Test projects may be tipping point for mobility, Uber and colleagues battling California labor law

Here’s the final commentary in a series on predictions that 2030 will be the watershed year to watch for when vehicles, transportation, and the entire auto industry itself will look quite different than it does today.

Most Americans are skeptical about completely turning over their car rides to an automated, electric vehicle. It would eventually mean giving up an old, classic tradition — getting behind the wheel and taking off for whatever destination they choose, exercising personal freedom of choice. And there are those who adore classic and vintage cars, and won’t ever want to give it up.

The latest J.D. Power study on autonomous vehicles and electric vehicles, and an interview with a top automaker CEO, indicate that peoples’ expectations for new technology development will remain in place; but opinions are leaning toward the transformation and adoption taking much longer than 2030 (more on Honda and the Power study later). Earning the public’s buy-in is going to take a while.

Autonomous, electrified shared rides and robo-taxis appear to be the most likely way that cultural transformation will be taking place — in the US and other markets where ownership of personal vehicles became the expected norm years ago.

There are other pathways expected to play a vital role in these historic shifts. Automated shuttles are becoming the first application for autonomous vehicles to be deployed as people movers under restricted conditions. Fleet deployment of electric light-to-heavy duty vehicles equipped with the latest connected, automated technologies will also play a vital role.

For now, test projects are being carried out integrating autonomous, sometimes electric, vehicles with increasingly popular transportation modes — ride hailing, car sharing, bus and shuttle rides, and a variation on age-old taxi rides. So let’s take a look.

Waymo is the closest example of what it might look like next, certainly in the US and likely around the world. The Waymo One app used to hail rides in Phoenix’s suburb of Chandler provides an alternative to taking a bus ride, taxi, or ride hailing. Started in December 2018, Waymo One has given members of its early rider program (that will go out to the general public eventually) access to an autonomous ride-hailing service. Just hit the button on the app, and very soon an empty Chrysler Pacifica minivan will approach and come to a stop right in front of you.

In 2017, Waymo CEO John Krafcik declared during a conference that “fully self-driving cars are here.” But it would take longer for them to show up for riders. Most all of the Pacifica minivans in the Phoenix area still have human riders trained to take over the van in the event of an emergency; a few self-driving vehicles are operating in limited test areas. There are hundreds of customers in the early-rider program, with some limitations.

Riders will get access to Waymo One if there’s an available vehicle nearby. It’s taking place in a controlled, geo-fenced environment. Riders are selected based on what zip code they live in and have to sign NDAs. The rides are free for now.

Waymo just expanded its working relationship with leading dealer network AutoNation. The autonomous Chrysler Pacifica can now be used to move auto parts between AutoNation’s Tempe, Ariz., locations and other repair shops in the area, including those operated by independent third parties. It’s bound to make the consumer’s vehicle maintenance and repair experience more time efficient and reliable. Previously, the relationship led to Waymo’s Pacificas being serviced at AutoNation garages, and as a mobility source for AutoNation customers to get rides to their dealerships.

Lyft Level 5:  On March 28, Lyft began testing on public roads. Lyft has hired over 300 engineers, applied researchers, product managers, operations managers, and more. The focus has been on creating the world’s best computer vision, robotics, and machine learning experts. Cited accomplishments include 3D segmentation frameworks, new methods of evaluating energy efficiency in vehicles, and tracking vehicle movement using crowd-sourced maps.

The investment from General Motors has merely provided Lyft with needed capital. The company’s autonomous ride group, called Lyft Level 5, about a year ago launched a public self-driving program in Las Vegas with partner Aptiv. In August 2018, the project surpassed 5,000 self-driving rides. That recently surpassed over 50,000 autonomous rides to Lyft passengers. The company said it makes it the largest self-driving program in the US.

Waymo is another partner, where some its self-driving minivans are available for Lyft ride sharing. It’s restricted to Waymo’s authorized zone outside of Phoenix. Waymo CEO Krafcik believes the relationship gives both companies “the opportunity to collect valuable feedback.”

Last spring, Lyft said in its mandatory IPO filing that it wants to begin providing self-driving ride-hail trips on the app within five years. Within a decade, Lyft wants to be ready to provide a network of autonomous vehicles providing a majority of its trips. Five years later, the company wants to see its “purpose-built” self-driving vehicles on the road — able to take passengers on long-haul journeys.

Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG):  Before being forced out, Uber founder and former chief executive, Travis Kalanick, said in 2016 that self-driving technology was “basically existential” for the company.

The company believes the future of mobility is increasingly shared, sustainable, and automated. The payoff will be big — supporting sustainability, helping make roads safer, and making transportation more affordable for everyone. But the capital drain continues.

Questions have come and gone about whether Uber will be able to stay in the autonomous vehicle race, with things ending badly in its Pittsburgh test market years ago. Last year’s pedestrian fatality also raises the challenges of clearing the investigation and restoring trust in its ability to safety test its AVs.

Uber is still testing adapted Volvo vehicles in its partnership with Volvo Cars through its, a company that does emphasize safety. A test project with Toyota also continues. Another alliance exists with PTIO, the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity, to find solutions that ensure everyone benefits from the adoption of self-driving technology.

AV testing through Advanced Technologies Group (Uber ATG) continues in Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Toronto, with about 32 AVs being monitored and tracked. Dallas has been the center of testing, with ancillary test runs and Uber services being tried out, including shared rides, Uber Eats, JUMP scooters, Transit, Uber Freight, and more. The city’s modern infrastructure, unique traffic patterns, road characteristics, and climate offer new information that inform the company’s ongoing engineering efforts.

Tesla continues to cooperate with officials during investigations over fatalities tied to its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. But the race is far from over. The company does have a sizable early lead in this space both in terms of autonomous miles driven as well as monetization of its self-driving technology.

The electric automaker has already delivered over 780,000 vehicles since its launch, and most of them come with pre-installed self-driving capabilities that users can unlock by paying for software. The company’s autonomous driving hardware is based on mature technology such as Radar, Ultrasonic, and Passive video, which is cheaper than some rivals who use LIDAR – a laser-based system.

Going this route has enabled the company to equip the hardware as standard in all its vehicles, irrespective of whether or not a user enables it by paying money.
As the company’s vehicles are estimated to have driven over 1.88 billion Autopilot miles in total thus far, this could be further enhancing Tesla’s log of driving data.

CEO Elon Musk has suggested that its AV system will be available in various applications, including as a revenue source for owners. Those opting in can rent their Model 3, or other Tesla vehicle, out to Uber and Lyft drivers (or another ride-hailing firm) needing an autonomous EV to do their work.

Maven and GM:  In May, GM began shuttering its Maven car-sharing business in eight major U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago and New York. GM won’t ending Maven anytime soon, but it is taking much longer than hoped to expand. It started up in early 2016 when a team of engineers and project managers were brought over from Google and Zipcar, along with staff it acquired from Sidecar, a failed competitor to Uber and Lyft.

Business has been smaller and slower than anticipated, and with competition coming from established car-sharing brands Zipcar and Car2Go. Two other segments were added — Maven Gig, a rental service for carless Uber and Lyft drivers. Maven Reserve added longer-term rentals; and the latest sub-segment is a peer-to-peer rental service. Maven had also been a good channel for testing out EVs and AVs. In 2017, Maven added over 100 Chevy Bolts to its fleet and participated in GM self-driving car testing.

CEO Mary Barra in recent years had emphasized that her company will become the global leader in advanced, autonomous, and electric vehicles as automakers shift over from vehicle manufacturers to full-service mobility service providers. Maven has been a slow-development projects and AVs are going that route. In July, Its self driving car unit, GM Cruise, said in July it was backing off plans to make available autonomous taxis by the end of this year. More testing of the vehicles will need to happen first.

GM’s $500 million investment in ride-hailing firm Lyft in 2016 has moved far away from any type of joint project, with Lyft continuing to test its own small fleet of self-driving cars without GM’s involvement.

Apple-backed DiDi Chuxing has received a license to operate a fleet of up to 50 self-driving cars on a pilot basis in part of the Jiading district in Shanghai, China. Automakers SAIC and BMW also received permits at the World Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem Conference on September 16.

