Bye for now from the Editor, and a long list of Elon Musk’s wild ideas

Sorry to say it, but Green Auto Market will be put on hold for now. You may see it — or short variations of it — sent out in the months ahead; but not the semi-regular publishing schedule it’s been on this year; or the regular editions that stared going out to readers in June 2013.

While it was at first completely unexpected during this turbulent year, I’ve started a new job on a new career path. It’s a demanding, good paying, rewarding, full-time job that I started in mid-October. As for now, you get to make a guess on the new job from the following list:
—Editor of a transportation newsletter
—Communications manager at a Cal State university campus
—Public safety dispatcher at a law enforcement agency
—Manager at a Tesla retail store and service shop
—Market analyst at a consulting firm in Orange County

Clean transportation, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, mobility, and autonomous vehicles continue to be fascinating topics. I do look forward to seeing where all of it goes after the election season closes and the new year begins.

I appreciate your reader feedback and interest in the subject matter — and for those of you’ve who’ve done lengthy interviews with me and contributed guest columns. Thank you for your contributions; and thanks so much for opening and reading many, many issues of this newsletter.

I expect I’ll continue writing on this subject matter, as it is so fascinating and covers a wide spectrum of topics and critical issues.

I will be putting out a newsletter. I will be writing and publishing NEWSLETTER!!! when I have time do so. Click here to see the first version of it (actually the first since 2004) that will cover topics such as my favorite conspiracy theories and where housing is headed as we continue through Covid-19.

Story idea: Elon Musk’s big ideas and where they stand today
Writing about Tesla and chief Elon Musk has taken up quite a lot of my time over the past decade-plus, but I’ve gotten a big kick out of it. Here’s my latest idea for a story, though I’ve run out of time to do the research and writing. It’s yours if you want to pursue the project. Here’s what I see as the subject matter……..

  1. Underground transit tunnel beneath Los Angeles
  2. Virgin Hyper-loop
  3. Electric heavy-duty truck
  4. Super batteries and components of the future
  5. High-speed charging networks
  6. Tesla Energy battery storage accomplishments and offerings
  7. Upcoming Tesla vehicle launches
  8. What’s up with SpaceX
  9. The company’s autonomous driving technology
  10. Owners of autonomous Teslas renting out their vehicles for side income
  11. How SolarCity is doing
  12. New York solar cell factory with Panasonic (which seemed to end earlier this year)
  13. Gigafactory in Nevada and the next wave of batteries and vehicles production in Austin, Texas, Germany, China, and elsewhere.
  14. Taking another shot at having another significant other — and having more kids.
  15. Doing his part in keeping Tesla stock performing well — even though profitable quarters continue to elude the company and we’re in the middle of Covid-19.
  16. Tesla and SpaceX being a great place for young upstarts to gain great professional experience, but you wouldn’t want to stay there for very long and put up with Musk’s intensity and work-hour expectations; and the same being true for the company’s factory workers looking to make a good living.
  17. Did I miss anything?

Best regards,

Jon LeSage
Editor and Publisher

What to watch for in Washington during historic election season

Here’s wishing for a much better year in 2021 for health, diversity, economic stability, and sustainability. Here are a few issues and challenges that I’ll be watching for in the near future…….

California’s 2035 ban and an unsurprising EPA response
Gavin Newsom issued an executive order last week that will phase out the sale of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035 in California in a bid to lead the U.S. in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging the state’s drivers to switch to electric cars. Newsom’s executive order is said to be the most aggressive clean-car policy in the US. It does offer some flexibility for traditional cars and trucks vehicles to be owned and sold on the used-car market. Newsom, also supported a ban on petroleum fracking, but called on the California legislature to make that change.

US EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday said the plan “raises serious questions regarding its legality and practicality” and said it could impact the state’s electrical grid. “California’s record of rolling blackouts — unprecedented in size and scope — coupled with recent requests to neighboring states for power begs the question of how you expect to run an electric car fleet that will come with significant increases in electricity demand, when you can’t even keep the lights on today,” Wheeler wrote.

Green activists have been protesting climate denial for years now.

Wheeler’s background is reminiscent of the former EPA administer. According to Wikipedia and other sources, “He served as the deputy administrator (of EPA) from April to July 2018, and served as the acting administrator from July 2018 to February 2019. He previously worked in the law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, representing coal magnate Robert E. Murray and lobbying against the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations. Wheeler served as chief counsel to the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and to the chairman U.S. senator James Inhofe, prominent for his rejection of climate change. Wheeler is a critic of limits on greenhouse gas emissions and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”

Will the election carry over into December, or January, or……?
If President Trump loses reelection, we may be watching an historic first for America — the challenge of getting the previous president out of the White House. He’s stonewalling, suggesting he won’t be leaving. Asked at a press conference Wednesday if he would “commit to a peaceful transferal of power” if he lost the November election, Trump said: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”

And what about his continued challenges over mail-in ballots being legitimate? Will Trump get his lawyers to drag out election results for a month or two after the election? It is going to stay interesting, especially as predictions extend out on availability of Covid-19 vaccinations; and whether a relief bill will make it through Congress. More will be revealed at tonight’s presidential debate. Then there’s the question of how you can creatively pay — and not pay — your taxes. The rules of the game continue changing; or at least can seem to be unenforceable for now.

What about the new Supreme Court justice?
Then there’s the Supreme Court, which sometimes can be the deciding force on what happens in Washington. There is a lot of concern that Trump’s choice to fill the open Supreme Court seat, Amy Coney Barrett, will be the sixth Republican-appointed justice — and a conservative justice, based on her past rulings and public comments. Legal issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, clean energy guidelines, and accountability for air pollution, will be going more in favor of fossil fuel companies and those denying climate change if Coney Barrett gets appointed. So even if Chief Justice John Roberts continues to occasionally vote with the opposition, that would still mean five justices will be winning the vote on the conservative, anti-regulatory side — if Barrett passes through senate confirmation.

What does the future of fracking look like?
Fracking won’t be going away, but which version of it gets enforced will be determined by the November election. Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, has been credited with helping America cut down energy imports. It also became a lightning-rod issue for environmental activists.

Fracking became the extraction method that over the past decade opened up gas shale fields and made the US less reliant on foreign oil and gas imports. Oil and gas companies pushed hard for fracking to be allowed to ramp up natural gas, oil, gasoline, and diesel production in the US. President Barack Obama issued a regulatory structure over it in 2015 — the first one in more than 30 years. The Obama administration was criticized for the new rule by environmental groups fighting fracking and other issues such as whether the US was going to allow the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to Texas. The White House made the case that natural gas released half the emissions of coal and would be a much better transitional energy source for power plants. Obama also pushed for improving the process including honest reporting of the chemicals used in fracking, which some say did clean up fracking. Some environmental groups supported it as a way to displace coal.

In late 2017 under Trump, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published its ruling in the Federal Registry essentially overturning Obama’s 2015 rule. That decision was backed by a federal judge in March. California and several environmental groups had sued over the Trump administration’s repeal, claiming it was unlawful. The main argument was that the federal government was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. But Judge Haywood Gilliam Jr., an Obama appointee, sided with the Trump administration.

Biden is likely to follow a similar strategy spelled out in the Obama plan from 2015. He’s stayed out of it so far, but his campaign has said he does not want to ban fracking. He has proposed a ban on new oil and gas permits on public lands and waters. Trump would like to continue opening up all the available gas and oil reserves, no matter how damaging it could be.

Would Biden listen to Bernie and AOC?
Biden’s Build Back Better plan is a centerpiece of the Democratic presidential nominee’s campaign that he released prior to the Democratic national convention. The $2 trillion plan would set the US on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It will include investing in renewable energy, advanced battery development, parts and components, and a broad charging network, to put a lot more electric vehicles on American roads and to build up clean energy. One stumbling block would be accessing enough rare-earth metals needed for making these batteries and other parts used in clean energy and tech. Most of it is mined overseas, with China leading the way. Trump’s trade battle with China makes it even more vulnerable.

