This Week’s Top 10: GM launches Green Dealer Recognition Program, DOE and CEC announce more funding

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. Chevrolet dealerGM’s new green dealer program: For GM dealers looking to attract car shoppers who are searching for fuel-efficient vehicles from environmentally responsible companies, pay attention to the Green Dealer Recognition Program. Participating dealers in the Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac brands in the US are participating in the program to earn the credential. That comes from energy reduction, renewable energy use, water conservation, recycling, community outreach, and setting up onsite nature habitats, according to General Motors. GM has been recognized for its corporate sustainability initiatives, and this program ties into goals to reduce its environmental footprint and green its supply chain. Dealers are joining the program voluntarily and are encouraged to build a network for sharing best practices.
  2. More clean transportation funding: US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz last week announced that $55 million will be available to develop and deploy vehicle technologies that strengthen the clean energy economy. Funded projects will include advanced batteries and electric drive research and development, lightweight materials, advanced combustion engines, and alternative fuel technologies. The Dept. of Energy will support projects to reduce the price and improve the efficiency of electric vehicles, alternative fuel, and conventional vehicles. About that time, California Energy Commission (CEC) announced granting about $12 million through its Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. About $11.2 million will go to natural gas vehicles and will be administered through University of California, Irvine. In a separate announcement, the Luskin Center at University of California, Los Angeles, said that its’ won two project grants from CEC. The first project through Luskin Center’s Southern California Plug-In Electric Vehicles Readiness Plan will take on bringing more charging stations to multi-unit dwellings. The second project teams with UC San Diego, San Diego Gas and Electric and others to manage solar energy in tandem with workplace electric vehicle batteries.
  3. Green Car Journal presented its second round of green vehicle awards at the Washington Auto Show. The Jeep Grand Cherokee EcoDiesel won Green SUV of the Year, the BMW i8 took Luxury Green Car, and the Ford F-150 won Green Car Technology for its new design including using aluminum reducing the truck’s weight by about 700 pounds. The i8 beat out the Tesla Model S, Cadillac ELR, Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, and the Audi A8TDI. In a separate competition, the 2015 Ford F-150 took the top prize in the Automotive Science Group’s (ASG) fourth annual life-cycle study. According to ASG, the F-150 holds the smallest life-cycle carbon footprint and lowest cost of ownership of any full-size truck in the North American market today.
  4. Last week, Ford opened the doors of its new Research and Innovation Center (RIC) in Palo Alto, Calif., aimed at technologies and experiments in connectivity, mobility, autonomous vehicles, customer experience, and data analytics. The automaker has formed an alliance with Stanford University, creating the Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle for testing by engineers. Dragos Maciuca, an experienced engineer from Apple, has joined Ford to serve as senior technical leader at RIC Palo Alto; additional hiring plans will support Ford in meeting its goal of having one of the largest automotive research teams in Silicon Valley.
  5. Renewable energy expert Craig Shields just had his fourth book published, Bullish on Renewable Energy: Fourteen Reasons that Clean Energy Investors Can’t Lose. While his first three books featured interviews with experts in science, the regulatory environment and business realities, this book comes from original writing and is surprisingly optimistic: “The battle has been won. The forces of market economics are in the process of changing so rapidly that planet Earth is headed for a clean energy future far faster than anyone could have predicted.”
  6. Connecticut may allow sales of Tesla vehicles: Connecticut originally rejected Tesla stores as a violation of its law banning automakers from operating their own dealerships, but that may be changing. If the law is altered, Connecticut will join Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Nevada, and Pennsylvania in legalizing Tesla direct sales (sometimes with restrictions). Tesla has been banned from Arizona, Michigan, Texas, and Virginia; and is limited to one store in Colorado, and was forced to close its two stores in New Jersey last year.
  7. NGVAmerica just released a study making a strong case for natural gas vehicles. The study looked at world crude oil prices on an historical perspective along with energy forecasts. Natural gas has been much more stable and low-priced than gasoline and diesel for decades. That makes a compelling case for bringing in natural gas vehicles by commercial and government fleets; transportation costs represent a large share of their budgets, so the need to predictably plan fleet acquisitions and fueling is critical.
  8. More electric car news: Porsche will roll out the long-anticipated Pajun sedan, but only as an electric model. Plans have been dropped to roll out gasoline and diesel versions. The sporty sedan will go head-to-head with the Tesla Model S. Chevrolet will be bringing its Spark EV to Maryland this spring, its first East Coast entry and third state overall – following California and Oregon in 2013. Maryland is a “strong commuter market” with relatively widespread charging infrastructure, General Motors said in a statement.
  9. Goodbye nuclear, hello hydrogen: Toyota will be spending 45.2 billion yen ($385 million) on fuel cell vehicle subsidies and hydrogen stations before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. It’s part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategy to move the nation away from reliance on nuclear power following its March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan’s capital will build 35 stations to fuel hydrogen-based fuel cell vehicles and is in negotiations with Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. to put 6,000 hydrogen cars on its roads by 2020.
  10. BMW and Volkswagen have formed an alliance with ChargePoint to build 100 DC fast charger stations along bi-coastal routes. The West Coast route will stretch from Portland to San Diego, while the East Coast route will run from Boston to Washington, D.C. The chargers will be spaced at intervals of 50 miles or less, to alleviate driver range anxiety.

