Electric vs. CNG Buses – which will lead in next 10 years?

Bus fueling station CNGPublic transit buses operating in the U.S. are showing some impressive numbers for alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA)’s annual Earth Day report in April said that 41.3% of public transportation buses use alternative fuels or hybrid technologies (as of the start of 2014); that’s broken down into 16.9% hybrid, 16.7% natural gas, 7.4% biodiesel, and 0.3% other alternative fuels including propane and hydrogen. Electric buses are starting to take off with transit agencies, as well.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will be investing in hybrid and natural gas vehicles. MassDOT’s board of directors approved a $222.2 million contract for 325 new replacement buses for the MBTA fleet – 40 of these will be 40-foot low floor hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses to begin in July 2016. The buses are coming from New Flyer, Inc., and are being funded with 80% Federal Formula funds and 20% Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Revenue Bond funds.


MassDOT’s alternative fuel strategy has been similar to one adopted 15 years ago in California, where several cities are now operating hybrid and CNG buses. About 60% of California buses now run on CNG, compared with 17% nationwide.


California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has mandated a switch to “zero-emission” buses by 2040, creating a challenge for suppliers of hybrid and CNG buses to find a market in the state. As of March, there were 22 battery-powered electric buses and seven fuel-cell powered buses in California transit fleets, according to CARB. One challenge with electric buses is range – about 155 miles typically on a charge versus about 300 miles on a fueling for diesel- or natural gas-powered buses. Fuel cell buses have a much longer range than electric buses, but the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure limits range.


In response, the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition has proposed expanding the definition of “zero-emission vehicles” to include buses powered by renewable natural gas, which comes from cow manure or decomposing organic matter in landfills. The payoff is enormous, according the coalition. While traditional natural gas offers a reduction in greenhouse gases of about 15% to 20% over diesel, renewable natural gas offers a reduction of about 90% over diesel, the coalition says.


The charging/fueling cost is different, too – with a natural gas bus costing an average of $27,000 to fuel annually and an electric bus costing about $10,500 for charging. Fuel cost savings is helping to make CNG, hybrid, and electric buses more attractive when compared to diesel-powered buses.

More thoughts on 54.5 mpg fuel economy target and what it really means

Federal fuel economy standardsIf you take a look at the auto industry benchmark for where corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) stands for new vehicle sales, the US could be very far away from even getting close to hitting the 54.5 mpg by 2025 mark in the next 10 years. The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute reported that new vehicles sales averaged 25.5 mpg in May.

That’s a big step forward from the 20.1 mpg recorded in October 2007, when the Transportation Research Institute (TRI) began tracking that data. But if that same ratio for fuel economy improvements were to be continued over the next 10 years, it would mean that the actual CAFE of new vehicles sold would be closer to being somewhere in the low 30s for mpg – way off the 54.5 mpg mark. What it comes down to is how those measures are being defined.

The Consumer Federation of America is hopeful about seeing the federal targets being met. Other analysts have been skeptical about it being achieved. To get a better feel for what fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions will look like for new vehicle sales in 2025, I did some more homework on the subject. Here’s some analysis on how the federal standards are being implemented:

  • TRI bases its numbers on sales-weighted arithmetic to determine the average of window sticker ratings, not the average fuel consumption rate, for new vehicles sold during that month. It’s based on the combined city/highway fuel-economy ratings published the EPA Fuel Economy Guidefor each model. The TRI calculations don’t include the various credits and adjustments available to automakers under the federal rules and guidelines that will be used in determining final CAFE performance values.
  • The federal standards include incentives for battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, compressed natural gas vehicles, and flex-fuel vehicles. Its methodology is based on the “multiplier approach,” which means that each of these alternative fuel vehicles would count as more than one vehicle in the automaker’s compliance calculation. Electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles will start with a multiplier value of 2.0 in the 2017 model years, and that will phase down to a value of 1.5 in the 2021 model year.
  • California’s zero emission vehicle (ZEV) policy was factored into the equation by the US Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when finalizing the fuel economy rules in 2012. California offers ZEV credits for battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel-cell vehicles. Tesla Motors and Nissan have been trading ZEV credits with automakers who need to catch up on their compliance with California rules. California’s ZEV credits also apply to vehicles sales in seven other states that have adopted these rules – Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. These eight states would like to see 3.3 million ZEVs on their roads in the next 10 years.
  • The ZEV program is being enforced by the California Air Resources Board, which is now lightening up on its rule interpretation. Automakers with less than $40 billion in annual global revenue now will have the option to sell plug-in hybrids only to earn credits toward compliance, rather than being forced to sell some battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. If they don’t sell enough, they’ll still need to buy credits from automakers that sell electric vehicles in sizable numbers.
  • The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) expects that the majority of fuel economy improvements will come from fuel efficiency advancements in internal combustion engines and reducing the weight of vehicles on the road by using aluminum alloy and other lighter metals. Automakers will also get mpg credits for adopting efficient technologies that often show no effect on the official test cycles. These include active grille shutters, electric heat pumps, stop-start systems, high-efficiency lights, and solar roof panels. Earned credits could amount to about 3 mpg if several are used, or even more if an automaker provides testing data.
  • EPA also expects that vehicle air conditioning systems will continue to become more efficient, reduce leakage, and use alternative refrigerants with lower hydrofluorocarbon emissions. That has shaved off about 5 mpg from the 54.5 mpg target.
  • Light-duty trucks (pickups, SUVs, and vans) are being given more flexible compliance rules. For example, there are separate incentives for “mild” and “strong” hybrid trucks if they’re sold in sufficient quantity. There will also be credits for natural-gas–powered vehicles to match their reduction in greenhouse gases.
  • Another layer to consider is how the fuel economy standards are being interpreted – whether that be the CAFE standards enacted in the 1970s or the new model adopted in 2007. In 2007, the EPA adjusted its model for 2008 model year vehicles by adding three additional tests that utilize greater technological sophistication to arrive at the EPA-estimated values. The three new tests include a high-speed test that maxes out at 80 mph, the air condition test under “hot ambient conditions,” and a cold temperature city test conducted at 20 degrees. The current EPA model discounts its finding by about 20% and that’s what is shown on the window sticker. These adjusted values may bring the actual 2025 target down to about 40 mpg.
  • I think there are two other market forces that could have a big impact on hitting targets for 2025 and beyond. One is that plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) sales growth is expected to continue, which could play a larger role in increasing fuel economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Navigant Research just reported that it expects North American plug-in electric vehicle sales to reach 1.1 million by 2024. Last year, there were 133,000 units sold in North America (with only about 5,000 of these vehicles sold in Canada). “Automaker adoption of PEV technologies as adaptations for existing model lines is growing significantly, and these technologies are being placed into larger vehicle segments such as sport utility vehicles (SUVs), trucks, and minivans,” said Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research, in the report. “Similarly, the introduction of next-generation, fully electric vehicles with ranges near or over 200 miles and price points below $40,000 is expected to drastically increase mass-market PEV acceptance as a pragmatic transportation option.”
  • As for the second market trend to consider……. The federal fuel economy standards were based on reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. There’s another way that goal could be achieved: seeing less vehicles on the roads and less miles driven. Urban planners and several automaker executives expect traffic congestion to worsen dramatically in the near future as more people move into cities to work and reside – which is called “urbanization.” Some auto executives and analysts expect new vehicle sales to decline in the US, Europe, and Asia as younger consumers (Millennials) opt for bus and rail, walking and bike riding, and transportation alternatives. These transportation alternatives include carsharing and ridesharing services (including Car2go, Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft), which have been seeing dramatic user growth in the past two years – and investments by automakers and car rental companies into the carsharing market. As for Millennials who are buying new cars (which has been growing lately), many of them are showing much interest in hybrids and electric vehicles.