Apple had invested about $1 billion in DiDi in 2016. The tech giant has expected that its investment and involvement would boost both companies’ efforts in product research and development — especially in China’s massive auto market. In January, the company cut more than 200 employees from its self-driving car initiative, Project Titan, in what it described as a restructuring. Five months later, Apple confirmed that it had acquired Drive.ai, a self-driving startup backed by more than $77 million in funding.

Didi, a giant ride-hailing company in China, was scheduled to begin picking up ride-hailing passengers with self-driving cars in Shanghai soon. The project will be expanded the program from that city — going toward the deployment of self-driving vehicles outside of China by 2021.

Test rides include another rider providing safety intervention in the event of an emergency. Didi is waiting for a few remaining licenses before it can start transporting customers in AVs. Self-driving rides will be free for customers, and more than 30 different vehicles will be offered for self-driving trips as part of the pilot, the company said.

Amazon:  Amazon continues its move as the central player in goods delivery, warehousing, and integrating technology advancements like delivery drones into the equation. One of the decisions was for Amazon to set up acquisition of 100,000 all-electric delivery vans to Amazon over the next decade. Michigan-based startup Rivian Automotive will be building and delivering them. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said 100,000-unit fleet will eliminate 4 million metric tons of carbon emissions when fully operational.

Over the last decade, the tech giant has spent billions of dollars working on finding solutions to the “last-mile” problem in urban delivery. The company has built its own fleet of cargo jets, and explored delivery by drone in the form of “Prime Air.” More recently, an increasing percentage of that investment has been directed toward autonomous vehicle technology.

In January, the company introduced the Amazon Scout, a six-wheeled electric-powered delivery robot. Six of these robots are currently making deliveries in a Washington neighborhood during daylight hours, Monday through Friday. The next month, Amazon invested in Aurora Innovation, an autonomous tech startup run by former executives from Google and Tesla.

Penske is getting into car sharing through its Penske Dash subsidiary, with an initial launch in Washington, DC, and Arlington, Va. The trucking logistics, rental, and leasing giant, is offering Volkswagen Jetta SE models for rent by the minute, hour, or day through its proprietary app. Rates are inclusive of fuel, parking, and insurance.

The truck leasing and rental company has joined the race with three other rental companies — Hertz, Avis, and Enterprise — which have been testing out car-sharing projects in recent years. Avis has made the biggest splash with its acquisition of Zipcar.

Penske partnered with Ridecell, which is powering the mobile app, payment processing, parking info, and predictive analytics for the fleet. Members using the service have 24/7 access to a call center and a local fleet operations team.

Operational efficiency will be a big part of the unit’s success, the company said. “We can take advantage of infrastructure through our joint venture partners at Penske Corporation and Penske Truck Leasing, particularly on the service and roadside assistance portion of the car-sharing business,” said Michael Montri, chief operating officer.

Hyundai just announced it will launch a free ride-hailing service with a fleet of autonomous electric cars in Irvine, Calif., starting this month. The news comes after the South Korean automaker announced that it would invest $35 billion in autonomous and electric vehicle development over the next five years.

Hyundai is partnering with AV startup Pony.ai and ride-hailing service Via for the free taxi service. Interested riders can hail a self-driving car via a smartphone app. Korea’s largest automaker said it won’t be fully autonomous. Hyundai says a safety driver will be behind the wheel, and there will also be an additional engineer in the passenger seat.

It’s one piece in the Korean maker’s new global campaign. The company promotes itself as a world-leading smart mobility solutions provider that will be able to offer solutions through its cutting-edge technologies and solutions. That will offer customers “quality time and empower them to pursue their passions at full throttle,” the company said — and has been depicting it in a new global brand campaign called #BecauseofYou.

The first of these TV commercials was filmed in downtown Amsterdam during the morning rush hour. The commercials shows a female office worker being overwhelmed by the traffic — a crisis becomes instantly transformed when she steps out of her Hyundai Nexo fuel-cell SUV and hops onto a Hyundai electric scooter — solving the “last mile” dilemma becoming common in cities around the world with booming populations, and getting to her office on time.

Some automakers backing off:  While 2030 has been named the magic year in a few market reports and conference keynote speeches, the timeline for automated EVs to become the industry norm in global vehicle manufacturing and sales likely will be taking much longer. One auto executive recently spoke to the question.

“The hurdles to battery electric vehicles and complete autonomous driving are still quite high,” Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo recently said in an interview at Honda Motor Co.’s global headquarters.

Honda will focus on gasoline-electric hybrids, not full EVs, through 2030. As for fully autonomous vehicles, Honda will roll out incremental advances that offer real-world safety at affordable prices. The automaker already has a number of new technologies ready to include in its new vehicle lineup, including a hands-off autonomous system for highways. But the company will be taking a “wait-and-see” approach with autonomous and electric vehicles.

Hachigo’s perspectives are shared by other leaders in auto manufacturing, including Japanese rival Toyota’s Executive Vice President Shigeki Tomoyama. The executive last month said in a speech that even with its $10 billion r&d budget, Toyota has always seen the path to commercialization as long and challenging.

Last month, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak said he’s “given up” on ever seeing Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles being allowed on public roads during his lifetime. Apple is still working on a self-driving car project, but Wozniak said it’s become much harder to achieve than had originally been thought.

A new survey by J.D. Power last month supports the conclusion that reaching mass adoption will be taking well over a decade. The study found that consumer sentiment about self-driving vehicles and electrification has stayed flat recently, even through the technology growth has been impressive.

J.D. Power’s 2019 Q3 Mobility Confidence Index Study found that opinions haven’t changed since the last survey three month prior. The index now stands at 36 (on a 100-point scale) for self-driving vehicles and 55 for battery-electric vehicles — identical to the previous one.

“It was a little surprising to find consumer sentiment about self-driving vehicles and electrification has stayed flat,” said Kristin Kolodge, J.D. Power’s executive director-driver interaction and human-machine interface research. “But it shows that consumers are really steadfast in their opinions about new mobility technologies right now, regardless of how close they are to being available for purchase.”

The studies polled more than 5,000 consumers and industry experts on self-driving vehicles, and another 5,000 on battery-electric vehicles. One industry expert in the study agrees with colleagues on how tough the challenge has become. “Tech and automotive companies continue to learn how difficult the problem really is,” the expert said.

In February 2018, a global ride-hailing industry association was formed and found membership in several leading entities — BlaBlaCar, Citymapper, Didi, Keolis, LimeBike, Lyft, Mobike, Motivate, Ofo, Ola, Scoot Networks, Transit, Uber, Via, and Zipcar. They signed the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities today, pledging to prioritize people over vehicles, lower emissions, promote equity and encourage data sharing, among other goals.

The companies estimated they provide about 77 million passenger trips per day in cities around the world. The Shared Mobility Principles offer a vision for the future of cities, and creates alignment between the city governments, private companies, and NGOs working to make them more livable.

These companies and a few others — Waymo, Apple, Tesla, other automakers and automotive suppliers — are expected to be at the center of all of it. Their roles and corporate identities will be transforming, but that will take shape well after 2030.

And in other news……..

Uber and other mobile apps fighting California’s new labor law:  California’s leading mobile app companies — Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart — will be fighting the state’s new law, AB 5, that was approved and signed by the governor in September. AB 5 will essentially be making drivers employees after it becomes enacted on January 1. The Silicon Valley mobility companies are backing what’s called the Protect App-Based Drivers & Services Act, which will become a ballot initiative for the November 2020 election once enough Californians sign a request to have it placed on that ballot. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have each contributed $30 million to get the initiative approved by voters; Postmates and Instacart are each contributing $10 million. If enacted, their law would cancel AB 5; it’s being written to ensure drivers and couriers can continue to be independent contractors with flexible work hours. Drivers have been marching in support of the new initiative, which will have incentives built in such as guaranteeing they receive at least 120 percent of minimum wage while on the job. It would reverse the new rules that AB 5 has created for the state. Legal battles are likely to take place in the state’s courts, with class-action lawsuits for workers and suits filed by the mobile app companies attempting to thwart AB 5. For now, Uber and the other Silicon Valley startups are being quiet about how their drivers will be treated after January 1 — if the companies will follow AB 5, or if it will be ignored as they scramble to organize their lobbying and legal battles.

