Transitional Technologies: Renewables seeing greater potential from integration in fuel and energy sources

Renewable energy and fuels are seeing broader support globally for decarbonization, much of it through integration of sources that were not typical years ago. A clear example this year is “green hydrogen,” where emissions can be eliminated by using renewable energy to power the electrolysis of water.

Here’s a look at what aspects of renewables are gaining the most traction………….

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. One method to clean it up has been called blue hydrogen, where the emissions are curtailed using carbon capture and storage.

Green hydrogen is even cleaner as it can almost completely eliminate emissions by using renewable energy for powering electrolysis of water that’s needed in producing hydrogen. It’s still costly, with electrolyzers still in short supply, and tapping into plentiful sources of renewable energy still coming in at a high price. Hydrogen supporters see this cost coming down as demand for the fuel grows in generating electricity, power, and heat.

A proposed plant in Lancaster, Calif., just north of Los Angeles, could produce the greenest hydrogen on the market. It will use plastics and recycled paper as a feedstock — waste that would otherwise go to a landfill. It will be gasified at temperature high enough to be transformed into hydrogen. If adopted, it would be run by SGH2 Energy Global, which is part of the Solena Group. The company says that its technology reduces carbon emissions two-to-three times more than green-hydrogen produced using electrolysis and renewable energy — and its technology is five-to-seven times cheaper, the company said.

Another major development came up on July 8 when the European Commission launched its EU Hydrogen Strategy and its Energy Systems Integration Strategy. That same day, a Clean Hydrogen Alliance between industry, hydrogen companies, and governments was also launched and tied to the strategies. It defines clean hydrogen as renewable hydrogen coming from hydrogen production through water electrolysis. The power will come primarily through wind and solar energy. For short term goals, the alliance will support the installation of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers in the EU, and the production of up to one million tons of renewable hydrogen. That will go up to 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolyzers, and the production of up to ten million tons of renewable hydrogen in the EU.

Renewable energy:  Hydropower doesn’t get nearly as much attention as wind and solar in the reporting of renewable energy sources generating electricity — even though its clearly the largest source of renewable energy in the world. It’s making up about 18 percent of the world’s total installed power generation capacity and more than 54 percent of the global renewable power generation capacity. Most of it comes from construction of dams on rivers and releasing water from reservoirs to power turbines. Another source is pumped-storage type plants to generate hydro power. China has the world’s largest hydro power generation capacity, and has the world’s largest hydropower plant at the Three Gorges — which generates 22.5 GW.

But wind and solar will still see high growth rates, with costs continuing to drop. Energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie expects that solar PV system costs in the US are falling faster than previously forecasted. Sarah Golden, senior energy analyst at GreenBiz Group, says that the cost of producing energy from wind has fallen by as much as 70 percent since 2009. International Renewable Energy Agency recently reported that wind, along with solar, beat the cheapest coal in cost for power generation.

Waste-to-energy, and Waste-to-fuel:  This has been getting a lot of support in recent years from major disposal companies like Waste Management, Inc. This year, an unexpected growth segment has come up through COVID-19. New priorities have been tied to sustainable disposal of medical waste, and dealing with growth in unrecyclable plastics, and an increase in the use of face masks and other personal protective gear.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory released a report concluding that converting solid waste into hydrogen is a key technology that can greatly reduce emissions. Adding carbon capture and storage can support developing advanced waste-to-hydrogen technology with negative emissions. It can assist national mandates to reach net zero-carbon.

Another bright spot has been researchers finding that next-generation thermochemical processes convert solid waste – including plastics, medical waste, municipal solid waste, and wastewater sludge – into hydrogen without incinerating the waste. Carbon dioxide produced during the process can be efficiently captured and stored to make new products using technology that is commercially available today. The costs that are continuing to fall, making it even more viable.

Renewable fuels:  Biogas is becoming even more practical and clean as landfill gas (LFG) grows in usage. The digestion process takes place in the ground rather than in an anaerobic digester commonly used to produce renewable fuels. As of June 2020, there were about 564 operational LFG projects in the US, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. As for now, most of these projects use biogas to produce electricity rather than to power natural gas vehicles.

Making renewable natural gas (RNG) for natural gas vehicles requires a higher content of methane than biogas. It also requires the removal of water, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and other trace elements to produce RNG. But RNG continues to gain support among fleet managers and stakeholders in NGVs. A recent commentary by S&P Global Platts made the point that while hydrogen has been grabbing headlines through large-scale national plans being scheduled, RNG deserves more attention as “an emerging tool for decarbonization.”

One advantage explained in the commentary is that RNG can be appealing to US energy companies looking to diversify. An example would be Southern California Gas Company (SoCal) releasing an agreement between SoCal, the San Diego Gas & Electric Co., consumer advocate groups, various industry groups, such as RNG Coalition, and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). It came about with the goal of facilitating increased volumes of RNG to California customers.

And in other news……..
Fisker finds needed capital:  Fisker Inc. reached a deal to go public last Monday by merging with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) backed by Apollo Global Management. Founder Henrik Fisker was able to raise more than $1 billion to help bring the Fisker Ocean electric SUV to market by late 2022. Proceeds from the transaction were valued at $2.9 billion. The business model is different than Tesla and other automakers, and was compared to the role Apple has played — cool technology, but production has been farmed out to others, cutting down the huge capital outlay needed to become a carmaker. Fisker is in talks with Volkswagen to use its modular EV platform and to assemble its vehicles at a VW plant in Europe. Its retail store model will be closer to Tesla’s — with customers able to place customized orders online and also to visit “brand experience centers” in key US and European markets.


Transitional Technologies: Autonomous vehicles lagging far behind factory robotics and drones

Tesla owners will have access to fully automated, Level 5 autonomous electric vehicles sometimes this year. No humans will need to be involved, except for being passengers. That’s according to comments made by CEO Elon Musk a few days ago from a video released at a Chinese AI conference.

“I remain confident that we will have the basic functionality for level five autonomy complete this year,” Musk said. “I think there are no fundamental challenges remaining for level five autonomy.”

The problem would be: Where could Tesla owners legally ride in their autonomous EV beyond a limited test run — most of which would not allow them to be the ones riding in that test car?

Australia, Canada, China, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the US have government-sponsored programs and policies in place for testing and developing AVs. None of these countries have yet allowed these vehicles to be deployed at scale. In the US, 40 states have enacted legislation, or have received governor executive orders, on autonomous vehicles. None of them have allowed them to be driven beyond the testing phase; or in limited applications, such as Waymo’s autonomous rides in Arizona.

As for now, AV activities have been put on hold. After COVID-19 hit hard in March, AV companies such as Argo, Aurora, Cruise, Pony, and Waymo, suspended vehicle testing and operations that involved a human driver. Around the same time, Waymo and Ford released open data sets of information collected during AV tests. The two companies challenged developers to use them to come up with faster and smarter self-driving systems.

AVs are years behind robotics being used in manufacturing plants, and for air and sea drones used by the military and other entities such as NOAA (more on this later).