What’s next? The EPA is expected to propose regulations to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from medium-to-heavy duty trucks any day now. Truck makers have been expressing much concern about these increasingly stringent rules, and may fight them in court or through private negotiations with regulators. As for light-duty passenger vehicles, automakers for the most part don’t expect the feds to soften the planned targets.

In June 2016, the EPA and California will release a technical assessment report as a midterm review, according to Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality office. The agency won’t make any conclusions on the feasibility of the final rules and will accept public comments during town hall meetings. The final decision on the outcome of the midterm review will be made by April 2018.

This Week’s Top 10: More DOE funding for advanced vehicles proposed, States consider EV taxes and incentives

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. doe-logoDOE’s Vehicle Technology Program: Funding for the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) advanced vehicle technology program may be reauthorized in Washington. U.S. Senators Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced a bill that would reauthorize the Vehicle Technology Program’s budget at $314 million in the next fiscal year; it would also include a 4% annual increase after that through 2020. That DOE program has been running without congressional reauthorization for the past seven years; in that program, DOE works with researchers on alternative fuel vehicle projects. The new funding program would add R&D on vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure to its roster.
  2. EV taxes and incentives: On July 1, Oregon will begin testing a first-in-the-nation model that will be of interest to states attempting to add electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids to its tax revenues. Up to 5,000 volunteers can sign up to drive with devices that collect data on how much they have driven and where; test project volunteers will agree to pay 1.5 cents for each mile traveled on Oregon roads instead of the tax now added when filling up on gasoline at the pump. The state thinks it would help pay for road and bridge projects during a time when tax-based revenue from gasoline taxes has been declining across the country during an era of more fuel efficient vehicles and purchases of hybrids and EVs. In other news, the state of Connecticut is now offering a cash rebate up to $3,000 for those purchasing EVs. It’s part of the state’s efforts to bring more charging stations to Connecticut and to promote the use of EVs. Along with that, the state is now offering auto dealers bonuses for selling EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
  3. Rio Honda College wins hydrogen grant: Professor John Frala announced that Rio Hondo College has been awarded with three-year grant funding to develop a training model for stationary and mobile fuel cell technicians. National Science Foundation is funding the first-ever hydrogen program that will support training and development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicle technicians. Frala also said that Rio Hondo College, based in Whittier, Calif., is the first college to now offer a bachelor of science degree in Automotive within the state of California; that was announced last week by Gov. Jerry Brown, Frala said.
  4. Analysis of used green vehicles: Used green vehicles – including compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, hybrids, electric vehicles, flex-fuel vehicles, and propane autogas vehicles – are seeing increasing volume and activity at auctions. Green Fleet published a comprehensive report on what fleet managers and remarketing experts are seeing in used vehicle values out in the US market. Bobit Business Media, which publishes Green Fleet, also announced it will host what it describes as the largest Green Ride & Drive Event in the US; that will take place during Fleet Technology Expo (which was previously called Green Fleet Conference and Expo), which is taking place Aug. 24-26, 2015 at the convention center in Long Beach, Calif.
  5. Uber testing out driverless cars and EVs: Uber, which is considered to be the giant of the new ridesharing/ride-hailing transportation segment, is testing out a driverless car in Pittsburgh with the label, “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” painted across its side and rotating sensors on top of the car. It’s in partnership with the autonomous vehicle research center at Carnegie Mellon University and will be researching mapping, safety, and autonomous systems, according to the company. In March, the company announced that it’s trying out 25 battery electric vehicles as part of its offerings in Chicago. That test program is in partnership with BYD, where drivers and passengers are trying out the BYD e6 electric car. In other significant news, the New York Times reported yesterday that US airports are becoming more willing to try out allowing Uber and other ridesharing companies (such as Lyft) to have access to the airports – as a fee revenue source and because consumers are demanding access for Uber to drop them off and pick them up at major airports. Taxi and livery companies have been fighting ridesharing companies from having access to their markets without paying medallion and trip fees that they’ve had to pay all these years.
  6. $15M in California grants: The California Energy Commission has approved nearly $15 million in state grants for alternative fuel vehicles. Transportation Power, Inc., won nearly $9 million for an electric garbage truck, an advanced battery-electric truck and a heavy-duty electric yard tractor in three different projects; nearly $3 million is going to Motiv Power Systems, Inc., to demonstrate an electric refuse and loader truck in the Sacramento region. North American Repower won $3 million to demonstrate six armored security trucks that were converted form diesel to plug-in hybrid that also runs on renewable natural gas.
  7. Audi adding more electric drive: Audi will expand its electric vehicle offerings next year with an electric-powered Q1 crossover coming out next year. An electric sporty SUV will be launched in 2018 and an electric version of its flagship Q8 SUV will roll out in 2019, the company said. It’s part of building “a solid foundation” for Audi’s growth plan as the world’s top global premium brand in vehicle sales.
  8. IMPCO added to GM’s CNG vehicles: IMPCO Automotive was awarded General Motors’ bi-fuel Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD Cab Chassis for model year 2016, 2017, and 2018. The new Cab Chassis program expands IMPCO Automotive’s existing OEM working class vehicle programs for GM, which includes Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD pickups with multiple Cab and bed configurations, and dedicated CNG full-size Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans.
  9. Kansas City competes for EV crown:  Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L), which provides electricity to Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., is moving full steam ahead on installing 1,001 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations to solve the range anxiety dilemma and bring more EVs to the area. “If you build it, they will come,” Chuck Caisley, KCP&L vice president of marketing and public affairs, said. Clean Charge Network, announced in January, initially will consist of 1,001 240-volt stations and 15 direct current fast-charging stations. About 150 of the charging stations have so far been installed, and the utility plans to finish the job this year. The program has gained automakers as sponsors, including Nissan.
  10. Propane paratransit buses: SMART, a regional public transportation provider in southeast Michigan, has become one of the five largest propane autogas powered paratransit fleets in the US by adding 61 new Connector paratransit propane-powered buses. SMART expects the propane buses to reduce emissions, lower fuel and maintenance costs, and extend the life of the vehicle. SMART researched various alternative fuels, and made that decision based on the fuel being more affordable and readily available and for resolving “the stringent and complicated emission control issues experienced with the diesel-fueled paratransit buses,” according to SMART’s propane-autogas vehicle supplier, ROUSH CleanTech.