The Green New Deal initiative, introduced to Congress in February 2019 by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), shares many of the clean energy goals as Build Back America but conflicts over health care and other issues. Then there’s the big question of whether clean energy and tech can really support the domestic economy and workforce, with is the foundation for Biden’s plan.

The Green New Deal, which was placed on the back burner in Washington after not gaining enough momentum, does differ widely from Biden on two fronts — medical coverage and living wages. Those two issues would bring an overhaul to the healthcare system and medical insurance coverage, and to the worker pay structure. They’re much closer to what No. 2 Democratic nominee, Sen. Bernie Sanders, had been hawking during both of his runs for president; and which inspired Sanders to co-sponsor a push last year to get Green New Deal enacted starting on the public housing front along with AOC, a popular nickname for Ocasio-Cortez.

Green New Deal would expand Medicare to cover all Americans — which is far closer to socialized medicine in Canada and several European countries than what’s been enacted through Obamacare. Another policy point would be providing a job guarantee that would bring a “a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States,” as stated in the bill.

Green New Deal would also enact more stringent rules on conversion over to clean energy from fossil fuels. While Biden would agree with Markey and Ocasio-Cortez on hitting net-zero carbon emissions targets, there’s a 20 year-gap in hitting the end goal. The Green New Deal proposal calls net-zero to be achieved by 2030.

Where are campaign contributions coming from?
Fossil-fuel interests donated seven times more to the Trump campaign than the Biden campaign as of June 30, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. Trump started raising campaign funds right after taking office in 2017, so those numbers could be a bit skewed because of it. But major oil and gas shareholders would like to see Trump get reelected. Anything they’ve asked for — like more access to offshore oil drilling — has been handed over by the Trump administration.

Net exports continuing?
In 2019, total annual US natural gas exports were 4.66 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) — the highest on record, according to the US Energy Information Administration. Of that total, 61 percent went through pipelines to Mexico and Canada, and the rest of it, liquefied natural gas (LNG), was shipped to global markets. Shipping gas to markets like Asia and Europe could make America a net exporter of natural gas for the fourth year in a row. Net exports of crude oil have also been on that growth path.

Veterans of clean transportation from the 1970s will tell you about the historic impact both of the OPEC oil embargoes had on fuel prices, and shifting regulations and automotive engineering over to fuel economy. Access to transportation fuel and power station energy can play a significant role in what happens in geopolitics; that fact goes back much farther than the 1970s and will continue on well into the future. Making electrification and alternative fuels commercially viable and supported by governments and corporate executives — along with car shoppers and fleets placing orders — will always play a part in elections, government policies, and other big decisions.

What came out of Tesla’s Battery Day?
As part of Tesla’s Battery Day festivities, a bold plan was revealed. Tesla will start producing its own batteries by ramping up its new 4680 battery “pilot” factory. Tesla aims to reach 100 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of its own production by 2022 — in addition to whatever batteries it can source from Panasonic, LG Chem, and CATL. To give an idea of the scale, 100 GWh is two-thirds of Gigafactory Nevada’s full, unrealized potential, in only two years from now.

Tesla wants to produce three terawatt-hours (TWh) of batteries by 2030. That is 30 times more than the bold goal of 2022. CEO Elon Musk is well known for making hyper claims about Tesla’s performance and that of his SpaceX company, but you never know.

Latest news bites and commentaries:
AltWheels Fleet Day 2020 Conference: ‘SUSTAINABLE TRANSPORTATION IN A POST-COVID WORLD: Creating Opportunity from Uncertainty.’ The virtual conference is coming up Monday, Oct. 5. Keynoters will be Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group and Bill Van Amburg, EVP of CALSTART. You will also be hearing from leaders in the field of sustainable transportation solutions including UPS, Ford, Toyota, Clean Cities, Nissan, GEOTAB, Proterra, Verizon Connect, Lion Electric, and many others.
To view agenda and speakers, please click here.

National Drive Electric Week events: National Drive Electric Week, is taking place Sep 26-Oct 4, 2020. The nationwide celebration to raise awareness of the many benefits of all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars, trucks, motorcycles, and more. This year, for the 10th annual National Drive Electric Week, we will be adding online events for the first time. Enter your location below to find national, state and local online events as well as local in-person events near you. You can also use the event map or the event list to see all events.

Hyundai’s Ultimate Mobility Vehicles: Hyundai Motor Group just announced the formation of New Horizons Studio in Mountain View, Calif. It’s a new unit focused on the development of Ultimate Mobility Vehicles, or UMVs for short. One of them was unveiled at CES 2019, Hyundai Elevate and is now the inaugural vehicle for the studio. The vehicle does not rely solely on wheels and is expected to address challenging driving situations – for example, a car with robotic legs could save lives as the first responder in natural disasters; or, people who do not have access to an ADA ramp could hail a car to walk up to their front door, level itself, and allow wheelchairs to roll right in.

Renewable diesel gets good capital rating: Renewable diesel has much potential as a growing market as gasoline and diesel continue to stagnate. Morgan Stanley sees real opportunities opening up in renewable diesel as US and international oil refiners make early moves to expand business in a declining industry. While not mentioned in the study, oil refining company Neste is continuing to bet on the fuel, having just added more than 100 renewable diesel sales points in the Netherlands. 

Uber returning to London:  A London judge found the ride-hailing/sharing giant is “fit and proper” to hold a license in the city, ending a years-long battle for Uber to win back its license to operate in the city. That will help as its one of the biggest global markets for ride services.

New Fisker office opening: Fisker Inc. just announced details surrounding its first dedicated engineering and technology center, to be located in the Mission District of San Francisco, and is being given the name ‘Source Code.’ This facility will be the focal point and development center for the company’s software and vehicle electronics, including both in-car and Fisker data center elements.

Beijing Hyundai EV announcements: On Sept. 25 at the 16th Beijing International Automotive Exhibition (Auto China 2020), Beijing Hyundai Motor Company shared its electrification vision that is driving its transformation into a Smart Mobility Solution Provider. At the show, Hyundai premiered its RM20e electric racing midship sports car prototype, Elantra N TCR and Prophecy concept EV model, demonstrating the reach of its EV ambitions.

Musk’s insane success secrets: Here are 10 success tips from CEO Elon Musk’s profile in the book, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. It offers a look into Musk’s work ethic and productivity secrets he uses to run two companies. Some of his productivity secrets could be helpful for the rest of us.

Disaster management and climate crisis: Growth industries for the next few decades

A consensus seems to be emerging that a vaccination will be tested and safe enough to be accessed by the general public sometime next year — from summertime to New Year’s Eve. The infection and fatality rate is expected to stabilize before or after, and health and safety concerns should lift enough for the global economy to recover. At least that’s the theory.

Climate change isn’t getting that kind of high hope and positive expectation. Climate crisis has become the norm in the past few years with evidence of it coming from Western state wildfires and regular tropical storms hitting the East Coast; and events like it occurring around the world. Then there’s the temperature continuing to go up, with California’s Death Valley reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit recently, the highest temperature ever measured on the planet. The death toll has been increasing from all of the devastating impact of climate change, such as cities like Phoenix recording their hottest months ever.

Stakeholders in emergency management services, land development, healthcare, waterway restoration, and transportation, have been hearing alarms sound over it for years; but it has become more pressing in the past five years with brush fires destroying millions of acres and tarnishing air quality.

So, what’s the latest?

—The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been doing much better since the president invoked the Stafford Act in March and declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency. FEMA has been getting more funding and support, but onlookers acknowledge it could be much better if the federal government could play a more clear and decisive role. While FEMA and other agencies are getting better marks for responding to Covid-19, climate change continues to be ignored.

Climate change “affects almost every single thing in emergency management,” said Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management and disaster science at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. “We’re not ready for what is coming.”

—Bill Gates would like to see the US clean up its act on bringing a vaccine to people in this country — and coordinate with the best of what’s going on around the world. He has that suggestion for clean transportation as well. Gates said that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has played a matchmaker role between several possible Covid-19 vaccine makers, based on the connections the group made on vaccines for other diseases, like malaria.

Gates has also been leading the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund to fight climate change. Startups need to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 500 million metric tons. And last month, Gates posted in LinkedIn on his ideas on how to meet one of his objectives: “We want more people to be able to travel without contributing to climate change,” he wrote.