Carnegie Mellon University has always played a leading role participating in AV test projects. A new study has taken a look at another angle — the connection between AVs and electric vehicles. Researchers from the university recently published a paper in the Nature Energy journal. They found that certain parts of the AV ride cycle can drain car batteries, but fixes made to software and hardware should make fleets of electric AVs possible.

“A bunch of commentators used to suggest the first AVs might have to be gas hybrids,” says Shashank Sripad, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon who worked on the paper. “But we believe that, if we want to do electric vehicles, autonomy will be compatible with it.”

That probably referred to the Toyota Priuses being used in the early stages of the study that was conducted near Google’s (now Alphabet’s) corporate campus in Mountain View, Calif. More recently with Waymo, that’s been taken over by the Chrysler Pacifica minivan.

Automakers are split on their support for Level 4 AVs, and what type of powertrain would be best to use. Ford plans to transition over to battery-powered self-driving cars, says an AV spokesperson for Ford. But if the company can stay on track and hit its original goal of rolling out an AV for service by 2022, it will be rolling out self-driving gas-electric hybrid vehicles.

Automakers have made big commitments to AVs in investments and research studies that will continue. Some of the more memorable deals include General Motor’s $1 billion acquisition of Cruise, Uber buying Otto for $680 million, Ford’s $1 billion Argo Ai investment, and Intel acquiring Mobileye for $15.3 billion.

Five years ago, several companies including Nissan and Toyota promised self-driving cars by this year, but that’s being delayed. AV stakeholders have started to revise their marketing and event messages on where it’s all going for now. Level 4 autonomous will be it for now.

Robotics are already here in production and assembly lines for several automakers and in other industries, with COVID-19 making the topic much more relevant with worker safety being factored in. Meat and poultry workers have been hit hard. In April and May, more than 17,300 meat and poultry processing workers in 29 states were infected and 91 died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Plant shutdowns started in late April.

Tyson Foods Inc. assembled a team, including designers once employed in the auto industry, working on a deboning system that could make more efficient and safe the procedures carried out in Tyson plants. The team is developing an automated deboning system designed to handle some of the roughly 39 million chickens slaughtered, plucked and sliced up each week in Tyson plants.

The company has invested about $500 million in technology and automation. CEO Noel White said those efforts likely would increase in the aftermath of the pandemic. It’s been chaotic for meat producers, grocery stores, and fast-food chains to keep the product in stores — with Americans having high expectations for buying meat.

On the drone side of the equation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is launching a fleet of 30 gliders to study how the ocean affects hurricanes. It started in 2014 with two gliders used for tracking and measuring huge storms approaching coastal areas.

“We have gliders that have gone through two or three hurricanes already,” explained Gustavo Goni, a lead scientist at the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory in Miami, which is run by NOAA. “They are robust. They don’t even care. Some of them have even been in fights with sharks. We know this because we find sharks’ teeth in gliders when we recover them.”

The past six years has involved building up the floating, sensor-packed units. The first part was figuring out how to get them funded and set up to be sea worthy and long lasting. Then it had to train technicians on how to equip and use them.

Delivery drones have been another application for robotics, used by companies such as Workhorse Group and Amazon. Allowing human beings to go along for the rides in AVs will have to take a lot longer to work out safety, legal, and risk management issues.

Mobility Future: Uber acquiring Postmates during a tough year, Best tech news sources to read

Green Auto Market will occasionally publish two special editions, Mobility Future and Sustainable Future — two topics integral to what’s next in clean transportation.

Big news took place this week for those following mobility, on Monday, when ride-hailing giant Uber announced that it had acquired major food delivery company Postmates in a $2.65 billion, all-stock deal. Food delivery is doing well these days, while ridesharing and ride-hailing is facing a tough time during COVID-19. Uber and Lyft went public last year, with two other delivery companies preparing to going public soon, DoorDash and Instacart. Being acquired can be an even better bet for founders and early investors in firms like Postmates.

Uber Technologies Inc
IPO: May 10, 2019 opened at $41.57
Closed at $33.15 on June 9, 2020
Market cap: $57.48 billion
Q1 2020 Results: $3.54 billion revenue and a net loss of $2.9 billion

IPO: March 29, 2019 opened at $78.29 per share.
Closed at $29.84 0n June 9, 2020.
Market cap: $8.89 billion
Q1 2020 Earnings: $955.7 million revenue and a net loss of $398.1 million

Uber plans to run Postmates alongside its own food delivery business, Uber Eats. Combined, it will be No. 2 in meal delivery after DoorDash. Operations will be streamlined for efficiency, including having drivers delivering orders for both businesses. The deal came together after Uber failed to acquire another major food delivery company, Grubhub, which was instead acquired by Europe’s giant, Just Eat Takeaway, for $7.3 billion. The Postmates transaction is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in Q1 2021, at which point the two companies will integrate more of their efforts, according to Postmates.

For anyone following Silicon Valley startups in mobile apps, devices, software, hardware, connected cars, and autonomous vehicle technology, it’s very typical to see a startup like Postmates become acquired by one or more of the major players in the industry; while other startups sometimes go after IPOs with mixed results. Silicon Valley has extended out to other zones over the past two decades — Silicon Beach in Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; Seattle (including gaming companies); and an extended map from San Jose to San Francisco along US Highway 101. Many times, major companies like Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook, are setting up satellite offices in other cities. But San Francisco continues to be the home base HQ for many of the startups such as Uber and Lyft.

The impact of COVID-19 has been harder on Uber and Lyft than food delivery companies or grocery shopping and delivery company Instacart. As people have stayed home from work and other activites, having meals and groceries delivered has skyrocketed in demand. But for Uber, Lyft, and other ride-hailing firms, it’s been a tough time. One issue has been whether passengers can feel safe from Coronavirus while taking a ride.

Uber in May announced more than 6,500 layoffs, about a quarter of its workforce. The company said its ride-hailing business was down 75 percent from a year earlier. A month earlier, Lyft announced it would cut about 17 percent of its workforce (982 employees), furlough workers and slash pay in cost-cutting efforts to cope with lost sales during the pandemic. Lyft doesn’t report bookings, but analysts have estimated total rides will fall 63 percent in the quarter versus last year. Financial performance has never been strong for the two ridesharing giants, but Covid-19 has added to the pressure.


Tech innovation news sources you should know about
While I still read The Wall Street Journal and sift through news on my iPhone (typically from a few of the dwindling media outlets still in existence), I also spend more time reading relatively new publications. These media outlets cover technology innovations, startups, Silicon Valley, mobility, autonomous systems, sustainability, politics, and more. Here are the ones that seem to stand out most significantly, and that you might want to consider getting on their newsletter distribution lists.