This Week’s Top 10: More than $22 million available in clean transportation funding, Making the business case for renewable natural gas

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. Clean transportation funding from MSRCSCAQMD announces funding: South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee (MSRC) has released three new solicitations for clean transportation funding with more than $22 million available for projects. The 2015 Local Government Match Program provides matching funds to cities and counties for qualifying projects in the district. Categories include alternative-fuel infrastructure, fleet maintenance facility upgrades, electric vehicle charging stations, medium- and heavy-duty alternative fuel vehicles, active transportation, electric riding lawnmowers, and street sweeping operations in the Coachella Valley. The deadline for submission is Sept. 4, 2015. Major Event Center Transportation programs for the past four years where destinations located in the district are targets for this funding opportunity and include sports arenas, fairgrounds, stadiums, race tracks, speedways, and Convention Centers, etc. Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Funding Opportunities categories include funding for construction of new or expanded alternative fuel fueling stations and incentives for the modification of fleet maintenance facilities in the district. The funding opportunity includes public and private site owners, fleet owners, infrastructure providers, fuel providers and school districts. Funding is available for the construction or expansion of alternative fuel refueling stations; incentives to fleets to upgrade their existing vehicle maintenance facilities; and support fleets purchasing alternative fuel vehicles. The deadline for submission for the major event center and alternative fuel infrastructure programs is July 29, 2016.
  2. Making the business case for renewable natural gas: Kudos go out to Joanna Underwood, president of Energy Vision, for her commentary in Denver Post on solutions renewable natural gas (RNG) bring to Colorado’s economy and environment. As the Piceance Basin gas reserve declines, natural gas production is shrinking, which will likely mean job loss and slower economic growth. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s fracking task force may be seeing confrontation between the gas industry and parties opposing the fracking. Underwood makes the case that the polarizing debate could be resolved by tapping into the state’s organic waste stream to make RNG. You can also view Energy Vision’s revamped new website here.
  3. Tesla goes to Maryland: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill allowing Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers. It takes effect Oct. 1, and allows Tesla to operate as many as four locations. That follows soon after Georgia allowing Tesla to operate five locations in the state and in March, New Jersey allowed Tesla to open four locations while also having one service center open for Tesla owners. In other Tesla news, Consumer Reports had a bad experience test driving the Tesla Model S P85 D when the driver-side door handle failed to let the driver in. The magazine’s car reliability survey has shown that doors, locks, and latches are the biggest trouble areas for Tesla, and that the Model S has far higher than average rates of these types of problems.
  4. ConocoPhillips adopting propane autogas: ConocoPhillips said it will convert 30 trucks to propane autogas this year and replace more than 300 more trucks over the next five years with vehicles powered by propane fuel technology. That follows thousands of miles on road tests in New Mexico and Colorado since 2011 working with ROUSH CleanTech propane vehicles. For the ConocoPhillips fleet, propane autogas reduces greenhouse gases by up to 25%, carbon monoxide by up to 60%, and nitrogen oxide by 20% compared to gasoline. Other benefits include safety of the fuel, size of the fuel tanks, performance, reduced fuel costs, extended maintenance intervals, and drivability.
  5. Cleaning up freight operations: Kellogg’s, Walmart, Anheuser-Busch, Apple, Adidas, General Mills, H&M, Lowes, CVS, and Hershey are working hard at improving efficiency and environmental management, according to Jason Mathers, senior manager on supply chain logistics at Environmental Defense Fund. Companies are tracking logistics emissions, setting performance goal benchmarks, and are seeking to shape external factors as a leadership practice.
  6. Fiat Chrysler chief goes on field trip: FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne has been rejected for an office visit with General Motors and Ford, but did get a greenlight from Tesla Motors and Apple. Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Apple’s Tim Cook were willing to meet with him. No news yet on whether Chrysler models will be powered by Tesla motors and battery packs, but Marchionne did have a good time. “I’m incredibly impressed with what that kid has done,” he said about Musk, according to Reuters. Tim Cook talked about Apple’s “intervention in the car,” Marchionne said.
  7. How to reduce air pollution: Older or badly tuned vehicles produce the vast majority of harmful emissions in Toronto. University of Toronto researchers measured exhaust from 100,000 vehicles driving past air sampling probes set up on one of Toronto’s busiest roads. The researchers found that 25% of the cars emitted 95% of the total particulates and 93% of the carbon monoxide. “How you drive, hard acceleration, age of the vehicle, how the car is maintained – these are things we can influence that can all have an effect on pollution,” according to author Greg Evans.
  8. EV forecast: The US is expected to be the largest EV market throughout the forecast period in a new Navigant Research study, with annual EV sales in 2024 exceeding 860,000 in the conservative scenario and 1.2 million in the aggressive. Annual sales in Canada, which is about one year behind the United States in terms of vehicle availability, are expected to reach over 74,000 PEVs in the conservative scenario and over 91,000 in the aggressive by 2024.
  9. Cheap oil won’t beat all biofuels: When oil prices hit $50 a barrel, as they’ve done lately, alternative fuels feel the squeeze. Lux Research evaluated 25 alternative fuel producers and found some biofuels companies prepared for the price drop. Renewable diesel producers Neste Oil and Diamond Green Diesel, gasification specialist Red Rock Biofuels, and Edeniq, which makes cellulosic ethanol, were among 13 alternative producers of fuels best positioned for cheap oil, according to the Lux Research report.
  10. Trillium CNG takes Frito-Lay award: Trillium CNG was named Supplier of the Year by the fleet division of Frito-Lay North America; the award was given for superior customer service and operational excellence in supporting Frito-Lay’s network of one private and nine public access compressed natural gas (CNG) stations. Trillium CNG dispensed more than 2.2 million gasoline gallon equivalents (GGEs) to Frito-Lay last year.