Ford v Ferrari:  For car buffs and racing fans, “Ford v Ferrari” will be a real treat. Released in theaters this coming Friday, the movie dramatizes the 1966 Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, where legendary designer Carroll Shelby’s Ford GT40 was able to knock out reigning champion Ferrari. Mat Damon plays Shelby and Christian Bale plays maverick driver Ken Miles. The filmmakers borrowed cars shown in the film from California-based Shelby Legendary Cars and its parent company, Superformance.

Uber and Lyft riders not happy with LAX:  Airline passengers coming in to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have to wait longer now to get into their Uber and Lyft rides. Uber and Lyft passengers can no longer wait for the car to arrive curbside at terminals; they have to get on what’s called the LAX-it shuttle and be taken to an offsite station to meet their drivers. The airport continues constructing a major changeover, with a new people mover being set up to carry passengers across the expanding terminals. LAX ground transportation guidelines have been changing for a few years now, and passengers have become more agitated with the wait time and gridlock at the airport with continued construction and roadblocks. Airport administrators hope that setting up the new ride-hailing station will reduce traffic overall for drivers dropping off, and picking up, family and friends on the LAX terminal loop. Getting a ride from Uber and Lyft had been a convenient, cost effective transportation option in the past few years. That’s all changing now, with much of that efficiency being taken away. Air travelers and those driving them have been avoiding LAX whenever possible as traffic has gotten worse. Solutions for travelers include going to another nearby airport whenever possible. However, many cross country and international flights have to go in and out of LAX — and not the Orange County, Long Beach, or Ontario Airports. So changes at LAX greatly affect regular travels living and working in the LA and OC area. For taxi, chauffeured transportation, and shuttle operators, LAX’s changes affecting Uber and Lyft are just deserts for stringent and costly regulations imposed on them for several decades by airports and cities. Uber and Lyft are facing more regulations and fees in London, and the companies can expect government entities around the world to extend more of their own rules and fees as ride hailing continues expanding rapidly in these markets.

BYD Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. announced last week that they have signed an agreement to establish a joint company to research and develop battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The new R&D company, which will work on designing and developing BEVs (including platforms) and related parts, is anticipated to be established in China in 2020, with BYD and Toyota to evenly share 50 percent of the total capital needed. Additionally, BYD and Toyota plan to staff the new company by transferring engineers and the jobs currently involved in related R&D from their respective companies.

When will roads be filled with automated vehicles? Plus, official launch of Fisker Ocean

Here’s part four of a series on predictions that 2030 will be the watershed year to watch for when vehicles, transportation, and the entire auto industry itself will look quite different than it does today.

Five years ago, a speaker at AltCar Expo stirred up a lot of conversation among attendees and a few humorous references by panel speakers during the day. It was big enough for the speaker to be invited back the next year. Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, made dramatic forecasts about electric transportation, autonomous vehicles, and solar power. One of his revolutionary predictions is that all new vehicle sales in the US will be electrified and autonomous by 2030; and EVs will be powered by solar energy. The prediction came from his model analyzing the technologies’ exponential growth rates in the market.

Earlier that year, in May 2014, Google revealed a new prototype of its self-driving car, which had no steering wheel, gas pedal, or brake pedal, and being 100 percent autonomous. It set off a tidal wave of ambitious goals announced by automakers, media coverage and analysis, and a series of studies and speaker panels on what autonomous vehicles would mean — and how it will soon be the norm with US vehicles and possibly at a global scale.

During this year, KPMG and other analysts were not putting out likely timelines and significant benchmark years for autonomous vehicles (AVs) clearing regulatory hurdles and seeing mass production from major and specialty automakers, and an obvious presence on public roads. Seba’s “disruptive technology” theory is intruiging, but taking the latest look suggests that the new industry and technology hasn’t been building the needed momentum to see historic change over the next decade; not that it’s going to disappear, though.

Safety remains the key barrier to overcome for the new technology to clear regulatory hurdles and find public support. National Transportation Safety Board reports on Uber and Tesla tell some of the story.

Uber Technologies Inc.’s autonomous test vehicles were involved in 37 crashes in the 18 months before a fatal March 2018 self-driving car incident in Tempe, Ariz., the NTSB said on Tuesday. Between September 2016 and March 2018, there were 37 crashes of Uber vehicles in autonomous mode at the time, including 33 that involved another vehicle striking test vehicles. Uber’s self-driving test car that struck and killed a pedestrian in March 2018 wasn’t programmed to recognize and react to jaywalkers, according to the board. The NTSB on Nov. 19 will hold a probable cause hearing on the Arizona crash.

Tesla still has to resolve warnings sent out by fatal crashes that have been attributed to its Autopilot semi-autonomous feature. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in September cited both driver error and Tesla’s Autopilot design as the probable causes of a January 2018 crash, in which a Model S slammed into a parked fire truck at about 31 mph. The driver was distracted and did not see the fire truck, according to the federal agency. NTSB says that Tesla’s Autopilot was also at fault, as its design “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task.”

KPMG published its second annual Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI) with a metric that takes into account four pillars to determine which country will lead the new transportation mode: policy and legislation; technology and innovation; infrastructure; and consumer acceptance. European countries dominated the rankings this year, with Netherlands at No.1, followed by Singapore, Norway, the US, and Sweden. Norway was a new entry to the list, and passed up the US — which has fallen one place to fourth.

Taking a look at the four categories used by KPMG in the study to develop the measures and methodologies reveals more. For policy and legislation, AV regulations, government-funded AV pilots, and AV-focused agency were key factors; Singapore leads this pillar. For technology and innovation, partnerships, patents, and investments are key factors, with Israel taking the lead this year. For Infrastructure, the Netherlands leads through having the most EV charging stations scaled by the size of its road network, as well as consistently high scores on the other measures. (More on those interesting categories below.) For consumer acceptance, Singapore scored highest overall in the KPMG study, partly due to all of the city-state’s population living in an AV test area.

For countries with a high acceptance rate in AVs, India and Mexico also took leading positions. Those living in Great Britain and the US are the least accepting. A new study by Society of Automotive Engineers International (SAE) with US respondents found that 73 percent of them preferred to share control with their vehicle. An overwhelming 92 percent said it is a requirement to be able to activate an emergency stop function in a self-driving car.

Here are a few other interesting details from the KPMG study and recent news:

  • When looking at the AV infrastructure, some of the factors being reviewed have been density of EV charging stations; quality of mobile internet; 4G coverage (the bridge to much faster 5G networks that are slowing coming out now); and quality of roads.
  • Americans tend to be skeptical about trusting AVs in surveys. But one area of mobility experience that may help adoption in the US and a few other markets is ride hailing. China leads in market penetration of ride-hailing, followed by the US and the UK. Some of the most interesting test projects have involved partners working toward bringing robotaxis and shared rides in AVs — GM working toward its Maven car-sharing unit offering autonomous vehicles including the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Uber and Lyft have been investing in it, with Waymo leading the way.
  • Baidu is leading the way in China. China’s search-engine giant is getting the most test miles under its belt, which is critical in building public support for the new technology.
  • Volkswagen is stepping up its efforts to become a leader in autonomous vehicles and ride services by spinning off its own startup that it claims will be among the “best-funded” in the world. Volkswagen Autonomy, or VWAT, plans to bring robot taxis and cargo vans to three continents by 2025.

 

And in other news:

Fisker launch announced:  Fisker Inc. has launched it long-awaited all electric luxury SUV, which the company has named the Fisker Ocean. The company said it will be the “world’s most sustainable vehicle,” built on recycled, vegan and more innovative materials. Fisker said it will be breaking the usual automaker product launch process by revealing a fully running production intent prototype sitting on the actual, completely engineered platform on Jan. 4, 2020. Early reservations will start with the launch of the mobile app later this month, when pricing will be announced. The battery electric vehicle will have 250 to 300 miles per charge, depending on driving conditions, that will come from an approximately 80 kWh lithium-ion battery pack. To learn more, visit www.FiskerInc.com.
BMW and Ford providing charging networks:  The BMW Group will install over 4,100 charging points for electrified vehicles at its German locations by 2021. The new charging infrastructure enables BMW Group employees to charge their cars conveniently at their workplaces. About half of the charging points will also be open to the public. That follows a recent announcement from Ford that it will be offering its all-electric vehicle customers North America’s largest electric vehicle public charging network, with more than 12,000 places to charge, including fast charging, and more than 35,000 charge plugs. Ford said it will be more charging infrastructure provided than from any other automaker. Through FordPass on a mobile device or in each vehicle’s on-screen dashboard, customers will be able to monitor charging at home, and find and pay for easy, one-stop charging at FordPass Charging Network stations.