Founded in 2005 by Silicon Valley innovator and investor Michael Arrington, TechCrunch profiles and reviews new Internet products and companies. It also profiles startups and existing companies that are making an impact (commercial and/or cultural) in the digital revolution.
Crunchbase and Crunchbase News
Crunchbase was originally founded in 2007 by Michael Arrington, as a place to track the startups that parent company TechCrunch featured in articles. In 2015, Crunchbase separated from AOL/Verizon/TechCrunch to become a private entity. You can find information on equity and angel investor deals made on startups and existing companies, with Crunchbase News offering late-breaking news on the market.
A news analysis source in the spirit of investigative journalism with a bit of wry humor. Such as this one: “Truly, what is up with Elon Musk. Musk declared he’s selling all his possessions, and Tesla’s stock price dropped 10 percent in a matter of minutes.” Vox is left leaning, but it’s also in the spirit of the critical importance of journalism in US history — the fourth pillar of democracy, just as important as the three branches of government.
This magazine goes back the birth of the world wide web — 1993. It’s been devoted to covering, exploring, and analyzing cutting-edge technology ever since then — and has delivered. Wired is still a must-read for people in the tech business.
Global news and insights including the future of mobility as one of its “obsessions” — along with global economic disruptions and the aging effect. If you’re going to read Quartz, plan for extra time to read long features (similar to The Verge).
The Verge
This is where you’ll see in-depth features on what’s behind movements in the world of mobility and tech startups, and a bit of investigative reporting. The Verge prides itself on providing breaking news in mobile app and digital tech innovations.
This one tracks media and entertainment and the latest tech toys. Mashable also covers global news impacting new media and technology, such as government crackdowns on internet companies and mobile apps; along with some coverage on the latest from Uber, Lyft, and competitors.
Interested in lightening up and having a bit of fun? Buzzfeed offers quizzes, videos, celeb news, recipes, news analysis, photo galleries, ridiculous and hilarious tweets and text messages, and the latest buzz on trends. If you scan the news app on your iPhone or Android, you might see an article with a headline such as, “26 Popular Movies with Awful Endings;” or a photo gallery and captions called “18 Dogs Who Haven’t Let the Quarantine Stop Them From Being Utterly Ridiculous.”
Founded in January 2017 based on this belief: Media is broken, and too often a scam. Stories are too long or too boring. Websites are a maddening mess. Axios has attempted to simplify it with clear, smart, and efficient coverage of topics such as robotics, machine learning and AI; China’s growing influence; and how human activity is posing threats to Earth’s climate.
Digital Trends
The Portland, Oregon-based website publication offers news, reviews, guides, how-to articles, and descriptive videos and podcasts about technology and consumer electronics products. Digital Trends is a good place to visit while shopping for the latest in smart phones and other devices, laptops, TVs, and more.
Medium, an internet platform whose “sole purpose is to help you find compelling ideas, knowledge, and perspectives.” I first discovered the website through its in-depth coverage of Google getting into the self-driving car arena and becoming Waymo. Medium seems to be customized to those working in new media and tech. Hot topics more recently have been real issues between men and women, and how dating and relationships tend to go these days. There’s also been quite a few pieces on making it in freelance writing and other digital media opportunities. And what it’s like to work for Netflix, Facebook, and Google/Alphabet.
Another mobile app to know about: TikTok
An app for sharing comedic videos, skits, and karaoke — started in 2017 that’s become wildly popular. Real people making real videos, says TikTok. It’s brand name has been all over the news lately, including President Trump’s reelection event in Tulsa. TikTok users and fans of Korean pop music groups claimed to have registered potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets for Mr. Trump’s campaign rally as a prank.

Facebook is shutting down Lasso, it’s own version of TikTok. That decision was made as Instagram prepares to roll out Reels, a feature that will allow users to edit short videos in their stories and share it, a TikTok-like feature.

Transitional Technologies: Connectivity as the stepping stone to cars of the future

Connected cars, aka connectivity, is thought to have been the very first of the next-generation technologies serving as game changers for the auto industry, personal mobility, and ground transportation. The ideal will be to someday have automated, electric vehicles tied together through a Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) communication network — and connected to everything else through the next version, Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X). The hope is that traffic could be controlled, collisions avoided, and energy use made more efficient.

And it will be connected to everything else, such as your home. It’s becoming quite common to see intelligent mobile devices able to manage what’s going on in your house — security system, heating, lighting, recording a sporting event, etc. Why not tie you car into all of it for electric vehicle charging, checking diagnostics, energy consumption, and getting it ready to take you to work in the morning?

Connectivity goes back to General Motors and Motorola introducing OnStar in 1996, eventually offering subscribers security, emergency services, hands-free calling, navigation, and remote diagnostics. Once smart phones started showing up in the late 2000s, connectivity began tying phones to a car’s dashboard control panel for these types of convenience features; plus what became known as “infotainment” that could include hearing your favorite music artist or the Howard Stern show on SiriusXM Radio. It eventually shifted over to voice commands to keep eyes on the road and the process more automated and easy to use.

These days, three tech developments tend to come up when connected cars are being discussed — 5G, V2V/V2X, and IoT.

For 5G, debate continues over which region will win the race to bring the leading-edge technology and clear the hurdles for adoption — North America, Europe, or Asia? Having a mobile device with 5G means higher capacity and increased bandwidth compared to 4G. It has the potential to clean up the problems on 4G as everything you can think of switches over to intensive, sophisticated software and data transfer needing a lot more bandwidth.

But the revolution will take much longer than planned. Last year, AT&T and Verizon went live with their 5G networks in a small, targeted set of cities. T-Mobile promised to clear its acquisition of Sprint and integrate their networks into the largest 5G network out there. The legal hurdle was cleared on April 1, but its presence in 5G is at the beginning phase. Handset makers have been rolling out a number of new models compatible to the new standard. However mobile device users aren’t seeing any real improvements yet in the existing cellular networks out there from AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint/T-Mobile.

But the technology does have its champions in telecommunications and mobility. The GSA (Global mobile Suppliers Association) said that by the end of 2019, 61 operators in 34 countries had launched one or more 3GPP-compliant 5G services. Of those, 49 operators had launched 5G mobile services, while 34 had launched FWA (Fixed Wireless Access) or home broadband services. The group sees the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) as fundamental for producing standardized reports and specifications for 3GPP technologies. Seven telecommunications organizations came together to create the 3GPP standards to support the development of 5G.

It does have its enemies — particularly those spreading concern that 5G will be dangerous to human health. Some experts see it as another conspiracy theory, and say that there’s no evidence that there’s anything to worry about.

V2V/V2X:  V2X is that latest standard to emerge from what was originally named V2V when the University of Michigan’s Mcity Test Facility gave it that badge. V2X is a vehicle communication system that integrates other more specialized types of communication such as V2I, V2N, V2V, V2P, V2D and V2G. Cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) is another development getting a lot of attention lately, and is expected to serve as the foundation for vehicles to communicate with each other and everything around them.

Automakers, tech companies, mobile phone networks, and auto suppliers, are waiting for 3GPP Release 16, which is expected to be finalized sometime this year. It covers all the bases on 5G coming out. One section includes specifications for C-V2X, that wold address issues such as platooning, extended sensors, automated, and remote driving.

The US Department of Transportation has been heavily involved with what technology will take the lead in 5G, and where V2X communications will go next. For V2X, DOT released a standard for review in February supporting the agency’s 5.9 GHz “Safety Band” spectrum testing. The devices will be used to evaluate the safety performance and capabilities of the devices through both small- and large-scale testing, including scalability and congestion, interoperability, and complex transportation scenarios.