What fleets think about investing in alternative fuel technologies while pump prices stay low, according to Worthington Industries

Worthington Industries CNG tankFor Worthington Industries, displaying at 2015 ACT Expo was a smart move for announcing new product technologies to fleet operators interested in natural gas and propane autogas vehicles. Wayne Powers, alternative fuels general manager at Worthington Industries, talked to Green Auto Market about what fleets are thinking about alternative fuel vehicles during a time when gasoline and diesel prices stay down; and the experience Worthington Industries has in storage and transporting of compressed natural gas, propane autogas, LNG, and hydrogen, plus lightweight materials used in passenger and commercial vehicles.

At ACT Expo, the company introduced its largest-diameter compressed natural gas fuel cylinder – a 26.2-inch-diameter Type III carbon fiber-on-aluminum tank. Its inner aluminum liner dissipates heat during fast-filling allowing for an additional 15% to 25% more fuel storage compared to Type IV cylinders of similar size, Worthington Industries said. Fleet operators of Class 8 heavy-duty and refuse trucks were very interested in the cylinder, which is expected to reach final certification in late June, Powers said.

Worthington Industries staff also connected with fleets interested in propane autogas vehicles during ACT Expo. Last year, Worthington won approval by American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) of its propane autogas fuel tank designed to avoid wasting cargo space; the steel tanks are at the forefront of leak prevention, Powers said, and Worthington Industries is the only North American company to offer the toroidal tanks that have been popular throughout Europe. Worthington saw the need for the convenient tire-sized tanks in the U.S., and faced the stringent ASME propane autogas fuel tank regulations head-on to earn approval, the company said.

Pump prices for gasoline and diesel have dropped dramatically in the past year. During ACT Expo, Worthington Industries saw both sides of the issue from fleet operators, Power said. Fleets deploying CNG and propane-powered vehicles continue maintaining their interest in vehicle acquisitions, albeit at lower demand than a year ago. Fleets and transit bus operators will continue acquiring the vehicles, tanks, and infrastructures. However, fleets that are new to the technologies say they’ll continue to stay “on the sidelines” for now, Powers said.

Stationary storage and fuel transport delivery also have been strong markets for Worthington in the US and overseas, and that includes hydrogen. Bulk gas transport to industrial gas producers and fueling sites have seen strong demand in the hydrogen market, he said. Powers says it’s been helpful for the company to remain “fuel neutral” and make its storage technologies available for users of hydrogen and other alternative fuels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is seeing a lot of interest in the market, especially for LNG transport trailers.

The “lightweighting” trend in vehicle manufacturing, tied to US Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy and emissions mandates, has also paid off for Worthington Industries. The company has been known for several years as a maker of composite cylinders using a wide variety of metals. All of the OEMs have alternative fuel programs; Worthington cylinders reduce overall weight in fuel systems and provide the right tanks for OEMs to meet emissions and safety standards, Powers said.

