunnel beneath Los Angeles
  2. Virgin Hyper-loop
  3. Electric heavy-duty truck
  4. Super batteries and components of the future
  5. High-speed charging networks
  6. Tesla Energy battery storage accomplishments and offerings
  7. Upcoming Tesla vehicle launches
  8. What’s up with SpaceX
  9. The company’s autonomous driving technology
  10. Owners of autonomous Teslas renting out their vehicles for side income
  11. How SolarCity is doing
  12. New York solar cell factory with Panasonic (which seemed to end earlier this year)
  13. Gigafactory in Nevada and the next wave of batteries and vehicles production in Austin, Texas, Germany, China, and elsewhere.
  14. Taking another shot at having another significant other — and having more kids.
  15. Doing his part in keeping Tesla stock performing well — even though profitable quarters continue to elude the company and we’re in the middle of Covid-19.
  16. Tesla and SpaceX being a great place for young upstarts to gain great professional experience, but you wouldn’t want to stay there for very long and put up with Musk’s intensity and work-hour expectations; and the same being true for the company’s factory workers looking to make a good living.
  17. Did I miss anything?

Best regards,

Jon LeSage
Editor and Publisher

What to watch for in Washington during historic election season

Here’s wishing for a much better year in 2021 for health, diversity, economic stability, and sustainability. Here are a few issues and challenges that I’ll be watching for in the near future…….

California’s 2035 ban and an unsurprising EPA response
Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last week that will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in California in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state’s drivers to switch to electric cars. Newsom’s executive order is said to be the most aggressive clean-car policy in the US. It does offer some flexibility for traditional cars and trucks vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market. Newsom, also supported a ban on petroleum fracking, but called on the California legislature to make that change.

US EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday said the plan “raises serious questions regarding its legality and practicality” and said it could impact the state’s electrical grid. “California’s record of rolling blackouts — unprecedented in size and scope — coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” Wheeler wrote.

Green activists have been protesting climate denial for years now.

Wheeler’s background is reminiscent of the former EPA administer. According to Wikipedia and other sources, “He served as the deputy administrator (of EPA) from April to July 2018, and served as the acting administrator from July 2018 to February 2019. He previously worked in the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, representing coal magnate Robert E. Murray and lobbying against the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations. Wheeler served as chief counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and to the chairman U.S. senator James Inhofe, prominent for his rejection of climate change. Wheeler is a critic of limits on greenhouse gas emissions and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Will the election carry over into December, or January, or……?
If President Trump loses reelection, we may be watching an historic first for America — the challenge of getting the previous president out of the White House. He’s stonewalling, suggesting he won’t be leaving. Asked at a press conference Wednesday if he would “commit to a peaceful transferal of power” if he lost the November election, Trump said: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”

And what about his continued challenges over mail-in ballots being legitimate? Will Trump get his lawyers to drag out election results for a month or two after the election? It is going to stay interesting, especially as predictions extend out on availability of Covid-19 vaccinations; and whether a relief bill will make it through Congress. More will be revealed at tonight’s presidential debate. Then there’s the question of how you can creatively pay — and not pay — your taxes. The rules of the game continue changing; or at least can seem to be unenforceable for now.

What about the new Supreme Court justice?
Then there’s the Supreme Court, which sometimes can be the deciding force on what happens in Washington. There is a lot of concern that Trump’s choice to fill the open Supreme Court seat, Amy Coney Barrett, will be the sixth Republican-appointed justice — and a conservative justice, based on her past rulings and public comments. Legal issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, clean energy guidelines, and accountability for air pollution, will be going more in favor of fossil fuel companies and those denying climate change if Coney Barrett gets appointed. So even if Chief Justice John Roberts continues to occasionally vote with the opposition, that would still mean five justices will be winning the vote on the conservative, anti-regulatory side — if Barrett passes through senate confirmation.

What does the future of fracking look like?
Fracking won’t be going away, but which version of it gets enforced will be determined by the November election. Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, has been credited with helping America cut down energy imports. It also became a lightning-rod issue for environmental activists.