—What about investing in technology that could support firefighters in their battle with brushfires? Could there be a way to spur cloud formation and rain in given areas? Well, it’s a great idea but doesn’t appear to be approaching reality anytime soon. One methodology that is available is more realistic weather forecasting, which can be utilized for disaster preparation.

In late 2013, biotech giant Monsanto bought Climate Corporation for approximately $1.1 billion. While Monsanto was then under fire from activist groups for its role in propagating genetically modified organisms (GMO) in agriculture, the company’s Climate FieldView system is now a standard in agriculture.

While some leaders like President Trump are climate deniers, scientists are getting it right and forecasting climate change more accurately. Earlier this year, NASA found that 10 of 17 increasingly sophisticated model projections of global average temperature closely matched observations. And after accounting for differences between modeled and actual changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and other factors that drive climate, the number increased to 14. Authors of the NASA study found no evidence that the leading climate models in which they had evaluated systematically overestimated or underestimated warming over the period of their projections.

And in other news……..

At its much-hyped Battery Day, Tesla Inc. yesterday unleashed a list of innovations that CEO Elon Musk said could make battery-making cheaper and would assist rolling out a $25,000 Tesla electric car within three years. At Tesla’s socially distanced outdoor Battery Day event, Musk said the company is moving toward eliminating cobalt in its batteries; a new powertrain for the Model S that could get to speeds of 200 mph; and a new cathode plant to streamline its battery production.

Sad news for those who own the GenZe electric scooter. After setting up a temporary shutdown plan to survive Covid-19 earlier this year, the company is now in the process of closing its shutters for good. The Mahindra-owned company did look very promising a few years ago with its functional bikes and a factory that built vehicles in the US. The holding company liquidated GenZe’s assets after deciding to shutter a number of its unprofitable subsidiaries and is working on completely dissolving the company in months ahead. One friend of mine found out from a West Hollywood maintenance shop that GenZe isn’t getting any support — no parts that can be shipped, and no one is answering the hotline. GenZe says more will be coming out later.

Worried about breathing air during brush fires and climate catastrophe? Volvo Cars has introduced a world-first premium air quality technology to address these issues for its 90 and 60 Series models, based on its Scalable Products Architecture (SPA). The company’s new Advanced Air Cleaner technology comes with a sensor that measures PM 2.5 levels inside the cabin, creating a feature not available in any other car currently on the market. It’s staring out in China, where PM 2.5 measurements and related information services are well-established. Volvo drivers in China can compare air quality inside the cabin to that outside the car. PM 2.5 has become a widely-used measure for air quality, the company said, as its indicates the amount of fine particulate matters in the air.

Connecting the Dots — looking at data and analytics in economics and Covid-19

These indicators seem to look better now than in March and April, but economists warn that it’s still too early to assume that stability has returned. Unemployment has come down, but there’s concern over the accuracy of the reporting; and that it’s still way above the 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent rate when the economy is within a stable rate. The GPD being down so dramatically is a significant indicator to follow.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows mixed messages on the economy and public perception of it. The current unemployment rate and rising stock prices may be part of what could be recorded as the deepest and shortest downturn after Covid-19 hit the US. An economic recovery has started, but its growth and stability are still unknown; and that recovery is accompanied by large amounts of government borrowing. The opinion poll showed support for President Trump on the economy, but some of those who gave him a good economic leadership rating don’t plan to vote for him in November.

While the three stock market indices are looking better, the stock markets are still going through waves of volatility. Stock performance is expected to stay in the green into the new week. On the other side, it looks like Covid-19 relief spending may not be coming from Washington. Democrats and Republicans are still more than a trillion dollars apart from striking a deal.

As for economic forecasts in the pandemic climate — Global economies are expected to be several quarters away from returning to pre-pandemic levels with Asia seeing its first regional recession in 60 years……… OPEC and BP are predicting oil prices will be staying down for quite a while………. Automakers and their suppliers have been returning to near-normal activity in production plants; engineers and designers are getting back to work on the next-generation electric vehicle propulsion, and autonomous systems are still drawing support with delivery drones and robots getting the most push lately. Amazon, FedEx and other companies are lobbying for favorable regulation as automated e-commerce delivery becomes more popular due to the pandemic.

US consumers did quite a bit of online shopping in the second quarter — increasing 31.8 percent from the previous quarter; and 44.5 percent year over year, according to US Census Bureau of the Dept. of Commerce. That made for $211.51 billion in revenue — up from $160.41 from Q1. But it wasn’t enough to level out the negative impact of numerous losses from brick-and-mortar store closures; and total retail sales were down 3.9 percent from the prior quarter.

Amazon’s recent financial performance ties in closely to the online shopping numbers. The company’s sales skyrocketed 40 percent year-over-year to to $88.9 in its fiscal second year. Profits also doubled year-over-year to $5.2 billion during that quarter. The company also reported spending about $4 billion on Covid-19—related expenses such as adding additional safety measures at the company’s warehouses and facilities, personal protective equipment employees, and $500 million for bonuses to logistics and delivery workers. The company will continue hiring in its fourth round this year — 100,000 workers to meeting growing order and delivery demand; and 33,000 in corporate and tech roles with pay averaging $150,000.

Tech firms are creating new jobs — as employees have been stuck at home, employers have brought in new managers to manage the new, virtual workplace — and to prepare for a lasting remote workplace for many workers. Tech firms like Facebook are doing most of the job postings for jobs such as, “director, remote work.”

US debt last month reached its highest level compared to the size of the economy since World War II and is projected to exceed it next year as the coronavirus pandemic continues on. The Congressional Budget Office reported that federal debt held by the public is projected to reach or exceed 100 percent of US gross domestic product, the broadest measure of U.S. economic output, in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

Questions have never been clearly answered by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on why reducing the cases and fatalities was so positive for the state in March, but so awful by summer time. California and several other states seemed to be bending to large employers and other interests. But what is the real cost of going this rate in fatalities, medical care and emergency services, and what it may be doing to education and the workplace?

Asian countries are credited with enacting strict social protocols and seeing much lower infection and fatality rates — as shown above in China’s numbers, the country where all of it began in December 2019. The trade war between China and the US has been behind many of the actions taken by both governments this year. Two Chinese companies were hit with trade sanctions last week by the US Commerce Dept., something that continues on a regular basis in the US and China; with the White House citing national security as the reason for restricting exports.

And in other news………..
General Motors is partnering with Nikola to engineer and build the Nikola Badger for both the battery electric vehicle and fuel cell electric vehicle variants. Nikola anticipates saving over $4 billion in battery and powertrain costs over 10 years and over $1 billion in engineering and validation costs. GM expects to gain more than $4 billion of benefits between the equity value of the shares, contract manufacturing of the Badger, supply contracts for batteries and fuel cells, and EV credits retained over the life of the contract. The Detroit automaker’s CEO Mary Barra said Monday that the company conducted “appropriate diligence” in the $2 billion deal with Nikola. That follows fraud claims made last week by short-selling firm Hindenburg Research. But the Securities and Exchange Commission will be examining whether the deal could be violating securities laws.

NGVAmerica’s Annual Industry Summit will transition to an online format for Fall 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which will go online Oct. 20th to 22nd from 12:00 p.m. to 3 p.m. ET daily. Registration for the virtual sessions is now officially open at On-road, off-road and everything in between will be featured, from traditional freight, refuse, and transit applications to growing marine, rail, and construction use in vehicles powered by natural gas. Program details are being finalized now built around daily themes: Market, Sustainability, and Public Policy.

Possible scenarios for the next phase of these tumultuous times

Summertime is coming to an end with Labor Day over now. Students are going back to school; if the school will be opening and allowing them to attend. We’ve got a big election coming up, and interest remains high on other fronts — including whether a Covid-19 vaccine will be available soon, protesting continues, fires and hurricanes surge on, and what impact all of this is really having on the economy (more on that topic next week).

What could happen to transportation, mobility, and fuel in this environment? Election results will be the main event to answer that question, with a wide chasm between the Trump and Biden campaigns on climate change, clean fuels and energy incentives, low-interest loans for cleantech, and other key issues.