2015 ACT Expo showcases several new product and technology unveilings

ACT Expo 2015The fifth annual Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, held May 4-7 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, was a showcase for new product and technology unveilings to an audience of more than 3,500 clean transportation stakeholders and 200 plus exhibitors. Electric Drive Transportation Association became one of the new partners for the event, and conference attendees navigated through a series of keynote speakers, workshops, and exhibit hall visits while using a new mobile device application introduced by ACT Expo organizer Gladstein, Neandross & Associates.

Some of the significant announcements included:

  • Ford Motor Co. said that the 2016 F-150 pickup will be available with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that can run on compressed natural gas or propane.
  • Alliance AutoGas introduced the first-ever Class 8 truck propane-diesel blended fuel system, which has been approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency as emissions-compliant. The California Air Resources Board has also certified the two bi-fuel engine models that include a 13-liter Volvo engine and 14-liter Detroit Diesel engine.
  • Cummins Westport will offer the ISB6.7 G, a 6.7-liter dedicated natural gas engine for medium-duty trucks, shuttle buses, and vocational vehicles. It’s based on the Cummins ISB6.7 diesel engine platform and will operate exclusively on natural gas – either compressed natural gas or liquefied natural gas – and will begin production by mid-2016.
  • UPS announced that it has an agreement with Clean Energy Fuels to purchase its Redeem brand renewable natural gas (RNG). UPS fueling stations in Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles will begin dispensing RNG this month; the delivery giant said that the deal makes it the largest user of RNG in the U.S. shipping industry.
  • Smith Electric Vehicles is coming back to the market, announcing a $35 million joint venture with Hong Kong battery and vehicle producer FDG Electric Vehicles Limited. The JV allows Smith to “go to our partners and say, we have stability, capital, capacity,” said business strategy and process VP Terry Pageler.
  • Penske Truck Leasing announced that the US Department of Energy has awarded the transportation company a $400,000 grant for the company’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) Demonstration and Enhanced Driver Experience Project, to be administered by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Penske will utilize the funds to further introduce alternative fuel vehicles to its customer base.
  • Toyota named eight Northern and Southern California dealerships that will sell its upcoming Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle. Toyota is working with FirstElement Fuel on a California fueling station network, and will offer free fuel to its first customers. Air Liquide will build 12 hydrogen fueling stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.
  • Clean Energy Fuels Corp. showcased its station that sells both liquefied and compressed natural gas as part of a tour in Dallas. Other tours included a Penske Truck Leasing maintenance facility and visits to Shell LNG, Questar Fueling, and Love’s natural-gas fueling stations.
  • This year’s program featured a number of new workshops and forums coordinated with Electric Drive Transportation Association. They focused on electric drive technology and how these vehicles are meeting the needs of drivers and fleet operators while advancing energy security, environmental sustainability, and economic independence from a monopoly fuel.

Highlights from speakers included:

  • BSR, a global nonprofit that researches sustainable fuels, issued reports exploring the challenges faced by fleets and truck operators in making clean fuels work. With biofuel mandates, California’s low-carbon fuel standard, and other market forces, fleets and truck operators can feel like they are being pulled in multiple directions, BSR said. In the near future, BSR will be offering truckers and others companies in the logistics supply chain an analysis to help them make decisions on what types of trucks they should purchase.
  • Trucking industry executives said they see a future for natural gas as a viable fuel for the industry despite relatively low gasoline and diesel prices. One of the panelists, Drew Cullen, senior vice president for fuels and facility services for Penske Truck Leasing, said he was optimistic even though grant programs are not coming together as fast as they could be.
  • Frito-Lay North America has 300 compressed natural-gas tractors and plans to add another 100 by the end of the year, along with 280 electric box trucks, said Gregg Roden, the company’s senior vice president, during a speaker session.
  • Margo Oge, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, participated in a speaker panel on the challenges women face while working in the trucking industry. Women are still greatly underrepresented in that industry, and those who are employed still face challenges balancing work and home life, according to a panel of female executives. They also tend to be the sole representative of their gender in the board room, Oge said.
  • T. Boone Pickens said that he’s observed six collapses in the price of oil since 1980, like the recent one with a 50% drop in prices that made diesel much cheaper. Diesel will continue to dominate trucking fuel for several years, but Pickens thinks that the price of natural gas will continue to be cheaper than diesel.

The next ACT Expo will take place May 2-5, 2016, in Long Beach, Calif. Click here for conference coverage of 2015 ACT Expo.

This Week’s Top 10: Model S pulling ahead of Leaf in EV sales, Autonomous vehicles take over SAE World Congress

