Feds working with CARB on clean vehicle rules, Ford and Postmates testing self-driving deliveries

Working out fuel economy and emissions rules:  Federal officials met last month with California Air Resources Board members to work out differences in fuel economy and emissions standards. On Dec. 15, William Wehrum, head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deputy chief Heidi King, and Mike Catanzaro, a senior White House aide, discussed goals with CARB officials on maintaining one set of national requirements for automakers in the cars they sell, according to Automotive News. Automakers have been asking the Trump administration to be lenient on fuel economy standards based on the realities of new vehicles being sold with gasoline prices staying low and consumers being more interested in trucks and SUVs. California has taken a more independent, stringent tactic on its zero emissions rules. “We’ve had productive conversations under way with CARB and I would hope those conversations continue to be productive,” Wehrum said. “I think a shared goal is to maintain one national program.”

AeroVironment’s TurboDX chargers:  AeroVironment introduced TurboDX, the company’s next-generation EV charging station for commercial, workplace, utility and residential customers around the world, during CES 2018 in Las Vegas. TurboDX includes 120 and 240 volt charging in a durable, reliable, fast, and safe solution adaptable to a wide range of users’ needs. It’s been certified by Underwriters Laboratory to North American UL Standards for safety and reliability. European variants are certified to IEC standards and bear the CE Mark. Chinese configurations have met CQC certification. An OEM-branded version of the TurboDX has begun manufacturing in China and will ship to customers starting this month.

Hydrogen stations in Japan:  A consortium of 11 companies have signed an agreement to scale up deployment of hydrogen stations and fuel cell vehicles in Japan. A new company will be started up in the spring of 2018 to develop refueling stations. The list includes Toyota, Nissan, Honda, financial institutions, and oil and energy companies including Air Liquide Japan. One of the targets will be to have 160 stations in place fueling 40,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

Ford testing self-driving deliveries with Postmates:  During CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Ford Motor Co. announced a test project being conducted with the Postmates delivery service. City dwellers and workers can tap into the convenience of having deliveries made through a quick and easy process on their mobile device. It will support future efforts to deliver meals and store purchases to consumers though self-driving vehicles. Both the merchants and the consumers’ experiences will be explored during the test project.

In late August, Ford began placing a self-driving test car through a trial project with Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s Pizza employees carried out pizzas for delivery in a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle in an Ann Arbor, Mich., test project. Users were able to track the delivery through Domino’s Tracker mobile app.

Ford safety engineers and a few other researchers went on these delivery rounds to make sure it was being carried out safely and accurately. Consumer opinions about the Domino’s ordering and delivery experience were also tapped into.

Postmates is distinct in the market for delivering just about anything – fast food, restaurant meals, groceries, and hardware store items. Much larger companies, such as Amazon, and exploring deliveries and forging their own alliances in all these areas.

Last year, Uber created an alliance with McDonald’s to bring Happy Meals and other menu offerings to those who order it. Automakers see huge potential in forging alliances with technology companies and mobility services like Lyft. Consumers and employers are showing high demand for specialized mobility services that remain fast, efficient, and affordable. It’s much better than being stuck in traffic and looking endlessly for a place to park.

Tesla resets target dates for Model 3 production, VW partnership for smart mobility services