Here’s a look at some of the news coverage, polling, and forecasting that’s analyzing what’s going on out there during such a turbulent time.

Are kids going back to school?
Students in K-12 school districts, colleges/universities, and technical training programs— both public and private — have been going back to classrooms across the country; and some will have to wait a few more weeks before the school opens; or stay at home and attend through online courses for the time being. At the college level, many of the announcements came out in late July or early August, with some of them surprising students and their families by retracting earlier plans to open up again; many of these announcement came from private colleges and universities. The real challenge has been discerning when its safe enough to open up, and what health and safety protocols have to implemented. Experts have been looking at zone mapping and other reports on red zones to avoid, and yellow and green zones that can be accessed following strict guidelines.

Who’s winning electoral college votes?
Lessons learned during the 2016 election seem to be taken very seriously this year by both presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton may have had about a 2.8 million lead in popular votes, but didn’t have enough electoral college votes to score the victory. Sifting through polling data and electoral college state forecasts show Joe Biden so far to have a clear lead. The Economist, as of Sept. 8 data, shows Joe Biden taking 334 and Donald Trump taking 204 with a minimum of 270 needed to win.

Mail-in ballots — what could be the impact?
President Trump has been sounding an alarm about mail-in ballots ruining this election, which he’s called “the greatest scam in the history of politics.” Election experts say the US is not mired in election scams, as is the case in many countries around the world. Cases of mail-in voting fraud, and electoral fraud in general, are exceedingly rare in the US. While it was common to see fixed ballots in US elections many years ago, especially in small towns, the issue this year appears to be about the huge change coming from polling booths being closed due to Covid-19 and the necessity of mail-in ballots. Will the head postmaster at USPS be able to carry it out on time, and is he willing to do so? Trump may be stirring the pot in this election since he’s been trailing behind Biden in early polling surveys. If he does challenge the results from Tuesday, Nov. 3, it could be dragged out for several weeks; something like former vice president Al Gore calling out an investigation of Florida votes from the 2020 election.

Covid-19 vaccine testing and hope for recovery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked public health officials in the states to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by late October or early November. It that coming from pressure by the Trump administration to look good for the election? Readiness to start testing? The need to pressure key players to get it started? It may take longer than hoped for, now that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and other vaccine developers are said to be planning to issue a pledge not to seek government approval until the vaccinations prove to be safe and effective. The pharmaceutical companies might issue the pledge soon, according to two people familiar with the matter.

How candidates are addressing police tactics and protesting
Messages given by the two presidential campaigns could be their most significant and long-lasting statements this year; though stopping Covid-19 and restoring the economy are up there on the list, too. The Trump campaign is downplaying charges of racist law enforcement tactics, especially treatment of black Americans; Trump instead is speaking about bringing back order and safety to cities torn by police shootings, protests, and upheaval. The Biden campaign is coming from the other side — as clearly represented by Biden speaking on the phone with Jacob Blake, the black man shot in the back and paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wis., and visiting sites in that town where demonstrations had taken place. That was soon after Trump had visited the city to praise law enforcement and reiterate his party’s messages over urban unrest.

Extremist groups taking advantage of protest demonstrations
Protests have taken a deadly turn in the last three weeks, and authorities say extremists are responsible. The Wall Street Journal released a podcast last week detailing it, with what happened in Charlottsville, NC, in 2017 during the Unite the Right rally as a predecessor of what’s been taking place in Wisconsin and Oregon. Protests started by some of these right wing groups (and a few left wing groups) in April over what they saw as extreme measures take by government to contain Covid-19. Left wing, anti-fascist Antifa groups started showing up at protests too for Black Lives Matter along with extreme groups on the right. Boogaloo Boys, Patriot Prayer, and other right-wing groups have been champions of chaos, which some would like to see take the form of another civil war. These are not like right-wing groups in the past with well known leaders showing up at events. Now these activists can just show up somewhere, cause damage, then quickly exit. The far-right vigilante who killed two protesters on the streets of Kenosha, Wis. on Aug. 25, raised more concerns about these killings increasing. Tension was added with 1,000 pro-Trump, right-wing protesters gathering outside Portland, Ore. yesterday in a show of force against left-wing protestors. Law enforcement may have to use what worked well in containing ISIS in the Middle East, analysts say; another tactic would be banning guns at events and strictly enforcing it.

California ballot initiative could stop AB5
If a California court allows the state’s AB5 implementation to precede in the coming weeks, which is expected to be the case, the business model for Uber, Lyft, and other mobile app-based company operating in the state, will be overturned. But they’re at war with the state, and may block enforcement of AB5 through Proposition 22. The ballot initiative has been funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. While AB5 established three criteria that workers must meet to be independent contractors rather than employees, Prop. 22 would exempt app-based drivers from this test, labeling them as independent contractors. So far, they’ve raised more than $110 million to promote the bill, while opposition has only raised $900,000. If it does get passed by voters, the legal issue won’t be automatically resolved. That will probably take more time in courtrooms, which could mean years before it’s legally defined. Uber, Lyft, and the others will probably continue to operate under their current business models — unless an appeals court decisively rules that AB32 will be protected.

Auto sales and EVs
US car sales were down 19.8 percent in August, and automakers expect sales to remain depressed for the remainder of the year. Those looking for more affordable, smaller new cars and crossovers, are being nudged out to the market as automakers have limited their inventory to larger, higher-margin vehicles. “We’ve just been amazed at how resilient the market has been,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Cox Automotive. “The people who have money have plenty of it, and they are spending it on expensive vehicles. The low end — that’s where the job losses are.”

China’s auto market is expected to grow only slightly in the next five years, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).
Auto sales are expected to record 27.75 million vehicles in 2025 up from 25.77 million in 2019. Sales of new energy vehicles came in at 1.24 million units last year. The government would like to see 2 million NEVs sold per year, but that will take a while to get through the Covid-19 crisis and for more government incentives to come back to the market.

It’s been fascinating to watch Tesla’s stock perform well during Covid-19. The worst thing that’s happened lately is that company isn’t quite ready yet to be added to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rating; but CEO Elon Musk probably doesn’t care. Tesla retained 19 percent of the global plugin vehicle market during the first half of this year. What changes is that top selling corporations that own several different automotive brands as well as “alliances” of brands had higher percentages of the overall market.
Volkswagen Group had 13 percent of the market; Renault-Nissan Alliance had 9 percent of the market, and BMW Group and Hyundai–Kia each had 7 percent of the market. Sales are down from last year, unlike Europe where EV sales doubled last year’s rate, coming in at 8 percent of the market in the first half of 2020. The overall market plunged 38 percent while Europe’s EV market grew. The numbers were skewed and represent only 14 countries making up 98 percent of the battery electric vehicle market.

Mobility, travel, and fuel
Ride-sharing/hailing through the major global brands has been hard hit, while autonomous vehicle test runs where put on hold in the spring. The long-term trends may be positive for traditional automakers. For car shoppers who had used mobility services, about 39 percent say they plan to use services like Uber and Lyft less often from now on, according to a June survey. About 44 percent say they plan to take public transportation rides less often. About a third of those surveyed plan to use their personal vehicles more often when Covid-19 comes to an end. “The conclusion is that people are really seeing cars in a new light, both as an escape – a way to get away from the quarantine and stress that we’ve all had over the past several months – but also as a safe way to get around,” said Madison Gross, director of consumer insights for CarGurus.

As for travel and tourism, that global industry has seen its worst performance since 1950. Smaller countries completely dependent on the travel business have been particularly hard hit. That comes as no surprise given that cruise ships, airlines, and airports were put on hold before other industries in early 2020.

On the freight transport side, the US Dept. of Transportation unveiled the National Freight Strategic Plan on Sept. 3. The plan’s objectives include improving the safety of the freight system, modernizing infrastructure, and supporting the development of data and technologies as primary goals.