Reporter’s Notebook: The state of auto dealers at NADA 2015 in San Francisco

NADA 2015For franchised dealers and their suppliers, attending the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention is a must. I attended NADA 2015 on Friday and Saturday with two colleagues from Automotive Digest at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. Here are a few thoughts from my notebook:

  • The industry seems to be healthy, with attendance at 22,000 to 24,000 people – up from last year and about 550 exhibitors in the three separate Moscone Center halls. As for car sales, NADA’s chief economist Steven Szakaly forecasted US new vehicle sales will go up from 16.5 million sold in 2014 to 16.9 million sold this year. Economic growth is behind it with an improving housing market and job expansion leading to a surge in demand; low gas prices are a factor and that should tip the scale to more demand for pickup trucks and SUVs.
  • Michelle Krebs, senior analyst at AutoTrader, expects electric vehicle (EV) sales to continue softening this year. Some of that has to do with internal combustion engines having stronger fuel economy and performance through stop/start systems, direct injection, turbocharging, and other factors. Limitations on EV charging stations are another part of it. As for hybrids, there’s still a lot of online shopper interest in them, but that’s many times diverted over to fuel-efficient vehicle purchases. Krebs was very impressed with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this month, where automakers for the first time played the dominant role. CES could be the leading auto show of the future, Krebs said. Mercedes stole the show on driverless cars, and BMW and Volkswagen stood out demonstrating their self-parking car systems. One AutoTrader survey showed that while consumers are not that supportive of self-driving cars, they do have interest in connected car technology features currently available on cars – and which are leading the way toward autonomous vehicles.
  • Jennifer Weaver of National Biodiesel Board said that the association’s annual conference this month in Fort Worth, Texas, was well attended. There’s still concern about the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) final ruling on the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) being delayed. Biodiesel is the only advanced biofuel on the RFS list of supported fuels that’s reached commercial scale production and sales. Nearly all diesel vehicles allow consumption of biodiesel, with much of that in the B5 to B20 range. While some biodiesel producers were hit hard by the EPA’s delay of its production schedule, there are several large and stable biodiesel companies, Weaver said. Having stringent ASTM fuel specifications has set a standard for bringing clean biodiesel to fueling stations. Fleets are gaining more interest in biodiesel since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions by more than 50% compared to petroleum diesel; the cost is comparable and sometimes less than diesel; you can run biodiesel without having to make any engine conversions; and public fuel dispensers providing biodiesel are becoming widespread throughout the US.
  • As for big news breaking at the convention, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush attacked the Consumer Federation Protection Bureau (CFPB) for coming down too hard on dealer sales tactics. Some think Bush is likely to announce his candidacy for president in 2016 – one year after keynote speaker and potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave a keynote speech at the NADA convention. Another hot topic being discussed is what’s going to happen to dealer corporate buyouts and mergers now that Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway have invested their way into the dealer world. Another interesting news development took place during NADA when billionaire investor George Soros, who has a lot of experience in auto industry capitalization, was said to be considering acquiring a dealer network.
  • John Krafcik, president of TrueCar, sees a strong correlation between gas prices and Toyota Prius sales, which continue to be down. Full-size pickups are doing much better than hybrids as gas prices stay down. On the subject of clean diesel passenger vehicles, Krafcik sees that greenhouse gas emissions present a strong challenge for diesel vehicles. Diesel vehicles release 14% more CO2 than gasoline; some of these clean diesel cars may be about 10% to 15% more fuel efficient than comparable gasoline engine cars, but they end up breaking even with diesel cars usually costing more than gas engine models.
  • Going mobile in San Francisco means accessing transportation alternatives such as riding in a cabled electric bus, or a BART train, or taking Uber across town. I rode with Uber to and from the airport to save money off the usual taxi fare of around $50 from SFO to the center of the city. One of my trips cost $34 and the fee on the return trip to the airport was only $16. Why that was so much cheaper the second time wasn’t explained to me.
  • Millennials are getting serious about buying cars. “Millennials, like other generations, see car ownership as a way to establish independence,” Berj Kazanjian, Senior Vice President of MTV’s Ad Sales Research, said about study findings at a presentation during NADA 2015. They “also see car ownership as a way to craft their unique adult identity.” (I would also remind you to keep in mind that several studies in recent years have shown young people have a lot of interest in plug-in electrics, hybrids, and other alternative fuel vehicles. Just make sure you can reach them on their mobile devices.)