Volvo Trucks selling EVs in Europe:  Volvo Trucks announced the start of sales of its Volvo FL and Volvo FE electric trucks in selected markets within Europe, meeting the increasing demand for sustainable transport solutions in city environments. “Global urbanization requires urban logistics and truck transport with zero emissions and less noise with increasing urgency. With the Volvo FL Electric and Volvo FE Electric we are able to meet both the strong environmental demands as well as the high commercial requirements of our customers,” said Jonas Odermalm, VP Product Line Electromobility.

GM strike won’t be ending anytime soon, What to expect by 2030 part 2

The United Auto Workers’ strike shows no signs of ending anytime soon — putting more than 48,000 workers in the US off the job since Sept. 16 and costing General Motors more than $1 billion as of Monday; and supplier partners are loosing hundreds of thousands per day. Virtually all of its North American assembly lines are off-line as labor and management attempt to negotiate a settlement contract over wages, healthcare, and job security on the labor side and management’s vision of where it needs to go in the future. Last month, the UAW signed indefinite contract extensions with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Ford Motor Co. The GM contract has historically set the tone and some of the details for the next wave with the other two major domestic automakers.

Contract settlement details from a Monday night offer from GM began to emerge yesterday. Wage increases or a lump-sum payment offered over four years of the proposed contract have been added. The union had rejected the initial offer and submitted a counterproposal Tuesday over disagreements on health care, wages, temporary workers, skilled trades, job security and “concessionary” measures. Talks are expected to resume today.

Along with the strike, two more former UAW leaders have agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as the government builds a criminal case against some of the union’s leaders for embezzling more than $1 million funds for personal luxuries. Since it started, the corruption investigation has been marked by federal raids and criminal charges against 11 people linked to the UAW and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. So far, nine convictions have been secured over breaking labor laws, taking kickbacks, bribes, and embezzlement. The crisis continues to raise flags over the future of the UAW — and how it will affect the GM strike.

Gaining loyal union membership has been a tougher sell in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world. Membership has been declining since the 1970s, with corruption scandals and strikes adding to worker frustration and declining public support. None of the “transplant” foreign automakers operating in the US have unionized workers. Volkswagen workers at the Chattanooga, Tenn., plant rejected UAW membership in June. Tesla chief Elon Musk continues to fight off moves by the UAW and complaints filed under state labor laws. A California judge ruled Friday that Musk and other company executives have been illegally sabotaging employee efforts to form a union. While these are considered unfair labor practices, Tesla doesn’t face any real penalties.

The economic trends started in the 1970s are continuing — closing plants in the US and opening them up again in other countries with cheaper labor and other costs; bringing in robotics to take over more of the assembly plant jobs; adopting the latest technologies to meet consumer demands, government regulations, and to gain competitive brand images to increase sales and profits. As economists have said in recent years, globalization, technology innovation, and corporate profits, are the defining elements in the future of corporations. Workers have less voice and are being pushed into looking for alternative futures for themselves and their kids. It’s a tough change to make for those coming from multi-generational families and communities that had done very well with auto industry jobs.

Management careers have also been hard hit over the past 30 years as well — with layoffs and forced geographic moves overseas disrupting the lives of thousands of low-to-mid-level management employees. High-level executives have also seen their share of turmoil since the Great Recession, with several surprising cuts being made as major automakers merge with former competitors and startup new business units to meet the fast-changing world of mobility. Shareholders expect to see better profit margins and stock prices, no matter what.

What to expect by 2030 part 2: What generation is most likely to lead the mobility transformation?  General Motors CEO Mary Barra is confident her company will be taking a leading role in mobility services of the future. For those less interested in owning a car, or having to drive and park it everywhere, what about sharing an autonomous Chevy Bolt through your local Maven outlet? Just tap into your mobile app and have it show up in front of your workplace.

The big question becomes: Who will be the customer?

Millennials (about 23 to 38 years old in 2019) broke open barriers by waiting longer to buy their first car — and becoming rabid fans and riders with Uber, Lyft, Zipcar. There have been other on-demand mobility services in meal delivery, groceries, and other needed services for extremely busy people ready and willing to pay.

Some things are changing — with Millennials in the US buying property less than the two generations ahead — Generation X and Baby Boomers. They’re moving to cities and seeing rent, lease payments, and property values shoot up. They’d also lived through the Great Recession, and are carrying concerns over another bout of economic turbulence coming up.

But when it comes to buying cars, Millennials are becoming a lot like previous generations, though they are interested in trying out electrified models — battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid. And Millennials still make up the lion’s share of Uber and Lyft riders; though the next generation is taking its share of rides, too.

Generation Z — teenagers through age 23 — are still a bit young to determine what sort of economic impact they’ll be having on car sales and other markets. One thing they do have in common with Millennials is being challenging in the workplace. It’s very typical to talk to managers in their 40s through 60s and hear complaints about getting them to do their jobs as they’ve been asked to do — very different from their experience. Supervisors advise that you think a bit differently about where the “youngsters” are coming from. They do tend to be talented, hard-working employees, but it might take a bit longer — and employers are advised to help them find their own sense of purpose and meaning in their work.

A recent survey study by Allison+Partners suggests that changing definitions of transportation and an influx of new mobility solutions are paving the way for the birth of the “mobility culture.”

Gen Z has even less interest in getting their driver’s licenses than previous generations. They see cars as yet another appliance they’ll need to have access to someday that ranks up their with smartphones and gaming machines like Xbox. In the study, they said autonomous vehicles make a lot of sense, and 60 percent of them believe they’ll be using self-driving cars by 2030.

Owning their own prestigious car — whether that be a Tesla or a Lexus — doesn’t matter as much, or make as much sense. Coming of age as the recession finished up, and smartphones became the new norm, pragmatism is the benchmark. The Allison+Partners study concluded that Gen Z will be the first generation in large numbers to get rides from Waymo, Maven, Uber, Lyft, and the next iteration of offerings from Tesla, Volvo, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Honda, and other makers rolling out new options in connectivity, automation, electrification, and safety — along with mobility services of their own.

Mobility won’t be taking over by 2030, with new vehicle sales continuing to see growth in global markets — and concerns over safety and reliability will take several years to be alleviated, especially for autonomous vehicles. But the transformation appears to be occurring, with Gen Z taking the lead.

A few interesting news briefs:
Ford and Mahindra:  Ford is lessening its presence in India, taking a 49 percent share to Mahindra’s 51 percent through a new joint venture managed by Mahindra in the troubled auto market. The two companies will continue working on developing battery-powered cars, but Ford is needing to scale back in a key global auto market that’s been plunging in sales for nearly a year (and one that rival General Motors left in late 2017). The Indian government has been issuing incentives to grow electric vehicle sales, which have been down to only about 2,000 a year — nowhere near what New Dehli wants to see for emissions targets and reliance on oil imports.

Tesla in China:  Tesla’s Shanghai factory plant aims to start production this month but it is unclear when it will meet year-end production targets due to uncertainties around orders, labor, and suppliers. Tesla plans to produce at least 1,000 Model 3s a week from the new factory by the end of this year. The $2 billion factory gained government approval last month and is on schedule to start production in October, the sources said.

Amazon making biggest EV purchase ever:  Michigan-based startup Rivian Automotive will be building and delivering 100,000 electric vans to Amazon over the next decade. The first 10,000 will start hitting roads in 2021 and completing the delivery the next year, with all 100,000 EVs fully operational in Amazon’s fleet by 2030. It makes for the largest EV purchase ever. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos said 100,000-unit fleet will eliminate 4 million metric tons of carbon emissions when fully operational.

Electrify America chargers:  Volkswagen’s Electrify America announced yesterday that it will be offering Level 2 electric vehicle home chargers. Customers can now purchase the Electrify America Electric Vehicle Home Charger on Amazon for $499. The product is also accessible through electrifyamerica.com/charging-at-home. The company said its compatible with all electric vehicles available in the North American market today. It features a charging power of up to 7.6kW – about 6 times faster than the typical Level 1 charger provided to some new EV owners, depending on vehicle make and model.

