Tesla faces battery and Autopilot challenges, High speed rail struggles in US

Spotlight on Tesla safety in China and the U.S.
The electric vehicle manufacturer is facing scrutiny over two safety issues that have dogged the company for years — fires starting in its battery packs, and crashes happening while its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system had been activated. Reports have emerged on a Tesla fire in a Hong Kong parking log. Weeks before, a video streamed on Chinese social media platforms showed a Tesla Model S bursting into flames in a Shanghai garage. Startup competitor Nio said last month that one of its ES8 models caught future in Xi’an while being repaired. In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report that Tesla’s Autopilot system was active at the time of a fatal Model 3 crash in Delray Beach, Fla. That involved a collision between a Model 3 and a semi truck on March 1st. NTSB reported that the Model 3 driver had activated Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision, and that for about eight seconds before the crash, the Model 3 didn’t detect the driver’s hands on the wheel. Tesla is rolling out an over-the-air software update for the Model S and Model X to improve safety and battery life as it continues investigating the cause of the Hong Kong fire; and issued a statement on the Autopilot incident.

CARB’s Mary Nichols confronts White House over emissions rules
California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols was set to deliver comments that won’t go well with the Trump administration today during a meeting with California air quality and transportation agencies. Nichols is arguing that the state will match any relaxation of federal auto rules with its own more stringent anti-pollution requirements on everything from fuel to the refineries producing it. The state may be joining a few countries in eventually banning fossil-fuel powered vehicles. These comments were made as the Trump administration readies a final plan for easing emission and fuel economy standards. “CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable — and continue to fight climate change,” Nichols said in draft remarks. “That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources — and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”

What will happen in GM’s Lordstown Plant?
Last week, President Donald Trump set off a wave of attention when tweeting that General Motor’s Lordstown Plant would be bought by Workhorse Group, Inc., even though the deal had not been settled. GM had been in discussions with electric truck startup Rivian, but those talks ended. Since then, Ford has since agreed to invest $500 million in Rivian. Details have yet to come out on GM’s role in the Lordstown Plant, and whether Workhore’s W-15 electric truck will be part of it. There’s also speculation out there that the plant could be where Workhorse builds electric mail trucks for the US Postal Service; but the company would first have to win that contract.

Check out Jon LeSage’s blog:
Interested in topics other than sustainable transportation? You can check out my blog to read about a few others, such as:
“Why I’m a pragmatist, and why you’re one too”
My favorite school of American philosophy, pragmatism, was based on what I see as a few simple questions: Does it work for me? Do I buy into it? What’s in it for me?
“Grocery shopping for Instacart customers who really really really need to have it delivered”
Grocery store shopping and delivery for Instacart, Incidents #1-5……….
 “How a failed rock critic turned working writer — and a big fan of Lester Bangs and rock ’n’ roll”
You may have noticed that my blog is defined as: “writings, reviews, and ramblings from a failed rock critic turned working writer.” Ok, what’s the story behind the failed rock critic? Was there an internship with Rolling StoneSpinEntertainment WeeklyBillboard, or American Songwriter that failed to turn into a job?
“Best rock n’ roll song moments ever in movies, in my opinion”
The Rolling Stones, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). Director Martin Scorsese is credited for forging a unique connection between pop music and film, and having a lot of influence on younger filmmakers who followed his lead. But wait, there’s more……..
“Mystery guest sits next to my hospital bed, nudging me to stay alive”
Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.
You’ll have to hit the Older Posts link at the bottom of the first page to see some of these blog posts, and there are more. You may be wondering why I do it, and placed an image of chimpanzees typing away, trying to write a book. I got hooked on writing when I was a child. My mother had been a newspaper reporter for a short period, and worked as a secretary. She would type our term papers, and boy did we get good grades. But she was my fist mentor in writing and editing. The best part is writing about topics I’m fascinated with and love learning more about. Telling the story teaches me a lot as well, and gives me a platform for sharing information that I want to spread with fans of electric vehicles and clean transportation, music and pop culture, spiritual/philosophical experiences (a la pragmatism), and more.
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High-speed rail takes off, but what about the U.S.?
High-speed rail continues to take off in Asia, with Thai companies building a $6.8 billion rail project that will link three major airports in the country. That follows Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi beginning testing of Alfa-X, a train capable of hitting a maximum speed of 400 km/h (248 mph). These projects support government efforts to boost investments in hi-tech industrials, robotics, and electric vehicles; and to begin unclogging traffic-jammed roadways.
What about the U.S.? The country continues to fail other leading countries, with California slowly moving forward on its long-promised high-speed rail project and other rail projects stalling. The money isn’t really there yet, but a few companies are looking for a way to bring the rail technology — which is popular in Europe and Asia — across the U.S. Automakers and air travel are fighting it, but the biggest block is funding. The U.S. has more cost per mile in building rail with resolving private property ownership, utility rules, environmental mitigation, and labor costs. Growing traffic congestion and air pollution are thought to be behind companies supporting innovative high-speed rail test projects around the country.

Electric trucks the star of the show at ACT Expo 2019

Electric trucks took up a lot of space in the exhibit hall at this year’s ACT Expo — and that meant medium and heavy trucks along with commercial applications such as electric delivery and refuse trucks. This time major truckmakers took center stage, and specialized makers had announcements to share as well. With about 4,000 attendees, it was the largest ACT Expo yet.

