Tesla says goodbye to innovative CTO Straubel, BYD and Toyota partnering to bring EVs to China

Tesla losing Straubel:  Tesla, Inc., has taken a big loss with the departure of one of its founders, chief technology officer JB Straubel. At the beginning of Wednesday’s quarterly report, CEO Elon Musk made the stunning announcement along with news on the delivery of 95,356 electric vehicles during the past quarter. Straubel is credited with playing a pivotal role in the development of Tesla’s power systems and battery technology. The photo you see is of Straubel from 2004 in his backyard gluing lithium ion batteries to a case as part of the company’s first concept vehicle. Retiring at age 43, Straubel was still in his twenties when he became convinced that new and innovative li-ion batteries could become the power source for mass produced EVs. Straubel met Musk in 2003, when they had lunch in Los Angeles near the headquarters of Musk’s other passion in life — his rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX). Two other entrepreneurs, Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, were in on the early days of the company, working with Straubel and Musk to launch the company. Eberhard and Tarpenning left Tesla in 2008, as disputes came up over the future of the company — and as Musk exerted more control.

Straubel brought a much needed calm and balance to Musk’s approach to running the company, which includes Musk making extreme demands of the company’s corporate leadership and workforce. He was known for providing insight and clarity to the technical points that could come up with shareholders and Tesla engineers. His role as a problem-solving engineer has come through as the company has had to overcome several obstacles. He’s been known for being much more easygoing and approachable than the CEO — and that’s included participating at Tesla vehicle rides and demos. He’s also become known as a leading innovator in EV batteries, energy storage, and propulsion. It’s now his time to move on. “It has been a really tough decision because I feel like I’m letting a lot of people down,” Straubel said. “But, also, you have to live life. I love inventing and creating and building things and am at peace knowing that about myself and wanting to reorient my life. I’m decompressing for a bit and having a little break, but I will have more to say in a few weeks.”

Four automakers backing California standards, Colorado makes deal on ZEVs:  Ford, BMW, Honda, and Volkswagen, signed a deal Thursday with the California Air Resources Board to comply with the state’s clean air admissions standards. They’re now siding with California’s mandate to produce fleets averaging around 51 miles per gallon by 2026, one year after the Obama-era target. This precedes an expected announcement later this summer from the Trump administration on a rollback of existing fuel economy and emissions standard targets, and taking away California’s right to set more stringent rules under the Clean Air Act (i.e., one national standard) to avoid what a Trump spokesman called a “PR stunt.” California’s Governor Gavin Newsom spoke to reporters on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with vehicle emissions being “perhaps the most significant thing this state can do, and this nation can do, to advance those goals. The Trump administration is hellbent on rolling them back. They are in complete denialism about climate change.”

In related news, automaker trade groups representing 99 percent of U.S. car and truck sales made an agreement with the state of Colorado to join the California zero emission vehicle program starting in the 2023 model year. The state agreed to allow automakers to earn credits for selling electric vehicles in the two model years prior and use other transitional credits available in other states. The Colorado agreement must be approved by the state’s Air Quality Control Commission at a meeting set for later this month. The automaker trade groups issued a statement praising the state’s flexibility in addressing their concerns “by providing the support Coloradans need to buy electric vehicles while allowing auto manufacturers to transition into Colorado’s ZEV program.”

Comeback for diesel engines:  The 2020 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 won the ranking as the most fuel-efficient light-duty truck on the market. General Motors’ pickup achieves an EPA-estimated 33 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg in the city when equipped with the new 3-liter inline six-cylinder Duramax diesel engine and rear-wheel drive. Its the first diesel engine offered in a Chevy light-duty truck since 1997. Light-to-heavy-duty pickups trucks have been a saving point for diesel engines since the September 2015 collapse following Volkswagen’s confession that the company had been dishonest about emissions reporting in its “clean diesel” passenger cars. Now GM will be following market leader Ford on the diesel pickup side, with Ford leading from sales of 94,626 diesel light and heavy-duty pickup trucks during the first half of this year.

Will 5G networks make it?:  One significant area to follow is how the new 5G wireless networks are facing an uphill battle for becoming the industry norm. The stakes are huge, with 5G ready to help save thousands of lives in self-driving cars, along with reducing traffic congestion and emissions. Europe is trying out auctioning off its bandwidth spectrum to monetize the new technology, a very expensive prospect for wireless carriers and partners. Check out this commentary by Roger C. Lanctot, a Strategy Analytics executive, on the challenges BMW and its German partner Deutsche Telekom have in building a consistent and reliable network of 5G wireless connectivity in the market. It’s a challenge faced in the U.S. and other key global markets adopting 5G. “We don’t need 10 Mbit/s, but rather basic bandwidth and guaranteed latency. We need coverage,” said BMW senior VP of electronics Christoph Grote at the recent Automobil-Elektronik Kongress in Ludwigsburg, Germany.