Will carbon taxes ever be enacted in Washington?

Carbon taxWhether or not Congress and the president will enact a carbon tax occasionally becomes a topic of heated debate with strong arguments made on both sides. Lawrence Summers has stirred the pot lately writing commentaries making the case for enacting carbon taxes. Summers, a Harvard professor and past university president, and treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 and previous economic adviser to President Obama, says that cheap fossil fuels exacerbate energy overuse. Carbon taxes would help curb that problem and reduce emissions. “Carbon emissions exacerbate the global climate change problem. In many cases they contribute to local pollution problems which immediately harm human health,” Summers wrote in the Washington Post.

The basic idea behind enacting carbon taxes is to raise the price of fossil fuels high enough in the US that it becomes much more expensive. It would be similar to Europe’s high motor fuel prices; that gives incentives to consumers to use less fuel and produce less carbon during transportation. Carbon taxes would also regulate other sectors with high carbon emissions such as energy power plants. Summers says that the issue becomes compelling when oil prices drop dramatically, as we’re seeing now, giving incentive to over-consuming motor fuel and other fossil fuels.

Variations on carbon taxes do exist in the US now through the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and California’s cap-and-trade system. Oil importers and refineries pay for and trade Renewable Identification Numbers through the RFS. California’s cap-and-trade market sets a firm limit (or cap) on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the oil industry, utilities, and other carbon producers. Compliance costs are minimized by trading carbon credits on the market, and through reducing their own carbon emissions by changing over to clean, renewable energy.

President Barack Obama has been calling on the world to follow the US and China alliance in reducing GHG – a point made last fall while speaking before the United Nations Climate Summit. The US has not supported the summit’s plan to set a global price on carbon, signed by 74 countries and more than 1,000 businesses and investors. That comes from a lack of support in Washington for carbon taxes now that the majority of both the House and Senate have changed hands – and which had failed to gain any real support in Washington in recent years when Democrats led both branches of Congress. As for now, California has a cap-and-trade system in agreement with the Canadian province of Quebec; other states are considering it. The Obama administration is going the route of enforcing Clean Air Act rules and forming an overseas alliance with China to deal with the carbon reduction challenge.