During his keynote speech, Roger Nielsen, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), the largest commercial vehicle manufacturer in North America, said his company will be putting about 50 battery electric test vehicles on roads by the end of this year through its Freightliner division, built at a renovated plant in Oregon. 20 of them will be medium- and heavy-duty electric trucks for Penske Corp. and NFI Inc., a major third-party logistics company, under a grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Near-zero-emissions natural gas medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are currently available and will continue from Freightliner as an interim solution until full commercialization of the battery-electric Freightliner eM2 and eCascadia, he said. Its Thomas Built unit will be rolling out Proterra-powered electric school buses.

Peterbilt Motors Co. showed off new electric trucks, including the Model 220EV, Model 520EV, and Model 579EV. The 220EV is spec’d with the Meritor Blue Horizon eAxle and the 520EV will feature the Transpower mid-ship powertrain configuration, while the 579EV will feature the new Allison AXE Series e-Axle. Six of the 579EVs were demonstrated at the exhibit that have been finished for customers. “Today, we have 14 electric vehicles built, on our way to more than 30 by the end of the year, for real customer routes and to analyze performance so that our production options meet the standards customers expect when buying a Peterbilt,” said Peterbilt’s Chief Engineer Scott Newhouse.

While it was outside ACT Expo, Ford on Wednesday announced it’s putting $500 million into electric truck startup Rivian Automotive. Both companies have agreed to work together to develop a battery electric vehicle for Ford’s growing EV portfolio using Rivian’s skateboard platform.

Volvo Trucks North America Wednesday hosted the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as they presented a $44.8 million check to the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) for the Volvo LIGHTS (Low Impact Green Heavy Transport Solutions) project. The Volvo LIGHTS project is a partnership among the Volvo Group, South Coast AQMD and industry leaders in transportation and electrical charging infrastructure. The project was created ti demonstrate the ability of battery electric vehicles to improve freight and warehouse efficiencies, reduce emissions, and improve air quality. As part of the project, Volvo Trucks will introduce all-electric Volvo VNR regional-haul demonstrators in California later this year, with vehicle sales planned to begin in 2020.

Other introductions at ACT Expo 2019 included:

  • BYD Motors will deliver 14 yard tractors to two BNSF Railway intermodal facilities in Southern California, adding to an ongoing demonstration project.
  • Chanje has partnered with refrigeration unit supplier Thermo King on a prototype zero-emissions refrigerated van.
  • Xos, the new name for electric truck startup Thor Trucks, will retrofit two Loomis Armored US cash-hauling trucks. An order for 100 more trucks awaits if the test models show the trucks’ value.
  • EV Connect is launching a program aimed at standardizing EV charger management and use for both transportation fleets and charging-equipment developers. The EV Charge Station Certification program already has been completed by seven of the industry’s largest charger makers.
  • Ryder’s booth featured a comprehensive charging infrastructure solution, provided by In-Charge Energy. In-Charge provides nationwide turnkey energy and commercial electric vehicle infrastructure solutions to ensure customers maximize the full economic benefits of adopting electric vehicles into their fleet. Its end-to-end model focusing on behind the meter solutions is an industry first.
  • An Amply Power Inc. white paper showed fleets saved an average 37 percent compared with traditional fuels by electrifying their buses and light-duty vehicles. Fleets that charged during off-peak hours could save as much as 60 percent, according to the white paper.
  • Tritium created the “world’s most powerful charger,” the Veefil-PK 175-475kW DC High Power Charger which can add nearly 300 miles range to an EV in just 10 minutes.
  • The first production fuel cell-powered heavy-duty truck jointly developed by Toyota and Kenworth Truck Co. is going forward. The new truck is the first of 10 planned under a $41 million California Air Resources Board grant matched by Toyota, Kenworth, and Royal Dutch Shell.
  • Penske Truck Leasing announced it will open commercial heavy-duty electric vehicle charging stations with 14 high-speed chargers at four of its existing facilities in Southern California. These will be among the first DC fast charging stations in the U.S. designed specifically for heavy-duty commercial electric vehicles.
  • The North American Council for Freight Efficiency recently released a report, Regional Haul: An Opportunity for Trucking, that looks at this growing market segment and was shared during a seminar at ACT Expo. Long-haul trucking isn’t what it used to be, according to the report. Forty five percent of the Class 8 tractors produced today are day cabs and a high percentage of those trucks are involved in regional haul operations.
  • Gladstein, Neandross and Associates (GNA) and the University of California at Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering – Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT) announced the launch of the Low and Zero Emission Readiness (LAZER) Initiative. This new collaboration will support organizations —including transit agencies, refuse operations, trucking carriers, delivery fleets, school districts, municipalities, and more — in evaluating the real-world economic and environmental benefits of advanced transportation technologies.

CES and Detroit Auto Show highlights, Tesla goes to Shanghai

CES and NAIAS take place in January: Has the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas become the most important trade show for automakers and tech partners to attend? It depends on who you ask, but don’t forget about the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. In fact, it clearly beat CES in online attention. The Detroit auto show’s week of news conferences and other events (Jan. 14-17) got nearly 60% more mentions in news and social media than automotive news and topics the week before at CES. That comes from a study by Talkwalker, an advisory company in online marketing.

While CES is about much more than cars, both are significant events, probably the most important shows for new product launches and concept previews. So, what were some of the highlights at these leading auto industry events? Here are just a few.

Nissan unveiled the Leaf e+ at CES, with 40% more range than its predecessor — coming up to 226 miles per charge from its previous 150-mile range. There are minor exterior changes made the front-end design, and a new “e+” logo on the back end. It will go on sale in the U.S. this spring. The new version of the Leaf was supposed to be revealed at the LA Auto Show in November, but things got put on hold once former Nissan chief Carlos Ghosn was arrested. At the Detroit Auto Show, Nissan showed off an elevated, electrified sport sedan that will deliver 483 hp, 590 lb.-ft. of torque, and 380 miles of range.  It’s said to be one of seven EVs Nissan will launch by 2022.