Fracking became the extraction method that over the past decade opened up gas shale fields and made the US less reliant on foreign oil and gas imports. Oil and gas companies pushed hard for fracking to be allowed to ramp up natural gas, oil, gasoline, and diesel production in the US. President Barack Obama issued a regulatory structure over it in 2015 — the first one in more than 30 years. The Obama administration was criticized for the new rule by environmental groups fighting fracking and other issues such as whether the US was going to allow the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The White House made the case that natural gas released half the emissions of coal and would be a much better transitional energy source for power plants. Obama also pushed for improving the process including honest reporting of the chemicals used in fracking, which some say did clean up fracking. Some environmental groups supported it as a way to displace coal.

In late 2017 under Trump, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published its ruling in the Federal Registry essentially overturning Obama’s 2015 rule. That decision was backed by a federal judge in March. California and several environmental groups had sued over the Trump administration’s repeal, claiming it was unlawful. The main argument was that the federal government was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. But Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr., an Obama appointee, sided with the Trump administration.

Biden is likely to follow a similar strategy spelled out in the Obama plan from 2015. He’s stayed out of it so far, but his campaign has said he does not want to ban fracking. He has proposed a ban on new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters. Trump would like to continue opening up all the available gas and oil reserves, no matter how damaging it could be.

Would Biden listen to Bernie and AOC?
Biden’s Build Back Better plan is a centerpiece of the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign that he released prior to the Democratic national convention. The $2 trillion plan would set the US on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It will include investing in renewable energy, advanced battery development, parts and components, and a broad charging network, to put a lot more electric vehicles on American roads and to build up clean energy. One stumbling block would be accessing enough rare-earth metals needed for making these batteries and other parts used in clean energy and tech. Most of it is mined overseas, with China leading the way. Trump’s trade battle with China makes it even more vulnerable.

The Green New Deal initiative, introduced to Congress in February 2019 by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), shares many of the clean energy goals as Build Back America but conflicts over health care and other issues. Then there’s the big question of whether clean energy and tech can really support the domestic economy and workforce, with is the foundation for Biden’s plan.

The Green New Deal, which was placed on the back burner in Washington after not gaining enough momentum, does differ widely from Biden on two fronts — medical coverage and living wages. Those two issues would bring an overhaul to the healthcare system and medical insurance coverage, and to the worker pay structure. They’re much closer to what No. 2 Democratic nominee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, had been hawking during both of his runs for president; and which inspired Sanders to co-sponsor a push last year to get Green New Deal enacted starting on the public housing front along with AOC, a popular nickname for Ocasio-Cortez.

Green New Deal would expand Medicare to cover all Americans — which is far closer to socialized medicine in Canada and several European countries than what’s been enacted through Obamacare. Another policy point would be providing a job guarantee that would bring a “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States,” as stated in the bill.

Green New Deal would also enact more stringent rules on conversion over to clean energy from fossil fuels. While Biden would agree with Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on hitting net-zero carbon emissions targets, there’s a 20 year-gap in hitting the end goal. The Green New Deal proposal calls net-zero to be achieved by 2030.

Where are campaign contributions coming from?
Fossil-fuel interests donated seven times more to the Trump campaign than the Biden campaign as of June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. Trump started raising campaign funds right after taking office in 2017, so those numbers could be a bit skewed because of it. But major oil and gas shareholders would like to see Trump get reelected. Anything they’ve asked for — like more access to offshore oil drilling — has been handed over by the Trump administration.

Net exports continuing?
In 2019, total annual US natural gas exports were 4.66 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) — the highest on record, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Of that total, 61 percent went through pipelines to Mexico and Canada, and the rest of it, liquefied natural gas (LNG), was shipped to global markets. Shipping gas to markets like Asia and Europe could make America a net exporter of natural gas for the fourth year in a row. Net exports of crude oil have also been on that growth path.

Veterans of clean transportation from the 1970s will tell you about the historic impact both of the OPEC oil embargoes had on fuel prices, and shifting regulations and automotive engineering over to fuel economy. Access to transportation fuel and power station energy can play a significant role in what happens in geopolitics; that fact goes back much farther than the 1970s and will continue on well into the future. Making electrification and alternative fuels commercially viable and supported by governments and corporate executives — along with car shoppers and fleets placing orders — will always play a part in elections, government policies, and other big decisions.