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. Tesla store in Santa MonicaEV sales in April: The Tesla Model S secured its top spot in front of the Nissan Leaf for the month of April – 1,900 for the Model S versus 1,553 for the Leaf (according to HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates). For 2015, the Model S is leading US the electric vehicle (EV) segment – with 6,800 units sold compared to No. 2 Leaf at 5,638 sold this year. The Leaf is still leading the pack as the highest-selling EV ever – nearing almost 78,000 in the US and expected to cross the 200,000 mark in global sales sometime this summer. The Chevrolet Volt saw 905 units in April, its highest monthly total since last December. There were a few surprises in the top 10 in April EV sales – one of them being the best-selling month for the Chevrolet Spark EV at 920 units sold. The Ford C-Max Energi also saw a big increase on the list, and the BMW i3 saw its first sales drop since entering the US market.
  2. Autonomous vehicles take over SAE World Congress: Automakers are running the gamut on self-driving cars – similar to alternative fuel vehicles. No one technology is winning but several are being considered. “There are many schools of thought and many concepts being tried,” said Cadillac spokesman David Caldwell, during the annual SAE World Congress in Detroit. German automakers have been taking the lead – including BMW unveiling the i3 hybrid version equipped with Traffic Jam Assistant two years ago, which allows the vehicle to accelerate, brake and steer at speeds up to 25 mph. Keynote speaker Ray Kurzweil, director of engineering at Google and a recognized futurist, says that the days are approaching when an inexpensive computer outperforms a human at a task such as driving; reasons for self-driving cars moving forward include their role in drastically reducing road fatalities and freeing people up to do something useful during their dreaded commuter trips.
  3. Demand strong for CNG/propane F-150: Ford Motor Co. says the 2016 F-150 pickup will be available with a 5.0-liter V8 engine that can run on compressed natural gas or propane. Ford says demand for these trucks has been steadily increasing for the past five years. Ford sold a record 16,821 commercial/fleet vehicles with CNG/propane gaseous engine-prep packages in 2014, and the automaker thinks that 2015 will be even stronger. Customers have been asking for more trucks and vans that run on these alternative fuels because it lowers their fleet operating costs and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
  4. Vouchers in Chicago: VIA Motors has gained an exclusive voucher program for Chicago area fleets and business owners. VIA says it will dramatically reduce the initial costs of owning a VIA Motors extended range pickup truck, extended range electric passenger van, or extended range electric cargo van. The extended range pickup is now eligible for a $41,200 voucher, the passenger van is eligible for a $39,460 voucher and the cargo van is eligible $42,892.
  5. Price coming down for Volt: The 2016 Chevrolet Volt will be priced from $33,995 when it goes on sale sometime this fall; the price, which includes delivery, is $1,175 lower than that of the outgoing 2015 Volt. The 2016 Volt also offers appealing features – extended range, out to 50 miles on the battery and a fifth “seating position” in the car. That will put the Volt more in line with average transaction prices of light vehicles sold in the US.
  6. Sources for utility power changing: The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that 91% of a forecasted 20 gigawatts (GW) in new generating capacity will come from wind, solar, and natural gas. By the end of 2015, EIA forecasts that 9.3 GW of new wind generating capacity, 6.3 GW of natural gas, and 2.2 GW of solar. Coal’s share of the electricity-generating load will continue to decrease.
  7. Toyota EVs in China: While Toyota has been shifting away from electric vehicles (EVs) in markets such as the US in favor of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, the Chinese government would like to see a different approach adopted. China wants to see automakers roll out more EVs to meet its “new energy” targets. In joint ventures with Chinese partners Guangzhou Automobile Group and FAW Group, Toyota will introduce the Leahead and Ranz all-electric brands this year in that market. It’s probably for show to please the Chinese government, analysts say.
  8. Hybrid and EV commercial vehicles: Navigant Research predicts that global sales of electric drive and electric-assisted commercial vehicles will grow from less than 16,000 vehicles in 2014 to nearly 160,000 in 2013. The size and weight of battery packs in electric vehicles can limit usability for several fleets, but their products choices are becoming more versatile in the next few years for trucks, vans, and buses. Vehicles that qualify for these Navigant Research study categories fall under a broad definition. That includes hybrid vehicles used in commercial applications (medium-to-heavy duty); and niche applications for plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles that can use onboard electrical energy to replace idling diesel engines or provide temporary power to buildings or tools at remote sites.
  9. Wrightspeed launches turbine generator: Wrightspeed Inc., a manufacturer of range-extended electric vehicle powertrains, has launched the Fulcrum, a turbine generator and electric vehicle range extender. Utilizing a proprietary set of advancements, the Fulcrum’s design could represent a breakthrough that challenges today’s piston engines and existing turbine generators. Wrightspeed is hopeful that the 80 kilowatt Fulcrum turbine generator sets a new standard as the company works to evolve electric vehicle propulsion. Located in Silicon Valley, Wrightspeed was founded by Ian Wright, a co-founder of Tesla Motors back in its startup days.
  10. Tesla enters CPO market: Tesla Motors has launched a certified pre-owned (CPO) website page, but it might be a bit early in the process to see much inventory there. During a recent media conference call, Kelley Blue Book’s Alec Gutierrez said that with current monthly sales of the Model S in the 1,500 to 1,700 range, it’s still early in the remarketing process. It does make sense to get started now, though, he said. “They want to have enough certified pre-owned inventory out there to help give consumers something in between the Model 3, whenever that arrives, and the full blown Model S or Model X, when that arrives,” Gutierrez said. “So to me, it’s a good play, but a long-term strategy for sure.”

This Week’s Top 10: Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel blends may be resolved, Tesla Motors announces Model S 70D