Newsworthy stories:  Tesla Inc. is slowly ramping up to meet its original production target for the Model 3, moving the 5,000 unit target into the second quarter. In its quarterly statement this week, the company announced that it delivered 1,550 Model 3 small sedans in Q4 2017, up from 220 the previous quarter. Tesla expects to reach a 2,500 unit weekly rate by the end of the first quarter, and the 5,000 per week milestone by the end of the second quarter. It was a good quarter and year for the electric automaker, with 101,312 of the Model S and Model X vehicles delivered in 2017 – a 33% increase over 2016. It was the best quarter ever for Tesla, with 15,200 Model S and 13,120 Model X vehicles delivered, representing a 27% increase over Q4 2016. As for the new Model 3, the company will “continue to focus on quality and efficiency rather than simply pushing for the highest possible volume in the shortest period of time.”…………. Westport Fuel Systems Inc. has entered into a development and supply agreement with Tata Motors for their 4 cylinder and 6 cylinder natural gas spark-ignited commercial vehicle engines to meet the Indian government’s new Bharat Stage VI emission standards, scheduled to take effect in April of 2020. Westport Fuel Systems has been working with Indian automaker Tata Motors since 2012, most recently working together on developing their next generation of natural gas spark-ignited engines to meet the BS-VI emission standards. Upon completion of the program, Westport will be supplying the critical natural gas components to Tata Motors, including advanced gas injection systems and controls…………..  CALSTART’s Clean Transportation Summit – California: 2030 will be taking place March 26-27 at the Sacramento Convention Center. This summit succeeds the Clean, Low Carbon Fuels Summit, which ran annually for the past five years with the purpose of building political support for the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). The first day of this year’s summit kicks off with concurrent sessions focused on electrification, Low NOx Natural Gas Vehicles market development, voucher incentives, and opportunities and issues for autonomous, electric and connected vehicles. The day concludes with a reception followed by a full day of General Session programming. Early bird discount registration will end on January 25. Learn more about the event here……………  U.S. car owners now lease almost 80% of battery electric vehicles and 55 percent of plug-in hybrids, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The lease rate for the country’s entire new vehicle purchases has been around 30% recently. However, Tesla does not reveal how many of its vehicles are leased. Consumers seem to be turning to leasing for the payment savings and because used vehicle values for electric vehicles have been weak in the marketplace. Consumers concerned about used vehicle values also tend to expect that the next generation of EVs with new technology and longer range will have stronger value on the used car market……………. California would ban the sale of new vehicles powered by fossil fuels in 2040 under legislation introduced Wednesday in the state Legislature. If passed, it would be a significant part of the state’s drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. The law would require that all new vehicles sold after Jan. 1, 2040, would be zero emission vehicles such as battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. “We’re at an inflection point: we’ve got to address the harmful emissions that cause climate change,” said Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting, the bill’s author.

VW adding to its automated mobility presence:  The Volkswagen Group and self-driving technology company, Aurora Innovation, announced a strategic collaboration ahead of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Aurora Innovation also signed a deal with Hyundai this week, similar to its alliance with VW, to bring its self-driving software into commercial use. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., and Pittsburgh, Penn., Aurora designs and builds self-driving technology, partnering with automakers to integrate, pilot and deploy advanced self-driving platforms into vehicles. Founded by CEO Chris Urmson, Chief Product Officer Sterling Anderson and Chief Technical Officer Drew Bagnell, Aurora is working to solve today’s most complex AI, automation and engineering challenges to improve transportation and positively impact cities. Urmson had played a leading role at Google’s self-driving car unit, before it became Waymo.

The collaboration between VW and Aurora aims to bring self-driving electric vehicles in cities as Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) fleets. The collaboration will bring together a world-class engineering team to the ongoing development of software and hardware for driverless vehicles, and for mobility services for urban and rural areas. Cities can use the smart mobility solutions to help solve their traffic, pollution, and traffic safety challenges.

Automakers have been making serious investments in mobility and autonomous technology companies in the past two years. Ford acquired on-demand shuttle service Chariot in 2016 and then bought a majority stake in self-driving startup Argo.AI for $1 billion. Daimler now owns Hailo, MyTaxi, Taxibeat, and Ridescout. General Motors owns Cruise Automation and has a stake in Lyft.

Volkswagen’s MOIA division is preparing to bring mobility services to cities around the world. In early December, MOIA unveiled an all-electric car at the TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin event. It’s been designed to provide usable space for up to six passengers. It will make its official debut in service on roads beginning in Hamburg in 2018, where the company expects to put about 200 cars on the road at first. It’s based on ridesharing for users who seek to pool their vehicle use.