 

 

Plug-in vehicle sales beating overall market, Tesla quarterly numbers exceed expectations

EV sales beat overall market:  Plug-in vehicles had a strong increase in the first half of the year, while U.S. and global total new vehicle sales stalled out. InsideEVs reports that 148,704 plug-in vehicles were sold in the U.S. during the first half of 2019, compared to 124,256 for first half of 2019. That makes for an increase of 19.67 percent over that same period last year of plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles. Through May, there were 840,814 in global plug-in vehicle sales, versus 591,796 for the first five months of 2018 — an increase of 42 percent over that same period last year.

As for overall new vehicle sales in the U.S., sales were down 2.4 percent halfway through 2019, and is expected to be at 16.9 million by the end of the year; that would be the first time total light-duty new vehicle sales would be below 17 million since 2014. Global new vehicle sales are expected tom come in at 78.7 million units, which is about the same level as 2017 and 2018. The global market had seen a leap in 2016 over the previous years. Sales are still considered to be strong this year; rising auto loans have hurt demand. However, some analysts believe that new vehicle sales will be declining in the U.S., and eventually other markets, as car ownership drops in importance and alternative forms of mobility become more popular.

The Tesla Model 3 continues to dominate U.S. market with 21,225 units sold in June versus No. 2 on the list, the Tesla Model X, which sold 2,725 units during that month. Battery electric vehicles are still dominating the U.S. market. For May 2019 sales, Electric Drive Transportation Association reported there were 21,248 BEVs sold, 7,138 plug-in hybrids, and 283 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Tesla performance up:  Tesla’s stock went up 7 percent Tuesday after reporting it produced 87,048 vehicles in the second quarter while delivering 95,200, strong performance that exceeded analyst forecasts. The company manufactured 17,650 Model S and X vehicles and 77,550 Model 3s. Among deliveries, 77,550 were Model 3s while the other 17,650 were Models S and X. Right before the quarterly report, CEO Elon Musk was on Twitter promoting Tesla Direct, a new service that offers some buyers of the Model 3, S and X the option to have their car dropped off at their home or office. It’s gaining a lot of interest and support, and some considering it an element of Tesla focusing on its strengths — quality EVs and a high level of customer service.

Cruise gains SoftBank investment:  Cruise Automation, a U.S. self-driving vehicle company majority-owned by General Motors Co. (and operating under the name GM Cruise), announced Friday that a U.S. national security panel approved a $2.25 billion investment in the firm by Japan’s SoftBank Corp. SoftBank has come under increasing U.S. scrutiny over its ties to Chinese firms in the face of an escalating trade and technology war between those two countries. It comes out of SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund investment pool.

VW’s Paris Accord strategy:  Volkswagen has released more information on its commitment made earlier this year to commit itself to the goals of the Paris Agreement. The commitment to carbon neutrality comes in three parts: reducing carbon dioxide emitted from vehicles and factories; adopting renewable energy sources, whether at the plant level for Volkswagen and its suppliers, or encouraging their use for Volkswagen owners; and using carbon offsets to tackle those remaining carbon emissions that can’t be further reduced. One key element of hitting its target by 2050 will be making its vehicles and production carbon neutral. That includes Volkswagen vehicles sold in the US and the factory in Chattanooga, powered by a planned Group-wide investment in EVs sold worldwide – more than $50 billion over the next four years, with approximately $10 billion from the VW brand alone.

Sharing MEB platform:  Ford and Volkswagen have reached an initial agreement to share electric and autonomous vehicle technologies, extending their alliance beyond working together on commercial vehicles, a source familiar with the matter said. VW will share its MEB electric vehicle platform with Ford, the source said. VW’s supervisory board is due to discuss deepening the alliance at a meeting on July 11, 2019, a second source told Reuters.

Toyota rolling out new EV lineup, Renault refreshes ZEO

Toyota EV lineup based on new platform:  Toyota is working hard at shedding its image as a major automaker lagging way behind on electric vehicles. The company has unveiled six new battery electric vehicle concepts it will roll out before 2025.
The new electric vehicles, with the working name of EV-e, will have long wheelbases, plenty of interior space, camera mirrors, and ventilated front corners with automated driving sensors. The company is showing off life-sized clay concepts to tell the story. They represent a lineup that Toyota designers have been working on since 2016, based on the Toyota New Global Architecture (e-TNGA) modular platform
It ties into a previously announced larger goal of bringing more than 10 EVs to the market by the early 2020s. One of these, the electric C-HR subcompact crossover, will come out next year and will be based on the existing nameplate; and there will be other electric versions of its lineup.
Toyota expects demand for EVs to go way beyond cars and sedans. The e-TNGA platform will potentially house EVs that could include a three-row SUV, a sports car, and a small crossover.

Fuel cell vehicles getting ready to take off in China:  The man credited with bringing electric vehicles to China is now focusing on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.
China’s science and technology minister, Wan Gang, a former Audi executive, will be continuing the country’s subsidy program for hydrogen-powered vehicles as EVs see incentives wane and phase out next year. He’ll be leading the Chinese government committing resources to developing fuel-cell vehicles.
“We should look into establishing a hydrogen society,” said Wan, who’s now a vice chairman of China’s national advisory body for policy making, a role that ranks higher than minister. “We need to move further toward fuel cells.”
Shares of some hydrogen-related companies rose after Wan’s interview was published on June 9. Wan has a lot of influence on the market, being credited with leading China into becoming the dominant EV market in the world with half of its sales.
Wan sees electric cars dominating inner-city traffic in the near future, while hydrogen-powered buses and trucks could become commonplace on highways for long-distance travel.
He understands that fuel-cell vehicles have quite a long way to go with only about 1,500 of them on Chinese roads, versus more than 2 million battery electric vehicles. He’s championed three selling points that will carry over to hydrogen-powered vehicles: boosting economic growth, tackling China’s dependence on oil imports, and its mounting levels of air pollution.
He dismisses the list of roadblocks that typically come up over fuel-cell vehicles going mass market.
“We will sort out the factors that have been hindering the development of fuel-cell vehicles,” Wan said.
It’s no secret that the 66-year-old began his return to China by studying and researching the fuel cell industry himself—he developed three FCVs under a series called Chao Yue (meaning “to surpass”) during his time from 2003 and 2005 (link in Chinese) as chief scientist for China’s 863 Program.
Toyota Motor Corp. will supply its fuel cell vehicle technology to major Chinese automaker Beijing Automotive Group Co. (BAIC) as it seeks to expand business in the world’s largest auto market. BAIC’s commercial vehicle division will manufacture buses powered by Toyota’s fuel cell system. The production of the buses may increase toward the 2022 Winter Olympics to be held in Beijing.

News Briefs:
New Zoe:  Renault’s deal with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles appears to be over for now, and life goes on. The French company just unveiled a refreshed version of this popular Zoe small electric car. The company says it will be getting 242 miles per charge based on the new WLTP conditions.WLTP was released nearly two years ago by a United Nations working group to resolve criticism of the previous NEDC standard. It’s goal is to provide uniform and more realistic test conditions worldwide. Extra power and range will come from a 52 kWh battery, and a powerful 100kW electric motor. It also has a restyled exterior and new colors.

Volvo working with NVIDIA:  The Volvo Group has signed an agreement with NVIDIA to jointly develop the decision making system of autonomous commercial vehicles and machines. The two companies want to bring autonomous trucking and freight hauling to highways built on NVIDIA’s full software stack for sensor processing, perception, map localization and path planning It could serve a wide client base in freight transport, refuse and recycling collection, public transport, construction, mining, forestry, and more. Separately, Volvo is tasing out what it’s named Vera, an electric, autonomous truck being tested moving goods from a logistics center to a port terminal in Gothenburg, Sweden. It’s part of a new collaboration between Volvo Trucks and the ferry and logistics company, DFDS.

EVs at Disneyland:  Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) will be bringing 40 BYD all-electric buses to its fleet serving Disneyland. Visitors to California’s most popular theme park can manage admission tickets, public and private transportation all in one app. ART’s new app RideART combines everything necessary for a seamless trip to Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

Volvo and Uber:  Volvo Cars and Uber are jointly developing production-level autonomous vehicles, the next step in their strategic collaboration that started in 2016. For now, the Volvo XC90 SUV that was just displayed is the first Volvo production car that in combination with Uber’s AV system is capable of fully driving itself. The XC90 base vehicle is equipped with key safety features that allow Uber to easily install its own self-driving system, enabling the possible future deployment of self-driving cars in Uber’s network for shared rides.