Steve Cohen, executive director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, says that it’s time to “abandon the delusion of a carbon tax.” While it makes for interesting cocktail party chitchat and impassioned blogging, it’s not going to gain enough political support with so much at stake. “No political leader responsible for ensuring the material well-being of his or her people in the modern global economy is going to willingly raise the price of something so central to that economy as the price of energy,” according to Cohen. He sees the solution coming from setting up incentives and government-funded research to make renewable energy technologies more advanced and cost efficient. That would mean renewables would become cheaper, more reliable, and more convenient than fossil fuels. The debate would be over.

As for now, the best US trend we’re seeing is corporations and governments choosing to reduce their own carbon/GHG emissions voluntarily. That usually starts out in adopting energy efficiency, waste management, and renewable energy – such as powering a building through solar panels. We’re starting to see fleets become more engaged in those policies – reducing their emissions and fuel consumption through alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles. Making the business case is a bit challenging with gas prices dropping down so far and acquisition costs for these clean vehicles many times much higher than traditional vehicles. Hats off to those fleets taking on the challenge.

This Week’s Top 10: More news from the Detroit Auto Show, Rick Sikes and Keith Leech announce their retirements

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. North American International Auto ShowUnveiling the Chevrolet Bolt and 2016 Volt changes stole the thunder last Monday at the North American International Auto Show. As for the rest of that week…….. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was a keynote speaker at the Automotive New World Congress and said that Tesla will boost production of its electric vehicles from less than 40,000 last year to at least a few million by 2025. The company may not be profitable until 2020. Chinese sales were weaker in the fourth quarter of 2014 than the company had expected; Musk said city-dwelling Chinese consumers have misperceptions about the difficulty of charging their electric cars. On Thursday of last week, Musk traveled to Texas and urged state legislators to ease restrictions on selling Tesla electric cars there, and the possibility of setting up a new car factory or test facility for his “hyperloop” fast train…… Volkswagen debuted its five-seater Cross Coupe GTE. The plug-in hybrid has a maximum output of 355 horsepower and an all-wheel-drive system. It has a manufacturer-estimated fuel economy rating of 70 MPGe…….. Honda showcased its FCV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle concept with US availability of the production vehicle in 2016. The company also announced plans to offer several next-generation, advanced powertrain vehicles, including a new battery-electric model and plug-in hybrid model by 2018………. Ford unveiled the all-new GT, an ultra-high-performance supercar that serves as a technology showcase for top EcoBoost performance, aerodynamics and lightweight carbon fiber construction……… Hyundai revealed a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata midsize sedan that will go on sale this year. Hyundai said it plans to start by selling the 2016 Sonata PHEV in California and nine other U.S. states that mandate sales of zero-emission vehicles.
  2. Two prominent fleet managers have retired. Rick Sikes, fleet superintendent for the City of Santa Monica, and Keith Leech, fleet manager for the City of Sacramento, announced their retirements this month. Sikes is known for leading Santa Monica’s fleet for more than 25 years and bringing it up to 85% alternative fuel including electric, propane, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, and biodiesel. Sikes has served on the leadership team for the city’s AltCar Expo since its inception in 2005. Leech served as Sacramento’s fleet manager from May 2006, where he promoted fleet sustainability with alternative fuels and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Leech has served as President of the Sacramento Regional Clean Cities Coalition; his fleet has been honored several times with awards including taking #1 Government Green Fleet in North America by “100 Best Fleets” and Green Fleet
  3. Former GM product czar Bob Lutz says that Via Motors delivered its first 40 plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Silverado converted pickups to fleet customers, and 200 retrofitted Chevrolet Express vans are in the works. Lutz plays a leadership role with Via, and he says the company expects to sell 50,000 vehicles per year by 2018.
  4. Cheap gasoline prices make it harder to sell electric cars, says Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing. He expects sales to dip in a few countries due to declining gas prices. Maybe a 60-second spot during the Superbowl will help move the metal. The i8 plug-in hybrid is only available in limited production and is quite expensive with a list price of $137,450, but the interest in strong. People are waiting about a year to receive their i8, doubling the delivery this year to 1,000 plus compared to last year. Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, said those i8 models won’t be in the US until October.
  5. Roush CleanTech has earned California Air Resources Board (CARB) retrofit certification for all Ford 6.8-liter vehicles for model years 2012 to 2015 – and is the first company to receive this certification for propane autogas. Any 2012 – 2015 model year Ford E-450, F-450, F-550, F-650, F-53 and F-59 vehicles can now be converted to run on propane autogas in all 50 states.
  6. A recent JD Power and Associates study found that fuel economy has been the top vehicle buying decision for consumers for the past four years; and it should stay high on their consideration list even with the huge drop in gasoline prices, a JD Power analyst said.
  7. The California Energy Commission approved more than $12 million for alternative fuel vehicle projects during its first business meeting of the new year. Regents of the University of California will receive $11.2 million for a natural gas vehicle incentive program; US General Services Administration will receive $600,000 to install 50 electric vehicle charging stations at federal facilities in California; and Linde LLC is receiving $300,000 for a new hydrogen fueling station in West Sacramento.
  8. Uber will provide the City of Boston with data on its ridesharing service trips as part of Boston’s plan to ease traffic congestion and assist in smarter city planning. Uber will provide a quarterly report with trip logs with details on the ride – pickup days and times, distance travel, and zip codes where passengers were picked up and dropped off. That follows new rules from the state of Massachusetts officially recognizing Uber and other ridesharing services as valid modes of transportation. Question: could carsharing services track and report trips to cities and fleets?
  9. Tom Saxton, chief science officer for Plug In America, analyzed how things are going for workplace electric vehicle charging in a blog post. One of the challenges is finding the “just right” fee for charging costs. Free charging is a good thing for kickstarting awareness of electric vehicles but it’s not going to last forever. Free charging can lead to oversubscription and reduce charging availability for those needing charges; that would discourage EV adoption from people who could most benefit from charging at work, Saxton says.
  10. While the price drop at gasoline pumps was a leading topic last week at the Detroit Auto Show, it’s not going to last forever, says Bob Carter, the head of US automotive operations for Toyota. Carter is in agreement with most other automotive executives that those prices will go up; but the question continues on what impact it may have in 2017 during the industry-government review of the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy by 2025 mandate.