Internet of Things — In 2010 when it first emerged in tech media, IoT at first seemed like the latest techie expression for the interconnectedness of devices, laptops, networks, mainframes, cell towers, and satellites; but it quickly became much larger than that.

What does it mean lately? IoT platforms are geared to analyze performance and share predictive and preventive maintenance, and other operational maneuvers to keep the participating organizations productive and efficient. It’s thought to bring together three factors: the ubiquitous internet, low-cost connected devices, and growth in data analytics solutions.

Smart appliances are tapping into the IoT mindset to allow end users to do everything in just a few commands. That might include planning out meals and getting reports on the nutrients and health implications of their planned meal. The IoT platform also enables more efficient use of energy as equipment makes intelligent adjustments to energy consumption. It helps reduce operational costs through enhanced predictive and preventive maintenance.

There’s also the revenue generating side that can help resolve one of the toughest questions of the day — finding additional revenue steams and offset some of the costs coming from development of the new technology. There are creative methods being explored that sell services to support connected products, rather than the products themselves. Many companies are bringing in specialists to tap into the developing technology. That could be through a tech consultant with IoT expertise, or through hiring new staff with a title like Business Development Manager, Internet of Things.

So when looking at 5G networks, V2X communication systems, and new IoT solutions, you can get a closer look at the elements shaping the contributions connected cars will make to the vehicle technology revolution.

And in other news……..

Tesla beats Toyota on stock market:  Tesla, Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA), which last month took its 10 year anniversary on the stock market, now has the largest market value among automakers — surpassing Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) and taking the lead. This morning, Tesla share prices have hovered right under $1,300 per share and a market cap at $240.96 billion. Toyota has been trading around $127 per share with its market cap at $206.1 billion. Tesla is weathering the COVID-19 storm well and has a loyal following in market analysts and shareholders. Expanding into China and Europe, and continuing to launch new products such as the Model Y, though investors are keeping the pressure on CEO Elon Musk and team to improve quarterly earnings.

Net-zero for America:  House Democrats last Tuesday released a bill that calls for the US to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, primarily through decarbonizing the electric and transportation sectors. It doesn’t remove natural gas fracking or coal-powered plants. Power plants would need to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040; with an economy-wide reduction expected by 2050 through building, transportation and industrial electrification.

Republicans on the select committee were frustrated the policy package did not go through the full committee process, meaning it will inevitably look different once it does get a full House vote. The sweeping plan for climate action embraces many of the goals of the Green New Deal that was released in February 2019, but wasn’t able to move forward in the House.

Diesel pumps changing:  Is it just me, or does it seem like more gas stations are adding diesel fuel pumps, and integrating them into all of the other fuel dispensers? According to Diesel Technology Forum, 55 percent of retail fuel stations in North America offer diesel fuel. It’s been gradually integrated into the main dispensers rather than setting up a solo dispenser for diesel. The organization says that diesel cars have the advantage of getting 20-to-40 percent more miles per gallon than gasoline-powered vehicles. They have less need to stop at the gas stations.

GAM editor on workplace struggles:  Do Amazon, Tesla, and other tech firms treat employees nearly as well as their customers? Those of us who drive a Tesla electric car, or belong to Amazon Prime, or take Uber and Lyft rides all over town, have an idea that while its fun to be a customer, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them. Read more in my LinkedIn Pulse commentary.

Countries with Highest CO2 Emissions
From Fuel Combustion



Energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 2.1% in 2017
and by 1.9% in 2018. Almost all countries contributed
to the rise except Europe and Latin America.
Study comes from Enerdata’s Global Energy
Statistical Yearbook 2019.

Transitional Technologies: Recovering from COVID-19 — Where do clean transportation and sustainability stand in importance?

How does one build the case for backing clean transportation and sustainability initiatives during a time like this? The US is facing increasing COVID-19 infection and fatality rates, outrage over racial profiling and use of force by police, depressing economic indicators, and gasoline prices staying quite cheap.

Electric car sales have been hit by the unexpected impact of COVID-19 — but at a much slower decline than overall new vehicles sales in the US. Converting vehicle owners — whether consumers, fleets, or trucking companies — over to clean vehicles, and the necessary charging and refueling infrastructure, is a much harder sell this year.

Events have been cancelled such as the popular ACT Expo in May, and many other conferences and exhibit halls. Some are being carried forward through online events — see news section below for news on one of these upcoming events.

Concerns over air pollution and climate change have been down on the scale lately. But its also an opportunity for stakeholders to reach out and practice social responsibility, according to a sustainability expert.

During a LinkedIn discussion group last week, that question was raised. Leaders in disease prevention, healthcare, social justice, and economic recovery, must be engaged and listened to with empathy, according to a prominent sustainability consultant. That could take place during a Zoom meeting or through other useful communication tools. They can’t be brushed off, he said.

That’s been reinforced by a recent Bain & Company report, as the impact of COVID-19 has been serving as something of a dress rehearsal for corporations preparing for the next disasters through climate change. Telework and virtual meetings have been reducing travel and forcing other alternatives on company operations. Satellite images have been reporting a steep decline in air pollution — showing the dramatic impact of taking away fossil fuel emissions. Another positive trend has been seeing corporations working closely with government agencies on accurate reporting of Coronavirus symptoms, testing, and how to practice social distancing and other safe practices.

Supporting disadvantaged communities
For those working in clean transportation and sustainability, the resources are there in government funding and incentives — and in investment funds in sustainability, social responsibility and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance). And there’s another opportunity to rejuvenate — tapping into government programs and alliances supporting clean transportation in disadvantaged communities.

California legislators winning over votes in Sacramento have emphasized the health risks for those living close to ports, cargo transport hubs, streets, and highways packed with diesel-powered commercial vehicles. Environmental justice is emphasized by legislators and community groups making the case for clean vehicles and fuels to displace traditional internal combustion engine vehicles.

The Greelining Institute, based in Oakland, Calif., sees economic barriers faced by communities of color as interconnected to several issues affecting quality of life. Vehicle exhaust makes tens of thousands of Californians sick and costs billions in avoidable health costs, with the worst effects often felt in low-income communities of color, the organization says.

The organization sees a clear correlation between economic opportunity — through job creation, support services, education, and other resources — and overcoming racial inequality. Breathing cleaner air is also part of tapping into government and business support for improving quality of life and leveling out the playing field.

“Race must never be a barrier to opportunity,” according to Greenlining.

Other states are including economic disadvantages in their framework for regions needing more electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to improve quality of life and address health concerns. Some of these states outside California with laws and funded programs in effect, or being considered by legislators, include Washington, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina.

Demand for disaster preparedness
In the fall of 2012, Hurricane Sandy’s impact was devastating, causing about $65 billion in damage. It eventually reached New Jersey and New York City, flooding streets, parking lots, tunnels and subway lines, and cutting power in and around the city. Now-defunct Fisker Automotive reported that 320 Fisker Karmas were destroyed at a New Jersey port by Hurricane Sandy.