Oil prices, along with gasoline and diesel, are expected to stay down for the near future. The world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, cut pricing for oil sales in October, as the oil producer sees fuel demand wavering amid more coronavirus flare-ups around the world. WTI Crude has been trading around $40 per barrel lately, a modest improvement over the crash starting in the spring. For gasoline and diesel prices in the US, the Energy Information Administration forecasts that gas will average $2.12 per gallon this year and $2.23 next year. For diesel, the EIA said it expects the average national price to stay at $2.54 per gallon this year and $2.57 next year.

Natural gas and electricity are expected to stay at about their same levels as experienced since 2018, with only a slight cost increase expected for next year according to EIA. As reported in ACT News, stability in natural gas fuel prices continues to help commercial fleets make the case for investing more in clean transportation. Compressed natural gas has been the widely used alternative to diesel in heavy freight transportation.

And in other news:

Sustainable Transportation in a Post-Covid World: Creating opportunity from uncertainty the focus of AltWheels Fleet Day

AltWheels Fleet Day will be bringing together corporate and municipal fleet managers and clean-fleet stakeholders to reduce emissions, lower costs, and create solutions for tomorrow’s sustainable transportation needs. The virtual event takes place on Monday, Oct. 5., 2020. The event consists of panels, exhibits, and vehicles offering a showcase of alternative transportation solutions.

The event’s keynotes include:
Strategies and best practices for decarbonizing transportation: how to make progress during the COVID cloud by Bill Van Amburg, CALSTART.
Overview on critical shifts: Transportation post COVID-19 and where the economy is going Anirban Basu, Chairman & CEO Sage Policy Group  
Keynote speakers this year including Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group. Anirban serves as Chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, teaches global strategy at Johns Hopkins University, and serves the Chief Economist function for a number of organizations around the country.

Leading strategies from fleet managers managing in uncertain times: How to move forward and find opportunities in the current environment with speakers from UPS, NACFE, National Grid, and Trucking Association of Massachusetts.

Green Auto Market is co-hosting AltWheels along with several Clean Cities coalitions, NAFA, NACFE, and other organizations. You can register for the event here on this site.

Four pathways being backed during Covid-19, but EVs and renewable energy will have to wait

While several environmental groups and corporate executives (i.e., Elon Musk) would love to see the global fleet transformed into battery electric vehicles fueled by solar, wind, hydro, and other renewables, other fuels and technologies are taking the lead for now. They seem to be the most pragmatic moves for now with governments mandating climate change transformation — and other market forces such as capital investors gaining more interest — opening up to four pathways gaining real traction this year.

  1. Carbon capture: Capture, removal, and sequestration (storage) of carbon dioxide from power-plant combustion and other industry power sources gives end users (like large corporations) a faster and more cost-effective practice for hitting government regulations and company sustainability campaigns. It’s an effective method for extracting carbon and permanently storing it. One r&d project capturing attention and support is coming from scientists supplied by ExxonMobil, University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The team has discovered a new material that could capture more than 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions from industrial sources. It needs less energy to capture, remove, and sequester, which can bring down the cost quite a bit. It also opens the door for the technology to eventually support commercial applications.
  2. Natural gas still here: Natural gas is not going away anytime soon though renewable natural gas has a good chance of taking over some day. How long? An executive from engineering firm Black & Veatch believes that natural gas will play a key role approaching a set of strategies over the next 30 years or more before net-zero mandates start being fulfilled. Utility operators and gas companies could be key stakeholders if this were to take shape. Advanced gas turbine generator plants hold the greatest promise, once able to increase capacity and achieve efficiency scaling up to their full-load capacity.
  3. Nuclear could survive and thrive: Nuclear power has high hopes of coming back as a serious competitor in the utility sector through nuclear fusion, but it’s been requiring massive investments and several more years of development before it wins regulatory approval. One symbolic news development was hearing about the Democratic Party’s election year policy paper opening up to nuclear power — especially nuclear fusion — for the first time in nearly half a century. Presidential nominee Joe Biden is also backing nuclear fusion as another tactic for fighting climate change. Dense plasma focus (DPF) could open the door to fusion being adopted much faster and for being economically feasible. Middlesex, NJ-based Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Inc., known as LPPFusion, may soon be leading the way in transitioning over to nuclear fusion through DPF. It could beat the massive Torus Experimental Reactor project under construction in Southern France.
  4. Green hydrogen:  Support for hydrogen has been taking a wider base recently with concern over the cost of extracting hydrogen — and where it comes from — improving substantially. Most of it had been coming from natural gas, but that’s starting to change. For natural gas, much of the hydrogen has come from steam methane reforming (SMR), which causes the methane found in natural gas to react with steam, which then produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Green hydrogen is gaining support as it can almost completely eliminate emissions by using renewable energy for powering electrolysis of water that’s needed in producing hydrogen. However, the pace of development of green hydrogen is not fast enough to meet global energy demand despite developers announcing 50 projects in the last year, according to a new study. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) analyzed these projects and found the supply of global green hydrogen is likely to be three million tons a year; but global demand is forecast to reach 8.7 million tons annually by 2030, creating an “incredible supply shortfall.”

And in other news:
Musk tweets about extended-range battery: Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that much better batteries are on the horizon during a tweet post on Monday. “400 Wh/kg with high cycle life, produced in volume (not just a lab) is not far. Probably 3 to 4 years,” Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter thread by Sam Korus, an analyst at ARK Investment Management LLC, about why Musk keeps dropping hints about airplanes. That would make for mass production of electric vehicles with 50 percent more energy density coming out in three to four years. This is expected to be clarified at the company’s upcoming “Battery Day” event where it is expected to reveal how it has improved its battery performance.

California employees law on hold: A California appeals court ruling on Thursday avoided a shutdown of Uber and Lyft in the state, allowing drivers to remain independent contractors while the court continues reviewing the issue of driver status and whether AB 5 makes them employees. It means that voters may decide whether it will be IC vs. employees while voting on the November ballot measure.

Smog takes the lead: Air pollution is the world’s leading environmental risk factor, and causes more than nine million deaths per year, according to a new study. Published in the the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the new research study shows air pollution may play a role in the development of cardiometabolic diseases, such as diabetes. The study concludes that the devastating effects were reversible with cessation of exposure.

ACT Expo launches virtual seminars: Advanced Clean Transportation Expo recently launched a four-month speaker series, called ACT Virtual, to dig into environmental sustainability in trucking and other fleet applications. “Whether we’re going to end up with fuel cells or whether we’re going to end with hybrid technology or pure battery electric vehicles, we’re investing in companies and technology that can be supported within that,” said Ryan Laskey, senior vice president of the commercial vehicle group at Dana Inc., during the first panel last week.

Next-gen batteries part 2: Changing landscape for supplier partnerships

Here’s the second part of the feature on what’s next for electric vehicle batteries. This time, the focus is on battery manufacturer partners for a few of the top selling global EV models.

Tesla Model 3 getting batteries from new suppliers
Tesla is the top selling electric vehicle brand in the world, and is doing well in four EV segments — sedans, SUVs, compact cars, and sports cars. Much of that comes from the power under the hood. The hp and torque can send you on a silent rocket launch when you take a drive. The battery packs play a vital role in keeping them charged for long distances and staying dependable, longer than what competitors offer. The battery cells had been exclusively manufactured by Panasonic, and the battery modules and packs by Tesla; but that’s starting to change.

Tesla has reached a new three-year deal with Panasonic for battery supply at its Gigafactory in Nevada. The two partner companies made that facility the largest lithium-ion battery factory in the world. Last year, Tesla started breaking off with Panasonic by limiting Model 3 production with the Japanese company. Tesla started making moves to build its own batteries. This year, there was an announcement of the first million-mile battery cell that will be launching in the China market. It’s being developed with a new partner, China’s Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL), the world’s largest lithium ion battery maker. China is an excellent market to be in, with the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers reporting that new energy vehicle sales were up 19.3 percent in July and the overall market rebound continues.

Tesla vehicles produced in Gigafactory Shanghai are powered by battery cells built by LG Chem and CATL. South Korean company LG Chem expects its battery share to grow significantly, with Tesla’s business in China being part of it. The battery maker reportedly secured a large order of batteries from Tesla in July due to high demand, and Tesla’s inability to produce enough batteries on its own. Besides China production, LG Chem may be changing over production lines in South Korea to produce more batteries for Tesla.