Autonomous vehicles are becoming more real than you might think

driverless cars, autonomous vehiclesAs I covered last year in “Hands off the Steering Wheel,” autonomous vehicles (aka self-driving and driverless cars) are gaining more interest and support than would have been expected at this time. While connected cars with advanced technologies are increasing with each new model year, here’s a look at news and developments on where autonomous vehicle technology is likely heading in the near future………

  • Google Inc. is moving beyond its test project and is talking to major automakers and suppliers to help move self-driving cars along. Google’s Chris Urmson, who leads the project, spoke last week at Automotive News World Congress in Detroit; he said that the suppliers include Bosch, a supplier of power electronics and long-range radar to Google, steering-gear supplier ZP Lenksysteme, and battery supplier LG Electronics. Roush, the engineering and specialty manufacturing company (and parent to Roush Cleantech) has built the two-seat pod-like car for Google, which Google will start testing on public roads this year.
  • Urmson declined to state which automakers Google is talking to. Reuters reported earlier that these OEMs include General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Daimler, and Volkswagen. Urmson did say that Google will be looking for a major automaker to build its pod-like self-driving car, when it’s time to commercialize the technology. He did emphasize that Google won’t be entering the business of manufacturing cars. “We’re definitely not in the business of making cars,” he said.
  • At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche in a keynote speech depicted his company becoming the leader in building autonomous vehicles when he unveiled the Mercedes-Benz F015 autonomous concept vehicle. That will probably roll out after 2020, but for this decade Daimler will be making more vehicles with assistance programs including the ability to park themselves once drivers have exited.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks that fully autonomous driving can be a reality within five years; and then it will take another two-to-three years to prove that self-driving cars are safe and for regulatory rules governing autonomous vehicles to be in place.
  • Liability will probably be rising for automakers once autonomous vehicles become commonplace, according to Washington Post blogger Emily Badger. Insurance companies focus on who is responsible for a vehicle collision and how liability will be apportioned. The vehicle itself is rarely blamed, but that will change with self-driving cars. “Liability will inevitably rise for automakers, which is one reason they might be reluctant to see a broad and speedy rollout of autonomous cars,” Badger wrote.
  • Transportation Research Institute at University of Michigan, which tracks average fuel economy in new vehicles sales, just issued a paper on road safety with self-driving vehicles. Authors Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle don’t see self-driving cars bringing vehicle fatalities down to zero; and safety may worsen during a transition period for conventional vehicles when both self-driving and conventional vehicles share roads.