In the immediate years that followed, the impact of climate change spread far beyond scientists and environmental groups. It became common to hear it referred to as “climate disruption” as a series of severe weather disasters on both ends of the spectrum were unleashed — from blizzards to heatwaves, brushfires, hurricanes, tsunamis, tornados, and earthquakes. The impact has been devastating in lives lost, property destruction, and disruptive weather conditions outside what we’d been used to.

There’s been a growing need in finding skilled and experienced professionals who can protect public safety and restore damaged infrastructure. Engineering and consulting firms are being hired to address disaster mitigation, infrastructure protection, and bringing resilience back to impacted communities. COVID-19, and social upheaval across the country, have brought up even greater challenges.

Fleet professionals that I know have engaged me and many others in conversations on challenges they’ve been through such as flooding and power outage. Their stories have been sad — with millions of dollars on loss due to vehicles being unsalvageable due to flooding that had not been seen in previous years. Opportunities have also come through it — with fleet professionals gaining experience and technical know-how in utilizing electric vehicle battery packs for energy storage.

And in other news……..
California adopting clean truck rules:  On Friday, the California Air Resources Board passed a unanimous vote for the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation, which will require truck manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of zero-emission trucks in the state starting in 2024. It will see a gradual annual increase in adding more electric trucks to fleets, with the goal of putting 300,000 electric trucks on California’s roads by 2035 and phasing out diesel trucks by 2045. Heavy-duty trucks are considered to be responsible for a third of California’s smog-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx) pollution and a fifth of its greenhouse gases.

Virtual clean transportation conference coming up:  AltWheels 2020 will be hosting its first ever virtual event on Monday, Oct. 5, 2020. The Boston conference started 17 years ago and became fleet-focused 14 years ago. 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. Green Auto Market will serve as one of the co-hosts of the conference, and will be covering the event throughout the year.

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. Last year’s event featured 30 expert speakers, 31 exhibits, and 20 on-site vehicles for display. More than 200 fleet managers from corporate, municipal, and state organizations from across New England and New York were in attendance last year. It provides attendees an opportunity to gain the latest updates in fleet transportation technologies, alternative fuels, and fleet management practices. Further information on AltWheels Fleet Day including photos and videos of last year’s sessions is available online at this website.

Resources to Tap Into:
—Research Determines Financial Benefit from Driving Electric Vehicles
Over a 15-Year Life, EVs Can Save Thousands of Dollars in Fuel Costs Compared to Gasoline Vehicles
Click here for analysis conducted by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Idaho National Laboratory (INL).

—How to Leverage LCFS to Increase EV Sales: OEMs and Dealers Toolkit
Click here for a study from GNA and ACT News.

Connecting the Dots
Market data to follow


AAA reports that the national average for regular gasoline as of June 28 was at $2.178, and  diesel came in at $2.441. Natural gas continues to have stable and competitive gallon gas equivalent (GGE) pricing compared to gasoline and diesel. Ethanol is even more competitive, with most of it consumed through E-10 blends. US Energy Information Administration reports that there are about 3,625 public E85 fueling stations are located around the country. Most of that takes place in the Midwest.

Lyft wants all electric fleet by 2030, Ford and VW partnering on commercial vehicles and electrification

Will Lyft go electric?  Ride-hailing company Lyft has committed to do big things by the 2030 benchmark — led by making sure its fleet is 100 percent zero emission. In collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund, other initiatives will be included in coming years such as bringing in autonomous vehicles, and rolling out its Express Drive rental car partner program for ride-share drivers. The challenge will be getting its drivers to switch over to EVs, as Lyft will continue to be a mobile app company partnering driver/car owners to customers needing a ride. The company won’t block drivers who don’t have EVs from accessing their network and getting business; Lyft has to talk them into it. That will be without incentives. The company is counting on governments spiffing up their programs for clean air and fighting climate change.

“We will aggressively promote and help drivers access incentive funds,” a Lyft told TechCrunch. “If policymakers do their part in the next few years, EVs should reach cost-parity with gasoline vehicles by mid-decade.”

Lyft will be working with EDF and other environment groups to lobby for EV incentives and charging infrastructure development. The challenge will be steep as Lyft drivers are used to getting good mileage in small, fuel efficient cars from Asian manufacturers. Another challenge will be Honda putting out a hybrid CR-V on the market soon, providing larger passenger and cargo space with great mileage from a non-EV.

Ford and VW working on electric vans:  Ford Motor Company and Volkswagen AG signed agreements on June 10 that expand their global alliance and take the next step from their initial alliance forged July 2019. They’re seeing increased demand in commercial vehicles and high-performing electric vehicles in Europe and other regions. Their alliance will produce a medium pickup truck engineered and built by Ford, for sale by Volkswagen as the Amarok starting in 2022 within the Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles lineup. Next up will be a city delivery van built by VW’s commercial vehicle group; and later onto a 1-ton van created by Ford. By 2023, they’ll be powered by Volkswagen’s Modular Electric Drive (MEB) toolkit, expanding on Ford’s zero-emission capabilities in Europe. The two global automakers will also work with Argo AI to independently develop autonomous vehicles at scale based on Argo AI’s innovative self-driving technology. Argo AI is a Pittsburgh-based company in which Ford has ownership and development interests.

For those interested in Ford’s new Mustang Mach-E electric performance SUV, it’s coming equipped with a more precise predictor of available range. Mustang Mach-E’s innovative Intelligent Range can accurately estimate how much range the all-electric SUV has left, helping reduce anxiety about when and where customers can recharge.

NREL sees hope in blockchain tech:  Blockchain continues to be taken more seriously as unexpected parties like the US Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), based in Golden, Col., enters the game. But this won’t be about tapping into the highly volatile cryptocurrency capital market. The power grid is bringing in blockchain technology to help ensure the reliability, resiliency, and security needed to distribute energy. With this stability, NREL is ready to take on a major opportunity: how property owners can sell unused power from their rooftop solar panels. Blockchain will serve as a distributed digital record of actions agreed and performed by multiple parties, to facilitate moving clean energy and its efficient distribution effectively. NREL researchers have been evaluating the use of blockchain for transactive energy using hardware in the laboratory’s Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF). So far, they’re impressed.

Automating driving on hold:  BMW Group and Mercedes-Benz AG put development cooperation in automated driving temporarily on hold. Their joined efforts on next-generation technology for automated driving will be placed on the back burner for now. Both companies are emphasizing that cooperation may be resumed at a later date and that the two companies’ underlying approach to matters such as safety and customer benefits in the field of automated driving remains highly compatible. Autonomous vehicle projects are being led by automakers in partnership with competitors and technology suppliers. As COVID-19 continues to hit all of the global markets, these ventures have to be placed on hold for now.

DOE funding advanced lithium-ion batteries:  The US Dept. of Energy is making up to $12 million available for projects that address capability gaps for enhanced lithium-ion batteries, next-generation lithium-ion batteries, and next-generation lithium-based battery technologies. Working through the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and Vehicles Technologies Office, funding is available for projects that address these four areas: materials processing and scale-up; innovative, advanced electrode and cell production; designer materials and electrodes; and formation. DOE will be woking with National Laboratories to establish public-private partnerships that solve engineering challenges for advanced battery materials and devices, with a focus on de-risking, scaling, and accelerating adoption of new technologies. The agency is soliciting proposals for projects that can meet these objectives.