China partnership:  BYD and Toyota announced on July 19 in Toyota City, Japan, that they have signed an agreement for the joint development of battery electric vehicles, which will be electric sedans and sport-utility vehicles. The two parties will jointly develop sedans and low-floor SUVs as well as the onboard batteries for these vehicles and others. They’ll be launched in the Chinese market under the Toyota brand at some point in the first half of the 2020s. This joint venture partnership will help resolve Toyota’s ambitions to use electric vehicles to break into China, the market where the company remains well behind other global automakers. It also ties into climate change strategies as both BYD and Toyota seek to reduce carbon emissions by promoting the widespread use of BEVs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toyota rolling out new EV lineup, Renault refreshes ZEO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Tesla closing most of its stores, China showcased on 60 Minutes

Tesla closing stores, revealing Model Y:  Tesla is taking a giant leap on the car-selling front: closing down most of its shopping-mall stores, switching to online sales to cut down the high costs of running sales offices. Tesla wants to keep its pricing competitive especially on the Model 3 that starts at $35,000 while increasing the profit margin. The company does benefit from hosting invitation-only ride-and-drive events in major cities, which takes away some of the imperatives to operate retail stores. It will also be the hub for the next electric vehicle coming out, the crossover Model Y. Tesla will be revealing it March 15 at an event at the Los Angeles Design Studio, according to a recent tweet by CEO Elon Musk. It’s said to be 10% larger than the Model 3 and will cost about 10% more and will have slightly less range from the same battery. It will also share the same platform to save costs. It won’t have falcon wings like the Model X. The goal is to reach volume production of the Model Y by the end of 2020.

Lyft goes public:  Lyft has beaten ride-hailing giant Uber to the stock market with its initial public offering on Friday, raising about $100 million from placeholders. It will be traded on the Nasdaq market under the stock ticker LYFT. If Uber does make it soon the stock market, shareholders will be buying into companies that have been growing substantially while taking significant losses. Lyft’s net loss climbed to $911 million in 2018 from $688 million a year earlier. Uber lost $1.8 billion last year, according to a recently released filing by the market leader. Investors have to decide whether losses will continue for the next few quarters. Uber and Lyft have been fast-growing businesses inspiring many other mobility startups, which is part of the appeal. Lyft estimated last fall that it had reached 35% of U.S. market share. Market analyst firm Second Measure reported in October that Uber held 69.2% of U.S. market share, and Lyft had 28.4%.

DOE research funding:  The U.S. Department of Energy announced availability of up to $51.5 million for research of technologies for trucks, off-road vehicles, and the fuels that power them.  Funded through DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), this FOA addresses priorities in gaseous fuels research, including natural gas, biopower, and hydrogen; heavy-duty freight electrification; hydrogen infrastructure and fuel cell technologies for heavy-duty applications; and energy efficient off-road vehicles. “As the fastest growing fuel users, trucks offer an important opportunity to use innovation to improve energy productivity,” said Under Secretary of Energy Mark Menezes. “Through research and new developments in both energy efficiency and domestically-sourced fuel technologies, we can not only strengthen our energy security but also improve transportation affordability for our nation’s trucking industry – helping those who deliver American goods and those who use them.”

China’s EV market explored:  The “60 Minutes” news show recently broadcasted an in-depth look at China’s booming “new energy vehicle” market. Even with the possibility of generous government incentives being cut back, China is still the hottest electric vehicle market in the world. The U.S. had been the hub for years, but has been falling behind China in consumer and fleet EV purchases. Government incentives are getting harder to find as the Trump administration backs away from EV income tax incentives; and talks between the federal government and California on the state’s zero emission vehicle program have reached a stalemate. Chinese EV startup Nio was featured in the “60 Minutes” report, which helped its stock prices shoot up 8 percent last week. Nio sees itself as a Tesla-competitor. The startup has benefited from its price being about half of that of a Tesla in the Chinese market, and it doesn’t pay import taxes as it manufactures locally. Tesla hopes to cut that down, along with competition from majors in the market, by setting up its own plant and cutting away shipping costs and import taxes.