What came out of Tesla’s Battery Day?
As part of Tesla’s Battery Day festivities, a bold plan was revealed. Tesla will start producing its own batteries by ramping up its new 4680 battery “pilot” factory. Tesla aims to reach 100 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of its own production by 2022 — in addition to whatever batteries it can source from Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL. To give an idea of the scale, 100 GWh is two-thirds of Gigafactory Nevada’s full, unrealized potential, in only two years from now.

Tesla wants to produce three terawatt-hours (TWh) of batteries by 2030. That is 30 times more than the bold goal of 2022. CEO Elon Musk is well known for making hyper claims about Tesla’s performance and that of his SpaceX company, but you never know.

Latest news bites and commentaries:
AltWheels Fleet Day 2020 Conference: ‘SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION IN A POST-COVID WORLD: Creating Opportunity from Uncertainty.’ The virtual conference is coming up Monday, Oct. 5. Keynoters will be Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group and Bill Van Amburg, EVP of CALSTART. You will also be hearing from leaders in the field of sustainable transportation solutions including UPS, Ford, Toyota, Clean Cities, Nissan, GEOTAB, Proterra, Verizon Connect, Lion Electric, and many others.
To view agenda and speakers, please click here.

National Drive Electric Week events: National Drive Electric Week, is taking place Sep 26-Oct 4, 2020. The nationwide celebration to raise awareness of the many benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, trucks, motorcycles, and more. This year, for the 10th annual National Drive Electric Week, we will be adding online events for the first time. Enter your location below to find national, state and local online events as well as local in-person events near you. You can also use the event map or the event list to see all events.

Hyundai’s Ultimate Mobility Vehicles: Hyundai Motor Group just announced the formation of New Horizons Studio in Mountain View, Calif. It’s a new unit focused on the development of Ultimate Mobility Vehicles, or UMVs for short. One of them was unveiled at CES 2019, Hyundai Elevate and is now the inaugural vehicle for the studio. The vehicle does not rely solely on wheels and is expected to address challenging driving situations – for example, a car with robotic legs could save lives as the first responder in natural disasters; or, people who do not have access to an ADA ramp could hail a car to walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow wheelchairs to roll right in.

Renewable diesel gets good capital rating: Renewable diesel has much potential as a growing market as gasoline and diesel continue to stagnate. Morgan Stanley sees real opportunities opening up in renewable diesel as US and international oil refiners make early moves to expand business in a declining industry. While not mentioned in the study, oil refining company Neste is continuing to bet on the fuel, having just added more than 100 renewable diesel sales points in the Netherlands. 

Uber returning to London:  A London judge found the ride-hailing/sharing giant is “fit and proper” to hold a license in the city, ending a years-long battle for Uber to win back its license to operate in the city. That will help as its one of the biggest global markets for ride services.

New Fisker office opening: Fisker Inc. just announced details surrounding its first dedicated engineering and technology center, to be located in the Mission District of San Francisco, and is being given the name ‘Source Code.’ This facility will be the focal point and development center for the company’s software and vehicle electronics, including both in-car and Fisker data center elements.

Beijing Hyundai EV announcements: On Sept. 25 at the 16th Beijing International Automotive Exhibition (Auto China 2020), Beijing Hyundai Motor Company shared its electrification vision that is driving its transformation into a Smart Mobility Solution Provider. At the show, Hyundai premiered its RM20e electric racing midship sports car prototype, Elantra N TCR and Prophecy concept EV model, demonstrating the reach of its EV ambitions.

Musk’s insane success secrets: Here are 10 success tips from CEO Elon Musk’s profile in the book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. It offers a look into Musk’s work ethic and productivity secrets he uses to run two companies. Some of his productivity secrets could be helpful for the rest of us.

Disaster management and climate crisis: Growth industries for the next few decades

A consensus seems to be emerging that a vaccination will be tested and safe enough to be accessed by the general public sometime next year — from summertime to New Year’s Eve. The infection and fatality rate is expected to stabilize before or after, and health and safety concerns should lift enough for the global economy to recover. At least that’s the theory.