Transitional Technologies: Honda getting hacked shows urgency of facing cyber security

Historic breakthroughs in clean, automated, shared, and safe mobility are expected to arrive relatively soon. Flying cars, autonomous rides taking us anywhere, unlimited wireless charging, renewables becoming cheap and abundant, and regular flights to the moon and Mars — we’re seeing what used to look like sci-fi lately achieving tangible, real-world achievements and gaining support.

Then there’s the horrific scenario of hackers taking over cars, raising red flags for those concerned about transitioning over to fully autonomous vehicles. For now, hackers are more likely to take over internal computer networks and temporarily shut down operations — as Honda just experienced. Another concern: hackers figuring out how to manipulate the electric vehicle charging infrastructure and its connection to the power grid.

Analysts have been expecting 2030 to be the turning point for historic transformation, though it’s likely to take a few more years to reach mass-market scale. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the works, and will probably extend that period of real change. There’s also gaining broad support for the new technologies in the regulatory structure, insurance and risk management, capital sources, and end users willing to purchase the vehicles.

Safety and protecting data must be resolved first — which usually fall under the category of Cyber Security. In future Green Auto Market commentaries, other concerns will be explored shaping transitional technologies: recovering from the impact of COVID-19, connectivity, automation, renewables, and next-gen batteries.

What happened to Honda?
Why did the Honda Automobile Customer Service’s Twitter page announce that both customer service and financial services networks were “experiencing technical difficulties and are unavailable” on June 8? Honda’s factories in countries around the world were temporarily stopped after the company sustained a ransomware attack beginning on Sunday, according to the BBC. The ransomware is known as SNAKE.

Honda has said very little about the incident. A spokesman told Popular Mechanics that “there is no current evidence of loss of personally identifiable information. We have resumed production in most plants and are currently working toward the return to production of our auto and engine plants in Ohio.”

The company did confirm later to BBC that “a cyber-attack has taken place on the Honda network.” In another interview with The Verge, Honda wanted to reassure readers that there’s been no evidence that “personally identifiable information” has been leaked to the public.

Hackers could use EVs to break down the grid
Researchers are concerned that the integration of electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) taking shape in powerful chargers, along with the electricity grid, could be ripe for hackers. “You do reach a tipping point where you’ve got so much load on the grid provided by these chargers, that if you could control it and manipulate them in aggregate, you would start to see power system problems,” said Jay Johnson, principal manager of technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories.

Hackers could take over enough chargers to theoretically cause a grid blackout. With EVs taking off in sales and charging networks in the US and other countries, a few cybersecurity researchers and industry groups are looking into weak points in the charging infrastructure that could exploited to wreak havoc.

The Sandia National Laboratories team is exploring ways to prevent such a grid attack. “EV charging is right there at the intersection of two U.S. critical infrastructures, the transportation sector and the energy sector. But we need to understand that it also intersects with a lot of other critical infrastructure in the United States,” Johnson said.

Why the general public is alarmed by hackers
Privacy and protection of personal and financial information is a major concern for many Americans. Having all of that data stolen, and possibly used in a scam or another costly criminal undertaking, has raised hackles and commitments from automakers, banks, credit card companies, and others, to protect private information. Surveys continue to show that consumers are angry and annoyed that all of their personal information can be exposed to anyone wanting to research it; and that their back accounts and identities could be wiped out by hackers and other criminals.

An IT manager I know has warned me and others about the huge implications and threats of hackers taking over corporate networks, personal devices and laptops, digital streaming services, and social media. The notorious incidents affecting major companies and millions of people have been spreading over to the average person more recently; or at least they’re being sent spambots, viruses, and malware. I’ve asked my IT friend, and read interviews with experts on the subject, on why hackers are doing it. Some hackers have political causes they believe in, and there could be millions of dollars stolen. But the main motivation seems to be that they love disrupting institutions — hacking the system and getting it to stop, at least temporarily.

I had this warning illustrated last week while using a popular grocery shopping mobile app. During the shopping trip, I thought that the shopper doing my batch over at Costco had completely lost it — by sending me jarring and pornographic images and messages. It turned out that the shopper assumed I was the perpetrator, and minutes later responded to my texts stating that assumption. It turns out that a third party had hacked their way into my personal account and took it over for that shopping trip. What did they get out of it? No money was stolen, and no one’s identities seem to be hurt. The hacker seemed to get a rush out of disrupting our lives for several minutes.

Not long before that debacle, Green Auto Market’s distribution list was taken over by a hacker. I was contacted by email marketing service Mailchimp that something fishy was going on with my email distribution list for the newsletter. I soon found out that a spambot had been let loose that created about 450 fake subscribers to the newsletter over about three weeks. I figured it out with all the new subscribers who had jumbled names and emails that didn’t seem real. After talking to someone with experience in computer networks about it, I realized that the hacker wasn’t doing what I thought might be going on — such as sending my readers a bunch of spam, or selling them phony get-rich-quick schemes. Nope, he or she was just hacking.

Where it all started in a big way
The current wave of hacking — which can include identity theft, electronic banking fraud, breaching of high-security computers, wiping out computers with a virus or malware, and crashing a network — started hitting major targets about 2012. State-held oil giant Saudi Aramco was hit by the Shamoon virus in 2012, which wiped out computer disks held by targeted government agencies and private companies. It was brought back in 2017 as Shamoon 2, thought to be sent by a group named “Cutting Sword of Justice” which claimed responsibility.

Companies hit hard by hackers in recent years have included Adobe, eBay, Equifax, Sony, LinkedIn, Marriott International, and Yahoo. Another big one happened last year when a software engineer in Seattle hacked into a server holding customer information for Capital One and obtained the personal data of over 100 million people.

If US consumers are going to buy into autonomous vehicles and flying cars in any significant way, the issue of vehicle safety and freedom from takeovers will have to be resolved. This applies to services such as Amazon Prime Air delivering packages in 30 minutes or less using small drones.

The US military has been testing out unmanned combat aerial vehicles for several years, along with unmanned ground vehicles. These vehicles and their collected data have been tapped into by autonomous vehicle research centers at universities like Carnegie Mellon, vehicle manufacturers, and AV technology supplier partners.

Tesla’s Berlin plant speeding up faster than China, AD publisher looking for Fixes and Solutions to everything

Tesla speeding up European plant:  Rumors are floating that Tesla may be able to beat the timing on its second plant opening in China with its Berlin vehicle manufacturing facility. Some of those working on the German plant are bragging they are three months ahead of where the Chinese plant was at this time last year. You can also view a video on the plant’s construction, with the nickname of GiGA4Berlin. Tesla continues to work quickly through the COVID-19 crisis and inner turmoil over management turnovers. One theory is that CEO Elon Musk and team are learning big lessons from crafting two vehicle plants and one battery factory to produce four models to production scale (with the fifth, the Model Y, slowed down for now with some production issues). That lesson would be how to standardize building the production plants and speeding everything up. Tesla is on its way to become a true global automaker serving the biggest markets: North America, China, and Europe.

