Big Picture: Plug-in electric vehicle sales (especially the Leaf) have a great month, Bad news for California green car shoppers

Nissan Leaf chargingSales of US plug-in electric vehicles were solid in March, with the Nissan Leaf seeing its best March ever. About 9,000 EVs were sold last month, versus about 6,900 in February – an increase of about one third. The Leaf had 2,507 units sold in March and 5,184 for the quarter; Nissan had a 12% increase in Leaf sales over March 2013. The Leaf was far ahead of the Chevrolet Volt in March and in the first quarter; General Motors reported that the Volt sold 1,478 in March and 3,296 in the first quarter. The March figure was exactly the same number of units sold in March 2013, and its best monthly sales figure since December 2013. Tesla doesn’t report its monthly sales figures, but it’s estimated to have been in the 1,200 to 1,300 range, down from February sales.

The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid came in right behind the Volt and likely ahead of the Model S at 1,452 sold in March. That was nearly double the 786 plug-in Priuses sold a year ago and its best monthly figure since October 2013. The Ford Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi both saw increases in March over the previous month and year, with the Fusion Energi selling 899 units and the C-Max Energi closing the month at 610 sold.

And in other clean transportation news……..

  • Car shoppers in California will be sad to hear that they’ll have to wait a few months to get rebate checks – and if they’ve purchased a plug-in hybrid, they won’t receive a green carpool lane sticker (granting driver-only access to diamond lanes). Funds for the $2,500 rebate on battery electric vehicles and $1,500 for plug-in hybrids have run out. Funding for the state’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project is expected to come back but probably not until late summer or early fall. Green HOV carpool lane stickers for plug-in hybrids ran out after 40,000 of them had been issued. Battery electric vehicles will still be receiving carpool lane stickers.
  • The school bus market has been where propane autogas has taken big steps forward in recent years, and there’s been another sizable purchase announcement – the nation’ largest single order of autogas-fueled buses by a single district. Broward County Public Schools (based in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.), the nation’s sixth largest school district, purchased 98 alternative fuel school buses to lower its operating costs while improving the environment. The county expects a six-month return on investment for the additional cost of these alternative fuel buses; the county will be able to lock in an autogas fuel price at substantially less than the cost of diesel and expects to reduce maintenance costs due to propane’s clean-burning properties.
  • Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) have passed a couple of milestones with fleets. Ryder System, Inc., has driven over 20 million miles with more than 500 liquefied natural gas and compressed natural gas vehicles in its fleet. The company reported that it replaced about 3.1 million gallons of diesel fuel with domestically produced natural gas and reduced more than 559,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Waste Management is continuing its commitment to NGVs replacing diesel-fueled trucks; the garbage transport company expects to possibly convert its entire fleet over to compressed natural gas vehicles by next year.
  • Tesla Motors and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration seeking permission to replace side mirrors with cameras. Cameras could be mounted on the side, and they would be much smaller than typical side mirrors and placed just about anywhere on the vehicle. They would help aerodynamics and fuel economy. A few experts are very nervous about the safety ramifications.
  • As for green vehicle conferences……Plug-In 2014 will be taking place at the San Jose Convention Center on July 28-30. Details will be coming out soon. As for ACT Expo 2014, check out the preview guide.
  • Average fuel economy for new vehicles sold in the US is continuing to rise. It reached a new high in March at 25.4 mpg, according to researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That number has been climbing steadily since the beginning of the year.
  • BMW, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and several hydrogen and fuel cell supplier companies have agreed to deploy a total of 110 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in several European locations including Copenhagen, London and Munich and develop new clusters of hydrogen refueling stations in a deal valued at $51.5 million. They are expected to be operational by 2015.
  • California Air Resources Board has modified its zero emission vehicle credits for automakers, taking away some of the credits for Tesla Motors and other OEMs. Tesla sold credits worth $129.8  to other automakers last year in California; that was based on seven credits per car sold in the state, and it’s been dropped down to four credits per car sold.
  • Zap and Jonway Auto have launched the “Urbee,” the smallest electric vehicle in their EV product line. The neighborhood electric vehicle is being marketed to aging populations in smaller cities and for utility government vehicles. Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Zap and its China-based Jonway Auto subsidiary unveiled the Urban EV at the Chinese Electric Motor Vehicle Exhibition in March.
  • ParkMe, which provides parking information and reservations by mobile devices, is expanding its market beyond Planet Earth. The company announced that its reservation system will go into immediate effect at every one of the Earth’s extra-orbital docking stations, and it’s set to expand beyond Mars by summer. “With the launch of ParkMe’s new technology, the galactic community will never again worry about circling the galaxy looking for a space to park,” the company said. Editor’s note: This announcement was made on April Fool’s Day, so you might want to wait on booking your intergalactic travel reservation. 
  • GM is expected to announce it will update its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, spending $450 million and adding 1,400 new jobs. It’s tied into building a redesigned Chevrolet Volt that likely to launch in model year 2016.

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