Climate change isn’t getting that kind of high hope and positive expectation. Climate crisis has become the norm in the past few years with evidence of it coming from Western state wildfires and regular tropical storms hitting the East Coast; and events like it occurring around the world. Then there’s the temperature continuing to go up, with California’s Death Valley reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit recently, the highest temperature ever measured on the planet. The death toll has been increasing from all of the devastating impact of climate change, such as cities like Phoenix recording their hottest months ever.

Stakeholders in emergency management services, land development, healthcare, waterway restoration, and transportation, have been hearing alarms sound over it for years; but it has become more pressing in the past five years with brush fires destroying millions of acres and tarnishing air quality.

So, what’s the latest?

—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been doing much better since the president invoked the Stafford Act in March and declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. FEMA has been getting more funding and support, but onlookers acknowledge it could be much better if the federal government could play a more clear and decisive role. While FEMA and other agencies are getting better marks for responding to Covid-19, climate change continues to be ignored.

Climate change “affects almost every single thing in emergency management,” said Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management and disaster science at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. “We’re not ready for what is coming.”

—Bill Gates would like to see the US clean up its act on bringing a vaccine to people in this country — and coordinate with the best of what’s going on around the world. He has that suggestion for clean transportation as well. Gates said that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has played a matchmaker role between several possible Covid-19 vaccine makers, based on the connections the group made on vaccines for other diseases, like malaria.

Gates has also been leading the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund to fight climate change. Startups need to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 500 million metric tons. And last month, Gates posted in LinkedIn on his ideas on how to meet one of his objectives: “We want more people to be able to travel without contributing to climate change,” he wrote.

—What about investing in technology that could support firefighters in their battle with brushfires? Could there be a way to spur cloud formation and rain in given areas? Well, it’s a great idea but doesn’t appear to be approaching reality anytime soon. One methodology that is available is more realistic weather forecasting, which can be utilized for disaster preparation.

In late 2013, biotech giant Monsanto bought Climate Corporation for approximately $1.1 billion. While Monsanto was then under fire from activist groups for its role in propagating genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture, the company’s Climate FieldView system is now a standard in agriculture.

While some leaders like President Trump are climate deniers, scientists are getting it right and forecasting climate change more accurately. Earlier this year, NASA found that 10 of 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature closely matched observations. And after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. Authors of the NASA study found no evidence that the leading climate models in which they had evaluated systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.

And in other news……..

At its much-hyped Battery Day, Tesla Inc. yesterday unleashed a list of innovations that CEO Elon Musk said could make battery-making cheaper and would assist rolling out a $25,000 Tesla electric car within three years. At Tesla’s socially distanced outdoor Battery Day event, Musk said the company is moving toward eliminating cobalt in its batteries; a new powertrain for the Model S that could get to speeds of 200 mph; and a new cathode plant to streamline its battery production.

Sad news for those who own the GenZe electric scooter. After setting up a temporary shutdown plan to survive Covid-19 earlier this year, the company is now in the process of closing its shutters for good. The Mahindra-owned company did look very promising a few years ago with its functional bikes and a factory that built vehicles in the US. The holding company liquidated GenZe’s assets after deciding to shutter a number of its unprofitable subsidiaries and is working on completely dissolving the company in months ahead. One friend of mine found out from a West Hollywood maintenance shop that GenZe isn’t getting any support — no parts that can be shipped, and no one is answering the hotline. GenZe says more will be coming out later.

Worried about breathing air during brush fires and climate catastrophe? Volvo Cars has introduced a world-first premium air quality technology to address these issues for its 90 and 60 Series models, based on its Scalable Products Architecture (SPA). The company’s new Advanced Air Cleaner technology comes with a sensor that measures PM 2.5 levels inside the cabin, creating a feature not available in any other car currently on the market. It’s staring out in China, where PM 2.5 measurements and related information services are well-established. Volvo drivers in China can compare air quality inside the cabin to that outside the car. PM 2.5 has become a widely-used measure for air quality, the company said, as its indicates the amount of fine particulate matters in the air.