Special Report: Making crowdfunding work for your clean transportation and cleantech startup

Solar powered EV charging stationYour company may be ready to contribute clean transportation and cleantech to your community – electric vehicle charging stations powered by solar energy; electric trucks perfect for urban deliveries; a propane dispenser ideal for fleets; a mobile device for finding alternative fueling and charging stations; or an advanced vehicle technology R&D project such as a NextGen lithium battery that needs the right seed capital to make it work.

Clean transportation and other cleantech startups and established companies are very familiar with government grants and low-interest loans as a capital source. There’s another channel that is becoming just as important in the cleantech space – crowdfunding. The challenge is finding the right resources to turn that idea into action that’s best suited for your company.

Crowdfunding is being used by startups as well as by companies and investment firms looking for the right partners. A clear example of the strength of crowdfunding comes from Hyperloop, the high-speed transit system announced in August 2013 by Tesla Motors and SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk. That launch led to the creation of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc., which was founded by JumpStarter Inc. utilizing JumpStarter’s crowdfunding and crowd collaboration platform JumpStartFund.

This special report explores the landscape out there in crowdfunding, and a consulting firm that works with cleantech companies on finding the right strategy for reaching their goals. Click here to read it.

This Week’s Top 10: GM unveils the Bolt crossover and Volt redesign, More news from the Detroit Auto Show