Automotive Digest going away, welcoming new media platform:  Automotive Digest will soon be closed down for good, sad to say. But Chuck Parker will be staying in the game, having recently launched his Fixes and Solutions new media content platform. His new title describes it well: Editor, Publisher, Strategist, & Fixer. The focus here is on identifying and exploring the problems, issues, and obstacles along with possible fixes and solutions that are shaping the country, society, and the world — and not just the automotive industry. It’s also a good space for experts/analysts to voice their concerns, as editorial contributions are being accepted.

What does that look like? A few topics featured in its published articles tell the story…….. How robotics startup Starship Technologies is making its way through COVID-19 and building up its fleet of autonomous sidewalk delivery vehicles……… Federal courts are starting to protect laws that the Trump administration has been dismantling over fossil fuels’ impact on the climate…………. Can leaders from the US and Europe seize the moment to take on the challenges of stopping pandemics, solving climate change, and dealing with inequities of race and economies?…….. How online therapy app, Talkspace, has given counselors, therapists, and medical professionals a new functional means to delivering therapy without being in the same room or office with the client……. and much more.

China investing heavily in coal power:  China is in the process of undercutting all the capital and resources invested in clean energy and electric vehicles. The country permitted more new coal-fired power plants in March than it did in all of 2019. It comes right after a surge in coal plant construction last year. China already consumes more than half of the world’s coal. The country has almost as much new coal generation in planning or construction (206 gigawatts) as the US has in operation (235 GW at the end of 2019). It came from the economic turmoil the country started experiencing a decade ago, with the government putting investing huge sums through state-owned enterprises, with much of it going into coal-fired power.

Zobel heading hydrogen council:  The California Hydrogen Business Council (CHBC) has named Bill Zobel, a prominent figure in natural gas vehicles, as the executive director of the organization. Zobel joins CHBC after over ten years at Trillium, where he served as vice president of business development and marketing. During those years, Zobel helped to diversify the company’s alternative fuel portfolio to include hydrogen refueling in order to meet changing market conditions, customer needs, and company goals. He also worked to secure two premier hydrogen projects in the transit sector with the Orange County Transportation Authority and Champagne-Urbana Mass Transit District.

Clean Transportation group looking for active members:  If you’re a LinkedIn member, come by the Clean Transportation group. I’d started it a few years ago, but let it go dormant. Like other LinkedIn groups, it’s a good platform for telling the story on projects you’re working on, and critical issues facing the future of clean transportation, alternative fuels, and the future of transportation. Another one to check out is Sustainability Working Group, which delves into how sustainability is embedded in organizations and the impact this has on environmental stewardship, stakeholder well-being, community development and shared value. And one more thing, check out my article published in LinkedIn, “What’s the state of the economy as the ‘new normal’ drags on?”

Hyundai and Kia tapping into heat pump EV efficiency:  Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors Corporation released details of their innovative heat pump system, deployed in Hyundai and Kia’s global electric vehicle (EV) line-up to maximize their all-electric driving range in low temperatures. It’s extending per-charge driving range by tapping into waste heat to warm the cabin for passengers traveling through cold weather. It was first tied out in the first-generation Kia Soul EV, which used its compressor, evaporator, and condenser, so that the heat pump was able to capture waste heat given off by the vehicle’s electrical components, recycling this energy to heat the cabin more efficiently.

Hydrogen seeing breakthroughs at fuel pumps, Offerings in consulting and research services

Hydrogen seeing competitive fuel stations:  French fuel company Air Liquide just released a new product in the US that can make hydrogen competitive with the average gasoline and diesel fuel station. Its high capacity of 1,000 kg and dual filling positions are capable of fueling 250 vehicles per day. That will make it quite competitive with gas stations that can fuel up to 1,000 cars a day. A hydrogen station with four-to-six of these new pumps can be quite competitive with gas stations. Hydrogen stations in California are already going this route, thanks in part to the new capacity credit in the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. First Element/True Zero now offers a 25 percent emissions reduction at its new Oakland station compared to the company’s other stations. Of hydrogen stations opening up in the near future, three will offer two fueling positions with a dispensing capacity of 800 kg, and many will offer three or four fueling positions at 1,200 kg stations, according to California Fuel Cell Partnership. Hydrogen is continuing its trajectory as a commercially viable clean fuel — meeting stringent zero emission vehicle and LCFS in California and other states, and finding growth in Japan, South Korea, and European fueling stations.

Need some consulting and research support?  For those of you interested in finding consulting and research support services, see my LinkedIn page for details on my offerings. Stakeholders in clean transportation, fuels and energy, advanced vehicle technologies, sustainability, and market intelligence, are looking forward to the chaos coming from COVID-19 and social upheaval in many of our cities starting to stabilize. They’re beginning to see signs of a the “new normal” emerging, meaning that consulting and research projects for clients in corporations, government agencies, universities, and the like, are starting to show signs of coming back. I’m putting out the word on my availability to provide services to support your team getting back on track — from a work history and skillset in editorial, market research, and business analysis and consulting.

SpaceX breakthrough and Musk’s reputation:  While rioting and the Minneapolis incident that caused it, and the toll of Covid-19, have been depressing, there was one bright spot over the weekend. On Saturday, SpaceX became the first private company to send humans into space. A day later, the two NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, docked at the International Space Station on board SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. Good news for the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, who also runs Tesla — and can be the center of criticism coming from his fiery personality and management tactics. On the other hand, both companies can benefit from Musk’s presence — such as Tesla seeing its stock price go back up after SpaceX’s success. “Elon Musk is every bit as identified with the creation and ambition of SpaceX as he is with Tesla,” wrote Adam Jonas, an automotive analyst for Morgan Stanley, after the launch. “As such, we believe the success of SpaceX in achieving some of the most sophisticated challenges in science has a direct bearing on public, investor and government perception of his ability to lead and execute.”

Then there’s the dark side. ”Musk is very much more directly involved in the day-to-day management of the company than he is at SpaceX,” said Sam Abuelsamid, an auto analyst for consultancy Guidehouse LLP. “And I think that shows in the execution, which tends to be shoddy and half-assed.”

Nikola gets the backing it needs:  VectoIQ Acquisition announced yesterday that its much-anticipated merger with hydrogen-powered heavy-duty truck maker Nikola Motor has closed, a day after its shareholders voted to approve the transaction.  The deal provides Nikola with more than $700 million in new cash, much of it from a related “PIPE” (private investment in public equity) transaction where investors bought shares of the combined company at a discounted price. One part of Nikola’s appeal has has been offering buyers their choice of big rigs powered by a proprietary high-energy-density battery or a hydrogen fuel cell. Nikola reports that it has over 14,000 pre-order reservations for the trucks, representing more than $10 billion in potential sales.