Ford and Qualcomm made announcements at CES on 5G C-V2X cellular technology. That’s been a problem for other automakers who still support dedicated short range communications (DSRC). NHTSA, under the Trump administration, hasn’t decided yet on whether the initial plan to require installing DSRC equipment in new vehicles beginning in 2020 or 2021 will be mandated. That’s given C-V2X an opportunity to gain supporters. Audi stayed committed to DSRC in its technology announcements at CES. There’s been a lot of pressure on automakers to come up with the next generation technology to strengthen data streaming vehicle-to-vehicle as more applications and devices become integrated with cars. Ford says that but 2020, all of its vehicles will be equipped with built-in cellular wireless connectivity from AT&T in the U.S., Vodafone in Europe; and China Unicom in China. The automaker said that the initial systems will enable over-the-air updates.

Several automakers opted out of the Detroit event this year (and the auto show will be moving to June next year to get out of the freezing cold time of year in which it’s been taking place for many years). But it’s still a place for several product launches with crossovers and electric vehicles playing a big role. Cadillac will supplant Chevrolet as GM’s lead brand in EVs in the next few years.  Cadillac previewed an all-electric Tesla competitor that will be the first vehicle derived from GM’s dedicated EV architecture.  A variety of body styles will eventually be offered, but the electric crossover will come out next year. Nissan’s 380-mile range concept vehicle (previously mentioned) goes by the name Nissan IMs Concept for now. It’s spacious interior offers a wide video screen dashboard, gold details, and a distinct rear cabin with a large center seat and smaller side seats.

The Hyundai Kona/Kona EV won the utility category at the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year Awards in Detroit. The company just announced pricing for three variations of the EV with its 150 kW, 201 hp electric motor with a single-speed reduction gear. MSRP will be: SEL at $36,450, Unlimited at $41,150, and Ultimate at $44,650. (Freight Charges for the 2019MY Kona EV are $1,045.) “The Kona Electric is the first mass-market electric car that truly works for the mass market,” said Jamie Page Deaton, executive editor at U.S. News & World Report Best Cars. “A livable EV range, affordable price and practical cabin combine with lively driving dynamics to make the Kona EV a true pleasure. It’s the kind of EV that could convince the most ardent EV-skeptic.”

And in other news……..

  • On January 7, Tesla broke ground on its new Chinese Gigafactory in Shanghai. The electric carmaker plans to produce Model 3 and Model Y electric vehicles at that plant along with its battery packs. CEO Elon Musk said initial production in China of the Model 3 will start towards the end of this year, with volume production coming next year. Tesla is on its way to being the first wholly-owned car plant in China operated by a foreign company.
  • Owners of the electric Porsche Taycan, which is coming out later this year, will be getting three years of free charging stations in the U.S. that have a minimum of two 350 kilowatt chargers per site. One very attractive feature for Taycan owners will be the ability to add more than 60 miles of charge in four minutes. That comes from an 800-volt battery that can absorb these fast-charges. That will beat Tesla, which is promoting its 120-kilowatt supercharging stations that are capable of charging about 80% of the battery in about 30 minutes.
  • Electric scooter rides have taken off in the past year in Southern California and in other parts of the country. With it comes the risk and danger factor. A recent study looked at scooter-related injuries of 249 patients at two Southern California emergency rooms between September 2017 and August 2018. Riders, with an average age of 34 years and 58% of them male, had a lot more injuries than pedestrians,. While they only make it to a top speed of 15 miles per hour, less than 5% of riders reported to have been wearing helmets. About 40% of them had head injuries and nearly one third had broken bones. A study in JAMA Network Open found a lack of operator adherence to traffic laws or warning by the electric scooter companies.

Welcome to 2019, and what to look for in clean transportation and mobility

All-new electrified models:

  • Audi joined the electric vehicle race with the Audi e-tron crossover SUV, its first all-electric production model. The e-tron gets over 200 miles per charge and shows of a luxury design and has all-wheel drive performance.
  • The Jaguar I-Pace was launched, with a sporty design and luxury appointments, and a 240-mile all-electric driving range.
  • The Porsche Cayenne E-Hybrid is an all-new version of the plug-in hybrid model. It’a powered by a 3.0-liter gas engine and a 136 hp electric motor.
  • The Range Rover P400e is a plug-in hybrid variant of the Range Rover SUV. It comes with a 2.0-liter gas engine and a 114 hp electric motor.
  • The Hyundai Kona is now available in an all-electric variant that delivers 258 miles of range.
  • The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV finally made it to America. The full-size SUV runs off of a 2.0-liter gas engine and two electric motors, plus greater efficiency and AWD.
  • The all-new Volvo XC40 compact SUV, the first model built on Volvo’s Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), features an efficient four-cylinder Drive-E powertrain.
  • Toyota has changes to its hybrid lineup. The Avalon Hybrid is longer and lower and higher mpg, with its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and all-new Toyota Hybrid System II powertrain. The all-new Lexus ES 300h comes with a fourth-generation hybrid system delivering a class-leading 44 combined mpg. The Lexus UX entry-level luxury model now comes in the UX 250h hybrid version.
  • The Honda Insight comes in its third-generation version with an advanced two-motor hybrid system that delivers an EPA estimated 55 highway mpg.
  • Kia and Hyundai will launch electric crossovers in 2019, named the Niro and Kona respectively. Hyundai also has a new fuel cell vehicle, the Nexo, available in regions where it can access hydrogen filling stations.
  • On the commercial vehicle and fleet side, Workhorse Group has closed a financing round of $35 million with Marathon Asset Management, with $25 million being a revolving credit line to meeting existing and future purchase orders of its electric trucks.
  • Daimler Trucks is leading a $155-million investment round in electric bus maker Proterra; with Tao Capital Partners, a San Francisco investment firm, as the other lead investor. Daimler sees a growing market for electric buses as public transit districts and school systems in the U.S. and around the world move to reduce emissions. Proterra and Daimler also have an agreement to explore the electrification of a few Daimler heavy-duty vehicles.

