BMW beats Tesla in Europe, Prediction on electric fleet trucks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

CES and Detroit Auto Show highlights, Tesla goes to Shanghai

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in other news……..

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

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

All-new electrified models:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VW and Toyota highlights at LA Auto Show, Nissan tapping into energy grid

One of the stars of AutoMobility LA at the LA Auto Show has been the I.D. Buzz Cargo concept, which ties into Volkswagen’s traditional Transporter cargo van and the look of its retro-passenger microbus. It’s the largest vehicle to be built on the German automaker’s Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB) platform, and it will be getting an expanded version of the microbus with a large rear cargo area in lieu of seats. It will also get a battery pack capable of going 340 miles on a charge. On the other side of the urban mobility scale, the company unveiled the Cargo e-Bike, a three-wheeled, battery-assisted electric bike that it says can deliver cargo up to 463 pounds. It’s expected to enter production in 2019.

Another LA Auto Show highlight: While the Toyota Corolla has been on the market for 53 years, the 2020 Corolla will be the first-ever to come in a hybrid edition. It’s expected to achieve more than 50 miles per gallon and will be loaded with Toyota’s standard suite of safety equipment, Toyota Safety Sense. The Japanese automaker also announced that the Prius will be getting the all-wheel-drive equipped AWD-e, that will provide additional traction through various conditions like inclement weather, snow or rain, and an estimated 52 mpg in the city. Toyota also had other product announcements during the show.

Nissan is tapping into the ecosystem and energy grid through two new programs, one out of Japan and one announced at its U.S. headquarters. The Yokohama global HQ announced Nissan Energy, where owners of Nissan electric vehicles will be able to easily connect the EV to energy systems to charge their batteries, power their homes and businesses, and feed energy back into the power grid. It will also develop new ways to reuse electric car batteries. The company is working with partners such as electric and telecom companies, conducting field tests of vehicle-to-grid and virtual power plant systems to tap into the clean energy benefits. In Franklin, Tenn., the U.S. division announced a program built around Nissan EV owners saving on electric utility costs by tapping into energy already stored in their Nissan Leaf. Working with Fermata Energy, a vehicle-to-grid systems company, Nissan North America is launching a new pilot program under the Nissan Energy Share initiative. It taps into bi‑directional EV charging technology to partially power its North American headquarters in Franklin, and its design center in San Diego, Calif. Bi-direction charging technology not only charges the Nissan Leaf, it also stories energy in the car’s battery pack to partially power external electrical loads, such as buildings and homes.

Electric scooter company Bird is offering independent operators a way to get into the mobility business. Bird is selling the scooters to local business people and getting 20% of each ride. They also get access to Bird’s chargers and mechanics, but they do have the option of charging the scooters themselves. A number of cities do regulate the number of scooters they’ll permit to run on their streets. Called the Bird Platform, the company will begin rolling out the franchisee program in December in markets where city regulators have been more relaxed about it. Municipal governments have mixed feelings about whether they should allow Bird and and its competitor, Lime, to have free rein in their cities, or if they should be limited in number of scooters allowed on their streets; as has been the case in San Francisco. Bird and Lime believe in the “micro-mobility solution,” where electric scooters will be a solution to increasing traffic congestion and an alternative to ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft. They usually enter markets first by showing up and gaining ridership before working things out with the city; and that sometimes happens after the city initiatives regulations and forces the issue.

Ryder System has ordered 1,000 medium-duty electric panel vans from Chanje, which will be operated by FedEx Express pick-up and delivery services. FedEx is purchasing 100 vehicles and leasing the other 900; the fleet vehicles are expected to operate throughout California over the next two years. The Chanje electric van is equipped to haul up to 6,000 pounds, up to 675 cubic feet of cargo, and travel 150-miles of range on a single charge.

Vincentric announced the 2018 U.S. Hybrid Analysis results with 42 of the 79 hybrids evaluated (53%) having a lower total cost of ownership compared to their closest all-gasoline powered counterpart. It was a significant growth rate over the 2017 study, where about 40% of the hybrids analyzed were cost-effective. The Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium had the highest savings, where buyers could save close to $6,400 over five years of ownership compared to the similarly equipped all-gasoline powered version. “The number of cost-effective hybrids has increased significantly from last year’s analysis,” said Vincentric President, David Wurster. “Our research shows that the lower hybrid costs for fuel and maintenance now gives buyers a larger variety of cost-effective, eco-friendly vehicles to choose from.”

Waymo ready to launch first commercial AV service, Get ready for AutoMobility LA

The age of robotaxis is ready to launch:  Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo division is preparing to launch the first-ever commercial autonomous vehicle service in early December, according to a source familiar with the plans. It will be run under its own brand and compete directly with mobility companies like Uber and Lyft. It won’t be a splashy opening, but the start of a trial run in suburbs around Phoenix. That’s where Waymo’s Early Rider Program has been tested with a group of 400 volunteer families who’ve been taking autonomous rides with the company for more than a year. This news coincided with a comments made by Waymo’s chief John Krafcik speaking at Wall Street Journal’s TechD D.Live conference on Tuesday. Krafcik said the service will start with a small group of riders in the Phoenix area but will be expanding in the coming months. Passengers can pay for rides and corporate customers such as Walmart Inc. are planning on having their customers shuttled to the chain’s stores in these vehicles. Earlier this year, Waymo announced plans to buy thousands of vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover to expand its self-self-driving vehicle fleet.

