For Today: GM and Ford move the electrification revolution a few steps further

A well-known automotive market analyst last year told me that he expects sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to make up 10% to 15% of U.S. new vehicle sales about a decade from now. That will mean that plug-in vehicle sales will have a real impact on manufacturing, marketing, infrastructure, and aftermarket products and services. The days of early adopters have come to an end, and the next phase is beginning – as made evident yesterday by announcements from General Motors and Ford Motor Co.

GM plans to launch 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. Two new all-electric cars will come out in the next 18 months. Whether that’s coming from upcoming fossil fuel bans in several countries, the popularity of Tesla, China’s new energy vehicle market, launching the Chevy Bolt, the emergence of other long-range all-electric vehicles, and a long list of EVs in manufacturer product pipelines, the future is here now.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark Reuss, GM Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain EVP. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

The automaker is also developing hydrogen fuel cell technology as part of its zero emission vehicle drive. One of these is the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS), a four-wheel drive concept vehicle that runs on fuel cells. These provide power to electric motors, making it an ideal ZEV platform for delivery trucks, ambulances, and other applications. Yet EVs will be gaining most of the automaker’s focus and support.

Ford is on track to deliver 13 electrified vehicles over the next five years. Seven have been announced, including a 300-mile range crossover EV that will come out in 2020.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s head of electrification and autonomous vehicles, said that the automaker will increase the number of all-electric vehicles it will offer, but did not provide details.

Ford is establishing an internal team its calling “Team Edison” to study and develop battery electric cars.

“We see an inflection point in the major markets toward battery electric vehicles,” Marakby said. “We feel it’s important to have a cross-functional team all the way from defining the strategy plans and implementation to advanced marketing.”

Here’s my take on a few trends and developments to watch for:

  • Battery electric vehicles will likely win out over plug-in hybrids in the next decade. While the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime will continue to do well, automakers tend to use plug-in hybrid variations of existing models as a way to transition car owners over to plug-in vehicles. EV range will be getting better, and all-electric vehicles are easier to maintain and keep in operation than internal combustion engine vehicles and plug-in hybrids. They use a lot less parts and components and are easier to maintain. Tires and brakes have to be replaced but there isn’t much else to changeover, given that the electric drive train is well made for EVs that are strong in sales.
  • Tesla is playing a leading role in public perception and experience with the technology. The Tesla Model 3 is expected to play a leading role in mass adoption, but the upcoming Model Y electric crossover will be built at mass scale, too. There will be other models coming out including the semi truck aimed at buyers of heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Tesla’s stock performance continues to stay strong and validates that institutional and individual backers believe in the business model. (As a side note, GM and Ford stock prices did well after announcing strong September sales and serious electrification campaigns.)
  • German automakers may be just as important as Tesla in moving the product development and sales trend forward. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW made big announcements a year ago in the wake of the “Dieselgate” scandal, and with growing pressure from German regulators and from a few other countries. Tesla was taking the lead in the luxury EV side, but an impressive list of pre-orders on the Model 3 opened up the playing field. The product pipeline is covering the bases from Tesla-competitive automakers – electric sedans, SUVs and crossovers, and luxury vehicles.
  • Car buyers want to see realistic, real-world numbers on per-charge driving range, charging time, fast charging, option and trim levels, resale value forecasts, top speeds, horsepower, and torque. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency range ratings are gaining more confidence than the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), with the NEDC using a very different cycle analysis and much longer range.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles won’t reach mass adoption, with EVs winning out. They won’t be going away, with automakers such as Toyota, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Daimler, and BMW committed to the technology. They’ll probably stay at a low level in passenger vehicle sales with a few of the automakers going over to military and commercial vehicle applications. But the barriers will be hard to cross – having enough fueling stations, the cost of the technology and sticker prices coming way down, and finding broad support and trust in the technology. The typical pump price for fueling with hydrogen isn’t known yet, and concerns are being expressed on how expensive it will be to collect and extract hydrogen from natural gas and other sources; and to deliver it by truck and pipelines to gas stations. The ZEV aspect makes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles very attractive, but where is the hydrogen coming from? And EVs are getting cheaper and better all the time, along with the charging infrastructure.
  • Countries adopting fossil-fuel bans will likely have to back off those holistic mandates. It’s much more likely to take several more years (another half century?) before ZEV adoption becomes accepted at that level. It will be tied into radical transformation in how we drive and get around town. An integration of autonomous vehicles, mobility services, and electrification will be behind it, but that is going to take decades to meet thorough testing and safety standards, insurance and liability issues, and to gain enough confidence and trust to reach mass scale. I expect that governments will go back to mandating a certain percentage of new vehicle sales meet their mandates; incentive programs will probably have to be deployed in China and other markets.
  • There’s also the issue of fleet and commercial vehicles used in transport, delivery, and moving employees and customers from Point A to Point B. Fleets are likely to integrate the fuels and technologies – with trucks and buses powered by renewable natural gas and renewable diesel, electrification, and propane and natural gas; and hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric passenger vehicles used by law enforcement agencies, administrative vehicles, and other functions. Fleet operators make decisions based on economic and environmental factors, along with functionality and ease of use, as do consumers.