California and feds blocked on emissions agreement, Greenlots acquired by Shell

Talks breakdown between CA and feds:  Officials from California and the federal government have reached a stalemate over fuel economy and vehicles emissions standards, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg. Representatives from California Air Resources Board had been meeting in December with Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials to reach a compromise between the state and federal standards. The goal had been to reach agreement by late March or early April to modify the Obama administration’s corporate average fuel economy rules. Tensions between California and other states that follow California’s zero emission vehicle guidelines had been building. The conflict has been exacerbated during a time California has been leading a group of 16 states in a lawsuit to block Trump’s use of emergency powers to build the border wall. While federal representatives didn’t respond to requests for comments, the fuel economy and emissions stalemate was acknowledged by CARB. “The administration broke off communications before Christmas and never responded to our suggested areas of compromise — or offered any compromise proposal at all,” CARB spokesman Stanley Young said in an email. “We concluded at that point that they were never serious about negotiating, and their public comments about California since then seem to underscore that point.”

Amazon backs Rivian:  Electric truck and SUV startup Rivian just announced that its $700 million funding round is being led by Amazon. Rivian, a Plymouth, Mich.-based vehicle manufacturer, is raising funds to finish development and launch production of the all-electric R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV for deliveries beginning in 2020. These prototypes were displayed at the LA Auto Show in November. The investor group Amazon is leading for Rivian also includes the investment arm of a Saudi Arabian conglomerate whose holdings include a major Toyota car and truck distributorship. Sumitomo Corp. also has invested in Rivian. General Motors had been eyeing the startup as an investment, but was not part of the Amazon-led funding round.

Heavy-duty pickups hot:  Detroit automakers are moving even farther away from fuel-efficient, clean cars through the very profitable heavy-duty pickup segment. Ford has been taking the lead, and has been exhibiting a refreshed Super Duty F-Series pickup at the Chicago Auto Show. Ford has been marketing the truck’s advanced driver-assistance technology and new powertrains that will make the Super Duty its most powerful vehicle offering. Ford’s commercial vehicle business earned $10 billion in 2017 profits on $72 billion in revenue. The competitive climate is taking place at a time Ford and General Motors have announced moves to shut down production of cars for trucks, SUVs, crossovers, and vans. The heavy-duty truck market has failed for Ford in South America, as the automaker just announced it would be closing down its Brazilian truck plant to end losses being taken in the region.

Greenlots acquired by Shell:  Greenlots, a leading electric vehicle charging and energy management software company, has signed a deal to become a wholly owned subsidiary of Shell New Energies US LLC, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell plc. Greenlots’ network operating system, SKY, delivers comprehensive, open standards-based EV infrastructure management capabilities for site hosts and grid operators. The company was selected as the sole software provider for Volkswagen’s “Electrify America” charging program. Shell sees it as an opportunity to meet demand for low-carbon energy while making EV charging more accessible to utilities and businesses. Greenlots sees it as an opportunity to expand in global markets and support eco-mobility. “As power and mobility converge, there will be a seismic shift in how people and goods are transported,” said Brett Hauser, Chief Executive Officer of Greenlots. “Electrification will enable a more connected, autonomous and personalized experience. Our technology, backed by the resources, scale and reach of Shell, will accelerate this transition to a future mobility ecosystem that is safer, cleaner and more accessible.”

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VW and Toyota highlights at LA Auto Show, Nissan tapping into energy grid

One of the stars of AutoMobility LA at the LA Auto Show has been the I.D. Buzz Cargo concept, which ties into Volkswagen’s traditional Transporter cargo van and the look of its retro-passenger microbus. It’s the largest vehicle to be built on the German automaker’s Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB) platform, and it will be getting an expanded version of the microbus with a large rear cargo area in lieu of seats. It will also get a battery pack capable of going 340 miles on a charge. On the other side of the urban mobility scale, the company unveiled the Cargo e-Bike, a three-wheeled, battery-assisted electric bike that it says can deliver cargo up to 463 pounds. It’s expected to enter production in 2019.

Another LA Auto Show highlight: While the Toyota Corolla has been on the market for 53 years, the 2020 Corolla will be the first-ever to come in a hybrid edition. It’s expected to achieve more than 50 miles per gallon and will be loaded with Toyota’s standard suite of safety equipment, Toyota Safety Sense. The Japanese automaker also announced that the Prius will be getting the all-wheel-drive equipped AWD-e, that will provide additional traction through various conditions like inclement weather, snow or rain, and an estimated 52 mpg in the city. Toyota also had other product announcements during the show.