It ain’t over till it’s over:  CEO Elon Musk and his company have been hit hard in the past year on several fronts, but new vehicle sales is offsetting some of that damage. Edmunds.com estimated that Tesla’s May sales were up 71 percent from the same month last year, which is much higher than any other automaker selling any kind of vehicle in the U.S. market. It was the central theme at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting on Tuesday. Scrutiny has been pervasive recently about a poor quarterly earnings report and battery fires in Teslas. Some car shoppers aren’t happy with window sticker prices, but long-term, it’s not really an issue, the CEO said. “I want to be clear: there is not a demand problem,” Musk said at the beginning of his presentation. “Absolutely not.”

 

Waymo and FCA bringing autonomous vehicles over to the fleet side, Aging population growing fast and needing the best in mobility and transportation

Waymo and FCA want commercial AVs:  Commercial fleet vehicles may be the key launch pad for autonomous, electric, and shared vehicles of the future with two companies, Waymo and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, making moves in this direction. Autonomous vehicle leader Waymo is pushing for California to add autonomous delivery vehicles to its allowable vehicles for testing and adoption. The Teamsters union will be fighting it over job losses for truck drivers; but Waymo has been moving in this direction for awhile, starting with a passenger delivery service in Arizona in December. FCA will be partnering with Silicon Valley self-driving car startup Aurora to develop autonomous commercial vehicles. The partners will be using the Aurora Driver platform on Fiat Chrysler commercial vehicles for autonomous driving aimed at Fiat and Ram commercial customers. FCA has been working with Waymo on autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans that utilize Waymo’s hardware and software. Crosstown competitors Ford and General Motors are also working on autonomous vehicles that can move either people or goods.

Booming aging population:  If you’re looking at social trends that will shape the future of mobility and transportation, it ain’t all about Millennials and GenZers — it’s more about Baby Boomers and the GenXers following close behind. The United Nations predicts that the world’s population of over-64-year olds will double between 2018 and the mid-2040s. As of last year, that age demographic eclipsed the number of people under the age of five for the first time in recorded history. These numbers are based on the assumption that medication and healthcare will continue to improve. Demand will continue to grow in senior-citizen communities and assisted-living facilities, for caregivers and medical professionals, and those providing rides in buses, vans, and cars. Google (and later Waymo) build this into autonomous vehicle test rides years ago. Lyft is working with GoGoGrandparent to offer monitored rides for senior citizens. Start-up company Voyage is bringing self-driving shuttles to large senior-living communities in Florida and California. Amazon Fresh and competitors like Instacart are bringing groceries to the elderly (though that usually needs to be initiated by offspring). Those providing travel services and adventure experiences to customers who don’t have to go back to work are also expected to see much growth in the next few years.

News Briefs:
Climate mayors on EV procurement:  Cities devoted to fighting climate change will be making a major announcement next month, June 27, just prior to the launch of the US Conference of Mayors (USCM) Annual Meeting in Honolulu. The Climate Mayors Electric Vehicle (EV) Purchasing Collaborative will give details on its plans to “step up” its commitment to procuring public fleet electric vehicles. During the Climate Mayors Summit on June 27, this press briefing on moves being made in fleet electrification will be led by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero.

Roaming partnership forged:  Volkswagen’s Electrify America and ChargePoint have created a roaming partnership to further expand access to electric vehicle charging across the US. The interoperability agreement that will begin later this year will allow drivers to seamlessly charge their EVs on public chargers between both networks using their existing account credentials to start a session, without any additional fees. It also takes away the need to have to create new memberships, registrations, or payment configurations to charge at the other network.

FCA and Renault merger:  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Renault SA may still be looking for ways to resuscitate their collapsed merger plan and secure the approval of the French carmaker’s alliance partner Nissan Motor Co Ltd , according to sources close to the companies. The deal has officially been declared over, but one tactic being discussed is Nissan urging Renault to significantly reduce its 43.4% stake in the Japanese company in return for supporting a FCA-Renault merger. FCA and Renault are blaming the French government, Renault’s largest shareholder, for demanding more time to win Nissan’s backing. FCA is under much pressure to comply with regulations, such as increasingly stringing European Union rules, to honor emissions reductions mandates. Renault’s and Nissan’s electric vehicle offerings would be part of it. It would, in FCA’s words, have “a strong position in transforming technologies, including electrification and autonomous driving.”

Uber and Lyft go public, ACT Expo coming up

Feature: Mobility goes to stock market
Stock traders and institutional investors are carefully watching the Uber IPO and Lyft stock activity since its recent launch. While the two companies are credited with upending the ride-hailing industry, the big question will be: Should you buy the stock?

Uber’s initial public offering on Thursday reported that the company lost $1.8 billion last year, excluding certain transactions, on revenue of $11.3 billion. The prospectus also revealed that revenue growth has been slowing down.

Will Uber reach its hoped-for market valuation of $100 billion? Arch-competitor Lyft was valued at $24 billion last month as its IPO came together. Uber is much larger in transactions and revenue size, but it likely won’t reach that level of value. Silicon Valley neighbors Amazon, Apple, and Alphabet are hoping to hit $1 trillion sometimes soon, but that’s come after quite a few years of profitable growth and billions of customers; and having multiple lines of products and services, far beyond anything Uber and Lyft are likely to get into.

Tesla is valued around $46 billion now and General Motors is at about $56 billion. The love affair with Tesla has waned as stockholders want to see mass production Model 3s hit their scheduled target and profits increase during a time that the electric carmaker has seen several high-level management turnovers. Still, many shareholders continue to back Tesla as it prepares to launch the Model Y and autonomous functionality.

CEO Elon Musk may be in more hot water on the regulatory side with a Twitter comment made yesterday on the company producing 500,000 vehicles over the next year. Musk posted a similar tweet almost two months ago, where he said the company would build half a million units in 2019. That led the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to argue Musk was in contempt of a settlement they’d reached last year. In an earlier interview, Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (which has an astronomically high stock price of $314,250 per share today and a market cap at $515.25 billion), encouraged Musk to be more careful about what he writes on Twitter.

Lyft started last week at $74.45 per share, much better than its March 28 IPO price of $72. The week ended on a sour note by closing Friday at $59.90, its lowest price ever. That meant about $3 billion in dropped market capitalization to $17.1 billion.

There’s still a lot of talk about room-sharing giant Airbnb going public this year, along with Chinese ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing. Companies looking for global growth must have capital in high volume to pay for the technology, personnel, independent contractors, marketing, and systems development required to reach that level. Stock market trading can be a necessity when angel investors and venture capital firms can’t provide the cashflow needed to hit that profitable growth mark.

Launching an IPO, keeping stock value consistent, and providing detailed, honest financial reports are a tough call for these mobile app service providers. Uber and Lyft do benefit from strong brand identity and growing market reach. It’s rare to meet someone these days who’s never used their services; and customers do enjoy the cost, convenience, quickness, and avoiding the stress of traffic and finding parking.

Feature: Are electric scooters going to make it?
Renting a small electric scooter from startups Lime and Bird is becoming pervasive in cities across the country. For $1, and about 29 cents per minute, you can easily get from Point A to Point B and avoid the hassles of finding parking, waiting for the bus, paying for an Uber or Lyft ride, etc. But how viable are these and other scooter companies going to be in the next few years?

It’s a hard industry to make money in with the cost of charging, the lifetime of the battery, repair costs, the depreciation of the bikes, and the impact of vandalism and theft. Bird and Skip have spoken more publicly about the rough reality of thriving in the sector.

Ofo, a China-based bikesharing platform has entered bankruptcy, according to report. Ofo later denied reports of impending bankruptcy and maintained that the company is doing just fine. News came out in March that Meituan Dianping, which owns Ofo-rival Mobike, will scale back its operations following losses.

Then there’s the question of safety. Only three e-scooter deaths had yet been reported as of late January, which is likely to increase as ridership grows in leaps and bounds.