For Today: Car Charging Group brings Blink brand name to corporate identity, Lyft doing well enough to expand to 32 more states

Blink Charging Co. new corporate name:  Car Charging Group, Inc. is tapping into the Blink electric vehicle charging network’s market identity by changing its corporate name over to Blink Charging Co. The company had taken over the network after founder ECOtality filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Car Charging Group began operating thousands of Blink charging stations, and the software that manages, monitors, and tracks these stations and stores charging data. Blink Charging Co. also started a 1 for 50 reverse stock split, effective two days ago. After a period of 20 business days from then, the company’s stock symbol will be CCGID and will then revert to CCGI. The company’s website has switched over to www.BlinkCharging.com. “Changing the name of the Company to Blink Charging continues our integration efforts and corporate rebranding, which allows us to unify our identity and illustrates the company’s primary products and services,” stated Mike Calise, Blink Charging’s CEO. “The reverse split is also another step in the right direction towards achieving a listing on a national stock exchange and to build additional shareholder value.”

Bosch offering extended range:  Global auto supplier Bosch just released e-axle, a new electric axle combining three powertrain components into one unit – that will bring longer range to electric vehicles and hybrids and more torque and speed to these vehicles – and to compact cars, SUVs, and pickups. It’s capable of delivering between 50 and 300 kilowatts. Torque at the axle can cover a range of about 1,000 to 6,000 Newton meters (737 to 4,425 foot-pounds). EVs will be able to travel further on each charge, and they won’t have to draw more power from the battery with the new e-axle system in place. It’s being tested now with a few Bosch customers, and the supplier company says it will go into mass production starting in 2019. The German supplier says it has already provided components to over 500,000 hybrids and EVs out on roads.

Lift spreading across country:  Ride-hailing company Lyft is making a big move in its U.S. presence, expanding from eight states up to 40. The Uber competitor has been able to see growth in riders and revenue and recent years, and can now tap into chaos that the global ride-hailing giant entered into earlier this year. Lyft has been able to bring over a lot of customers and drivers from Lyft. An upgraded smartphone app has helped, along with a new marketing campaign that’s helping Lyft grow from serving 160 more cities for a total of about 350. Lyft is an ideal situation, with its General Motors partnership and recent deals with other companies on autonomous vehicle test projects. Uber’s excessive market valuation and ability to raise about $14 billion in private equity since its inception is causing a huge shakeup as investors want to see transparent, professional management of the company. Uber this week hired Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to take the place of ousted and controversial founder Travis Kalanick. The new CEO is also known for being outspoken, and is expected to bring the company forward to an initial public offering within 18 to 36 months. Lyft co-founders Logan Green and John Zimmer work on keeping the company simple and direct. They say they haven’t done beyond asking employees and drivers to make sure passengers are treated like guests at a fine hotel.

For Today: ChargePoint adding 9,800 charging spots, Germany cracking down on diesel

ChargePoint buys GE network:  ChargePoint will be adding 9,800 charging spots to its network through acquisition of GE’s EV charging network. That’s made up of more than 1,800 commercial and about 8,000 resident charging spots to the ChargePoint network. GE’s existing clients and drivers will be served through maintenance of GE’s existing software and commercial charging stations. GE customers with questions about the transition to ChargePoint can learn more at this site. GE played a visible role in setting up the U.S. charging infrastructure years ago, and would be typically seen with a strong presence at electric transportation industry conferences.

Most powerful solar:  Los Angeles just had the world’s most powerful solar energy project completed, according to solar developer PermaCity and city officials. The Westmont Solar Energy Project, located in LA’s port town of San Pedro, has more than 50,000 solar panels covering 50 acres of roof space and generating up to 16.4 megawatts of electricity. That’s enough to provide power to 5,000 single family homes. It comes in second after Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., in terms of size. As for power, it offers the world’s most powerful solar source for electricity announcement.

Germany cracking down on diesel emissions and reporting:  Germany will be adopting a national plan to reduce pollution from diesel vehicles, and to establish a new organization for making vehicle emissions testing more accurate. National elections will be taking place on September 24, two years after the Volkswagen “dirty diesel” scandal was reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Germany, which plays a leading role in the European Union and is the home base for VW, has been taking a tough stance with automakers and their diesel vehicles. Diesel cars have been very popular in Germany, with VW, Audi, Mercedes, and BMW offering a long list of high-performance diesel cars; many of which will be going away. On Monday, the transport ministry was urging automakers to upgrade to realistic software on up to 12 million diesel vehicles in Germany; on Tuesday, that ministry announced creation of a “national diesel forum” to work with automakers and regional governments on emissions cuts.