VW ramping up to mass produce EVs:  Volkswagen said it will convert three German factories to build electric vehicles — to meet expected demand and complete its commitment to zero emission vehicles made after the diesel-emissions scandal broke three years ago. The VW plant in Emden, which currently builds the VW Passat, would build electric cars from 2022 onwards, and its factory in Hannover would also start producing EVs the same year. Together with the company’s current Zwickau plant, it will make for Europe’s largest network for the production of EVs in Europe, the company said. This week, the German automaker also announced it will be spending 44 billion euros ($50.2 billion) on EVs, digitalization, autonomous driving and new mobility services by 2023. That will make for a plan 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) more compared to last year’s planning round by VW.

Tesla buying trucking companies, facing more investor suits:  Tesla chief Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that the company has acquired a few trucking firms to meet its delivery targets. The real challenge for Tesla this year has been building and delivering enough Model 3 compact electric cars to come close to meeting its earlier commitments to do so. It will shave off at least a month of time that it takes by using rail to get its electric cars to the East Coast. “We bought some trucking companies & secured contracts with major haulers to avoid trucking shortage mistake of last quarter,” Musk wrote without revealing details on the acquired companies.

Along with getting through hellish production schedules, the company has had to face a mounting crisis over Musk’s infamous August tweet on taking Tesla private. It will be likely be leading to two or three separate groups of securities fraud lawsuits, according to lawyers for shareholders. It would run the gamut of shareholders and their claimed losses, from traditional longtime institutional investors to others shorting the stock or holding options. The case presents “so many different types of investors and investments, long and short,” U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said at a hearing Thursday in San Francisco. “That may have some effect on how I measure who has the greatest financial interest.”

Get ready for AutoMobility LA and LA Auto Show:  AutoMobility LA will be taking place Nov. 26-29, 2018, in Los Angeles, featuring speakers and workshops on the latest in autonomy, connectivity, electrification, the sharing economy, and more. It’s the prelude to the 2018 LA Auto Show, which runs from Nov. 30-Dec. 9 at the LA Convention Center. More than 60 debut vehicles are scheduled for this year’s AutoMobility LA, with nearly half making their world premiere. Jeep will be rolling out a pickup, and Kia is expected to have multiple vehicles make their world debut, including one of the brand’s best-selling cars. Audi has confirmed that the e-tron GT concept 4-door electric performance coupe will make its global premiere at AutoMobility LA.

Keynote speakers during AutoMobility LA include Giovanni Palazzo, CEO of Volkswagen’s Electrify America, talking about “Racing to Create an Open, Fast-Charging Network Ready for a Tidal Wave of EVs.” Ted Klaus, VP and executive engineer of Honda R&D Americas, will discuss “Safe Swarm: Preparing Highways for the Autonomous Future.” Ned Curic, VP of Amazon Alexa Automotive, will speak on “Now We’re Taking: Amazon Alexa.”

Other speakers include: Luke Schneider, CEO of Silvercar, Audi’s app-based car rental service; Megan Stooke, CMO of General Motor’s Maven car-sharing service; and Jenny Ha, senior exterior designer at Lucid Motors.

Tesla Model 3 helping EVs go mainstream, Subscription services come to ride hailing

EVs going mainstream: Along with plug-in electric vehicles making it to the one million mark for U.S. auto sales in October, it was historic and interesting to see the Tesla Model 3 continue to make the Top 10 in America’s light-duty car segment — in October coming in at #6 behind the Hyundai Elantra and before the Nissan Sentra. In an interview this week with Recode, CEO Elon Musk said that 5,000 cars produced a week at its Fremont, Calif. plant has become the norm, and that’s being raised to 6,000 to 7,000 units a week. To hit about 6,500 a week “it would have to stress people out and do tons of overtime,” he said.

How long for AVs to go mainstream:  It was a milestone to see California grant Waymo the right to test self-driving vehicles without human safety drivers. Waymo has been putting in the hours and reporting the data — more than 10 million miles of real-world public-road testing, and seven billion miles of simulation testing. But it’s still in the testing phase in U.S. states allowing for it, and a few other countries overseas. We’re probably looking at a decade from now before they’re commonly seen on roadways. Perhaps trucking will see it first, with the lack of available commercial-grade drivers and accidents caused by those not getting enough sleep. Cargo carriers may have to come up with their own insurance for their fleets, as insurance companies are making it difficult to find the right coverage.