Subaru takes sustainability award:  Subaru of America, along with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), announced they have been awarded the 2020 Silver Halo Award in the ‘Best Sustainability Initiative’ category by Engage for Good. The automaker and NPCA were recognized for the Don’t Feed the Landfills initiative, an environmentally focused campaign aimed at preserving national parks. Since 2015, Subaru of America has worked with NPCA and the National Park Foundation (NPF) toward a shared goal of reducing landfill waste in America’s national parks. That’s led to achievements such as the pilot parks nearly doubling their recycling and composting capabilities, keeping more than 16 million pounds of waste out of landfills, which is equivalent to the weight of 40,000 grizzly bears.

Sprinter van 25 year anniversary:  The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter commercial van is celebrating its 25 year anniversary. The van built in Germany made its way to the US in 2001 offering a state-of-the art van built for cargo movement in increasingly congested urban markets. As part of the 1998 merger with Daimler, Chrysler began offering the Dodge Sprinter. In 2014, that platform changes with the Ram ProMaster coming from Chrysler and Daimler keeping the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter alive and well in the US and other markets. Today, both manufacturers serve commercial clients like Amazon in its 30,000 unit delivery van fleet. That will be changing in the near future when Amazon adds 100,000 Rivian electric vans.

Hertz bankruptcy a major road sign toward the future of cars and transportation

It was sad to see the oldest car rental institution in the world, Hertz, file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday, given the severe impact of COVID-19 on travel and the economy. But the story is a much bigger one — it reflects the difficulties of building a solid, profitable company in the car business with healthy cash reserves to survive a catastrophe; and it points to the fundamental changes in how people will be using cars, travel, and taking short rides in the city, in the years ahead.

I’d learned a lot about the car rental business and other elements of its supply chain — automaker fleet departments, airlines, hotels, travel management companies, reservation systems, and the used car remarking arm — as the editor of Auto Rental News; and later working with car rental industry expert and consultant Neil Abrams as the manager of his Abrams Travel Data Services business unit. Learning about the nuts and bolts of how car rental companies work gave me a wonderful education in economics, the auto industry, and the growing importance of travel to consumers and corporate executives — almost like an MBA. Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker had served as the publisher of ARN, and encouraged me to take that publication where I wanted it to go — analyzing market data and offering readers a big-picture perspective on how all of this dynamic change would likely affect their future.

A Bloomberg article on the Hertz bankruptcy cited a ranking of top car rental companies that I put together for ARN in 1994. It ranked Enterprise its new No. 1 by fleet size and number of offices, bumping Hertz off its top spot for the first time. It was also during the time when Hertz’s advertising spokesman OJ Simpson was taken off his mantle and had his years-long contract with the auto rental giant taken away as his murder trial was scheduled. The 1990s also saw the beginning of company mergers and buyouts; and smaller car rental companies having to shut down and leave the business. The global economy was seeing similar trends with mergers and acquisitions taking center stage for automakers, airlines, hotels, media and entertainment companies, banking and investment firms, healthcare, and tech companies.

Over the next 20 years, we would see Enterprise purchase National and Alamo, Avis buy Budget and car sharing leader Zipcar, and Hertz buy Dollar and Thrifty. Hertz would take on Enterprise in the local market with its Hertz Local Edition division — offering replacement cars for repair and service, and weekend rentals to nearby residents who wanted a nice big vehicle to take a road trip. Hertz and Enterprise started car sharing units to compete with Zipcar and its parent Avis, along with Daimler’s car2go and General Motor’s Maven business units.

But what’s happened since then?

—Building a profitable business model continues to be tough:  Carl Icahn, a famous activist investor with plenty of holdings in the oil industry, could lose big with Hertz. Icahn, who owns nearly 40 percent of Hertz, is expected to lose his entire $1.5 billion investment if the company can’t survive its reorganization. Icahn had stepped in during 2014 to stabilize the company’s debt from its acquisition of the Dollar and Thrifty car rental competitors, and to take on competition from new modes of transportation led by Uber. Hertz had owed about $500 million in debt recently and had renegotiated a longer payment plan — given that it only had $1 billion in capital; but that payment was missed. The game is changing dramatically and COVID-19 isn’t at the root of it. It’s not the profitable model that major investors and stock market shareholders will need in the new economy. That’s the same for automakers, with Tesla going outside the norm as high-performing stock to own — unlike GM, Ford, and the other major manufacturers.

—Competitors like Enterprise, Avis, Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar, are preparing for a future with autonomous, shared, and electric rides.  That’s also the case for the two giant European car rental companies, Sixt and Europcar. But the car rental giants haven’t even started offering customers electric cars for rental. They might have a few hybrid models, but they have been sticking to the traditional vehicle choices. Hertz was set back by not getting enough SUVs into its fleet recently — as gasoline prices have stayed down and renters want to load up midsize-to-large crossovers and SUVs for long road trips. But that’s expected to change in the new decade as we emerge from the coronavirus, as environmental regulations take hold in North America, Europe, and Asia — meaning less gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs, and more electric cars and fuel-efficient vehicles. Consumers and fleets are starting to become more interested in owning EVs and taking shared, automated rides in autonomous shuttle buses. That will take a while to get a firm hold in the marketplace, but expectations are starting to change. Some analysts believe that COVID-19 is continuing to cause a series of changes in the general public’s priorities and expectations.

—Most companies in the global economy are dependent on steady revenue streams based on demand with very little in capital reserves — as well illustrated by Hertz.   When demand gets sidetracked for whatever reasons, there goes the company. Japan’s lean supply chain model has had a great deal of influence on all of it, but that was discredited in part by the 2011 nuclear power disaster — and its harsh impact on automakers around the world dependent on Japanese suppliers. Some countries like Japan are more willing to bail out their major corporations and keep their share. The US gave GM and Chrysler great deals with low-interest loans on their post-bankruptcy bailouts that were paid off. Will Hertz be able to find it from the Trump administration to emerge from BK in a stronger position?

—Hertz will have to save face on generous executive payments.  Hertz Global Holdings said today it has paid about $16.2 million in retention bonuses to a range of key executives. President and chief executive officer Paul Stone was paid $700,000, and executive vice president and chief financial officer Jamere Jackson $600,000 as retention bonuses, Hertz said in a filing to US regulators. That doesn’t look very good after laying off 10,000 of its employees in April. The business community and consumers do expect more from corporations these days — honest reporting, equity, treating employees respectfully, adopting sustainability practices, and supporting their local communities.

—Car rental holding companies are in a sound position for being leading players in the future of mobility.  They have the largest fleets in the world, historic brand names and public awareness, and infrastructures in place for serving airports and, especially for Enterprise and Hertz, serving local markets including much-needed replacement vehicles. What about adding EVs, autonomous shuttles, hourly rentals, and cheaper shared rides?

—Car rental companies are facing a serious turning point.  How will they compete in car sharing when those companies start to grow their audiences and car rental companies haven’t taken the segment very seriously? What about rental electric cars? It’s not happening yet. How do you compete with ride-hailing and ride-sharing giants out there in the global market? Consumers are changing their mobility methods and business travelers have been leaning in this direction too. COVID-19 and emerging from bankruptcy offer rare opportunities for stepping forward and doing the right thing.