This Week’s Top 10: California utilities request approval for major charging projects, Tesla not facing recalls over Autopilot crash

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. Utilities supporting charging: California’s three large investor-owned utilities have asked the California Public Utilities Commission to support more than $1 billion in funding for electric vehicle charging stations. Southern California Edison asked for permission to collect $570 million from customers over five years to pay for equipment installations supporting about 1,800 charging stations for electric trucks and other projects. Pacific Gas & Electric requested $253 million to meet several objectives including charging systems for electric buses and delivery trucks. San Diego Gas & Electric applied for $246 million for installation of up to 90,000 charging stations at single family homes in the utility’s service area; and other projects, including installing up to 45 charging ports to enable electrification of about 90 new pieces of ground support equipment at San Diego International Airport. The utilities intend to install thousands of chargers at homes, workplaces, airports, and port locations. It ties into the state’s goal of cutting emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
  2. No recall for Tesla: Tesla Motors was cleared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration following an investigation over the fatal crash in Florida last May where the driver had been using Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous system. Investigators didn’t find a defect in Autopilot requiring a safety recall for Model S and Model X owners who have purchased that option. NHTSA analyzed changes made to the system since the crash, including how the crash rate dropped by nearly 40% for the Autosteer component, which can safely change lanes, became available. The crash rates in the study compared airbag deployment crashes before and after Autosteer installation.
  3. Wireless charging: Automakers, Tier 1 suppliers, and technology companies have reached agreement on the upcoming SAE Recommended Practice Wireless Power Transfer and automated parking alignment and charging of electric vehicles. Taskforce members have agreed on specifications for the SAE J2954 Test Stations; automakers will use that standard as a basis to develop their wireless charging systems, and to make sure they can interoperate with charging systems and vehicles sold by other automakers. The meeting held in Ingolstadt, Germany, is expected to set the foundation for moving wireless charging forward. Several automakers, suppliers, and technology providers see wireless charging being pivotal in helping move forward both electrified and autonomous vehicles.
  4. ZEV rules in Quebec: Automakers are upset that the Quebec province has followed a mandate similar to California and nine other states’ zero emission vehicle policy. Starting with the 2018 model year, 3.5% of all vehicles sold in the province will need to be all-electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. That bumps up to 15.5% for 2025 models. Companies that don’t hit the marks will have to buy credits from automakers that do. Penalties for failing to comply haven’t been spelled out yet. The legislation, which was passed last October, should be delayed, according to David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada. Electric vehicle sales make up less than 1% of new vehicle sales in Quebec and 0.5% of all new vehicle sales across Canada.
  5. EPA chief nominee: Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general being considered as the new EPA administrator, is working at taking a more civil approach in his new role (which still needs Senate approval). He’s pledged to be a good listener and lead the agency “with civility,” especially when dealing with controversial issues like climate change and the EPA’s decision on the midterm review of 2025 mpg standards. He said the EPA’s proposal to finalize light-vehicle greenhouse-gas standards for 2022-25 model-year vehicles just 14 days after the comment period expired was a bit rushed and “merits review.” In related news, the EPA was sent a notice by the new administration temporarily halting all contracts, grants and interagency agreements pending a review, according to sources. The EPA’s Office of Administration and Resources Management ordering the freeze on Monday. It’s not known yet whether this move will have an effect on the auto industry.
  6. Elio Motors reports losses in SEC filing: Elio Motors has been taking losses in the past year, which has been investigated by a news channel in its corporate hometown. Local news channel KTBS in Shreveport, La., found in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the three-wheel carmaker had $101,317 in cash and about $123.2 million in accumulated deficit as of Sept. 30, 2016. The document also reported having about $6.8 million in cash and a deficit of about $2.3 million as of Dec. 31, 2015. The news channel also found that the company has once again postponed the launch of its affordable, 84 mpg three-wheeler, this time until 2018.
  7. Renault-Nissan top spot: Renault-Nissan has sold more than 400,000 electric cars globally and has plans for further investments to maintain its market lead, CEO Carlos Ghosn told Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “We are going to increase investment, we are going to have lot of new cars coming, better batteries, better performance, lower prices,” he said. Nissan’s Leaf opened up the auto industry to a mass produced all-electric vehicle, which was followed two years later by alliance partner Renault’s Zoe, a hatchback subcompact.
  8. CARB on midterm review: The California Air Resource Board last week published a 667-page Midterm Review of Advanced Clean Cars Program report. It finds that the state’s original intentions are being met, and the elements are in place to continue making advancements well beyond the 2025 target. The CARB staff, “recommends that California make a major push now to develop new post-2025 standards while working with automakers, federal regulators and partner states to further develop the market for electric cars,” according to a statement. The report also addressed the state’s zero emission vehicle policy, stating that more support is needed to grow the charging infrastructure. The agency will likely be pleased with proposals submitted this week by utilities to grow the state’s infrastructure.
  9. Ford PHEV vans: Ford has established a 12-month trial with the Transport for London agency’s fleet. Ford will provide 20 plug-in hybrid electric vehicle Transit Custom vans that the automaker says improves fleet productivity while reducing emissions. Scheduled to start in the fall, the test project will receive 4.7 million pounds ($5.9 million) in UK government funding. Ford and Transport for London will invite commercial fleets into the trial project.
  10. Infiniti performance EV: Infiniti is getting ready to roll out its very first electric car, though the launch date and other details have yet to come out. In 2012, the Nissan luxury division showed the LE electric concept car that was supposed to roll out in two years, but has yet to show up. Infiniti boss Roland Kreuger says he’s driven the prototype of this electric car as it’s “very good.” Krueger does however note that this is an “early” prototype, meaning its years away from production. The company will tapping into Nissan’s electric car technology, but will build a dedicated platform for the Infiniti model. Autocar and InsideEVs did a bit of speculating on it: it could be a 2020 Infiniti performance battery electric vehicle with its own platform packed full of Nissan’s EV tech.

