Cruise Origin wants to be first electric AV for shared rides, Corporate EV fleet alliance led by Ceres

Cruise Origin pushing the boundaries:  Cruise, General Motor’s self-driving vehicle unit, last week in San Francisco launched the Cruise Origin, a large battery-electric autonomous shuttle van that can carry up to six passengers. All of this without a steering wheel or a brake pedal — but it still needs to be cleared by government officials. GM and Cruise are waiting for an exemption from the Federal Motor Vehicle safety standards that would allow the companies to test vehicles without these manual controls. If that gets approved, GM will be able to deploy up to 2,500 robs-taxis a year through its own Uber-competitive ride-sharing business. The US Dept. of Transportation is taking a hands-off approach to regulation on the national level. Elaine Chao, the US transportation secretary, says that this was going to be left to the companies developing these vehicles to self-regulate.
Corporate EV fleet alliance:  Amazon, AT&T, Clif Bar, Consumers Energy, DHL, Direct Energy, Genentech, IKEA North America, LeasePlan, Lime, and Siemens are leading a campaign for an expanded electric vehicle market and improved policy landscape through the Corporate Electric Vehicle Alliance, led by Ceres, a sustainability nonprofit organization. The alliance is focused on decarbonizing transportation to tackle the climate crisis. The group is promoting the benefits of transitioning over to electrified fleets — cost savings on fuel and maintenance, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, freedom from reliance on volatile oil and gas prices, improved driver safety, enhanced company reputation, and bolstered workforce recruitment and retention. Amazon’s purchase of 100,000 Rivian electric delivery vans, and a commitment to deliver 50% of shipments with net zero carbon by 2030, is part of the “climate pledge” the member companies are taking, according to Amazon.

Top Selling US Electric Vehicles in 2019
1. Tesla Model 3: 300,471
2. Tesla Model S: 157,992
3. Chevrolet Volt: 157,054
4. Nissan Leaf: 141,907
5. Toyota Prius Prime: more than 109,003 (by September 2019)
6. Tesla Model X: 85,077
7. Ford Fusion Energi: more than 66,679 (by September 2019)
8. Chevrolet Bolt EV: 58,313
9. Ford C-Max Energi: 42,231
10. BMW i3: 41,988

The Tesla Model 3 continues to dominate electric vehicle sales in the US, at nearly double the volume sold of the Tesla Model S and the Chevrolet Volt. The Volt went out of production in the spring and will be running out of inventory available for sale soon as new vehicles. The Model S finally overtook the retiring Volt in December. The Toyota Prius Prime and Ford Fusion Energi will later include more sales units recorded for the year, as these numbers only went through the end of September. Through the end of October, the Model 3 was the top selling EV in the world, followed by the BAIC EU-Series, BYD Yuan/S2 EV, Nissan Leaf, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Another report shows a steep drop for the Tesla Model 3 in The Netherlands, Norway, and Spain, compared to December; however, details on overall EV and new vehicle sales during that time period were not available in this analysis piece.

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RNG study:  Navigant Research just released a study on the growth boom in renewable natural gas. It includes it within the global biogas market, which is expected to continue to grow with a large and relatively established market in Europe and a rapidly growing market in Asia Pacific. Government incentives are making a big difference. “Transportation mandates such as the US Renewable Fuel Standard and California Low Carbon Fuel Standard have been instrumental in the RNG market,” according to the report.

DOE funding announcements:  The US Department of Energy (DOE) will offer an investment of nearly $300 million in funding for research and development of sustainable transportation resources and technologies through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). These Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) will be issued on behalf of the three sustainable transportation offices: Vehicles, Fuel Cells, and Bioenergy Technology Offices. EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) will provide funding support under two of the FOAs that will catalyze research, development, and adoption of energy-related advanced manufacturing technologies and practices to drive U.S. economic competitiveness and energy productivity. Topic areas within this FOA address priorities in advanced batteries and electrification; advanced engine and fuel technologies, including technologies for off-road applications; lightweight materials; new mobility technologies (energy efficient mobility systems), and alternative fuels technology demonstrations. The DOE’s H2@Scale initiative investment will support innovative hydrogen concepts that will encourage market expansion and increase the scale of hydrogen production, storage, transport, and use, including heavy-duty trucks, data centers, and steel production. In a separate announcement, the DOE said it will provide funding of about $96 million for bioenergy research and development. One project will be focused on reducing the price of drop-in biofuels, lowering the cost of biopower, and enabling high-value products from biomass or waste resources.
LCFS verification:  California Air Resources Board has set up its Low Carbon Fuel Standard verifier accreditation training program. The LCFS relies on accurate data monitoring, reporting, and verification to ensure the highest quality data are used in the program. In 2018, CARB approved amendments to add third-party verification requirements consistent with the verification programs under Mandatory Reporting and California’s Cap-and-Trade Programs, and international best practices. The LCFS verification program provides confidence and reliability in reported data for stakeholders, market participants, and the public. You can research accreditations on the LCFS Verification program webpage.