For Today: Tesla semi-tractor is being delayed yet again, Waymo promoting the safety of self-driving cars

Another delay on Tesla truck:  The Tesla semi-tractor heavy-duty truck is being delayed yet again, this time until mid-November. Resources will go instead to fix production bottlenecks for the Model 3. Another priority, in which Musk tweeted about, is diverting resources to help bring Puerto Rico back through battery production to help the island recover from hurricane devastation. Residents have been going without electricity. Tesla was below its production target to build more than 1,500 Model 3 units in the third quarter. The company had just delivered around 220 Model 3 sedans and produced 260 during the quarter. Earlier this week Tesla reported that “production bottlenecks” had left it behind the planned ramp-up for the Model 3.

Charging study:  The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has published a study on the state of charging stations in the U.S. The study looked into best practices for avoiding wasting funds on charging equipment that could be the wrong type or located in the wrong places. There are quite a few variables to consider including the ratio of plug-in hybrid to battery electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids have smaller battery packs than all-electrics; they charge faster and become depleted more quickly. Drivers do have the advantage of running out of battery power and getting there powered by a gasoline engine.

Waymo public education drive:  Waymo is teaming up with non-profit groups to talk Americans into believing in the safety of self-driving cars. Google’s self-driving car company is teaming up with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, and the Federation for Blind Children in a campaign called “Let’s Talk Self-Driving.” Waymo also emphasizes that autonomous vehicles can eliminate most alcohol-related fatal crashes, and would offer the blind a transportation option. The company said the public awareness ad campaign will begin in Arizona on Monday. That’s where Waymo has been doing a lot of its self-driving car testing. The ad campaign will be delivered through digital ads, outdoor billboards, fuel pump advertising, and radio spots.

 

For Today: BMW up in plug-in sales, Sustainable fleet series at AltCar Expo

BMW up in plug-in sales:  BMW and Mini sold 8,138 electric vehicles in July, up 52.7% year-over-year. Models come under the BMW i and BMW iPerformance brands, along with the new plug-in hybrid Mini. Plug-in vehicles made up 4.5% of marketshare for all of the company’s vehicle sold last month. For the year, the automaker has delivered 50,711 plug-in vehicles, up a huge gain of 74.8% for the year.

Governments competing for autonomous vehicle mantle:  The push for autonomous technology is pitting cities and states against each other in a race to be the first to lead the way. The payoff is expected to come from economic gains and bragging rights in technology innovation; not to mention other gains expected from self-driving vehicles. Nevada and Michigan are implementing several test projects, and California continues to play a leading role. Strategy Analytics, a research firm, predicts that the “passenger economy,” a segment emerging based on autonomous vehicles will grow from $800 billion to $7 trillion by 2050.

Sustainable Fleet Series:  Early bird registration of $18 will end August 18th for fleet managers, sustainability directors, business owners, legislators, and others attending AltCar Expo & Conference. This will take place Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at the Santa Monica Civic’s East Wing. Use the registration code AC17EB for the 67% discount. The Sustainable Fleet Series is a brand new seminar offered by NAFA,  with writing a Sustainable Fleet Plan being one of the topics discussed. This introductory session will be available to those attending AltCar 2017, the 12th annual conference sponsored by the city of Santa Monica.

 

 

 

For Today: Mazda goes sustainable, car2go increasing ridership

Mazda sustainability drive:  Mazda just released details on Sustainable Zoom-Zoom 2030 that includes the first ever commercialized gasoline engine with a compression ignition. That will bring 20% to 30% more fuel efficiency than current models on the market with Mazda’s Skyactiv technology. The corporate sustainability campaign will shoot for 2019 to roll out the new Skyactiv-X and its first electric vehicle. That could be coordinated with its Toyota alliance for jointly developing EVs. Sustainable Zoom-Zoom is structured around reducing corporate carbon dioxide emissions, well-to-wheel, 50% by 2030 and 90% by 2050.