BAIC EU-Series bringing in new partner
China-owned carmaker BAIC Motor, the parent company of the BJEV and Senova brands, has been getting its EV batteries from China’s third largest battery maker, Guoxuan High Tech. Guoxuan follows first-place CATL and second-place BYD for China’s new energy vehicle battery market share.

BAIC will be adding SK Innovation’s NCM 811 cells to its EVs. SK Innovation Co. is based in Seoul, South Korea, and is primarily known for being a petroleum refining company. It also supplies batteries to Volkswagen and Ford. The BAIC deal is expected to start sometime during the second half of 2020, with the lithium-ion cells being produced at SK Innovation’s first plant in Changzhou, China. It will be owned by a wholly-owned joint venture between the two companies and Beijing Electronics.

Nissan Leaf stays with AESC under its new owner
Nissan has always taken a slow and conservative approach to producing, selling, and developing changes to its stalwart Leaf model. The battery pack has been made by its former subsidiary, Automotive Energy Supply Corporation (AESC). The Japanese maker sold most of AESC to Chinese renewable energy company, Envision Group, in 2018. Nissan still holds a 20 percent stake in AESC. The 2018 deal also included Nissan selling Envision Group its battery manufacturing plants in Tennessee and in Sunderland, England.

A production version of Nissan’s next EV, an electric SUV based on the Leaf, is expected to begin arriving in showrooms in 2021. The company expects it to sell at a higher volume than the Leaf. Envision Group has plans in place to triple AESC’s lithium-ion cell manufacturing capacity. The company hopes to be ready for producing batteries for Nissan’s next-generation EV, and to continue supplying the Leaf.

In May, Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi reaffirmed their automotive Alliance, and will be increasing sharing platforms, technology, and production. The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance had been in doubt after the arrest in Japan of former chairman Carlos Ghosn, who’d been a champion of EVs for the brands. In Europe, B-segment cars will be one of the segments in the Alliance and includes the Renault Clio and Zoe EV, Nissan Leaf, and upcoming Ariya EV SUV. Renault takes the lead in Europe under the Alliance, with Nissan being the lead brand in China, North America, and Japan; and Mitsubishi leading in the South-East Asia (ASEAN) and Oceania regions (several islands including Australia).

BYD supplies its own batteries for BYD Yuan / S2 EV
BYD supplies its own electric vehicle batteries, and was ranked third in the world for lithium ion battery producers during 2018, following No. 1 LG Chem and and No. 2 CATL (in a Bloomberg study). The company supplied batteries for its 229,506 electric vehicles sold in 2019.

That will expand to include Ford Motor Co. On June 1, a document was filed on the website of China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology following official protocol. BYD batteries will support Ford’s electric vehicle production in China. Ford’s China joint venture with Changan Automobile is seeking government approval to build a plug-in hybrid EV model equipped with BYD’s batteries, according to the document. The deal will also include BYD’s power management devices that Ford will use.

Renault Zoe sharing large plant with VW Group
Renault is acquiring EV batteries for the Zoe electric small car from LG Chem’s Wroclaw, Poland, facility. The South Korean battery maker hasn’t shared figures on the plant’s output, but it may be on its way to become Europe’s largest EV battery production facility. Along with the Zoe, batteries are being produced for Volkswagen Group electric vehicles such as the Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan. LG Chem began mass production of its NCM712 batteries in the first quarter of 2020.

Hyundai Kona EV being sent to global markets
Hyundai has been more quiet about its presence in electric vehicles that fuel cell vehicles. It’s Ioniq Electric was given more attention when it launched in the US in 2016.  The company just announced the launch of its new Ioniq brand dedicated to battery electric vehicles, “opening a new chapter as a leader in the era of electrified mobility.” That means it will be marketed more as its own sub-brand focused on all-electric and not just one of its offerings in all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid variations.

But its Kona EV has been doing pretty well in sales. It started in South Korea and Europe in 2018, with a market debut in the US and Thailand in 2019. In the spring of 2020, Hyundai began production and started delivery of the Kona Electric in Europe at its Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech (HMMC) manufacturing plant.

The company rolled out a new EV in China in early 2019, called the Hyundai Encino EV. The two models have small differences in trim, but overall they’re basically the same electric crossover sport utility vehicle.

As for batteries, the company will be going with CATL in China and LG Chem in other markets. Hyundai and LG Chem are in talks about possibly establishing an EV battery manufacturing joint venture in Indonesia, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters in late June.

BMW i3 sticks with Samsung SDI
Samsung SDI, one of South Korea’s top three battery making companies, in November 2019 signed a 10-year contract with BMW Group to supply 2.9 billion euro ($3.2 billion) worth of lithium-ion battery cells to the German automaker and its ambitious EV model launch strategy over the next decade.

The battery maker’s fifth-generation EV batteries are expected to power some of the new 25 environment-friendly vehicles models including 12 all-electric vehicles BMW pledged to roll out by 2025. In 2014, Samsung SDI became the exclusive battery supplier for BMW’s i3 electric car. That year, the two companies expanded their agreement to include developing next-generation materials and EV technology — which has ended up in a wide variety of plug-in vehicles offered under the BMW brand.

Solid-state batteries a big part of the Fisker and VW relationship?
Last year, Fisker Inc., launched its Ocean model, with plans to roll out the $40,000 all-electric SUV in 2021. CEO Henrik Fisker said the solid-state battery that will go into the Ocean can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost. The Volkswagen partnership will be part of it, but there’s likely to be other announcements with automakers and technology suppliers.

The founder is emphasizing that Fisker, Inc., is pursing a different business model than Tesla and many other EV startups have tried. Last month, Fisker Inc,. reached a deal to go public by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Apollo Global Management. Fisker is cutting out the huge capital outlay needed to become a carmaker. The company has been is in talks with Volkswagen to use its modular EV platform and to assemble its vehicles at a VW plant in Europe.

But where is the solid-state battery coming from? Will they be sharing the same supplier partners? Is VW jumping into the solid-state battery world as well? It seems that QuantumScape could be part of it, with VW recently sinking another $200 million in the solid-state battery company.

VW’s relationship with the solid-state battery company goes back to 2012. In 2018, the two companies forged a joint venture to accelerate the development of solid-state battery technology that can be produced at a commercial scale. The German automaker placed $100 million in the initial investment in September 2018. The company hopes to accelerate that work through the recent $200 million investment.

And in other news……….

A California judge ruled yesterday afternoon that Uber and Lyft must classify their drivers as employees, a decision that could affect many gig workers well beyond the two ride-hailing giants. The ruling will be stayed for 10 days, and then a preliminary injunction will take hold. Uber and Lyft say they will be filing emergency appeals during that 10-day window. This comes from a lawsuit filed in May by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the city attorneys of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The suit made the case that the drivers were misclassified as independent contractors when they should be employees under the state’s AB5 law that went into effect on January 1st. California later filed a motion for a preliminary injunction that would change the driver classification immediately. Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled yesterday that Lyft and Uber drivers should be given the same protections and benefits under labor law as other full-time employees of the two companies.

Leading refuse company Republic Services is bringing in fuel cell electric vehicles. The company has agreed to purchase 2,500 of these collection vehicles from Nikola Corp., with the potential for up to 5,000 orders. Republic Services said its the largest truck order ever for its fleet of approximately 16,000 collection vehicles. The order will be contingent on initial testing that’s expected to begin in Arizona and California, with wider-scale testing in 2022 and full deployment by 2023. The collection vehicles are said to have a 150-mile range, up to 720 kilowatt hours of battery capacity, and the ability to collect 1,200 cans with one charge. Nikola’s chief told Wall Street Journal that he expects each vehicle will cost under $500,000.

What the post-pandemic world may look like for automakers, electric vehicles, and mobility

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, companies are looking for signs of how to best prepare for the new competitive landscape — as the expectation of everything returning to normal goes to the sidelines. A webinar last week from Lux Research, and a separate interview with a Volkswagen executive, analyzed the ‘new normal’ emerging from the disrupted world.