This Week’s Top 10: More autonomous features in Tesla’s Autopilot, More on VW scandal

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Tesla AutopilotLane changing and self-parking features in Autopilot: Tesla Motors is offering car shoppers a leap forward in autonomous vehicle technology – an option with automated lane changing and self-parking features. As part of Tesla’s new Version 7.0 software package in the Model S, Autopilot will be transmitted to cars in the U.S. over the next week, followed by Europe and Asia. Tesla’s new Model X sport utility vehicle will also offer Version 7.0 and Autopilot. Customers must pay a one-time fee of $2,500 to activate the self-driving software when they buy a car, or $3,000 to activate the feature after delivery. The software update uses cameras, radar, ultrasonic sensors, and data to steer down the highway, change lanes, and adjust speed in response to traffic. The driver can follow a lane on the highway and change lanes using the turn signal. The 7.0 software and Autopilot can deliver parallel parking that detects an open parking space and takes control if the driver asks for the car to park itself.
  2. More on VW scandal: Volkswagen continues to be dragged into a quagmire over its TDI diesel models. Three people “familiar with the matter” told Reuters that the automaker made several versions its “defeat device” software to falsify diesel emission tests. Over seven years, VW altered its software for four engine types…… VW will be pulling out of the diesel market, and its competitor General Motors said it will be ramping up its diesel efforts. GM’s Mark Reuss said the upcoming Chevrolet Cruze Diesel and the diesel program for Cadillac are still in the works……. Paramount Pictures and Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company have acquired movie rights to a book proposal by New York Times journalist Jack Ewing about the clean diesel scandal. They’re still in the early stage of production, so the movie won’t be coming out anytime soon.…….. VW plans on bringing more plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles to market to shift focus away from its diesel technology. The company is confident it can create components for EVs with ranges as far as 310 miles; that strategy may include redesigning the flagship Phaeton sedan as a battery electric model.
  3. Award given at LA Auto Show: The annual Green Car of the Year Award will be named next month at the LA Auto Show. Here are the five 2016 model year finalists: Audi A3 Sportback e-tron: The plug-in hybrid hatchback starts at $37,900 and goes 19 miles on electricity alone through its 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery. Chevrolet Volt: The revamped Volt has a 20% larger battery with 53 miles per charge and 420 total miles of cruising available. Improved handling and acceleration make it fun to drive. Honda Civic: Honda thinks EPA estimates, which have yet to be released, will be over 40 mpg combined without electrification. Coupe and five-door hatchback variants are coming, and it’s the first Civic to feature a turbocharged engine. Hyundai Sonata: It’s available with gasoline, hybrid-electric, and plug-in powertrains. The plug-in should achieve 24 miles on just battery power, and the hybrid gets about 43 mpg on the highway. Toyota Prius: A smaller battery gives offers more space to store cargo, and Toyota predicts the new Prius will achieve 10% greater mileage than before.
  4. Prius upgrades: Toyota is providing details on the all-new 2016 Prius, launched at a Las Vegas event about five weeks ago. Buyers can choose either its conventional nickel-metal hydride batteries or a more advanced lithium-ion battery pack. Toyota says the drivetrain is more efficient – improved aerodynamics, weight-saving measures, and a re-engineered powertrain, should bring a 10% fuel economy improvement. The new Prius is being launched during a time when the long-anticipated Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car comes the U.S. In Tokyo last week, Senior Managing Officer Kiyotaka Ise said during an environmental forum that the global automaker plan to stop manufacturing traditional gasoline engine vehicles by 2050. Toyota wants a 90% cut in carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles by 2050, compared with 2010 levels. That will come from hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, hybrids, and electric cars.
  5. HorseFly electric drone: The Workhorse battery electric “HorseFly” package delivery drone has won U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorization for test flights. It’s been designed to work in tandem with Workhorse battery electric delivery trucks, reducing driver workload. Testing has been granted at the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center and Test Complex.
  6. Drive the Dream EV event: Last week, the California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative, Governor Jerry Brown and a group of more than 40 California leaders met at Drive the Dream 2015. The group announced new initiatives aimed at accelerating the continued adoption of plug-in electric vehicles and workplace charging in the state. Announcements to deploy more electric vehicles and charging stations were made by the U.S. Department of the Navy, Honda, San Diego Gas and Electric, NBCUniversal, PG&E, Coca-Cola Co., Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Ford, Southern California Edison, NRG, CBRE, and Vision Fleet.
  7. Honda charging stations: American Honda Motor Co. is adding 120 new electric vehicle (EV) chargers at its Torrance, Calif., headquarters. The new chargers will be installed in two phases, the first of which has already begun. Ultimately, Honda estimates that the chargers will enable hundreds of associates to use an EV for commuting to work.
  8. Volvo electric targets: Volvo is developing its first all-electric car and broadening its range of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and expects electrified models will account for 10% of its global sales by 2020. The automaker will bring plug-in hybrid technology to its 40-series vehicles; and will offer the full-electric vehicle by 2019.
  9. Westport and Volvo Group Deal: Westport Innovations has entered into new agreements with Volvo Group for the development, commercial launch and supply of Westport High Pressure Direct Injection (HPDI) 2.0 technology in its heavy-duty trucks over the next several years. Westport says that HPDI 2.0 continues to be the only natural gas system that can offer “same as diesel” horsepower, torque, transient response, engine braking power and fuel economy. It also provides up to 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to equivalent diesel engines.
  10. Investing in EV technology: Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) plans to invest one-third of its annual fleet purchases in electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles over the next five years, totaling more than $100 million. PG&E operates approximately 1,400 plug-in electric and electric hybrid vehicles, one of the largest fleets of plug-ins in the nation. The $100 million investment will add more than 750 plug-in electric units to PG&E’s fleet of over 14,000 vehicles.