Volvo plug-in vehicles:  Volvo Cars has started taking orders for its XC40 Recharge P8 AWD, the company’s first all-electric car based on the best-selling SUV, in selected markets. The company said its already received several thousands of pre-orders well ahead of availability of the vehicle. The Swedish automaker has a very big goal to make battery-electric vehicles 50 percent of global sales by 2025, with the rest having hybrid variations. The company sold nearly 46,000 plug-in hybrids last year, a 23 percent increase over 2018. In Q4 2019, plug-in hybrids made up more than 20 percent of all its vehicles sold in Europe.

Hydrogen cost coming way down, New Jersey rolls out EV incentive

What’s been happening lately?
Hydrogen is looking better in costs now for fueling clean vehicles and in a few other areas including industrial feedstock and as an energy storage medium. That comes from a new study by Hydrogen Council and McKinsey & Co., that concludes there are now three core market drivers: a steep drop in production costs, higher load utilization cutting distribution and refueling costs, and additional cost drops from scaling up of end-use equipment manufacturing. The study looked at 25,000 data points gathered and analyzed from 30 global companies with cost reductions expected across several different hydrogen applications. These sectors include long-distance and heavy-duty transportation, industrial heating, heavy industry feedstock, and others, which make up about 15 percent of global energy consumption. Of course, much support is needed and Hydrogen Council is championing effective government policies to be adopted in key geographies, along with investment support of around $70 billion in the lead up to 2030 in order to scale up and produce for a much more cost-competitive fuel. “The Hydrogen Council believes that the report’s findings will not only increase public awareness about the potential of hydrogen to power everyday lives, but also debunk the myth that a hydrogen economy is unattainable due to cost,” said Euisun Chung, executive vice chairman of Hyundai Motor Group and co-chair of the Hydrogen Council. “If we are to reach our global climate goals by mid-century and reap the benefits of hydrogen, now is the time to act.”

New Jersey wants to take on greenhouse gases through a new transportation policy. Gov. Phil Murphy just signed an electric vehicle bill into law that offers a clear roadmap for state houses and governors nationwide to tackle climate change. The new law makes it easier for residents of New Jersey to buy an EV by providing a largest-in-the-nation rebate of up to $5,000. It also creates a statewide high-speed charging network, making driving an EV more convenient. Beyond cars, the law also requires NJ Transit to only purchase electric buses by 2032.

Cruise, General Motors’ self-driving vehicle division, has announced the Cruise Origin, developed with Honda Motor Co. It’s been designed with more space for passengers and to take on mobility competitors. The autonomous taxi will give ride-hailing giants Uber and Lyft another rival, Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said Tuesday during the vehicle’s introduction. GM is putting all its AV efforts into the Cruise unit these days, and giving the business space to work with competitors like Honda, which became an investor in October 2018. That’s helped Cruise move more quickly to develop a self-driving electric vehicle platform. GM created the platform that doesn’t require a backup driver or steering wheel. Honda contributed to the engineering and production of the vehicle. GM is waiting for an exemption from the Federal Motor Vehicle safety standards that would allow Cruise to test vehicles without these manual controls. If that gets approved, GM can deploy up to 2,500 robs-taxis a year that can be hailed vis a smartphone app.

And a few other new briefs:

  • President Trump said that Elon Musk is “one of our great geniuses, and we have to protect our genius.” 
  • Tesla Autopilot crashes put in a more realistic overview perspective by a mobility expert.
  • The latest on the AB 5 battle, California’s law requiring gig-economy workers to be treated as employees.

Autonomous a decade away? What about connected smart apps until then?

Last week saw the big CES show in Las Vegas, where autonomous vehicles took over five years ago; the star then was the Audi A7 self-driving prototype. Many attendees this year were very disappointed that automakers and tech partners have changed their story from the AV Revolution over to cool, connected features being added to new cars.

Consulting companies Gartner and PwC now estimate that autonomous vehicles reaching mass production and sales — along with the much-hyped robotaxis — will take another decade or so to get here. Auto sales will probably continue declining for a while and then should go back up in the US to over 17 million or more as car buyers aren’t going to be ready to change their lifestyles with AVs — and electric vehicles and mobility services — for quite a while.

At last year’s CES show, several companies revealed advanced driver-assist technologies. It was a letdown for many attendees, and began signaling that the AV Revolution is going to take a while.