Subscription services comes to ride-hailing:  Uber is following Lyft — and several automakers — by now offering customers a subscription service, called Ride Pass. Users are guaranteed set prices for a monthly fee. That comes out to $24.99 in Los Angeles, and $14.99 in Austin, Orlando, Denver, and Miami. Subscribers pay fares based on historical data and won’t change based on demand or other circumstance, such as the costly “surge pricing” during peak hours. Lyft launched its All-Access Plan last month. The service costs $299 per month and gives users 30 rides worth up to $15 each. If a ride costs more than $15, the user pays the difference. Automakers have been offering their subscription services in recent years — with BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volvo, tapping into the car financing model where customers who might have been reluctant to come over to the brand are trying it out; with the hope they’ll be loyal brand buyers and tap into their dealer networks for service and maintenance, shared ride services, etc.

Uber and Lyft going public, Highlights from AltCar Expo speakers

Ride-hailing firms going public:  Uber and Lyft, the top rivals for the U.S. ride-hailing market, are engaged in another race to see who can launch a successful stock market public offering first. While Uber went through disastrous upheaval not long ago, CEO Uber Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over a little more than a year ago, appears to be reviving the ride-hailing giant. Uber may be getting a 2019 offering at a $120 billion valuation, far above recent private market levels. Lyft, meanwhile, could find a public valuation of over $15 billion, which is much closer to IPOs than what some analysts expect Uber to find next year in initial market value.

Musk going to Mars:  While 2018 is turning out the worst of times for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, things are looking brighter on the space transport side of the business — with his grand vision of taking passengers to Mars. His SpaceX company’s Big Falcon Booster will see a factory being built in the Port of Los Angeles, 15 miles south of the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne. SpaceX is getting a lot of support for its Mars mission from NASA, along with contracts for cargo delivery. Another federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has taken a dim view of Musk, but that’s getting worked out with a federal judge approving Musk’s settlement with the SEC. Musk’s mission to Mars goes back before he came over to Tesla. In 2002, he founded the space travel and exploration company through his frustration that NASA wasn’t doing enough to get humans to Mars. It’s typical to see him featured in interviews wearing his “Occupy Mars” t-shirt to get the message across.

Highlights from AltCar Expo:  AltCar Expo speakers talked about the key issues that government regulators, fleet managers, automakers, and technology partners are facing deploying clean vehicles and supporting clean fuels and energy in California. The popular ride-and-drive was a showcase for green vehicles of all types, including the debut of Electra Meccanica’s Solo single-passenger electric vehicle. The Audi etron 55 quattro was displayed and discussed in a panel by Audi of America’s Spencer Reeder; and attendees had a preview of the new Chanje V8100 Generation 2 Model of the electric van by the Chinese manufacturer.

Terry Tamminen, who now serves as CEO at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, talked about the lack of clear understanding in the federal government over climate change and its devastating impact from Hurricane Michael and other signs of dire conditions. Former head of California’s Environmental Protection Agency and later Cabinet Secretary under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tammimen served as architect of key legislative changes including the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the Hydrogen Highway Network, and the Million Solar Roofs Initiative. He sees California playing a critical role in the future of government policy and supporting growth in clean transportation. The state’s mandate to have 100% renewable energy by 2045, and tapping into more renewables to power the state’s energy grid, are signs of the state’s commitment to fight climate change. The cost of electricity dropping from $4 a watt when Schwarzenegger took office to under $1 a watt now is a sign the economic dynamics are coming together, as well, he said.

Santa Monica city council member, and Innogy e-Mobility US strategy and market development head, Terry O’Day, had a conversation with annual AltCar award winner Phillip Kobernick, Logistics Service Manager for County of Alameda, about the latest in Bay Area developments for clean vehicles and infrastructure. The county’s fleet now has 300 hybrid vehicles and 80 all-electric vehicles in its 1,300-vehicle fleet. Hybrid police patrol cars, motorpools, and car-sharing programs are supporting these efforts, he said. The County of Alameda and other government fleets in the region are tapping into incentives for chargers being purchased and installed, with the county reaching about 1,400 charger locations, he said. Kobernick offered three suggestions for meeting sustainability targets: gaining better data from EV usage patterns, similar to what’s available now on gasoline-engine vehicles; more charging options based on fleet vehicle duty cycles — such as when Level 1 charging can work and nighttime charging; and becoming smart users in the electricity grid — how to work with utilities on avoiding being penalized with extra fees during peak demand periods. He’s also interested in exploring whether battery swapping might work in EVs, such as police patrol cars that don’t have downtime to wait for charging.

Stay tuned for an upcoming video link in Green Auto Market that will show the Friday speakers. That will also include “Is California Past the Turning Point?” moderated by Marco Anderson, Southern California Association of Governments and featuring Clinton Bench of UCLA Transportation, Kobernick, and Ken Reichley of Southern California Edison. “Are Auto Makers Truly Committed to Low- and No-Emissions Technology?” was moderated by Sue Carpenter of KPCC “Take Two” and featured Anthony Luzi of Electra Meccanica and Spencer Reeder of Audi of America. Reeder also discussed where Volkswagen’s Electrify America program will be going in the next couple of years.