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. Chevrolet Bolt conceptThe Detroit Auto Show opened with a bang for Chevrolet as it announced the Bolt electric crossover and the redesigned 2016 Volt. Rumors about General Motors working on a crossover version of the Volt have been fairly accurate – only it has a different name and it will be all-electric, not a plug-in hybrid like the Volt. The Chevrolet Bolt is expected to roll out in 2017 and compete directly with the Tesla Model X electric crossover. General Motors says the Bolt should get 200 miles per charge and will sell for about $30,000 with the federal tax incentive; and it will play a big role in strengthening its leadership role in electrified transportation. (See photo of the Bolt concept car.) The 2016 Chevy Volt was revamped to address needed improvements, including quieting the engine, improving performance and adding space to the interior. It will also deliver a lot more range – an estimated 50 miles per charge instead of its current range of 38 miles.
  2. More from Detroit Auto Show: Winners of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards were the Volkswagen Golf “family” (which will include all-electric and clean diesel versions) and the Ford F-150 and its lightweight aluminum body and improved fuel efficiency. Mercedes debuted its new plug-in hybrid, the C350. Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche downplayed fuel economy in these days of cheap gasoline and focused on performance – zero to 60 in 5.9 second, sports-car like handling, and the ability to reach a top speed of 130. The Nissan Leaf may more than double its output in its next version – up to 200 miles on a single charge. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unofficially made this comment following a media briefing.
  3. Nissan is working with NASA on a five-year project to enable autonomous vehicles. By the end of this year, a fleet of Nissan Leafs will be tested to use hardware and software jointly developed by Nissan and NASA. Testing will take place at Nissan’s Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
  4. California Gov. Jerry Brown raised the bar again during his State of the State address last week. Gasoline consumption should be reduced by 50% over the next 15 years, 50% of the state’s electricity supply should be powered by renewables by 2030, and energy efficiency should be doubled in existing buildings. Brown, at age 76, just started his fourth and final term as California’s governor and wants to see the state heighten its role in the fight against global warning.
  5. Solar-powered electric car Stella has been nominated by TechCrunch as one of the five biggest Technology Achievements for its upcoming 8th annual “Crunchies Awards.” Stella is up against an impressive list of contenders — Apple Pay, The Block Chain (Bitcoin), Rosetta Mission’s Comet Landing, and SpaceX Lateral Booster. Stella, created by Solar Team Eindhoven from the Eindhoven (Netherlands) University of Technology, has been widely recognized and is gaining support. Stella took first place in the 2013 Michelin Cruiser class at the World Solar Challenge race in Australia. Partners include National Drive Electric Week, Plug In America, and the Coast to Coast EV Connection project. The team calls it the “world’s first solar-powered family car.”
  6. Pope Francis is expected to issue an “encyclical” outlining the Catholic Church’s stance on climate change. It will likely reinforce the church’s strong stance with concern over climate change and its impact on the planet and its population. This has been gaining a wave of media coverage and social media mentions for its symbolism. The leader of the Catholic Church with its 1.2 billion members is joining ranks with most of the world’s leading scientists – uniting religious and moral issues with science, at least on the global warming question.
  7. Here comes the fastest electric car………. The Detroit Electric sports car is moving forward and will soon be built at a new facility in Leamington Spa in England. Detroit Electric is shooting for building the world’s fastest electric car that will hit 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds and is powered by a 285-hp electric motor. It’s being built on the chassis of the Lotus Elise, the same as the now-discontinued version of the original Tesla Roadster. While still calling itself Detroit Electric, the company had to move out of that hometown overseas to England last year.
  8. Car-sharing company car2go, will be launching its service in China. That will happen in the Chinese metro market of Chongqing within the next year, and will involve a fleet of several hundred Smart Fortwo small cars. The subsidiary of Daimler AG says it now has 12,500 vehicles operating in 29 locations and serving over one million customers in Europe and North America.
  9. RIN prices have doubledRenewable Identification Number (RIN) prices have recently doubled year-over-year in all three reported categories – biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and renewable fuel. They’re still about 30% below the peak period during the summer of 2013, commonly referred to as “RINsanity.” High RIN prices are expected to shield biofuel producers from falling oil prices, while refiner profits will be cut into by high RIN expenses if RIN prices remain high.
  10. So who will be the dominant force behind self-driving cars? Google or Daimler? Mercedes played it up at the Consumer Electronics Show showing off its “F 015 Luxury in Motion” concept car with its futuristic metallic exterior, swiveling seats to support face-to-face passenger conversations, and touch screens every passenger could access. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said that this Mercedes-Benz will provide an escape from the crowded urban environment of the future.

So who is actually leading the EV sales race – the Leaf or the Model S?

Tesla Model S vs. Nissan LeafIf you had read “This Week’s Top 10” a week ago in Green Auto Market, you might have assumed that the Nissan Leaf took top spot in US electric vehicle (EV) sales during December. It’s possible that the Leaf didn’t take the No. 1 sales spot – it may have been the Tesla Model S. It depends on who you ask.

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk did not want to give out the December sales number for the Model S while in Detroit to speak at the auto show – though the company had given out that number a year ago at the Detroit Auto Show.

Tesla Motors doesn’t provide monthly sales figures like all the rest of the automakers do. Those sales numbers come through its quarterly earnings reports; its fourth quarter 2014 numbers will be released in early February; and will be for the quarter without monthly numbers. However, as mentioned in a few articles last week, Tesla may have beat Nissan – and those figures come from the Inside EVs publication and its monthly reporting. Stock market analyst service MarketWatch reported that the Model S became the best-selling electric car in the US during December 2014, beating the Leaf for the first time. Selling 3,500 units last month beat out the Leaf sales figure of 3,102 units.

When you look at the Inside EVs chart for December, the footnote on the Tesla number reads, ”Estimated Tesla NA Sales Numbers – Reconciled on Quarterly Totals from Earnings Report (Q1 Sales reported @ 6,457-3,000 Intl Delivers, Q2 7,579 total-approx reported International registrations, Q3 7,785 total deliveries ~ 3,900 US).” Where is that fourth quarter estimate coming from? Who knows. Maybe the publication gets some of that information from Tesla – or they know a stock market analyst who does.