Uber battle continues:  Former Uber chief Travis Kalanick won’t be returning to his previous job leading the ride-hailing company, co-founder Garret Camp said. The company is committed to bringing in a new “world-class CEO to lead Uber,” he said in an email to challenge a news report published in Recode. Kalanick stepped down in late June, seven years after starting the global giant with a group of Silicon Valley buddies. The pressure was intensifying following a series of revelations of questionable business practices, including being a bad place for women to work. Kalanick told Recode that he is “Steve Jobs-ing it,” which means he thinks Uber will have to bring him back to lead the company to victory, as Apple had done with Jobs. Several Uber board members disagree with Kalanick.

car2go seeing growth:  Daimler’s car sharing unit, car2go, reported that its usage increased 40% year-over-year in the first half of 2017 compared to a year prior. That’s taking place at 11 North American locations with 4.5 million trips taken so far this year. Members are spending 33% more time traveling this year than last. The company is in discussions with other cities about car2go opening shop there, with the company emphasizing the environmental and economic benefits of using its one-way carsharing model.

For Today: Will Apple build its own autonomous electric cars? GM builds first self-driving Bolts

Apple Project Titan:  During an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is making autonomous vehicle technology a top priority. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Apple will one day take its secret Project Titan electric autonomous car to its own factories. Cook wouldn’t speak to that topic, but did admit that autonomous vehicles is one of three technologies directing artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley – up there with electric vehicles and ride-hailing services. “We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” Cook said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

Proterra funding:  Electric busmaker Proterra just closed another funding round with $55 million coming through BMW i Ventures and Al Gore’s sustainability focused investment firm Generation Investment Management LLP. “More than ever before, cities are looking for sustainable transportation solutions that can reduce pollution efficiently and effectively. Proterra is incredibly well positioned to help accelerate the growth of sustainable cities and continue our transition to a clean energy economy,” said Gore, the former vice president and climate change activist who serves as chairman at Generation Investment Management.

Autonomous Bolts:  General Motors just announced that it has finished building 130 autonomous Chevy Bolt test vehicles at its plant in Lake Orion, Mich. That means the company is now capable of mass producing autonomous Bolts and other self-driving models. CEO Mary Barra has said GM is the only automaker capable of building high-volume autonomous vehicles in its assembly plant. GM will also working with ride-hailing firm Lyft on testing these vehicles with Lyft drivers.

For Today: Lots more Tesla factories coming, 2 million EVs worldwide

Several more Tesla factories: Tesla has some very big plans in store, according to CEO Elon Musk during yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting. The company may need to build at least three and possibly as many as 10 or 20 new factories to keep up with expected demand. That will include the current models, the upcoming Model 3, and the Model Y crossover, which Musk says is the next new vehicle in development for a 2019 launch. It will be the company’s most popular vehicle ever, he said, so a lot more new factories will be needed; and to support more Gigafactory battery production. Other hot topics included whether to change board member seats to annual instead of staggered three year (which failed), and safety concerns for Fremont, Calif., plant workers (Tesla is dealing with it, Musk said).

Latest in automated tech: Bosch and TomTom have brought a first-ever to automated driving – high-resolution maps. Video data is being used from radar signals with billions of individual reflection points. Automated vehicles can use the map to determine their exact location in a lane down to a few centimeters, Bosch said. It will enable these vehicles to reliably determine their location at all times. Reflection points are formed everywhere that radar signals hit – for example, on crash barriers or road signs – and reproduce the course a road takes. It speaks to safety during a time when industry leaders like Bill Ford are asking questions about how autonomous vehicle technology will really work; and how it will respond to emergencies and unexpected occurrences that happen while driving.

2 million EVs: There were about two million plug-in electrified passenger vehicles on roads around the world by the end of 2016, according to an International Energy Agency report. That number was next to zero just five years earlier; however it’s still just 0.2% of light-duty vehicles, according to the report. Last year saw a surge in sales – 60% more than in 2015, with much of that taking place in China. “China was by far the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40% of the electric cars sold in the world and more than double the amount sold in the United States,” the IEA wrote in the report. “It is undeniable that the current electric car market uptake is largely influenced by the policy environment.”