Tesla Energy seems to be the next logical step for the Silicon Valley company

Tesla EnergyWith its new energy storage division (called Tesla Energy), Tesla Motors continues to build on a strategy that’s working for other Silicon Valley neighbors such as Google and Apple. That would be: move into the next logical technology marketplace. Advanced batteries may produce more revenue and profit than electric cars for Tesla in the next few years – and they’ll contribute to Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s vision of reducing dependence on fossil fuels and supporting growth in renewable energy.

Along with its electric drive system, Tesla’s greatest strength is batteries – making its $5 billion investment in the Gigafactory potentially more than worthwhile; the company expects the Nevada factory to reach full capacity by 2020 and make more lithium-ion batteries than were produced worldwide in 2013. Tesla Energy will be ready to bring Tesla batteries to homes, business, and utilities to store energy to better manage power demand, provide backup power, and increase grid resilience – with much of it coming from solar power.

Called the Tesla Powerwall, it includes Tesla’s lithium-ion battery pack, liquid thermal control system, and software that receives dispatch commands from a solar inverter. Tesla Powerwall will be built into a building’s wall and will be integrated with the local power grid so that customers can draw energy from their own reserve. Benefits will include cost savings through load shifting during low rate periods; storing surplus solar energy; increasing the capacity for using more solar; and providing backup energy during grid outages.

It’s available in 10kWh, optimized for backup applications, or 7kWh, optimized for daily use applications. Tesla’s selling price to installers is $3,500 for 10kWh and $3,000 for 7kWh. Those prices exclude inverters and installation costs. The company says that deliveries will begin in the late summer of 2015.

Tesla has been testing out energy storage projects with some big-name partners including Amazon and Target. Amazon’s cloud computing division, Amazon Web Services (AWS), has been working closely with Tesla for the past year on high-capacity battery technology in data center applications. Target has partnered with Tesla on a pilot test at select Target stores to incorporate Tesla Energy Storage as part of its energy strategy. Tesla has also been supplying batteries to Walmart through pilot projects and a supply agreement with SolarCity Corp. Jackson Family Wines is using Tesla’s stationary energy storage solution in four areas that account for the most consumption in its winemaking process: refrigeration/cooling, lighting, compressed air, and process water treatment.

Utilities and solar companies are also working with Tesla on energy storage systems for meeting the next wave of energy demands. Southern California Edison has developed the nation’s largest battery storage system and has contracts in place for an additional 264 megawatts of storage, including projects using Tesla batteries.

Tesla has “channel partners” in place for producing the Powerwall. TreeHouse, a sustainable home improvement store, is working with Tesla to sell the Powerwall home battery. SolarEdge, a leader in the global photovoltaic (PV) inverter market, has a deal with Tesla for joint development of a PV storage and backup power solution for the worldwide residential solar market. Vermont-based renewable energy company Green Mountain Power and Tesla will offer Vermont residents a way to use less energy and rely on the grid as a backup system.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk does have a few things in common with executives at neighboring Silicon Valley giants – with one of them being expanding into the next logical technology marketplace. He serves as chairman of SolarCity, the largest solar power company in the US (and one started up by Musk’s cousins); he leads innovative space travel company, SpaceX (and its Hyperloop high-speed rail project); the Gigafactory, which is still being developed in Nevada; and the Tesla Motors electric carmaking company, which holds the unique position of breaking into the tough auto manufacturing sector – and surviving.