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. Renewable Fuel StandardThe long-dragged-out biofuels standards may be coming to a conclusion. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will propose draft biofuels targets for 2015 by June 1 as part of a lawsuit settlement with oil industry trade groups. The American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers had filed a lawsuit stating that EPA delays in setting renewable fuel use requirements have led to uncertainty and volatility in biofuel markets; oil trade groups are tired of dealing with market volatility of Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credit prices, which is part of the Renewable Fuel Standard rules requiring that fuel refiners mix a certain volume of ethanol into gasoline and biodiesel into diesel each year. The EPA has been dragging out defining the rules that it will set for biofuel volumes. Its decision in late 2013 to reduce the ethanol mandate and maintaining the biodiesel mandate led to a wave of public outcry by biofuels producers and anger by oil industry trade groups over the instability and whether the EPA would reduce the biofuels targets.
  2. Tesla Motors continues grabbing our attention. Last fall, it was the Tesla Model S P85D with “P” standing for performance; now, there’s the Model S 70D with more power, longer range per charge, and price tag with $5,000 added. The 70D is an all-wheel-drive Model S with a 70-kilowatt-hour battery pack, with 240 miles of range and priced at $75,000 before incentives; and it gets 514 horsepower (hp) to all four wheels from two electric motors. That compares with 208 miles on a charge and 380 hp on the base model rear-drive Model S. As for the “D” in Model S 70D, that stands for dual motor, which will be standard.
  3. Henrik Fisker is dropping the Thunderbolt supercar. Former Fisker Automotive co-founder, and previous Aston Martin design director, Henrik Fisker, has settled a lawsuit by Aston Martin against plans to produce the $400,000 Thunderbolt. Fisker claimed it was based on the current Aston Martin Vanquish, a V-12 powered supercar that was to have been modified with custom styling and cosmetic features. Aston Martin says it was too close to the iconic sports car featured in James Bond movies and infringed on Aston Martin’s intellectual property rights. Fisker had shown off the Thunderbolt at the Amelia Island Coucours d’ Elegance car show last month, and said it would be marketed through the Galpin Aston Martin dealership in California.
  4. ClipperCreek releases cost-competitive charging station. ClipperCreek announced availability of its popular LCS-20 EV charging station with a plug, previously available only as a hardwired unit. ClipperCreek released the LCS-20P Level 2 EV Charging Stations now starting at $379 hardwired and $395 with four plug options, the four most common residential 240V supply power plugs.
  5. Elio Motors CEO Paul Elio still needs a few more investors. Elio just spoke at the New York Auto Show and said that to meet the $230 million to begin production of its two-seat, three-wheel fuel efficient vehicle is still falling short – the company needs another $165 million to get these cars on the road. Elio thinks that the $6,800, 84 mpg vehicle is ideal for cost-conscious fleets and consumers. A big question will be whether Elio Motors will be able to qualify for a low-interest loan through the US Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program that will be re-launched soon.
  6. Rethink Methane Symposium coming up. Gladstein, Neadross & Associates (which puts on ACT Expo) is launching the inaugural Rethink Methane Symposium on June 9-10 in Sacramento, Calif. It’s focused on helping stakeholders understand how renewable methane from biological and synthetic sources can help California meet its climate protection and air quality improvement goals. Featured speakers will be Hector De La Torre of the California Air Resources Board, Peter Lehner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Julia Levin of the Bioenergy Association of California, and Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.
  7. Massachusetts offering more EV rebates. Electric vehicles have been popular enough in Massachusetts to use up the initial $2 million incentive funding. Now Governor Charlie Baker has allocated an additional $2 million to the state’s Mor-EV rebate program. Mor-EV, which stands for Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles, provides up to $2,500 to state residents who buy or lease electric vehicles.
  8. BMW wants to double plug-in sales. BMW would like to double sales of its i3 electric and i8 plug-in hybrid models this calendar year. The BMW i3 had 6,092 in sales from its launch in May of last year through December; the German automaker would like to double that to 12,000 units sold of its i3 battery electric and i3 REX range-extended small hatchbacks by the end of this year. The i8 was introduced in August and took in 555 in sales last year; that number is intended to be 1,000 this year. BMW is happy to see strong demand for both models, said BMW North America CEO Ludwig Willisch.
  9. GM prepping for redesigned Volt. General Motors says it will stop production of its 2015 Chevrolet Volt in May to reduce US stockpiles and to prepare for the highly anticipated 2016 Volt plug-in hybrid. Production of the redesigned 2016 Volt is expected to start late this summer. The suspension comes from lower-than-expected sales, factory renovations and engineering changes, the company said. Volt sales had dropped 19% to 18,805 units in 2014, and 48% in the first quarter of this year to 1,874 units. In other news, GM is thinking about spending $1 billion to renovate its Tech Center campus in Warren, Mich. GM has asked the city for tax breaks on the project. The Tech Center has been the hub of many projects since the 1950s including hosting a battery lab for electric-drive vehicles like the Volt.
  10. Kevin Wood, project manager for clean transportation, at Center for Sustainable Energy, sees the plug-in and fuel cell vehicle markets taking off right now. They have a proven track record in fleets. While they don’t meet the needs in every duty cycle yet, in passenger vehicles and sedans, there’s no reason to not be looking at these technologies. You can hear his perspective on these plug-ins and fuel cell vehicles, and other alternative fuel vehicles, in this Fleet Management Weekly video.
  11. Extra from this week’s Green Auto Market Extended Edition: How Hawaii has become a significant electric vehicle (EV) marketplace. EVs with strong incentives have their appeal in Hawaii – with destination charges and a higher price for gasoline than any other market in the US, EVs become as, or more, attractive with cost-conscious car shoppers living in the state. Hawaii ranks second in the US behind California in the number of electric vehicles registered in the state, according to figures recently release by the US Energy Information Administration. The adoption of electric vehicles is a key component in the state’s target of reaching of 70% in clean energy by the year 2030. Here’s more on how to subscribe to that weekly newsletter and read all about it, plus a section on clean transportation company publicly traded stocks – and resources to check out on following these stocks and market trends.

Formula E comes to Long Beach in what could be the first run of an annual electric racing series

Formuma E in Long BeachThe Formula E electric race series was cheered on by several thousand people in grandstands in Long Beach, Calif., on Saturday. Sponsors and promoters of the race series are quite hopeful Formula E will educate and inspire people to see the potential of electric drives to power vehicles of all types quietly and with zero emissions.

Brazilian Nelson Piquet, Jr., took first place for China Racing (and his father, Nelson Piquet, had taken first place in the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1980); Jean-Eric Vergne of Andretti Formula E finished in second place; and Lucas di Grassi of Audi Sports ABT came in third place.

Piquet was the sixth different first-place winner in the six races that have so far taken place in the 10-race Formula E series. Nicolas Prost of e.dams-Renault took first place about three weeks ago at the Miami race. The next stop in Formula E will be Monaco ePrix in Monte Carlo; then it will go to Berlin and Moscow before wrapping up in London in June.