For Today: Ford changes over chief executive as profit pressure mounts, California sees leap in electric car sales

Ford changes over CEO:  Ford’s Mark Field is stepping down as chief executive as profit pressures increase from shareholders. He’ll be replaced by Jim Hackett, who’s known for his efforts transforming the world’s largest office furniture manufacturer, Steelcase, and hiring popular University of Michigan head football coach Jim Harbaugh while serving as athletic director. He most recently served as chairman of Ford Smart Mobility, a new division created last year to oversee Ford’s ventures in autonomous vehicles and mobility services. Ford Motor Co.’s share price has dropped 39% since Fields took over the CEO job from Alan Mulally in 2014, and the company’s U.S. auto sales are down 5.1% year-to-date. Fields has been pouring billions into self-driving car projects and ride-sharing units. While the company hasn’t introduced any new plug-in vehicles in its lineup lately, Fields did have big plans for increasing Ford’s electrified vehicle presence in China and adding slowly to Ford’s electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicles, including the all-new hybrid police car. Several other management changeovers were announced by the company, including moving Jim Farley up to executive vice president and president, Global Markets. Fields had been seeing increasing pressure from shareholders lately, which was heightened earlier this month during the annual directors and shareholder’s meeting. Officially, the company said Fields has chosen to retire after 28 years with the company. Hackett, the new CEO, is being placed in a similar role to ex-Boeing executive Alan Mulally, an outsider brought in to stabilize the company in 2006. Executive Chairman Bill Ford compared Hackett to Alan Mulally during today’s announcement. “Alan captured the hearts and minds of our employees and made them feel not only could we win but that we would win,” Ford told reporters. “I think that’s something that you’ll see very much with Jim. Jim is a cultural change agent.”

PEV sales in California way up:  California saw a 91% increase of plug-in electrified vehicles during the first quarter compared to that same time period in 2016. All-electric vehicles led the way at 13,804 units sold, with the Chevy Bolt doing especially well at 2,735 vehicles sold during the first quarter. Tesla models and the Nissan Leaf also did well. Plug-in hybrids performed well, making up 10,466 units sold, a 54% increase over last year. Conventional hybrids like the Prius were down almost 10% during the quarter at 22,328 sold. The Toyota Prius Prime did well in the plug-in hybrid category. PEV sales made up 2.7% of new vehicles sales in California during the first quarter.

BMW wants leadership in electric:  BMW CEO Harald Krueger said the German automaker is focusing more on electric vehicles and connectivity than on increasing vehicles sales. Last year, the company reached its highest sales level at 2.37 million units sold from the BMW, Mini, and Rolls-Royce brands. It reached sales of 62,000 plug-in hybrids and 25,000 all-electric i3s last year. The goal is to hit the 100,000 units sold mark this year with electrified vehicles. While the company is committed to selling more battery-powered cars, Krueger sad that fuel cell vehicles will be important in the company’s future plans, as well.

This Week’s Top 10: Electrified highlights from Detroit auto show, Green car sales in December