Plug-in vehicle sales:  Finalized plug-in vehicle sales figures will be coming out in the next few days for December and all of 2018; but so far, it was clearly a year of record-setting plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles sales in the U.S. Through November, U.S. sales were at 312,887 for plug-in vehicles, compared to 194,479 for all of 2017, according to Electric Drive Transportation Association. Assuming 350,000 units will be sold in 2018, the increase would be about 55% over the previous year. InsideEVs estimates the Tesla Model 3 closed the month with 25,250 sold in the U.S. That compares to 18,650 sold in November. Lately, there’s been a wide gap between the Model 3 and every other plug-in vehicle sold in the U.S., with top sellers like the Tesla Model S and Model X, Chevrolet Bolt and Volt, and Toyota Prius Prime, each hovering somewhere around 3,000 units sold per month. The Nissan Leaf was able to see its first sales increase in a long time.

Mobility going mainstream:  Mobility services like ride-sharing and car-sharing are moving beyond initial excitement by early adopters and over to the mainstream. The Mobility Revolution: A Primer for Fleet Managers, explores four trends that are shaping the near-term future of vehicles and transportation — connected, electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles. The study was sponsored by NAFA Foundation as a tool for fleet professionals to prepare for the near future. The pressure is on for fleet managers and operators to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions, make their fleets safer, and to try out connected, automated systems for these goals and cost containment. The paper delves into ways that fleets are already testing and exploring these changing technologies and methods, featuring a few successful case studies. Another watershed moment in this new year will be seeing ride-hailing company Lyft beat much-larger rival Uber in filing for an initial public offering. Lyft has been valued at about $15 billion, with its IPO slated for the first half of 2019, sources have told Reuters. Uber is expected to pursue an IPO next year that could value it at about $120 billion. Room rental company Airbnb Inc, valued at $31 billion, is also seen listing in 2019.

Autonomous vehicle test projects:  When, oh when, will autonomous vehicles move beyond the testing phase and be given the green light? It’s not clear, but more companies are entering the testing phase in California and others states. Uber is starting to recover from nine months ago when one of its autonomous test vehicles struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Ariz. The return to road testing in Pittsburgh will be at a much smaller scale than the company’s previous program. Another significant event was learning that Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrids have been through nearly two dozen attacks from irate locals in the Chandler, Ariz.. Over the past two years, irate locals have expressed frustration with tire slashings and pelting these vehicles with rocks. One local resident made multiple attempts to run Waymo vehicles off the road using his Jeep Wrangler, including driving toward one of the Waymo minivans head-on before turning away. He said it came from a Waymo vehicle nearly hitting his 10-year old son while the boy was playing in a neighborhood cul-de-sac.

The battery war continues:  Battery maker 24M just received $22 million in funding for its SemiSolid lithium-ion battery that would beat Tesla and other automakers in electric vehicle driving range and energy storage. The startup company, made up of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists and a former A123 Systems co-founder, offers longer driving range, lower battery cost, and faster manufacturing time. The company is also targeting the grid energy storage market, competing with Tesla’s energy storage unit, along with Daimler, BMW, Renault, Nissan, and other automakers. The SemiSolid speeds up the manufacturing process by cutting out a number of steps typically used in EV battery production. It also cuts down the need for materials such as copper, aluminum, and plastics. That will bring down the battery’s costs and the amount of energy needed to charge up the EV batteries.

Renewable energy trends:  Renewable energy went up a point in 2018 — up to 8% of U.S. power generation through the third quarter of 2018. There’s been a lot of concern over America’s trade war with China that includes renewable energy, but demand continues to grow. One study sees growth continuing in 2019, based on emerging policies that support renewable growth; expanding investor interest in the sector; and advancing technologies that boost wind and solar energy’s value to the grid, asset owners, and customers. Growth was driven by declining wind and solar generation costs, improvements in battery storage, and grid operators’ growing experience in integrating intermittent renewable power into the grid. Demand was strong, as well, with voluntary procurement (purchases not driven solely by government incentives) representing 52% of utility-scale solar projects in development and 73% of projects announced in the first half of 2018.

The trade war may change course:  The U.S. and China may be ready to end, or adjust, the trade war started last year by President Donald Trump. A U.S. government delegation will be traveling to Beijing next week to hold trade talks with Chinese officials, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke with Bloomberg. The Trump administration launching the trade war — which added more than $200 billion worth of imports from China by the third quarter of 2018 — is considered a key factor in destabilizing oil prices last year. It’s also hurting China’s weakening auto sales, which is seeing its first decline in two decades — during a time U.S. auto sales are expected to decline. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk and other automotive executives were pleased to see China reduce tariffs to 15 percent from 40 percent after that meeting. Tesla was able to lower prices for its Model S, Model X, and Model 3, which are scheduled to be delivered to customers early next year. BMW AG and Daimler AG were able to cut prices on their U.S.-made luxury vehicles, bringing prices down to the level there were at before the extra duty was added last July. Automakers in the U.S. are waiting to see whether Trump will be hitting vehicle imports with tariffs.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and stations:  Hyundai has delivered its first Nexo hydrogen fuel cell SUV in the U.S. market. The 2019 Nexo – which replaces the Tucson Fuel Cell – can go up to 380 miles, starting at $58,300 (including $13,000 on its hydrogen fueling card). It joins the Toyota Mirai and Honda Clarity in the fuel cell vehicle market.
The California Energy Commission and California Air Resources Board released a report in late December with some interesting numbers:

  • Public support and public funding remain necessary to achieve the 100-station goal, and more funding will be needed to support the 200-station goal.
  • The current network of 65 stations (including those still in development) provides enough fuel for the existing FCEV population, but capacity will need to double by 2024 to meet projected FCEV growth.
  • Estimated greenhouse gas emissions reductions from funded stations are nearly 76,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2024.
  • More than 5,000 FCEVs are registered in California as of October 2018, nearly double the number from the previous year.

Uber and Lyft going public, Highlights from AltCar Expo speakers

Ride-hailing firms going public:  Uber and Lyft, the top rivals for the U.S. ride-hailing market, are engaged in another race to see who can launch a successful stock market public offering first. While Uber went through disastrous upheaval not long ago, CEO Uber Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over a little more than a year ago, appears to be reviving the ride-hailing giant. Uber may be getting a 2019 offering at a $120 billion valuation, far above recent private market levels. Lyft, meanwhile, could find a public valuation of over $15 billion, which is much closer to IPOs than what some analysts expect Uber to find next year in initial market value.

Musk going to Mars:  While 2018 is turning out the worst of times for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, things are looking brighter on the space transport side of the business — with his grand vision of taking passengers to Mars. His SpaceX company’s Big Falcon Booster will see a factory being built in the Port of Los Angeles, 15 miles south of the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne. SpaceX is getting a lot of support for its Mars mission from NASA, along with contracts for cargo delivery. Another federal agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, has taken a dim view of Musk, but that’s getting worked out with a federal judge approving Musk’s settlement with the SEC. Musk’s mission to Mars goes back before he came over to Tesla. In 2002, he founded the space travel and exploration company through his frustration that NASA wasn’t doing enough to get humans to Mars. It’s typical to see him featured in interviews wearing his “Occupy Mars” t-shirt to get the message across.

Highlights from AltCar Expo:  AltCar Expo speakers talked about the key issues that government regulators, fleet managers, automakers, and technology partners are facing deploying clean vehicles and supporting clean fuels and energy in California. The popular ride-and-drive was a showcase for green vehicles of all types, including the debut of Electra Meccanica’s Solo single-passenger electric vehicle. The Audi etron 55 quattro was displayed and discussed in a panel by Audi of America’s Spencer Reeder; and attendees had a preview of the new Chanje V8100 Generation 2 Model of the electric van by the Chinese manufacturer.

Terry Tamminen, who now serves as CEO at the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, talked about the lack of clear understanding in the federal government over climate change and its devastating impact from Hurricane Michael and other signs of dire conditions. Former head of California’s Environmental Protection Agency and later Cabinet Secretary under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tammimen served as architect of key legislative changes including the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, the Hydrogen Highway Network, and the Million Solar Roofs Initiative. He sees California playing a critical role in the future of government policy and supporting growth in clean transportation. The state’s mandate to have 100% renewable energy by 2045, and tapping into more renewables to power the state’s energy grid, are signs of the state’s commitment to fight climate change. The cost of electricity dropping from $4 a watt when Schwarzenegger took office to under $1 a watt now is a sign the economic dynamics are coming together, as well, he said.

Santa Monica city council member, and Innogy e-Mobility US strategy and market development head, Terry O’Day, had a conversation with annual AltCar award winner Phillip Kobernick, Logistics Service Manager for County of Alameda, about the latest in Bay Area developments for clean vehicles and infrastructure. The county’s fleet now has 300 hybrid vehicles and 80 all-electric vehicles in its 1,300-vehicle fleet. Hybrid police patrol cars, motorpools, and car-sharing programs are supporting these efforts, he said. The County of Alameda and other government fleets in the region are tapping into incentives for chargers being purchased and installed, with the county reaching about 1,400 charger locations, he said. Kobernick offered three suggestions for meeting sustainability targets: gaining better data from EV usage patterns, similar to what’s available now on gasoline-engine vehicles; more charging options based on fleet vehicle duty cycles — such as when Level 1 charging can work and nighttime charging; and becoming smart users in the electricity grid — how to work with utilities on avoiding being penalized with extra fees during peak demand periods. He’s also interested in exploring whether battery swapping might work in EVs, such as police patrol cars that don’t have downtime to wait for charging.

Stay tuned for an upcoming video link in Green Auto Market that will show the Friday speakers. That will also include “Is California Past the Turning Point?” moderated by Marco Anderson, Southern California Association of Governments and featuring Clinton Bench of UCLA Transportation, Kobernick, and Ken Reichley of Southern California Edison. “Are Auto Makers Truly Committed to Low- and No-Emissions Technology?” was moderated by Sue Carpenter of KPCC “Take Two” and featured Anthony Luzi of Electra Meccanica and Spencer Reeder of Audi of America. Reeder also discussed where Volkswagen’s Electrify America program will be going in the next couple of years.