There’s another figure much lower than that reported by Inside EVsHybridCars.com and its sales reporting partner Baum & Associates said that the Leaf sold 3,102 units in the US and that there were 1,900 of the Model S units delivered. That’s a very wide gap from the 3,500 reported by Inside EVs.

Green Auto Market – Extended Edition, the monthly subscription-based version of this newsletter, uses the HybridCars.com and Baum and Associates figures. Those figures have been reported longer than any other sales data, and Baum & Associates is respected in the industry for its expertise on alternative/clean vehicle reporting; HybridCars.com has done a very good job reporting on hybrids and EVs for several years.

In the end, HybridCars.com, Baum & Associates, Inside EVs, and other sources have different numbers on sales of the Tesla Model S. One thing is for sure: whether the Leaf or Model S came in first place, battery electric vehicles are beating extended range/plug-in hybrid vehicles in monthly US sales. Why might that be? Here are a few of my thoughts on that question:

  • Very impressive product. If you’ve ever driven a Leaf or Model S, you’re likely to have been impressed by their performance and handling.
  • The range is enough for now. You can go about 84 miles on the Leaf after a full charge, and up to 300 miles on the Model S (depending on which version of the Model S you’re driving). Most drivers are using these cars for daily commutes and short trips and know how to charge them everywhere – and usually do so. Range anxiety isn’t as much of an issue for them as it is for plug-in hybrid drivers, and for consumers and fleets just thinking about getting an EV.
  • Leasing makes EVs more affordable. Leasing has made EVs more attractive for car shoppers. Tesla has created its own “guaranteed buy back” program and Nissan, Chevrolet, BMW, and other automakers are offering their own competitive lease packages. That’s helping get first-time EV buyers into EVs of all types.

Energy storage holds huge potential for makers and owners of electric vehicles

energy storageFor those of you following the cleantech business, you’ve probably noticed an emerging market segment in the past year: energy storage. There’s a lot of demand for clean energy to be produced – along with ways to store that energy for when it’s needed through an economically feasible business model. Electric automakers have gotten into that market – and we’re likely to see electric vehicles added to energy storage potential.

California Gov. Jerry Brown called for 50% of California’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 in his “State of the State” address last week. That’s up from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 20% and his own previous 33% mandate for renewable energy. Utilities in the state – and in several others in the US – have been investing in energy storage to address renewable energy mandates and to better manage their grids. Energy storage has become “a powerful and appealing alternative to upgrading grid infrastructure to solve these challenges,” according to Navigant Research.

Demand and price can swing up and down over a 24-hour period, causing uproar from residential and commercial property owners – and from state regulatory agencies. Utilities are exploring batteries for energy storage as a way to bring stability to peak periods and to move forward on renewable energy mandates.

Solar power companies are getting into the game. In its new study, “The Future of Solar-Plus-Storage in the U.S,” GTM Research reports that four of the nation’s top 10 residential solar installers currently offer “solar plus” energy storage. These four companies, including top installer SolarCity and fifth-ranked NRG Home Solar, installed 38% of all US solar energy in the first three quarters of 2014.

If you look at the first chart in this article, you’ll see three automakers identified as part of the energy storage market: Tesla Motors; Chinese automaker BYD; and the company that used to be known as CODA Automotive that is out of the electric vehicle business, post-bankruptcy, and is now CODA Energy – an energy storage systems company. These automakers have also sold their EV battery technology to other automakers and to clientele in other industries.

There’s a good deal of speculation out there that electric vehicles (EVs) could be viable energy storage containers. That could come from a fleet with 150 EVs parked on its corporate campus for long stretches of time; on average, those EVs might be in motion only one quarter of a 24-hour cycle, bringing huge opportunities for power storage. That could be a revenue stream for company, and a support system for renewable energy and grid stabilization.

Other examples of available parked EVs could come from transit station parking lots, retail stores, and apartment/condo complexes. Lithium and NextGen batteries are still expensive and underutilized – energy storage has great potential for key stakeholders out there.