“I remember the projections from CES four or five years ago that by 2021, we’d have autonomous fleets and, obviously, that’s not happening as quickly,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES. “There’s a lot of barriers,”

A Deloitte study launched right before CES affirms it. Nearly half of US consumers (48 percent) of the respondents believe that fully autonomous vehicles will be unsafe; and 58 percent aren’t willing to pay more than $500 for AV technology.

The Deloitte 2020 Global Automotive Consumer Study surveyed more than 35,000 driving-aged consumers, from 20 countries, across the world. While increased connectivity in new vehicles is thought to be the bridge between the current models and AVs of the future, surveyed consumers have mixed feelings. People in India (80 percent) and China (76 percent) are embracing the idea at over twice the rate compared to Germany (36 percent), followed by the US (46 percent). Some issues do carry over to India and other countries — concerns over privacy and data security being a top issue.

Consulting company PwC says autonomous vehicles used in robotaxi operations will not reach roads in any significant presence until after 2030.

Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility sets a clear example of where the technology is now, and where it’s headed. Intelligent Mobility offers a suite of integrated technology designed to increase safety, comfort, and control while driving, “connecting you with your vehicle and the world around you.” Intelligent Driving starts now with driver assistant technology like Safety Shield 360 that helps you see more and sense more, giving you a helping hand when you need it. Then there’s the e-Pedal that makes electric car driving even more fun. And going to the next step: smart vehicles that connect with each other in an ecosystem that improves safety and traffic flow.

Automakers and tech giants like Apple and Alphabet are following the lead set by Amazon in recent years with the launch of its Alexa and Echo systems. They integrate control systems and devices into a personalized, customized system for giving voice commands to driving directions, EV charging, playing the music you love to hear, and much more. You might say, “Alexa, tell me the best place nearby to pickup a low-carb dinner, and the best way to get there fast while playing great music from the 1980s.”

Highlights from this year’s CES:

  • Sony unveiled an electric car concept that could set the Japanese tech giant up as a partner for self-driving EVs of the future. The company said sensors are embedded within the vehicle, in order to “detect and recognize people and objects inside and outside the car, and provide highly advanced driving support.” Magna Steyr built prototype, and Sony listed Benteler, Blackberry, Bosch, Continental, Elektrobit, Genetex, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and ZF Friedrichshafen as partners.
  • Along with reminders about its intelligent mobility offerings, Nissan revealed a new twin-motor, all-electric, all-wheel-drive system. It’s expected to debut in Nissan’s first all-electric crossover utility vehicle that may arrive in the US in 2021. Called e-4ORCE, the new system will deliver high-torque, precision handling and stability, Nissan said. This will be possible by optimizing power delivery to each of the four wheels.
  • Toyota’s Woven City was shown off as a prototype community of the future that will be built near Mount Fuji in Japan. The 175-acre site will house an experimental laboratory of future technologies including self-driving vehicles run on hydrogen fuel cells, robots, smart homes and new forms of personal mobility. People will be able to live in this community of the future.
  • Hey there, hardcore gamers:  This year, both Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation will launch new, next-generation game consoles. Both are scheduled to arrive this holiday season, and both are being slowly finished up for major launches. And you can always get a cutting-edge TV of the future to play the games on and watch your favorite show. Samsung showed off its Q950 8K TV with a minimal 15mm frame and AI processor that can track screen objects and position the sound to match. LG unveiled its latest rollable OLED TV, that can roll down from the ceiling like a projector screen with no need for a projector; there’s also a more affording OLED TV with a smaller 48-inch display.
  • Uber and Hyundai Motor Co. have a new partnership to develop Uber Air Taxis for a future aerial ride share network, and the new partners unveiled a new full-scale aircraft concept. Hyundai is the first automotive company to join the Uber Elevate initiative, bringing automotive-scale manufacturing capability and a track record of mass-producing electric vehicles.
  • Renault is developing a solution enabling automatic and secure interaction and communication between cars and connected objects in homes in partnership with French smart-home startup Otodo. Users will be able to control their home’s connected objects directly from their vehicle’s dashboard, as well as send instructions from their home, using a smartphone or connected speaker, to their connected Renault vehicle to prepare or share an itinerary, and other functions. It will be available in all Renault models that have the new Renault EASY LINK multimedia system, including the all-new Zoe, Clio, and Captur.
  • Hey there, Avatar fans:  Something that could be called “Ava-car” will be launched to promote upcoming sequels to the hugely popular Avatar movie made by the legendary director James Cameron. He spoke at CES to announced an Avatar-themed partnership with Mercedes-Benz, revealing the futuristic AVTR concept car. It offers what the German carmaker sees as the future of automotive design, featuring things like a steering wheel that will “merge” man and machine. AVTR will be able to recognize the driver based on their heartbeat and breathing patterns. The look of the car is based on non-human characters from Avatar’s fictional eco-universe. The seats and floor are made from sustainable materials, and the battery is recyclable, too.