Amazon bringing in delivery fleet operators, Jaguar Land Rover upping its EV investments

Amazon building delivery network:  Amazon has taken another step to disrupt transportation through its new Delivery Service Partners program, which is creating a network of small business owners operating fleets of up to 40 delivery vehicles. Hundreds of small business owners may join, which could further take share away from UPS, FedEx, and the US Postal Service. Those joining the new network will get training and use of logistics technology from Amazon. Participating businesses can get discounts on vehicles, uniforms, fuels, and insurance. In recent years, Amazon has been building its logistics and transportation presence through air freight delivery, heavy-duty trucks, and the Amazon Flex network of independent contractors. President Donald Trump has criticized Amazon for getting the U.S. Postal Service to deliver its packages at bargain prices and for paying “little or no taxes to state & local governments,” according to one of his tweets.

Looking at the Big Picture: Green Auto Market’s take on developments impacting the auto industry, global economy, and clean transportation.

Jaguar Land Rover has upped its investments in electrified vehicles by 26% — now up to 13.5 billion pounds ($18 billion) over the next three years. The British automaker plans to offer electrified versions of all its nameplates. The company has seen its diesel vehicle sales drop and low profitability led to negative cash flow. JLR plans to produce by 2025 three versions of all its vehicles, including those powered by petroleum fuels, batteries, or a combination of both. The automaker will only offer all-electric versions of its product lineup if there is enough demand, a company spokesman said. This year has seen introduction of the Jaguar I-Pace all-electric crossover. The company plans to use its China factory to produce an EV such as the I-Pace, where competitive brands Audi to Mercedes are investing money to dominate that part of the market.

Volt getting faster charger:  General Motors has cut charging time down for the 2019 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid nearly in half by doubling the kilowatt capacity. The new 7.2 kilowatt charging system reduces the charging time from about 4.5 hours to 2.3 hours with a 240-volt outlet, GM said Thursday. The enhanced charging system is standard on the Volt Premier trim and will be available as an option on LT trim for the 2019 model year. Range will remain the same on the 2019 model, with 53 miles of battery only and total range of 420 miles on gasoline and electricity.

Tesla Model 3 hits more snags:  Tesla’s struggles to hit Model 3 production continue, with a fourth assembly line added this month under a tent at its Fremont, Calif., plant. Reaching the 5,000 units per week by the end of June isn’t looking good. Battery supplier Panasonic has been facing supply shortages, which would affect Tesla at the Nevada Gigafactory. There have also been two fires at the Fremont plant this month that forced temporary production halts. Reaching the overall target has been a missed mark for Tesla ever since the beginning of Model 3 output.

Hyundai enters energy storage market:  Hyundai Motor Group is working with Finnish corporation Wärtsilä for second-life electric vehicle batteries to reach the growing energy storage market. The global partnership will combine HMG’s expansion in electric vehicles with Wärtsilä’s growing energy business, which includes 67 GW of installed power plants and advanced energy storage technologies and software created through the acquisition of Greensmith Energy. It will tap into Wärtsilä’s existing customer and channel networks across 177 countries globally. Hyundai joins up with several other global automakers, such as Nissan, Tesla, and BMW, now serving the energy storage market.

Lyft raising more capital:  Ride-hailing firm Lyft has raised $600 million in a funding round led by Fidelity Management & Research Company, a subsidiary of Fidelity Investments and a prior Lyft investor. The company could raise up to $1 billion if its able to secure a strategic investor. Prior rounds have included General Motors and Chinese ride-hailing leader Didi Chuxing. Lyft has raised over $4.91 billion in venture capital and private equity funding, according to Crunchbase data. It’s market valuation is now at about $15 billion, double what it was during an April 2017 valuation. Lyft continues to battle Uber for ride-hailing and ride-sharing customers, and has been slowly expanding its presence beyond the U.S. market.

Kroger entering autonomous delivery business:  Grocery retailer Kroger is offering same-day autonomous vehicle deliveries through a partnership with self-driving vehicle startup Nuro. A pilot project will start this fall in several markets yet to be announced. It will use Nuro’s electric pod vehicles for short-range deliveries. The startup hopes to have a strong presence in “last-mile delivery” in markets such as groceries, dry cleaning, meals, an item left at a friends house, and other services. Kroger, which runs the Ralph’s grocery chain, has been getting ready to compete directly with Amazon and its grocery delivery service.

 

Electric buses will make up half of market by 2025, Midwest EVOLVE and Clean Cities supporting EV adoption in region

China dominating electric bus market:  Electric buses are becoming a major force in global vehicle electrification, with China playing a big part in its future. Nearly half of the municipal buses on roads worldwide will be electric by 2025, according to a report from
Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That will mean last year’s 386,000 units sold will go up to 1.2 million in the next seven years. Strong domestic support and aggressive city-level targets will mean China accounts for 99% of the world’s battery-powered buses by 2025, the report said. Last year’s electric bus sales dropped from 115,700 sold in China in 2016 to 89,546 last year due to policy changes and incentives being cut back during that time. This year will see changes as policy from national and local/city governments start to collide, according to a Clean Technica report. Hydrogen fuel cell buses will see an increasing trend as Chinese governments provide more support and subsidies. The Bloomberg report is taking a more optimistic view overall on electric bus growth with China supporting electric buses aggressively.

Two Chinese bus makers are dominating the domestic market – Yutong and BYD. BYD is the leading electric bus manufacturer, and Yutong is the largest overall bus manufacturer in the country. The EV manufacturer not long ago supplied 20 electric coaches to two Macao tourism enterprises in China. BYD continues to be active in other global markets, including supplying buses in the U.S. to transit districts. The Chinese company just announced it will supply 11 BYD ADL Enviro200EV single deckers operated by Go-Ahead London for the Transport for London. They’ll be similar to other BYD electric buses already on London roads operated by Go-Ahead London.