The big question will be whether all of it will work. The massive investment in Tesla since startup has come from private equity shareholders, the stock market, corporate partners (such as Panasonic on the battery side and Daimler on the car manufacturing side), a US Department of Energy loan, and personal investments from Musk from his PayPal startup profits and from other Tesla executives.  Tesla Energy will require significant investments in the next few years.

Competition in the energy storage market will be fierce. Coda Automotive may not be around anymore in the electric vehicle space, but Coda Energy does have several clients at commercial and industrial sites. Schneider Electric is known for its electric vehicle charging systems, but has a significant presence in the energy storage market. Major solar companies are entering the storage market, along with commercial building suppliers and large battery manufacturers. It may come together for Tesla, and it’s possible that advanced batteries and energy storage could make for the lion’s share of its revenue in the next 10 years.

Breaking through range anxiety and other EV stumbling blocks

For those of you championing the benefits of plug-in electric vehicles, here’s a few points you may want to mention…..

  • Nissan is sharing real-world experience from Leaf owners on its website. Those interested can submit questions that will be answered by Leaf owners who drive the electric cars every day.  Range anxiety continues to be the leading concern; owners say that the Leaf’s EPA rating of 84 miles on a charge is more than adequate for suburban or urban commuting. Two Leaf owners did run out of energy while driving – one of them was stranded by a closed charging station and the other admitted not having learned how to read the car’s range meter.
  • US electric vehicle owners saved themselves $100 million last year by not having to buy gasoline. The Union of Concerned Scientists said that 160,000 Americans saved that much by not having to go to gas stations and buy 45 million gallons of gasoline last year. Carbon reduction is another point to make; for example, California EV drivers were able to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 140,000 tons last year.
  • A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates one of every eight deaths around the world can be traced back to exposure to air pollution.  WHO estimates that in 2012 about seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure. Government agencies around the world are expecting EVs (along with other zero emission vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) to play a significant role in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • As I’ve discovered talking to stakeholders in alternative fuel vehicles, being able to effectively answer questions from consumers, fleets, company executives, and regulatory agencies, is essential for growth in adoption of EVs and other fuels and technologies. Education and public awareness programs are very much needed. Some of the issues that typically come up during conversations include:
  1. Where the electricity comes from – coal versus cleaner energy.
  2. Lifecycle ownership costs, price comparisons to similar gasoline-engine cars, maintenance, and resale values.
  3.  Safety issues for EV owners and first responders in the event of a crash.
  4. Where the EV battery technology is going – becoming lighter, longer range, and less expensive.
  5. Charging infrastructure – how many charging stations are being installed, how available and reliable are the chargers, and the cost of charging.
  6. What will it take for fast chargers to become more widely available.

AeroVironment and KnowWhatYouDrive educate EV car shoppers

AVEV101Education and accessible, clear information is needed out there to get past the stumbling block that holds consumers back from owning an electric vehicle. If you take a look at a new educational website for electric vehicle (EV) shoppers, you’ll find answers to frequently asked questions:

  • What’s the difference between EVs, plug-in hybrids, and hybrids?
  • Why lithium ion batteries?
  • What do you get out of it? Why make the investment?
  • What’s the latest on charging technologies?
  • How long does it take to charge and how far do you travel?

AeroVironment is working with Saginaw, Mich.-based KnowWhatYouDrive on an educational initiative to help consumers take the plunge and purchase an EV and a home charging port. The free online course at AVEV101.com walks through all of the questions that typically come up for car shoppers – or those with some interest in owning an EV. Details are presented on the types of available charging stations, charging time, and how the installation process works. You can test your electric vehicle IQ and instantly earn $25, $50, or $100 coupon codes for an electric vehicle charging station and installation.

“Education is one of the key factors that will help speed EV adoption,” said Wahid Nawabi, senior vice president and general manager of AeroVironment’s Efficient Energy Systems business segment. Doug Taylor, founder of KnowWhatYouDrive, says that it can be a daunting task with all of the EVs on the market now through Ford, Nissan, Fiat, and other OEMs. KnowWhatYouDrive works with charging station supplier Eaton on its website, and offers a discount program for EV charging stations.

AeroVironment has been committed to making the EV ownership and charging experience more accessible to consumers. It launched a dealer program last year offering a turnkey residential charging package. Consumers can purchase the EV and the charger in combination at the time of sale and build it into the financing. The home installation process is built into the transaction so that it can take place in a faster, more seamless way than it typically happens.

Big Picture: Gobble, gobble….. A few clean transportation items before you leave for the holidays

turkeys driving a carAs you break for a long holiday weekend, here are a few happenings to read about…..