The Formula E race series has gained more publicity by bringing in racing teams sponsored by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, the family dynasty of racing legend Mario Andretti, and superstar Leonardo DiCaprio. DiCaprio attended the race on Saturday. The annual Long Beach Grand Prix, with Formula One race cars, will take place in two weeks on the same track.

Each of the race’s 20 teams had to change to a second car during a pit stop. The batteries weren’t able to cover the entire 39-lap race, so the drivers jumped into duplicate racers. It sounded quite different than the regular Long Beach Grand Prix with Formula One racers roaring through the streets of downtown. Formula E cars whizzed by the stands with their rubber tires squealing on the turns.

General admission to the Long Beach race was free this time; that’s likely to change the next time Formula E comes to Long Beach. That could be as early as next year. Organizers of the event have been in talks with sponsors and city officials in Asia, Europe, and the US about making this race series an annual event. The founding partners sponsoring the race series are BMW i, Michelin, Renault, Qualcomm, DHL, and wrist-watch company Tag Heuer.

BMW displayed its i3 and i8 electric cars inside the eVillage, located on the inside area of the race track. Zero Motorcycles displayed its e-bikes and shared an exhibit space with e4 Advanced Transportation Center of Southern California (ATC); and with Dutch organization Coast to Coast Smart e-Mobility (C2C). Qualcomm displayed an electric race car.

Students with interest in a future engineering career from Long Beach high schools participated in a race earlier that day. Students from Cabrillo, Jordan, McBride, Millikan, and Santa Barbara high schools, and the California Academy of Math and Science, competed in a race in cars they had assembled from kits. Schools also had display booths in the eVillage.

A few days before the race, students at California State University Long Beach received a special guest lecture from Formula E founder and CEO Alejandro Agag. He took questions from students that ranged from the overall state of the business of motorsport to technical questions about the unique challenges of designing the battery housing of the Formula E car. In 2012, veteran Spanish racing promoter Agag won over support from the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) to start Formula E.  The 10-race series officially launched in September 2014 in Beijing.

Propel Fuels and Neste Oil bring price-competitive renewable diesel to California

Diesel HPRFor fleets, transportation companies, and individuals based in Northern California driving diesel-engine vehicles, there’s now a renewable diesel available at fuel stations for about the same price as traditional diesel. California Air Resources Board (CARB) studies show that this renewable diesel can reduce greenhouse gas emissions up to 70% compared to petroleum diesel; and offers significant reduction in nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter for those concerned about air quality and health issues in regions with high output from commercial trucks.

Propel Fuels has brought this renewable fuel, called Diesel HPR (High Performance Renewable), to 18 fuel stations in Sacramento, San Jose, East Bay, Redwood City, and Fresno. Diesel HPR was created by Finland-based Neste Oil using that company’s NEXBTL renewable diesel. Diesel HPR is a low-carbon renewable fuel designated as ASTM D-975, the standard for ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel in the US. It’s also recognized as “CARB diesel” by the state agency, and is a certified fuel with the US Environmental Protection Agency.  A complete list of Diesel HPR fueling locations is available at dieselhpr.com/locations.

Diesel HPR comes from renewable biomass including recycled fats and oils that can originate from sources such as waste fish oils and vegetable oils. It’s refined from renewable biomass through Neste Oil’s advanced hydrotreating technology that meets the toughest specifications required by automotive and engine manufacturers. Like biodiesel, the fuel offers fleets and consumers the advantage of using a clean fuel in vehicles without paying for vehicle conversions. Diesel HPR can be used by any diesel vehicle. “It’s a clean, clear, odorless fuel that’s highly refined and has low sulfur and carbon,” said Rob Elam, CEO and Co-Founder of Propel Fuels, during a phone interview. “Diesel HPR exceeds conventional diesel in power, performance and value.”

Elam says there’s been tremendous interest in the fuel from owners of diesel-powered cars with Bosch technologies (such as Volkswagen, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz diesel-engine models) that have “No Biodiesel” stickers. Using biodiesel would threaten their warranties. “They’re excited to see Diesel HPR launched,” Elam said.

The fuel’s high-blend rate with reduced greenhouse gas emissions has made it very appealing to corporate and government fleets, he said. “Many fleets are moving towards the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, so low carbon diesel makes sense,” Elam said. Bakeries with a fleet of Sprinters are very interested in the fuel, as are companies in the heavy-duty long-haul trucking business.

While the EPA is still mulling over 2014 production volumes under the Renewable Fuel Standard and its RIN credits, California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard and cap-and-trade credit market makes the state an appealing place to launch renewable transportation fuels. Clean Energy Fuels would attest to that through its Redeem renewable natural gas; that product is finding interest by fleets wanting to comply with California standards and utilize clean fuels to meet emissions targets.

The Renewable Fuel Standard and RIN debate has been a major concern to the biofuels industry. There has been enough interest in renewable fuels for Neste to bring a large volume of its fuel to California, Elam said. This is the first time renewable diesel is being offered as its own product; it has cost parity with regular diesel in California but its weights and measures are still being worked out by the agencies, he said.

“This renewable diesel joins a growing suite of new, cleaner transportation fuels in California thanks to our Low Carbon Fuel Standard and forward thinking companies like Propel,” said California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols, in the press release.

Propel Fuels started up in 2004 when it set up the very first public biodiesel station in Seattle. Passage of AB 32 in California motivated the company to bring renewable diesel, ethanol, and biodiesel to fuel stations across California. Oregon has passed a low-carbon fuel standard and the state of Washington is considering one. The company will expand into others states as market demand grows, but as for now, there’s “plenty of growth in California,” Elam said.