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…….
- Ford champions its evolving identity: Ford Motor Co. was highly visible last week in its evolving role as a personal mobility company, and not just as a vehicle manufacturer. “People value access more than ownership. We need to understand customers’ concerns and make their lives easier,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said in an interview. Last week, the company announced a pilot carsharing program where 26,000 Ford Motor Credit Co. customers in six US cities and London are invited to offer their vehicles for short-term rentals. It’s part of the Ford Smart Mobility plan that Fields introduced in January; another offering from Smart Mobility will be electric bikes targeted at urban commuters. The bike is able to be folded up and recharged while being stored inside any Ford vehicle. Ford Motor Co. also announced that it’s in the second of three phases of its autonomous vehicle project. Ford executives have said that a number of driver-assist features that represent steps along the path toward a self-driving vehicle will be rolled out across the company’s vehicle lineup over the next five years. Some of the testing Ford will be carrying out on these advanced technologies will take place at its Silicon Valley Research and Innovation Center, which opened in January. One development coming out of this center will be a technology that may be able to produce parts 25 to 100 times faster than traditional 3D printing.
- Supreme Court rules against EPA on Clean Air Act: The Obama Administration’s health care reform act survived US Supreme Court scrutiny on Thursday, but the 2011 Clean Air Act amendments were overturned yesterday by that same court. In Michigan v. EPA, the court ruled 5-4 that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) underestimated the costs to utilities and other companies on toxic air pollutants. The EPA had previously estimated its rule would cost $9.6 billion, produce between $37 billion and $90 billion in benefits and prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma cases annually. The court ruling found those estimates to be “unreasonably” interpreted and would be much more costly to industries. The EPA ruling had focused on coal-fired power plants, but there’s also been a good deal of concern that manufacturers would be drawn into the rule’s enforcement. “Manufacturers look to today’s victory as a sign of progress and will continue to lead the way to promote a more environmentally sustainable future, but we need a balanced approach to regulations that considers both costs and benefits to continue to create jobs and economic growth,” said National Association of Manufacturers Senior VP and General Counsel Linda Kelly. The EPA says that several utilities were already well on their way to adopting the Clean Air Act guidelines. “EPA is disappointed that the Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in a statement.
- GM jabs at Tesla: While not being overt and blunt about it, General Motors CEO Mary Barra said that Chevrolet’s Volt and Bolt are being made “for regular people, not for the elites.” During an unveiling last week of the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, Barra also made statements about GM electric vehicles. The Bolt EV Concept car has an estimated range of 200 miles, and like the Volt it will be affordable, Barra said. Earlier that day, GM’s executive chief engineer for electric vehicles, Pam Fletcher, said pretty much the same thing during a breakout session on plug-in electric vehicles. GM will make “electric cars approachable to the all, not just the elite,” Fletcher said.
- Fuel efficient renewable diesel road trip: History was made by a performance car running on renewable diesel that made its way across the country on one tank of fuel. On June 26th, CLP Motorsports’ Superlite Coupe crossed the finish line in Santa Monica, Calif., after making it across the US on one tank of NEXBTL renewable diesel. That came from an alliance between Neste, the world’s largest producer of renewable diesel, CLP Motorsports, and multiple time X-Games and Rallycross champion Tanner Foust. “We will continue to promote this great fuel through our fleet-servicing and retail stations and of course through our racing,” said Pat O’Keefe, inventor of this project and CEO of CLP Motorsports. The coupe averaged 67 mpg while traveling an average of 68 mph, and that included a segment of the trip driving over the Rockies.
- Clean transportation information resource: South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC) has published its quarterly Clean Transportation Policy Update. Read all about California’s administration, regulation, funding, research, and legal activities. Examples of topics covered include the groundbreaking decisions in the state on reaching the greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 through Gov. Jerry Brown’s new climate target.
- More crowdfunding for Elio Motors: As the three-wheeled electric vehicle manufacturer scrambles to survive and thrive in the market, founder Paul Elio’s funding activities have become even more ambitious. Elio needs to raise about $230 million more to start manufacturing its vehicle in a four-million-square-foot former General Motors plant in Shreveport, La. Elio is offering early-stage investments on the Start Engine site. That investment has been made possible through the JOBS Act of 2012. This legislation permits individuals to invest up to $15,000 in startup companies; these companies are allowed to accept up to $50 million from non-accredited investors.
- More support for disadvantaged communities: California Air Resources Board (CARB) voted to boost the size of the rebates for low-income buyers to $4,000. At the same time, the board cut out rich car buyers completely, setting an upper limit on the income of people receiving the rebates. To qualify for the low-income rebate, buyers must make no more than 300% of the federal poverty level, which comes out to about $73,000 for a four-person family, or $48,000 for a two-person household. (See the feature article, “Key findings from webinar on fleet incentives for clean vehicles,” in this week’s Green Auto Market for more information on the state’s priority to serve disadvantaged communities, which live in the most concentrated air pollution regions of California.)
- Propane bi-fuel system: The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has granted certification to Imega International USA’s GAME bi-fuel propane autogas/gasoline system. The approvals cover the 4.6-liter V8 engine line-up for the model-years 2009, 2010, and 2011 Ford Crown Victoria, Lincoln Town Car, and Mercury Grand Marquis. Imega is in the process of EPA certifying many popular fleet platforms to be available soon, the company said.
- More OEM energy storage: Daimler and Nissan are following Tesla Motors’ lead after that luxury electric vehicle maker introduced its PowerWall in late April. Daimler and Nissan say they’ll be bringing similar products to the commercial and residential energy sectors. Daimler is offering a storage plant of up to 20 kilowatt-hours that will begin shipping in September. The next week, Nissan announced it will deploy second-life vehicle batteries for commercial energy storage markets through partner Green Charge Networks.
- Sustainable Transportation Day: The US Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) hosted the Sustainable Transportation Day at the Energy Department’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Visitors had the opportunity to see first-hand several of these EERE-supported technologies, ranging from high-efficiency internal combustion engines to vehicles that rely on electricity and hydrogen. The Hyundai Tucson and the Toyota Mirai fuel cell electric vehicles were among the vehicles on display.