Michael Holman, vice president, research for Lux Research, a research and advisory firm tracking emerging technologies, identified five key market developments coming from the turbulent marketplace. Infection prevention for hygiene, sanitization, and testing was the first mentioned; the next four trends covered were: remote commerce — providing technology for what used to be done in person; improved resiliency to minimize supply chain disruption and strengthen localized processes; greater agility and adaptability in technology and management practices; and a clear view of macro-economics, primarily risk management, capital availability, pricing changes, and demand.

Telemedicine has been responding to intensive pressure on infection prevention and resiliency of the healthcare system. Plastic waste recycling has been another hot topic among Lux Research clients, and had been so well before COVID-19 as China ended its role as the major import destination for plastic exports.

Automakers are feeling much of this pressure, and have been adapting to plant closures and re-openings, workforce safety, and reprioritizing what had been top priorities earlier this year, Holman said. Tests have been halted on autonomous vehicle trial runs, and vehicle electrification has been hurt for the short-term, but looks good for long-term demand and tech development.

Social mobility is also feeling the impact, with health and safety concerns a top priority for those using services such as Uber and Lyft. Social distancing will continue, which could be an advantage for selling personal vehicles over shared rides.

For now, responding to the safety concerns has taken over and has opened up new ways of thinking. Ford CEO Jim Hackett, who will be handing over his job to Ford’s Jim Farley, has been leading a study on antimicrobial steering wheels and handles.

Lux Research sees two other market dynamics shaping the next phase of automotive — sustainability practices and personalizing the technology to the consumer.

The research firm sees startups struggling to find funding lately. One strategy they need to consider is partnering with competitors to secure a new round of funding for the next six months or longer, Holman said.

Reinhard Fischer, senior vice president of strategy for the Volkswagen Group of America, shared his perspectives during an in-house interview. He sees attitudes about the role of the car, and developments in the next wave of technology, changing in the post-pandemic environment.

“For me, it all starts with understanding how the consumer views the car,” Fischer said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, people are really recognizing the benefits of having a car. A private means of transportation that you don’t need to share with anybody – it can be your sanctuary.”

For many, there’s lack of comfort in public transportation. Travel should also continue to feel the impact, with consumers likely to use their personal cars more for shorter trips. Another growth trend this year has been an increased popularity in working from home, with people driving less.

Fischer would agree with Lux Research’s take on where EVs are heading.

“I expect the pandemic could cause the transition to electric vehicles to briefly hesitate but then accelerate,” he said.

One of his reasons for reaching this conclusion are that home charging stations take away fear of infection at gas stations coming from touching gas pump handles. Another is consumer and government expectation for clean air, as scenic views that were clogged by air pollution starting to become more visible — and with health concerns over air quality being prioritized.

VW will be watching where ride sharing goes as the new normal landscape takes shape. Customers have to take a hard look at the health condition drivers are in, and who’d been riding in the car before them. What are ride sharing firms doing about it?

The other factor to follow is the political environment, Fischer said.

“Many countermeasures can reduce the flexibility of the ride sharing concept as there is the possibility of being regulated like taxi services are today. That could have an impact on the price position of these services for the consumer,” he said.

California leads the way there, and is also exploring another possibility.

“Other plans, like the one being explored by the state of California where a percentage of  ride sharing vehicle miles in the future will need to be 100 percent electric, will further increase the cost of entry into the ride sharing business model,” Fischer said.

And in other news:
One-year-old Lordstown Motors will become a publicly traded company in an effort to bring its commercial electric pickup truck, the Endurance, to market. General Motors will have a stake in it larger than had been originally expected, according to financial filings. The electric truck maker plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange under the ticker “RIDE” by combining with DiamondPeak, a special purpose acquisition company. It will look something like the “reverse merger” stock market deals announced last week by Fisker, Inc., and earlier by hydrogen-powered truck maker Nikola. E-trucks are becoming a hot commodity with electric pickups coming soon from Tesla, Ford, GM, Rivian, and Nikola. Workhorse Group has done well in this segment already.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has done a second interview with Automotive News, and here are a few of the takeaways………. Austin, Texas, was chosen for building the Cybertruck due in part to workers wanting the new plant to be housed there…….. a third US assembly plant may be coming in four-to-five years……….. Musk could care less about J.D. Power rankings…….. electric small cars and minivans may be in the works………. and a more conventional looking electric pickup may be rolled out if the Cybertruck flops.

AltWheels 2020 has opened up conference registration. The 17-year-old clean transportation conference will be taking place on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in a virtual format. The event organizers want to make sure that fleets and other stakeholders will be able to continue attending and sharing information on making clean transportation work. Fleet Day at AltWheels 2020 will include speakers and a breakout session, exhibits, along with leading alternative vehicles of all sizes and the latest options for fleet managers.

Fisker, Inc. says that its planning to have four vehicles in the works by mid-decade, supporting the company’s long-term goal for Electric Mobility as a service. That will include the first-in-line Ocean SUV; a super-sports sedan based on the EMotion concept; a sports crossover; and a pickup truck. The Volkswagen partnership will be part of it, but there’s likely to be other announcements with automakers and technology suppliers. The company will also continue its commitment to bring sustainability front and center — from the solar roof to the tires being used.


Transitional Technologies: Next-gen batteries promise to extend range and durability

Here’s the final topic on Green Auto Market’s series covering transitional technologies leading to the future of electric automated mobility.

Tesla is continuing to work on its ride-hailing app, Tesla Network, which is part of the company’s long-term strategy to compete with General Motors, Uber, Lyft, Ford, Waymo, and others in autonomous, shared-ride services — aka robotaxis, electric mobility, and ride-sharing. Analysts and investors wonder how this will affect the automaker’s global strategy in electric vehicle manufacturing and sales, battery production, energy storage, and solar energy; and how to factor it into the automaker’s valuation.

All of it means that Tesla, and competitors who are taking advanced mobility quite seriously, are going to need even more reliable and high-performance, long-range batteries. To start off, here’s a look at some of the top selling global EVs and their specs and starting prices; and what they’re saying about their next steps in bringing in next-generation batteries that will be fundamental in hitting these targets.

And then there’s the question of which next-gen battery technology will win the race.


Tesla Model 3:  Like its competitors, Tesla is using lithium-ion cells in its batteries, with the Model 3 getting 2170-size cells. While it can power 250 miles for the starting version, the long range versions of the Model 3 can deliver 322 miles. CEO Elon Musk and team are spending a lot of time on what the next steps in battery packs will look like. They’re likely to be changed over to lithium iron, which would offer longer range and more durable battery cells. Tesla is hoping to hit the 400 miles-per-charge and 1 million mile-life for the battery pack. The company hopes to rid its batteries of the rare and expensive cobalt element to hit its targets.

It looks like the new batteries will be built in both California and its next Gigafactory in Germany. We’ve been hearing a lot this year on the “Roadrunner project,” which would bring new battery plants close to its vehicle production plant in Fremont, Calif. Plans are in place with the City of Fremont that will allow for adding two buildings down the road from the Fremont factory and will make space for r&d and new battery manufacturing.

There had been doubts over whether Tesla was going to be producing batteries at its Berlin plant, but that’s been reassured by a regional government official. Tesla is going to build “completely new batteries” at Gigafactory Berlin, according to Brandenburg Minister of Economics Jörg Steinbach. Tesla is expected to announce the details of the plan in September at its “Battery Day.”

BAIC EU-Series:  Beijing Automotive Group (BAIC), one of China’s largest automakers will be adding SK Innovation’s NCM 811 cells. That working relationship is expected to start sometime during the second half of 2020. The lithium-ion cells will be produced at SK Innovation’s first plant in Changzhou, China, and will be owned by a wholly-owned joint venture between the two companies and Beijing Electronics. The new battery is expected to get a range increase up to 311 miles (NEDC). SK Innovation’s NCM 811 are said to come from a “low cobalt chemistry,” which is gaining share in China over other types of NCM. NCM is made up of lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, versus LFP which is made up of lithium, iron, and phosphate.