Renewable CNG case studies:  The U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Energy Vision released two case studies of successful projects utilizing renewable compressed natural gas (R-CNG) from anaerobic digesters capturing biogases coming from decomposing organic waste. One case study looks at Fair Oaks Farms, an Indiana dairy cooperative with roughly 36,000 cows, where biogases power its milk tanker trucks. The other study explored the Sacramento BioDigester, the first food-waste digester in California to turn commercial organic waste into R-CNG vehicle fuel using anaerobic digestion.

Midwest EVOLVE and Clean Cities bringing more EV experience to the region:  Midwest EVOLVE and its Clean Cities coalition partners are rolling out events offering a hands-on experience to test drive electric vehicles available locally, to help consumers and fleets make sound purchase decisions. One of these will be taking place February 10-19 during the 2018 Chicago Auto Show, where attendees will have the chance to test drive vehicles such as the all-new 2018 Nissan Leaf, 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, and 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Chicago Area Clean Cities Coalition is hosting the test drives in partnership with the Midwest EVOLVE program. The American Lung Association is a key sponsor to Midwest EVOLVE. The Clean Cities partners include Twin Cities Clean Cities Coalition, Chicago Area Clean Cities, Clean Fuels Ohio, Earth Day Coalition, Greater Lansing Area Clean Cities, North Dakota Clean Cities, South Shore Clean Cities, and Wisconsin Clean Cities.

A few of these Clean Cities coalitions active in Midwest EVOLVE will be hosting their own events this year. Clean Fuels Ohio is highlighting electric vehicles at auto shows throughout Ohio. Wisconsin Clean Cities recently announced the debut of The Electric Room at the 2018 Greater Milwaukee Auto Show, representing the first all-electric vehicle display in that auto show’s history.The Electric Room will feature the latest in electrified vehicles and charging stations. The Greater Milwaukee Auto Show is taking place Feb. 24 through March 4.

Tesla Model 3 leads electric vehicle sales in January, Fuel prices climbing up

Tesla Model 3 leads plug-in sales:  The Tesla Model 3 is now the top selling plug-in vehicle in the U.S., even if Tesla is still behind on its original production forecast from last year. The 1,875 sales total for the Model 3 for January comes from Inside EVs. It’s based on about 860 units being sent to customers at the end of the quarter, which are expected to be counted as deliveries in Q1 2018. The company also said that it was reaching a production rate of 1,000 units per week following the end of Q4 deliveries. The Toyota Prius Prime took the second spot at 1,496 units sold; the Chevy Bolt came in at 1,177, the Tesla Model S had 800 units sold in January, and the Chevy Volt had 713 vehicles sold. Plug-in vehicles had a better January in the U.S. than the overall light-duty vehicle sales market. Autodata Corp. reported a 1% increase at 1.15 million new vehicles sold last month. Inside EVs estimates that battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales went up about 10% from last year, with 12,116 units sold in January 2018 compared to 11,004 in January 2017.

Nissan and Infiniti launching six EVs:  Nissan and its Infiniti luxury brand will represent half of the 12 EVs that CEO Carlos Ghosn committed to last year for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Toshihiro Hirai, Nissan’s corporate vice president for powertrain and EV engineering, said that Nissan will be rolling out four all-electric vehicles and Infiniti will launch two all-electrics over the next five years. Like the Nissan Leaf, these new models will be battery electric vehicles. They won’t be utilizing the company’s new E-Power system, which uses a small gasoline engine to generate power for an electric motor.

Fuel prices climbing up:  Gasoline prices have gone up in the past week in several states. The national average is at $2.605, according to AAA. A year ago it was $2.270, and it’s up from $2.490 a month ago. Diesel is at $2.998, up from $2.509 a year ago and $2.893 a month ago. As for the price of a barrel of oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has gone up from $53.01 on Feb. 6, 2017 to $64.73 today.

Hawaii and California have the highest gasoline prices, at $3.391 and $3.344, respectively. Hawaii is usually one of the highest, with the additional cost of shipping petroleum to the islands built into the cost. California is usually higher than the national average, but prices have been spiking up in the past few months. Starting in November, California motorists have been paying 12 cents more per gallon for gasoline and 20 cents more for diesel. This came from state tax increases being used to improve road conditions.

New vehicle sales haven’t been affected by fuel price increases yet. Trucks were up 8% in sales last month while cars were down 10.8% with small and mid-size cars down even further. Hybrids and plug-in vehicles were up in sales last month, but they still only make a small percentage of total sales – hybrids at 1.91% and plug-ins at a little over 1% of total U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in January. The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has seen the sales-weighted average fuel economy in new vehicle sales hover around the 25.0 to 25.3 mpg mark for several months.

But fuel prices are expected to go up this year. Average prices could climb by more than 10%, in the near future says Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at Boston-based GasBuddy, which monitors fuel prices across the U.S.  One OilPrice.com analyst predicts that the price of a WTI barrel of oil will go up from its current $64.73 to about $70 a barrel in the near future.

Gas pump prices have always made for a strong argument to consumers and fleets over buying more fuel-efficient vehicles including hybrids, plug-in vehicles, and alternative fuel vehicles. It was weakened in the summer of 2014 with falling pump prices. That argument will become stronger as fuel prices continue to rise.