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. volkswagen-i-d-buzzDetroit auto show: The North American International Auto Show has not been dominated by certain vehicle types, such as pickups and SUVs might have done in the past. Plug-in electrified vehicles have played their part, along with futuristic concept vehicles and mobility services. Back-to-back with the influential CES 2017 show in Las Vegas, the two car shows have had a few things in common. Volkswagen’s I.D. Buzz has taken a lot of attention. The electric microbus of the future is built on the MEB platform and may be able to travel 270 miles once fully charged. It offers maximum space utilization with all-wheel drive, electric motors at the front and rear axles, a fully autonomous driving mode (“I.D. Pilot”), and a new generation of display elements and controls…. The all-new Chevy Bolt electric car continues to win big awards, taking the North American Car of the Year award. The Chrysler Pacifica minivan was named North American Utility of the Year, the first time the award has been given out, and it also comes in a plug-in hybrid variation….. BMW showed its new 530 iPerformance plug-in hybrid. At 248 hp, it will go to 60 mph in about 5.9 seconds. It will also deliver up to 14 miles in all-electric mode, earning an EPA-rated 64 MPGe. The rear-wheel drive version will start at $51,400 while the all-wheel drive xDrive version will begin at $53,700…… Ford presented its vision for the “City of Tomorrow.” It looks at how near-term mobility advancements – including autonomous and electric vehicles, ride-sharing, ride-hailing, and connected vehicles – interact with urban infrastructure and create a transportation ecosystem to deal with challenges such as gridlock and air pollution. Ford’s City Solutions team has been working with cities around the world to propose, pilot, and develop mobility solutions. The team also is beginning to collaborate with Bloomberg Philanthropies and its global coalition of mayors…… Toyota rolled out a redesigned 2018 Camry with more interior space, advancements in its drive system, and a hybrid version that gets Prius-like fuel economy……… Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced that the former Google self-driving car division has been able to drop the cost of its Lidar sensors from about $75,000 per vehicle to about $7,500, which will help lower the cost of autonomous vehicle technologies for interested automaker partners. These new Lidar systems will be installed soon in 100 self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans that Waymo acquired from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles…… Audi unveiled the all-new Q8 SUV plug-in hybrid that will be out in production next year. It will be Audi’s second plug-in hybrid to enter the U.S. market, following the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron station wagon.
  2. Green car sales: The Tesla Model S took back the No .1 spot in plug-in vehicle sales during December, bumping out the Chevy Volt, according to sales figures from HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. Chevrolet did have a good month with the brand-new Chevy Bolt coming in at No. 10 with 579 units sold, far more than a few other electric cars had seen at their birth in the marketplace. The Volt came in at 3,691 units sold (following the Model S at 5,300 in estimated sales). The Volt beat its previous all-time of high 3,351 sold. The Toyota Prius Prime did pretty well, closing the month at 1,641 units sold. Plug-in sales were up 64.8% over the previous month and up 73.9% over December 2015. Hybrid sales were up 21.2% over November and up 6.5% over December 2015.
  3. Faraday Future at CES: While the future of Faraday Future has been called in question with key executives leaving and as lawsuits have been filed by unpaid suppliers, CES 2017 turned out to be about as good for the startup as it was the year before. Revealing its FF91 electric SUV has gone well so far, with the company announcing that 64,124 reservations were placed within 36 hours of its launch at the show. The company didn’t clarify how many in this group made their $5,000 down payment. Faraday Future says that it’s a production car and deliveries will begin in 2018. Will the company be able to get through its tough times and have its North Las Vegas consistently running at full speed?
  4. ChargePoint Express Plus: ChargePoint has launched ChargePoint Express Plus, a fast DC charging solution that is ready for the electric cars, buses, and trucks. Express Plus can charge today’s newest electric vehicles, such as the Chevy Bolt, at their maximum rate; is equipped to charge upcoming EVs such as the Tesla Model 3 and is ready to deliver maximum charging speed to EVs coming to market in the years to come. A modular platform designed for businesses and charging centers along major roadways or transit depots, Express Plus can deliver up to 400 kilowatts (kW) to an EV, the company said in its release.
  5. Gigafactory starts up: Tesla Motor’s Gigafactory in the Reno, Nevada, area has started rolling its first battery cells off production lines to power the company’s energy storage products and, before long, the Model 3 electric car. More than 2,900 people are already working at the facility, and more than 4,000 additional jobs (including temporary construction jobs) will be added during 2017 through the partnership between Tesla and Panasonic Corp. Tesla also plans to begin shipping the Powerwall 2 home batteries by the end of this month, at prices that by some estimates are 30% cheaper than the closest competitor’s product.
  6. Chrysler Portal: Chrysler unveiled its 250-mile range Portal electric minivan Concept at CES 2017 that may have autonomous vehicle capabilities. The new EV will offer touch screens, ports, and social media options to find interest from Millennial car shoppers. Parent company FCA said it will be an urban mobility vehicle of the future. The six-passenger minivan “explores the possibility of what a family transportation vehicle could look like,” Chrysler said.
  7. Toyota AI concept car: Toyota Motor Corp. revealed the “Concept-i” at CES 2017. Embedded in the concept car is “Yui,” Toyota’s artificial intelligence system. Yui monitors driver behavior, interacting with the driver to facilitate the driver-vehicle relationship customized to the driver’s tastes, patterns, and road conditions. Toyota said it was built from the inside out, with a focus on making it immersive, energetic and, approachable. The Concept-i “will enhance that relationship between car and driver.” Toyota said it will be testing some of the concept vehicle’s technologies on Japan’s roads in the next few years.
  8. Volvo carsharing: Volvo Cars will establish a new shared mobility business unit as part of a broad expansion of its carsharing and mobility services strategy. It will be based around Sunfleet, one of the world’s first car sharing companies that has been operated by the automaker since 1998. Based in Sweden, the Sunfleet division has around 50,000 subscribers generating approximately 250,000 transactions in more than 50 Swedish cities, the company said.
  9. Clean Energy stock value: Natural gas prices have risen over 30% in the last two months to current levels of around $3.30 per million British thermal units since the beginning of November 2016. That rally in pricing should be good for business for Clean Energy Fuels, according to a Seeking Alpha investor and analyst. Clean Energy should be able to enter into fuel contracts at better prices. Growth may come from the transit bus and refuse truck markets. About 60% of new refuse trucks are operating on natural gas in the U.S., the analyst said.
  10. Battery cells for EVs: Volkswagen Group is weighing and balancing a big decision as it prepares to hit its ambitious target of manufacturing up to three million electric vehicles per year by 2025. The German automaker is reviewing bids from six battery cell suppliers for its EV lineup. Several other automakers are in a similar situation as VW – should they manufacture their own battery cells? Tesla Motors and Panasonic have started this process at the Gigafactory in Nevada this month, but other automakers are tending to see outsourcing to more than one battery cell manufacturer as the necessary way to go.