Things seem to be wrapping up for Fisker Automotive. Hybrid Technology Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investor group led by billionaire Richard Li, is buying the company’s assets for $25 million. That means the US Dept. of Energy will be losing about $139 on Fisker; the DOE will be overall be recovering about $53 million from its original $192 million disbursement.

Tesla Motors has lost it marketing leader – George Blankenship, who played a key role in setting up Apple’s retail stores and brought much of it over to Tesla, left the electric carmaker last month. As everyone knows by now, it’s a sensitive time for Tesla as NHTSA has decided to recall most of the Model S units for investigation and Tesla is working on overdrive to expand stores in North America, Europe, and Asia. Blankenship has been vague on his Linkedin page about why he’s leaving; he’s now 60 and is officially taking on the role of “Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family.”

But there is some good news for Tesla. The automaker won a near-perfect score for its Model S, as it displaced the Chevy Volt at the top of Consumer Report’s annual vehicle owner satisfaction survey. It’s the best score the magazine has seen in years – 99 out of 100 points.

The Nissan Leaf is paying off for the automaker, according to Jose Munoz, Nissan’s senior VP of sales and marketing for the Americas. The Leaf is not the top reason customers are referred to the Nissan brand, he said, and the vehicle is now profitable.

Green Truck Summit is getting some ink – it will be March 4-5 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show 2014 in Indianapolis. It will offer attendees more than 20 educational sessions and a chassis OEM forum moderated by Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard.

Luxury SUV buyers and non-luxury car shoppers are most likely to consider buying alternative fuel vehicles including EVs, hybrids, hydrogen-power, or CNG-powered vehicles. That comes from a Phoenix Marketing International study. About 50% of the survey respondents were neutral to alternative fuel vehicles, while the two aforementioned categories have the highest percentages of “very” or “extremely” to purchase an alt-fuel vehicle.

UPS was among the award winners at the NGV Achievement Award. United Parcel Service and Mike Scarpino, regional manager for DOE Clean Cities Coalition, were among the recipients of 2013 NGV Achievement Award held Nov. 20 in Atlanta. UPS was recognized for 25 years of exemplary NGV industry leadership. Eleven recipients were recognized during the gala and reception dinner at NGV America’s 2013 North American NGV Conference and Expo. Richard Kolodziej, president of NGVAmerica, was given a lifetime achievement award.

The cap and trade market is getting some play in California. California companies paid about $297 million for carbon allowances on the state’s carbon auction. On Nov. 19, California’s fifth auction took place, where companies such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical paid $11.48 per allowance to release one metric ton of carbon as early as this year. That was a lower price than a previous sale in August, when it sold for $12.22 per metric ton. All together, the five auction events have raised $1.4 billion.

For those interested in real-time traffic data being readily available….. INRIX, Inc. introduced INRIX XD™ Incidents, which correlates real-time traffic flow data with information from nearly 400 public and private sources including media partners, departments of transportation, emergency responders, and community reports via mobile, and in-vehicle applications, as well as social networks like Twitter. The service offer traffic intelligence that reports more accidents, road closures, and other incidents across significantly more roads in more countries and at much greater speed than ever before.

Big Picture: Hydrogen FCEVs facing rite of passage; Dates announced on two alt-fuel vehicle conferences

Toyota FCVTo paraphrase the Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles continue to struggle with “chicken or the egg” quandary. There’s only a slim hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the US, and the questions of how much fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be priced for and how serious car shoppers will take the products and pricing are far from being answered. Plug-in electric vehicle loyalists like Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tend to scoff at FCEVs. Yet, other automakers seem to be taking these vehicles seriously.

Hyundai is preparing to launch a fuel cell crossover in the US next year. Hyundai’s president of research and development Kwon Moon-sik thinks cost factors are pointing the company in the direction of FCEVs instead of batteries. Several of his auto industry colleagues share that perspective. Kwon says that advanced lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles remain expensive, and he sees few opportunities for cost reductions coming soon. He thinks hydrogen fuel cells offer more hope for volume savings. The zero emissions part of FCEVs also offers appeal to automakers. Executives at Toyota, Honda, Daimler, General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are mapping out FCEV launches between 2015 and 2020; some of them share Kwon’s perspectives about the cost of FCEVs falling. It’s all part of the partnership alliance formed earlier this year on fuel cell systems between GM and Honda; and another, similar alliance between Nissan, Daimler, and Ford.

The process does require patience. Hyundai already started production of a hydrogen-powered version of its Tucson crossover; the company plans to produce only 1,000 units for sale globally by 2015. Toyota just offered a sneak peak at its FCV concept hydrogen-powered vehicle that it plans to roll out in 2015 (see photo above); the company is hoping to use it to popularize FCEVs as the Prius did for hybrids. “We think it could be the best zero emissions solution that hits the market,” said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota’s US sale division.