A recent study by UCLA published in medical journal JAMA Network Open found that only 4.4% of e-scooter accidents in the Los Angeles area included riders wearing helmets. With an estimated 65,000 e-scooters on American streets and concerns over their safety has led to talks of banning the bikes unless safety guidelines are implemented.

News Briefs:
ACT Expo is coming up next week (April 23-26), and the full speaker roster has been released for the ninth annual show taking place at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California. Along with it, over a dozen co-located events have been announced, held in partnership with leading industry organizations and member-based associations across the commercial transportation space. Fleet Owner and ACT Expo are partnering on one of them, offering a new workshop for operations and maintenance professionals. Called “Workforce Development: Meeting the Vehicle Maintenance Challenge,” the day-long workshop on Tuesday, April 23 brings together a strong team of maintenance, operations, technology and training experts to take on some of the toughest issues facing maintenance providers.

GM backing away from Rivian:  Talks between General Motors and electric truck startup Rivian Automotive about the automaker taking an equity stake may be dead, people familiar with the matter said. Amazon.com Inc. has been supporting the startup EV maker that led to a $700 million equity fund raised in February. Plymouth, Mass.-based Rivian plans to bring all-electric trucks and SUVs to market. GM will likely be continuing to develop its own electric pickup, which is still in the early phase of development.

Audi campaign:  “Electric has gone Audi,” according to new billboard ads. Audi’s new marketing campaign is attempting to debunk perceptions about electric vehicles that have kept them from breaking into high-volume sales, including fears about range, charging infrastructure, and performance. For now, Audi is telling the story about its new e-tron electric SUV, which is the first of three all-electric vehicles that the Volkswagen division will be launching over three years. The first TV spot, called “Not For You,” starts by showing a man in his bathrobe gazing at this neighbor’s e-tron. He’s transported into a number of scenarios attempting to debunk the myths about range anxiety and other misconceptions.

SoftBank might be the most significant company of all of them to watch for those interested in smart mobility. The Japanese multinational holding conglomerate owns the sixth-largest phone company in the world and many other divisions. Softbank is betting about $60 billion in more than 40 companies in ride-hailing, car-sharing, delivery robots, and self-driving vehicles, according to chief Masayoshi Son. More than $13 billion of it will be going into the publicly trading Uber Technologies Inc.

Tesla has rolled out a leasing program for its Model 3 electric sedan for the first time while also making it harder to buy the $35,000 base version of the vehicle. The company said on Thursday that it would begin leasing the Model 3 “for a small down payment and competitive monthly payments.” But it won’t end the way the usual lease does. “Please note, customers who choose leasing over owning will not have the option to purchase their car at the end of the lease, because with full autonomy coming in the future via an over-the-air software update, we plan to use those vehicles in the Tesla ride-hailing network,” Tesla said in a blog post.

Hyundai generates power from hydrogen:  Hyundai Motor Company signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Korean local energy firms Korea East-West Power (EWP) and Deokyang to generate electricity from hydrogen. The pilot project will deliver a 1 megawatt (MW) hydrogen fuel cell power facility, with Hyundai Motor building the fuel cell system, EWP managing the facility and sale of electricity, and Deokyang supplying the hydrogen. The system will be powered by multiple power models from Hyundai’s Next fuel cell vehicle. The facility can generate an annual supply of 8,000 MWh, enough electricity to power approximately 2,200 households at 300 kWh per month, while emitting zero greenhouse gases or pollution since it is fueled by hydrogen.

Adoption of autonomous vehicles may take longer than hoped for, Tesla trying to clean up SEC fight and poor quarterly report

Buying into self-driving vehicles:  What’s it going to take for autonomous vehicles to become typical on city streets? Perhaps longer than advocates of the advanced technology had hoped for. In a new study by Reuters/Ipsos, half the respondents believe that autonomous vehicles won’t be as safe as vehicles currently on roads. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. adults participating in the survey said they would not buy a fully autonomous vehicle, and the same amount balked at the prospect of paying significantly more for the added features. AVs will be staying in the test phase for a few more years. Companies such as General Motors, Tesla, Waymo, Alphabet, Uber, and Lyft, will continue testing the technology and trying out convenient mobility and shared ride experiences for users. Fleets will continue playing an important role in advancement of the technology through projects such as truck platooning, electric automated shuttle vans, and urban delivery showing positive signs of potential for adoption. Safe travel is a key issue, as Tesla and Uber have discovered in fatal incidents involving AV technology in recent years. But as marketers of electric vehicles know, building up mass adoption of a radical new technology takes millions of miles and a few years of positive driver experiences.

Electric automated trucks:  Speaking of adoption of the new technology, a new report by Wards Intelligence says it will take until the early 2020s for new electric and automated trucks to take root. Medium-duty truck fleets will lead the way in electrification, but “long haul will probably be the last to see electrification because they’ll probably need fuel cells to get the range they need, and those are still in development,” said Megatrends 2019 Trucking author, Jim Mele. Trucking fleets want to see longer range and faster fueling, so fuel cell trucks may have an edge here — with Nikola Motor and Toyota poised to take the lead.

Tesla and SEC dispute settlement and quarterly report:  Tesla is still trying to clean up problems that have been building in the past year. Tesla CEO Elon Musk was “very happy” about a federal district court judge telling the company and the Securities Exchange Commission to settle the SEC’s complaint out of court. The SEC asked the court to hold Musk in contempt for violating their previous settlement over a tweet they thought violated rules over what the publicly traded company can divulge or express opinions over. This time around, the SEC filed a complaint in court over a photo musk had posted on Twitter of the electric automaker’s manufacturing plant — that Musk said would be able to produce 500,000 vehicles in 2019; he recanted that tweet, going back to the original forecast of 400,000 units being what the company expects to deliver. Another tough one has been reporting to investors that sales saw a big drop in the first quarter of this year. About 63,000 Tesla vehicles were delivered in the first quarter — a 31% drop compared to the prior quarter and the the largest drop ever for the company. Some commentators have wondered if an April 19th event for Tesla investors on new autonomous vehicle improvements will be an attempt to deflection attention on the poor performance.

A year of chaos and change for automakers that won’t be ending anytime soon

According to a series of in-depth reports by NPR’s Marketplace, three factors are shaping the future of the economy: new technology, globalization, and corporate profit. While auto sales are coming close to a record high in the U.S. (which surprised market analysts), that may be a temporary blip. Foreign automakers have 19 assembly plants in the U.S., but General Motors is closing four American plants and Ford is going through a major reorganization. Even so, U.S. auto plants have the capacity to make three million more cars that they can sell. Analysts think that this year’s strong sales come from higher fleet sales, lower unemployment, and Tesla’s rapid production ramp up. Shareholders are putting a great deal of pressure on automakers to lead the way in new products, advanced vehicle technology, and strong profit margins. Automakers have been taking big steps to change over their product lineups (less cars, more trucks and SUVs) and prepare for launching mobility services and a higher volume of electric vehicles. Here’s a look at some of the major events that have been shaping market dynamics in the U.S. and global automotive landscape — and its impact on green vehicle sales and adoption of new technology and mobility………….

Trade war with China:  The Center for Automotive Research released a report warning that auto sales could plunge up to two million vehicles a year over the huge tariff increase launched by President Donald Trump. That could mean a loss of about 715,000 American jobs and a $62 billion hit on U.S. GDP. In September, Ford CEO James Hackett said at a Bloomberg conference in New York that steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration had cost the company about $1 billion. On Nov. 27, Trump publicly chastised GM CEO Mary Barra over her decision to close four plants in the US because of sagging demand for sedans (that includes ending production of the Chevrolet Volt). That came from his emphasis on keeping U.S. manufacturing alive and well, and keeping Americans working in the plants. The reality is that GM and other automakers have been investing heavily in global production and sales while staying as profitable as possible. The trade war with China hurts those strategies as China remains the largest auto market by far, including EV sales. On the bright side, a move three days ago by China to ease auto import tariffs are helping prices go down on imported models such as the Tesla Model 3.