The latest in autonomous, shared, electrified rides from Uber, Google, FCA, Tesla, and China

uber-volvo-self-driving-vehicleUber has been testing its autonomous, shared rides for the past month in California, and it may be blocked by the state government from continuing these trips. The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday sent the ride-hailing company a cease-and-desist letter demanding it must stop its self-driving car tests in the state.

That hasn’t stopped Uber so far. On Friday, the company said it will continue the tests despite the DMV’s statement. The California Attorney General has threatened an injunction if Uber does not comply. Uber said that its semi-autonomous car system isn’t different from what owners of Tesla vehicles can do with the Autopilot driver assistance systems and that other automakers’ cars offer with parking and collision avoidance.

Launched in Pittsburgh this past September, Uber’s pilot program has been testing about 100 self-driving Volvo XC90s plug-in hybrid SUVs and Ford Focus hybrid sedans, each one with an engineer riding along to monitor it and take control if necessary. Customers are allowed to decline rides in the self-driving cars if they choose and wait for a regular Uber ride. In San Francisco, the company is using 11 sensor-packed Volvo XC90s. Some are meant to pick up customers, and others will be used to log mapping and sensor research miles.

In both Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the cars are not capable of being driven without active physical control and monitoring, according to Uber. The company said it has asked the DMV what is different about its technology compared with Tesla’s, which have an Autopilot partially self-driving feature. Uber said that it hadn’t yet received an answer.

As least 20 other companies have applied for and received the DMV permits to test on California roads, including Google, Tesla, Ford and Nvidia.

Google names project Waymo, may back away from fully autonomous
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project was renamed “Waymo” last week. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. A technology news media website, The Information, reported that the growing competitive climate with several companies entering the space has caused Google co-founder Larry Page to rethink his company’s mission.

Waymo will be an independent unit within the parent company. Alphabet executives said the company is close to bringing its autonomous driving to the public and will reveal more later.

While autonomous vehicles used to be nothing more than a testing project for several automakers and tech companies, lately it’s become a much more viable sector for commercializing a new technology. Page is concerned that Alphabet and Google could be left behind. Google may be in a better position to provide technology to automakers rather than go through the capital-intensive, lengthy, and complex regulatory process of building and selling its own autonomous cars.

It may have been behind Chris Urmson leaving Google this year. Urmson, a longtime champion of fully autonomous vehicles as he headed Google’s self-driving car project for years, left in August. The New York Times had reported that Urmson wasn’t happy with the leadership of John Krafcik, formerly the head of Hyundai America, who was hired in 2015 to be chief of the project. The Times report also said that Urmson had argued with Google co-founder Larry Page over where the division was headed. Urmson may be starting his own autonomous car software firm, according to media reports.