Honda has helped car show attendees gain enthusiasm for FCEVs after driving its limited production FCX Clarity. Another FCEV will be joining the Honda lineup; the automaker just put out a sketch that hints at what will be shown at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says the new FCEV Concept expresses a “potential styling direction” for a next-generation FCEV due in 2015. Honda appears to be preparing for competition from Toyota’s FCEV being launched that same year.

As for the limited number of hydrogen refueling stations, California plans to open 68 more of them by 2015. There are only nine open in the state now; 19 are in development and another 12 private or demonstration stations are operational. The governor recently signed a bill offering funding for 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state. California is also thinking about changing its tax credit system so that it would stop favoring plug-in electric vehicles over FCEVs. The US Dept. of Energy continues to make amends with the hydrogen and fuel cell communities through its H2USA program launched in May. It’s a public-private partnership with Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota to promote development of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The Obama administration just announced a $4 million grant for research into hydrogen fuel storage systems. Then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might have aided the skeptics with his campaign nearly 10 years ago for the “hydrogen highway” to come soon; but steps are being taken forward these days.

Northern California AltCar Expo and ACT Expo release dates
Two significant alt-fuel vehicle conferences have been scheduled. AltCar Expo is seeing its partnership with Bay Area Air Quality Management District come together. The Northern California AltCar Conference & Expo will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, 2014, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. Check out the event’s website to stay current on the schedule.

The Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is looking forward to seeing its record attendance numbers go up yet again. Next year’s conference has been scheduled May 5-8, 2014, back at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. It will be co-located with the 14th biennial NGV Global Conference and Exposition. “Merging North America’s largest clean fleet expo with the world’s leading natural gas vehicle conference will result in the largest gathering of clean transportation stakeholders that North America has ever seen,” Erik Neandross, CEO of event manager Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, said in the press release.

Clean Cities offers AFLEET tools and mobile app for stations
Argonne National Laboratory has developed the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool for Clean Cities stakeholders to estimate petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions, and cost of ownership of light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles using simple spreadsheet inputs. The US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities Program enlisted the expertise of Argonne to develop a tool to examine both the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles. You can download the AFLEET tool in Excel and user guide in PDF free of charge at this website.

The tool provides three calculation methods depending on the user’s goals. The Simple Payback Calculator examines acquisition and annual operating costs to calculate a simple payback for purchasing a new alternative fuel vehicle as compared to a similar conventional vehicle, as well as average annual petroleum use, greenhouse gases (GHGs), and air pollutant emissions. The Total Cost of Ownership Calculator evaluates the net present value of operating and fixed costs over the years of planned ownership of a new vehicle, as well as lifetime petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions. The Fleet Energy and Emissions Footprint Calculator estimates the annual petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions of existing and new vehicles; it takes into consideration that older vehicles typically have higher air pollutant emission rates than newer ones.

For those seeking information on more than 15,000 charging and alternative fuel stations within the US, Clean Cities and National Renewable Energy Laboratory now have a mobile app for iPhone or iPad users. You can quickly find out where EV public charging stations, and fueling pumps for B20 biodiesel, compress and liquefied natural gas, E85 ethanol, hydrogen, and propane, can be found.

But wait, there’s more!……..

  • Brett Hauser, a founding member of the Open Charge Alliance (OCA), a global consortium of public and private electric vehicle infrastructure leaders, and president of Greenlots, had a few things to say about the solutions offered by open standards for electric vehicle charging stations instead of proprietary networks. Here’s a little bit of what he wrote in Greentechmedia….. Charging networks based on open communications standards are an excellent alternative to proprietary networks and have been future-proofing Europe’s EV networks for close to four years now. The open model provides site hosts the freedom to switch network management providers without having to purchase new charging stations. It also stimulates technical innovation by allowing free market competition to push down the costs of both charging station hardware and back-end software, while dramatically derisking the hardware purchase for site hosts.
  • Pricing is coming out on Cadillac’s extended-range ELR$75,995 as a starting price and there’s a marketing deal with the famous department store. For $89,500, you can buy the 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue ELR. You get a White Diamond exterior finish, a Jet Black or Light Cashmere interior shade, a 240-volt charger thrown in the deal, and a relationship with an “ELR Concierge Representative.” These are only available to 100 people, and General Motors only expects to sell a limited number of ELRs anyways.
  • Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn is backing off big numbers for electric vehicle sales targets. The global automaker was going to sell 1.5 million EVs by 2016. So far, it’s only been about 120,000 units, primarily Nissan Leafs. At the current speed, it’s going to take about five years longer than initially anticipated, he said.
  • Energy Vision is now offering a new publication, “Turning Waste into Vehicle Fuel.” Funded in part by Clean Cities, it’s a first-of-its-kind roadmap for cities, communities, farms, and other generators of organic waste to develop renewable natural gas.
  • Kia is planning on producing an electric version of its Soul crossover subcompact to arrive next year in the US. It will be Kia’s first EV sold outside South Korea and is expected to travel 120 miles on a single charge.