Nissan is tapping into the ecosystem and energy grid through two new programs, one out of Japan and one announced at its U.S. headquarters. The Yokohama global HQ announced Nissan Energy, where owners of Nissan electric vehicles will be able to easily connect the EV to energy systems to charge their batteries, power their homes and businesses, and feed energy back into the power grid. It will also develop new ways to reuse electric car batteries. The company is working with partners such as electric and telecom companies, conducting field tests of vehicle-to-grid and virtual power plant systems to tap into the clean energy benefits. In Franklin, Tenn., the U.S. division announced a program built around Nissan EV owners saving on electric utility costs by tapping into energy already stored in their Nissan Leaf. Working with Fermata Energy, a vehicle-to-grid systems company, Nissan North America is launching a new pilot program under the Nissan Energy Share initiative. It taps into bi‑directional EV charging technology to partially power its North American headquarters in Franklin, and its design center in San Diego, Calif. Bi-direction charging technology not only charges the Nissan Leaf, it also stories energy in the car’s battery pack to partially power external electrical loads, such as buildings and homes.

Electric scooter company Bird is offering independent operators a way to get into the mobility business. Bird is selling the scooters to local business people and getting 20% of each ride. They also get access to Bird’s chargers and mechanics, but they do have the option of charging the scooters themselves. A number of cities do regulate the number of scooters they’ll permit to run on their streets. Called the Bird Platform, the company will begin rolling out the franchisee program in December in markets where city regulators have been more relaxed about it. Municipal governments have mixed feelings about whether they should allow Bird and and its competitor, Lime, to have free rein in their cities, or if they should be limited in number of scooters allowed on their streets; as has been the case in San Francisco. Bird and Lime believe in the “micro-mobility solution,” where electric scooters will be a solution to increasing traffic congestion and an alternative to ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft. They usually enter markets first by showing up and gaining ridership before working things out with the city; and that sometimes happens after the city initiatives regulations and forces the issue.

Ryder System has ordered 1,000 medium-duty electric panel vans from Chanje, which will be operated by FedEx Express pick-up and delivery services. FedEx is purchasing 100 vehicles and leasing the other 900; the fleet vehicles are expected to operate throughout California over the next two years. The Chanje electric van is equipped to haul up to 6,000 pounds, up to 675 cubic feet of cargo, and travel 150-miles of range on a single charge.

Vincentric announced the 2018 U.S. Hybrid Analysis results with 42 of the 79 hybrids evaluated (53%) having a lower total cost of ownership compared to their closest all-gasoline powered counterpart. It was a significant growth rate over the 2017 study, where about 40% of the hybrids analyzed were cost-effective. The Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium had the highest savings, where buyers could save close to $6,400 over five years of ownership compared to the similarly equipped all-gasoline powered version. “The number of cost-effective hybrids has increased significantly from last year’s analysis,” said Vincentric President, David Wurster. “Our research shows that the lower hybrid costs for fuel and maintenance now gives buyers a larger variety of cost-effective, eco-friendly vehicles to choose from.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tesla Model 3 helping EVs go mainstream, Subscription services come to ride hailing

EVs going mainstream: Along with plug-in electric vehicles making it to the one million mark for U.S. auto sales in October, it was historic and interesting to see the Tesla Model 3 continue to make the Top 10 in America’s light-duty car segment — in October coming in at #6 behind the Hyundai Elantra and before the Nissan Sentra. In an interview this week with Recode, CEO Elon Musk said that 5,000 cars produced a week at its Fremont, Calif. plant has become the norm, and that’s being raised to 6,000 to 7,000 units a week. To hit about 6,500 a week “it would have to stress people out and do tons of overtime,” he said.

How long for AVs to go mainstream:  It was a milestone to see California grant Waymo the right to test self-driving vehicles without human safety drivers. Waymo has been putting in the hours and reporting the data — more than 10 million miles of real-world public-road testing, and seven billion miles of simulation testing. But it’s still in the testing phase in U.S. states allowing for it, and a few other countries overseas. We’re probably looking at a decade from now before they’re commonly seen on roadways. Perhaps trucking will see it first, with the lack of available commercial-grade drivers and accidents caused by those not getting enough sleep. Cargo carriers may have to come up with their own insurance for their fleets, as insurance companies are making it difficult to find the right coverage.

Subscription services comes to ride-hailing:  Uber is following Lyft — and several automakers — by now offering customers a subscription service, called Ride Pass. Users are guaranteed set prices for a monthly fee. That comes out to $24.99 in Los Angeles, and $14.99 in Austin, Orlando, Denver, and Miami. Subscribers pay fares based on historical data and won’t change based on demand or other circumstance, such as the costly “surge pricing” during peak hours. Lyft launched its All-Access Plan last month. The service costs $299 per month and gives users 30 rides worth up to $15 each. If a ride costs more than $15, the user pays the difference. Automakers have been offering their subscription services in recent years — with BMW, Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volvo, tapping into the car financing model where customers who might have been reluctant to come over to the brand are trying it out; with the hope they’ll be loyal brand buyers and tap into their dealer networks for service and maintenance, shared ride services, etc.