FCA delivers self-driving minivans to Google, discussing ridesharing service
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced yesterday that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for the new Waymo subsidiary. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

Google parent Alphabet also has been in talks with FCA about starting up a ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Google would like to utilize a semi-autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that it’s developing with FAC for the new service as early as the end of 2017, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The ridesharing service will be tied into the 100 Pacificas that the two companies agreed in May to develop together – and that FCA has completed. They’ll be using the plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica minivan during the self-driving testing process.

FCA has been enthusiastically marketing the new plug-in hybrid version, which it calls the Pacifica Hybrid. The automaker will reveal an all-electric version of the Pacifica during the CES electronics show in Las Vegas next month, sources said. FCA has been looking for ways to roll out more zero emission vehicles as the global regulatory front tightens up on emissions.

Other automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, Toyota, and General Motors, have made serious investments with partners this year to stride forward in ride-hailing, ridesharing, and carsharing mobility services.

Tesla wants to control how its cars are used for ridesharing
Tesla Motors may not like to see the presence of a startup firm that has taken the name “Tesloop,” which is offering Tesla vehicles for share rides to its customers. In October, Tesla said that it wants to launch its own shared ride service and doesn’t want to see its electric cars used outside that network.

Tesloop, based in Los Angeles, offers city-to-city shared vehicle trips. The startup seems to be structured more like longtime transportation companies than ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft. The Tesla vehicles used in the Tesloop fleet have a California TCP number on the rear bumper, which means the company is certified as a commercial passenger carrier in the state. The company has to follow commercial vehicle insurance and driver guidelines that other transportation service providers have to follow; including more extensive driver background checks than Uber and Lyft so far have to comply with.

In October, Tesla announced that it will not allow any of its electric vehicles to be used by owners to drive for ride-hailing companies such as Uber or Lyft. While sharing rides with family and friends is fine, the company said it doesn’t want to see its self-driving vehicles used for revenue purposes outside of its own Tesla Network, which will be launched later on.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” the company said.

Tesloop works with drivers now, which it calls “certified Tesloop Pilots,” but the firm is enthusiastic about tapping its autonomous systems as soon as possible. “As autonomous car technology improves over the next three years to the point where it is safer than human drivers, we expect this to become a common reality,” the company said on its website.

As for now, trips in a Tesla Model X and Model S are driven by a “certified Tesloop Pilot” and carry passengers to points throughout Southern California and out to Las Vegas. As a marketing message, the company sells $39 trips between cities.

The company will be spreading its network in the San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara areas. Vacation spots like Palm Springs are emphasized. The company uses Tesla’s Supercharger network of fast-charging ports.

China aims to be No. 1 in electrified and autonomous vehicles
China has ambitious plans to continue being the leading global market for plug-in electrified vehicles, and would like to play a leading role in autonomous vehicles – according to a planning document that was revealed recently in Beijing.

By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

The report estimates that semi-autonomous vehicles, called “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% of sales by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. That would mean four million fully autonomous vehicles would be sold each year.

Things are already in the work in China – and in the U.S., in what may also end up in China. Chinese company Baidu is teaming up with Nvidia to use artificial intelligence to building a platform for self-driving cars. LeEco, NextEV, and Lucid Motors are tapping into cutting-edge autonomous technology and talent directly from California. That may end up in vehicles sold the in the Chinese market, too.

China’s policies also include some ambitious emissions reduction targets through these measures. It also encourages foreign countries to share their best electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies with Chinese partners – or be blocked from having access to the market.

General Motors has found out recently how serious the Chinese government takes guidelines such as these. The automaker, which plays a large role in China’s auto market through its partnership with Chinese companies, is under investigation by the Chinese government for potential anti-trust violations. Forbes thinks that the risk of serious damage is low, and that China uses such tactics to keep foreign companies a little bit off balance and to follow China’s lead.