 

Hyundai Ioniq Electric tops Greenest list for second year, Nikola opening $1 billion plant in Arizona

ACEEE releases Greenest and Meanest lists:  The Hyundai Ioniq Electric has taken the top spot on the Greenest List for the second year in a row, achieving the highest-ever
Green Score of 70. Last year, the Ioniq Electric topped the list with the then-highest-ever Green Score of 64. Winners of the award issued annually by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) earn a high Green Score rating based on an environmental damage index (EDX). The index estimates pollution from vehicle manufacturing, the production and distribution of fuel, and vehicle tailpipes. ACEEE found that what makes this year’s award winner and others on the top ranking stand out is affordable, efficient, tech-smart vehicles that are now on the market, offering consumers plenty of options for buying a greener vehicle. The Ioniq was acknowledged for bringing high efficiency in a practical size. The Mercedes-Benz Smart Fortwo Electric Drive, BMW i3, Kia Soul Electric, Ford Focus Electric, and Honda Clarity also took places among the greenest vehicles on the market. ACEEE also issued the Meanest List leaning toward large SUVs, loaded pickup trucks, heavier medium-duty vehicles, and European luxury cars that are the least friendly to the environment. The Mercedes Benz G550 took the lowest score of 19.

Confusion over J.D. Power acquisition:  Leading automotive analyst company J.D. Power has been facing an uncertain future since its 2016 acquisition by Hong Kong investment firm XIO Group. J.D. Power employees say they have limited knowledge about where XIO’s funding came from, with some advisors to XIO having received contradictory accounts. A month into the sale to XIO Group through an offshore private equity fund in the Cayman Islands, seller S&P Global Inc. admitted that it was unsure about who owned the firm and the source of its funding, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Cayman Islands doesn’t require firms to publicly disclose their investors. XIO acquired J.D. Power from S&P Global on Sept. 7, 2016, for $1.1 billion. J.D. Power is facing challenges many media and research companies have undergone in the past few years as the marketplace faces historic changes.

Nikola opening Arizona plant:  Hydrogen fuel cell truck maker Nikola Motor Co. plans to build a $1 billion, one million-square-foot facility outside Phoenix to assemble its trucks. The company will be moving its R&D and headquarters to Arizona in the near-term future, and hopes to have the transition completed by October 2018. While the plant is being built, the first 5,000 production models will be manufactured at its facility in Crossville, Tenn. Nikola said it has received 8,000 pre-orders for its two trucks, the Nikola One, a sleeper cab, and Nikola Two, a day cab.

Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance beats Volkswagen and Toyota for No. 1 in global sales, Diesel tests on monkeys and human puts VW back under spotlight

Alliance now largest automaker:  The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance bumped Volkswagen Group out of the top spot as the world’s largest seller of light-duty vehicles during 2017. That was made up of 10.61 million new vehicles sold last year with Nissan bringing in 5.82 million, Renault 3.76 million, and its Mitsubishi subsidiary (acquired in 2016) selling 1.03 million. VW came in at 10.53 million and longtime winner Toyota Motor sold 10.2 million. CEO Carlos Ghosn has pledged to tap into economies of scale and double savings by 10 billion euros ($12 billion) by 2022. That assumes annual sales will rise to 14 million vehicles. Sharing parts and consolidating platforms is the foundation it’s being built on, as it usually cuts r&d and manufacturing costs. The Alliance will be rolling out 12 new all-electric models using common platforms by 2022, Ghosn said late last year. Plug-in hybrid models will also be utilized, coming from Mitsubishi’s experience with the Outlander PHEV. Two other utility plug-in hybrids will be coming to market over the next two years. The alliance companies have collectively already sold more than a half million plug-in electrified vehicles.

Uber supporting anti-trafficking groups:  Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is looking for ways to pull the ride-hailing giant out of the quagmire, this time encouraging drivers to be aware of human trafficking that may be transported in their vehicles. When drivers log into the app, they’re instructed on how to spot victims of trafficking and best ways to report it to police and anti-trafficking support groups. One of these, Polaris, is Uber’s partner in the campaign. Human trafficking has become of major concern to non-profit groups and government agencies around the world, including the U.S. Khosrowshahi has been working at improving relations with Uber drivers and the public. Drivers can now receive tips, which was always an edge Lyft had over Uber; they can also call a hotline when they have questions.

Veloz launches EV awareness campaign:  Veloz, a new California-based nonprofit organization supporting the electric car movement, has hired Division of Labor, an advertising agency headquartered in Sausalito, Calif. The two are working together to develop, test, and provide a strategic plan for a brand-inclusive outreach campaign that will inspire Californians to drive electric. Veloz is taking an approach emphasizing the fun, emotional, and significant benefits EV drivers will experience by driving electric. Made up of industry experts to bring public and private sectors together supporting EV adoption, the group thinks that sales will only go up substantially if consumers know about good purchase choices they can make. A strategic planning phase will continue through May, followed in the summer by implementation of the campaign. As with other initiatives in California, a portion of the campaign budget will go to reaching multi-cultural populations, low-income, and disadvantaged communities.

VW fires chief lobbyist as scandal continues:  Volkswagen fired its chief lobbyist, Thomas Steg, today in response to reports that the company and two competitors had sponsored tests that exposed monkeys and humans to toxic diesel fumes. The company had come under scrutiny again last week after The New York Times reported that VW, BMW, and Daimler had funded an organization called European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) to carry out the tests. These methods used in the U.S. were wrong, unethical, and repulsive, VW CEO Matthias Mueller said Monday. The study had been conducted in 2014 to defend diesel following reports that diesel car fumes were carcinogenic. The EUGT study had been dissolved last year. This news was revealed right after Germany’s KBA automotive watchdog has detected illicit emission-control software in Audi’s latest Euro-6 diesel models. KBA has ordered a recall of these 127,000 vehicles, putting more pressure on parent company VW to comply with government mandates in the U.S. and Europe.