Nissan loses its chief:  Nissan Motor Co.’s former chairman Carlos Ghosn was arrested again by Japanese prosecutors under allegations of financial misconduct — adding 10 more days to his month-long stay in jail. The original arrest and Dec. 10 indictment came from allegations of Ghosn understating his income from Nissan by 4.8 billion yen ($43 million) over five years through March 2015; he was then re-arrested at that time for understating earnings through March 2018. Ghosn had been credited for leading the Nissan Renault alliance and championing the all-electric Nissan Leaf and its first-ever leadership in EV sales. The next generation Leaf is expected to be revealed next month at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with a battery pack at around 60-kilowatt hours. The company will also be revealing its vision for an all-electric Infiniti crossover at the Detroit Auto Show. For now, the Nissan e-NV200 electric van is making its way to fleets, with its 40kWh battery that can go between 124-187 fully charged, depending on the payload being carried.

Musk forges through Tesla’s toughest year:  Tesla CEO Elon Musk exercised his typical blunt and brutal style during a recent interview on “60 Minutes” — clarifying his jabs at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. “I want to be clear: I do not respect the SEC,” he said to interviewer Lesley Stahl. Musk made a stock fraud settlement with the SEC in October that took away his chairman title (telecommunications exec Robyn Denholm was made Tesla chairwoman on Nov. 8). The SEC playing babysitter is “not realistic” because “I’m the largest shareholder in the company and I could call for a shareholder vote and get anything done that I want,” Musk said. The Tesla CEO had made a Twitter post about taking the company private to address financial turmoil coming from the cost of ramping up production of the Model 3. While the company’s stock and the chief’s reputation have gone up and down during 2018, its EV sales haven’t. The Model 3 had U.S. sales of 18,650 in November, a ten-fold increase over January’s sales of 1,875 units. It’s now listed in U.S. Top 10 sales for its sedan class. The Model S and Model X have also done well this year, competing with the Chevy Bolt and Volt in the top 5. The company has been invited by Ohio Governor John Kasich to consider buying a GM factory in the state the company will be shutting down next years. Musk is considering doing it to have the needed capacity to build its cars — and not have to use a tent to meet demand, as was the case this year at its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant.

A strong year for natural gas:  Natural gas is taking off as a transportation fuel and as an energy source for power stations, with liquefied natural gas (LNG) playing a big role in it. Trump would like to see the U.S. be a major exporter of LNG, and competes with several other countries to take the lead. Renewable natural gas (RNG) is having a very good year as well and more compressed natural gas (CNG) stations have been built and opened this year. In its annual sustainability report, Waste Management said that growing its CNG truck fleet played a big role in reducing corporate emissions. Waste Management is playing a big role in making gains in recycling, renewable energy generation and carbon sequestration; it’s also part of the company producing its own RNG from waste materials.

SoftBank believes in mobility:  SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that started out as a PC software company and now owns Sprint and a large Japanese mobile phone carrier, is making investments from its $100 billion tech investment pool, Vision Fund. Companies receiving financial backing from Vision Fund include Uber, WeWork, food delivery startup DoorDash, ParkJockey, Cambridge Mobile Telematics, and robot-pizza maker Zume. SoftBank’s focuses on autonomous driving, ride-hailing, on-demand delivery, and real estate.

Here’s a quick look at other significant events of the year:

  • Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo division launched the first-ever commercial autonomous vehicle ride service in early December. That’s taking place in the Phoenix area with plans to spread out.
  • Propane autogas had a strong year with school bus fleets embracing the clean fuel and bringing in more propane-powered buses and fueling stations. The west coast and northeast have been particularly strong markets. Overall, more than 13,000 propane-powered vehicles were sold in 2017 with this year looking good.
  • At the LA Auto Show, a few competitors displayed concept cars that they hoped would light up affluent buyers who had been leaning toward Tesla. They included Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, and start-ups Rivian and Byton. Jaguar just put its I-Pace electric SUV on sale, and German automakers started ramping up production of Tesla-competitive models for distribution to dealerships starting next year.
  • The bitcoin cryptocurrency, a form of electronic cash that became extremely important last year, has seen its price go from $16,960 in January to $4,078 on Dec. 20. Like EVs, and autonomous vehicles, it will take a few years for it to reach mass adoption.
  • Tesla and GM are facing the end of federal tax credit incentives, and it looks like continuation won’t be supported in Washington. State rebates will become more important, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom is likely to support clean vehicle incentives when he takes office next month. Volkswagen’s Electrify America program is continuing to add EV chargers throughout the state, with the company announcing its second wave of projects in October.

Waymo ready to launch first commercial AV service, Get ready for AutoMobility LA

The age of robotaxis is ready to launch:  Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo division is preparing to launch the first-ever commercial autonomous vehicle service in early December, according to a source familiar with the plans. It will be run under its own brand and compete directly with mobility companies like Uber and Lyft. It won’t be a splashy opening, but the start of a trial run in suburbs around Phoenix. That’s where Waymo’s Early Rider Program has been tested with a group of 400 volunteer families who’ve been taking autonomous rides with the company for more than a year. This news coincided with a comments made by Waymo’s chief John Krafcik speaking at Wall Street Journal’s TechD D.Live conference on Tuesday. Krafcik said the service will start with a small group of riders in the Phoenix area but will be expanding in the coming months. Passengers can pay for rides and corporate customers such as Walmart Inc. are planning on having their customers shuttled to the chain’s stores in these vehicles. Earlier this year, Waymo announced plans to buy thousands of vehicles from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Tata Motors’ Jaguar Land Rover to expand its self-self-driving vehicle fleet.

VW ramping up to mass produce EVs:  Volkswagen said it will convert three German factories to build electric vehicles — to meet expected demand and complete its commitment to zero emission vehicles made after the diesel-emissions scandal broke three years ago. The VW plant in Emden, which currently builds the VW Passat, would build electric cars from 2022 onwards, and its factory in Hannover would also start producing EVs the same year. Together with the company’s current Zwickau plant, it will make for Europe’s largest network for the production of EVs in Europe, the company said. This week, the German automaker also announced it will be spending 44 billion euros ($50.2 billion) on EVs, digitalization, autonomous driving and new mobility services by 2023. That will make for a plan 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion) more compared to last year’s planning round by VW.

Tesla buying trucking companies, facing more investor suits:  Tesla chief Elon Musk tweeted Thursday that the company has acquired a few trucking firms to meet its delivery targets. The real challenge for Tesla this year has been building and delivering enough Model 3 compact electric cars to come close to meeting its earlier commitments to do so. It will shave off at least a month of time that it takes by using rail to get its electric cars to the East Coast. “We bought some trucking companies & secured contracts with major haulers to avoid trucking shortage mistake of last quarter,” Musk wrote without revealing details on the acquired companies.

Along with getting through hellish production schedules, the company has had to face a mounting crisis over Musk’s infamous August tweet on taking Tesla private. It will be likely be leading to two or three separate groups of securities fraud lawsuits, according to lawyers for shareholders. It would run the gamut of shareholders and their claimed losses, from traditional longtime institutional investors to others shorting the stock or holding options. The case presents “so many different types of investors and investments, long and short,” U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said at a hearing Thursday in San Francisco. “That may have some effect on how I measure who has the greatest financial interest.”

Get ready for AutoMobility LA and LA Auto Show:  AutoMobility LA will be taking place Nov. 26-29, 2018, in Los Angeles, featuring speakers and workshops on the latest in autonomy, connectivity, electrification, the sharing economy, and more. It’s the prelude to the 2018 LA Auto Show, which runs from Nov. 30-Dec. 9 at the LA Convention Center. More than 60 debut vehicles are scheduled for this year’s AutoMobility LA, with nearly half making their world premiere. Jeep will be rolling out a pickup, and Kia is expected to have multiple vehicles make their world debut, including one of the brand’s best-selling cars. Audi has confirmed that the e-tron GT concept 4-door electric performance coupe will make its global premiere at AutoMobility LA.

Keynote speakers during AutoMobility LA include Giovanni Palazzo, CEO of Volkswagen’s Electrify America, talking about “Racing to Create an Open, Fast-Charging Network Ready for a Tidal Wave of EVs.” Ted Klaus, VP and executive engineer of Honda R&D Americas, will discuss “Safe Swarm: Preparing Highways for the Autonomous Future.” Ned Curic, VP of Amazon Alexa Automotive, will speak on “Now We’re Taking: Amazon Alexa.”

Other speakers include: Luke Schneider, CEO of Silvercar, Audi’s app-based car rental service; Megan Stooke, CMO of General Motor’s Maven car-sharing service; and Jenny Ha, senior exterior designer at Lucid Motors.