BYD Yuan / S2 EV:  The Chinese automaker has been pleased recently to see its Yuan and S2 EV achieve sales success in the EV and the crossover SUV markets. These models and others in the company’s portfolio will be powered by BYD’s next-gen battery at some point in the near future, the company said earlier this year. It will come from its new “Blade” lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries.

It will be part of the company attempting to stay on track during the COVID-19 outbreak. It may come through its new sub-brand, FinDreams serving the automotive design, manufacturing, and parts markets. One of them is called FinDreams Battery. It will be part of the Chinese company opening its technology and products to the whole world, BYD said.

Solid-state batteries:  Last year, Fisker Inc., launched its Ocean model, with plans to roll out the $40,000 all-electric SUV in 2021. Solid-state batteries will be part of it, with the potential for making improvements in range — up to 300 miles per charge, the company said. CEO Henrik Fisker said its solid-state battery can produce 2.5 times the energy density that lithium-ion batteries can, at perhaps a third of the cost.

A few years ago, Toyota played an important role in the future of solid-state batteries when announcing that they would power its ambitious EV product launch plan. But it does take its time in testing and developing new technology. The company now says that its developed a working prototype of the batteries, and that limited production will start in 2025.

Solid-state batteries will be replacing liquid electrolyte with a solid, and backers see it as the breakthrough that will finally bring long-range, solid, durable batteries to market. Improvements could come from higher energy density and range, improved safety, faster recharging, longer battery lifespan, and being less prone to extreme weather conditions. But these batteries have many challenges that need to be resolved, Toyota said.

So it looks like the competition by battery manufacturing companies and vehicle makers will be which next-gen battery wins — lithium iron or solid-state. Of course, there’s also NCM, with its lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese batteries.






Sierra Club founder John Muir called out for racism as environmental groups face pressure to become inclusive

This newsletter, Sustainable Future, joins Mobility Future as an occasional special edition to Green Auto Market on key trends shaping the future of clean transportation.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune released a horrible truth to the world yesterday — legendary founder John Muir and other early leaders were supporters of white supremacist causes; and Muir made incendiary, racist remarks attacking African Americans and Native Americans.

While championing the creation of national parks and conservancy of nature, Muir once referred to African Americans as lazy “Sambos,” an insulting racist term many consider to be as bad as the n-word. In another incident, while telling the story of a legendary hike from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico, Muir described Native Americans he encountered as “dirty.”

Muir and other early leaders were supporters of the eugenics movement, which advocated white supremacy through its pseudo-scientific theories. One of them, David Starr Jordan, served on the board of directors during Muir’s presidency. Jordan co-founded the Human Betterment Foundation, whose research and model laws were used to create Germany’s eugenics legislation under the rule of Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party.

Muir’s derogatory comments tapped into harmful racist stereotypes, though his views did evolve later in his life, Brune said. But the Sierra Club has to face historic protests over America’s racist legacy, and the taking down of statues representing historic Confederate leaders who had fought for the preservation of slavery.

“As the most iconic figure in Sierra Club history, Muir’s words and actions carry an especially heavy weight,” Brune wrote. “They continue to hurt and alienate Indigenous people and people of color who come into contact with the Sierra Club.”

Muir has been the iconic, historic figure in America’s ecology movement. Sierra Club was founded on May 28, 1892, in San Francisco by the Scottish-American preservationist, and continues on as the oldest grassroots environmental organization in the US. Muir was honored in a 2009 miniseries by historian Ken Burns, The National Parks — America’s Best Idea. Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt were credited for being the most influential leaders in establishing America’s national park system. Hikers know all about The John Muir Trail, a long-distance trail in the Sierra Nevada mountain range of California, passing through Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks, carved out by the legendary hiker. Muir had worked hard for these trails and parks to be established.

Brune and other Sierra Club activists have known for years that the culture and membership of the environmental group had to change for its very survival. Those participating in club hikes and speaker events knew membership was dwindling and were made up in large part by aging, white men and women. Public outreach efforts to bring in a more youthful, diverse membership were starting to see positive results in the past five years, but the club had a long way to go.

Other environmental groups have seen their own shake-ups over issues of race and diversity. The issue had been raised years ago by African American and other minority employees over the lack of diversity in membership and the racial bias that persists in top and mid-level management. Ruth Tyson, an employee at the Union of Concerned Scientists, quit recently after having sent out a 17-page internal letter criticizing the organization’s casual indifference to black workers.

African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Pacific islanders, have been especially hard hit in their residential communities by increasing air pollution since the 1950s. Climate change laws and funded initiatives in California and other states have been citing harm being done to “disadvantaged communities” as one of the fundamental reasons for improving air quality and fighting climate change.

Green groups are supporting these moves and other efforts to stop the Trump administration from completely dismantling America’s national parks and natural resources, environmental rules, and supporting innovation in clean energy and transportation. Coming to terms with racism and lack of true diversity will have to be resolved as expectations grow for change.


Sustainability still a top concern for consumers as COVID-19 continues, studies say

Global consulting firm PwC conducted a second edition of its annual consumer survey to study the impact of COVID-19 — with expectations of corporate sustainability still in the top ranks of concerns. In the study, 45 percent of global consumers say healthcare is one of their top reasons for living in a city; 69 percent are more focused on mental health and well being; and 43 precent expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact. The two surveys, taken before and after the pandemic broke and published earlier this month, shows that consumer trends and behavior in place before the pandemic are accelerating and show marketers what they’ll need to rethink how they’re doing business. It reflects the global trend that billions of people worldwide are living in cities — with a new era in global consumption, changing lifestyles, and much concern about sustainability and maintaining health in crowded cities.

The study showed most consumers have a clear sense of sustainability and a sense of civic duty. In survey results taken prior to the pandemic, 45 percent of the global respondents say they avoid the use of plastic whenever possible; 43 percent expect businesses to be accountable for their environmental impact; and 41 percent expect retailers to eliminate plastic bags and packaging for perishable items. Their sense of personal responsibility is present for many — with 20 percent choosing “me the consumer” web asked who were most responsible to encouraging sustainable behaviors in the city; 15 percent chose “the producer or manufacturer.”

When marketing to metro areas in the US, another study identified the top 10 sales for per capital spending on sustainability-marketed projects. The NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business and IRI are following up their 2019 analysis, the CSB Sustainable Market Share Index, with new research examining consumer purchases of sustainability-marketed consumer packaged goods. These top 10 states are New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Colorado, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Florida. If you were to look at state-wide purchases, California, Florida, Texas, and New York top the rankings. The bottom five states in per capita spending are Mississippi, Utah, Kentucky, Alabama, and Texas.

Consumer interest and spending on sustainable consumer-packaged goods (CPG) continues into this year. Sustainability-marketed products continued to grow with 16.8 percent dollar market share year-to-date, up 0.6 percentage points versus 2019. During the week ending March 15, 2020, when CPG sales peaked due to COVID-19, sustainability-marketed products experienced a 1.9 percentage points share increase (vs. the prior week), and dollar sales increased 56 percent during that same period. The categories that experienced the greatest share growth in sustainability-marketed purchases that week were paper products, weight control products, coffee, and soap.

From 2015 to 2019, sustainability-marketed products contributed 54.7 percent of overall CPG market growth, according to the study. It also represented 16.1 percent dollar share of the CPG category in 2019. As for demographics, consumers in upper incomes and with higher levels of education are more likely to buy sustainability-marketed products than other groups. Millennials are more likely to buy sustainability-marketed products. However, most sustainable purchases are attributed to Generation X and baby boomers due to the size of their age groups.

Electric vehicle sales have been stronger than expected, doing better than conventional vehicles in the troubled US auto market. In its second quarter earnings statement this month, Tesla reported delivering 90,650 vehicles to customers — far more than the roughly 70,000 that analysts had expected. In late June, the International Energy Agency reported that 2020 is on track to set a new record for electric vehicle penetration at 3 percent of total global car sales, up from 2.6 percent in 2019.

EVs are ahead of several other sustainable products, as consumers pass through their fear of the new technology and become more interested in the benefits of owning and driving a plug-in vehicle. These include removing tailpipe emissions, keeping fueling costs down and predictable, and hearing good news about the long-term longevity and reliability of electric powertrains.