VW faces more on Dieselgate and prepares to compete with Tesla, ACT Expo panel explores last mile hurdle

VW moving beyond Dieselgate toward EVs:  Volkswagen AG is still climbing hurdles to recover from its Dieselgate scandal and to take a leading role in being Tesla-competitive on the electric vehicle front. Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn was charged in federal court in Detroit with conspiring to mislead regulators on diesel emissions cheating. VW CEO Herbert Diess has been granted safe passage in the U.S. and advance notice if prosecutors seek to charge him, sources told Bloomberg. Last week, Diess told investors during the company’s annual shareholder meeting in Berlin that VW has awarded 40 billion euros ($48 billion) in contracts to battery producers, double the amount that had previously been in place. VW will be spending on EV batteries an amount that nearly matches Tesla’s entire market value. The automaker plans to sell up to three million all electric cars per year by 2025, Diess said.

VW’s Electrify America subsidiary was a topic of much interest during the ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. A map was added to its website last week showing where its projects stand to install or start construction of more than 2,000 chargers across the U.S. by the end of 2019.

NGVAmerica is offering a resource center that shows where VW stands on spending $2 billion on national zero emission vehicle investments and $2.9 billion through the Environmental Mitigation Trust, which states and territories may use to invest in transportation projects that will reduce NOx emissions.

Saving the fuel economy and emissions rules:  While auto executives had pushed hard for the second phase of the federal fuel economy and emissions standards to be extended to the original timeline, they hadn’t been advocating gutting the rules. Automakers will be visiting the White House this Friday to save the national fuel economy and emissions standards close to what they’d originally agreed to with the Obama administration. A leaded draft proposal by federal agencies, the Trump administration plans to keep standards for 2020 model years vehicles in place at about 37 mpg through the 2026 model year, much lower than the 46.8 mpg fleet wide average in the current standard. It would be more than what the automakers had bargained for when requesting a revision of the 2022-25 targets; they’d asked that it be more gradual and flexible, not that it be gutted by the federal government.

ACT Expo panel on urban mobility:  “Clearing the last mile hurdle,” is viable and starting to happen in increasingly crowded and polluted cities, according
to panelists last week at ACT Expo in Long Beach, Calif. Electric trucks, autonomous vehicles, and bicycles will play their part. Here were a few of the points they made:

Austin Hausmann, Chanje’s vice president of product development and R&D

  • The Chinese truckmaker offers a Class 5 electric delivery van – the V8070 – with 6,000 pounds of maximum payload capacity, and more than 150 miles of range from a 100-kWh battery pack. 
  • Delivery vehicles working in large cities are averaging about 70 miles traveled per day.
  • Electric vans and trucks are ideal for urban delivery. Chanje has been able to meet the range requirements and provide a 70% reduction in maintenance and fuel costs to fleet users.
  • A key challenge to be faced is charging infrastructure planning over the next five years as more electric vehicles come into fleets.

Duane Hughes, president and COO, Workhorse Group

  • Workhorse’s delivery drone, first shown in February 2017 with UPS, is offering major last mile cost savings for fleet operators. The company has found there to be 3 cents per mile in delivery costs for the drone, compared to 40 cents for an electric van and $1 for the typical UPS truck.
  • The company has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration on monitoring air traffic, no-fly zones, and weather conditions.
  • Workhorse is still in the testing phase, doing about five drone deliveries per day.
  • It will be available commercially by the end of this year, with FAA approval already being achieved. The company is sharing its data collection with the federal agency.

Chris Nordh, senior director, advanced vehicle technologies and global fuel products, Ryder Systems

  • The commercial space has to make financial sense — the last mile is a good argument for electric vehicles.
  • There is strength in partnerships, such as Ryder announcing a 10-year strategic agreement last year with Workhorse. Ryder is the primary distributor and service provider for Workhorse light- and medium-duty range-extended electric vehicles in North America. The company also established an exclusive sales channel partnership and service provider relationship for Chanje’s medium-duty EVs and energy services. In December, Ryder announced it will take delivery of 125 electric medium-duty delivery vans from Chanje. 
  • For early adopters, Ryder is providing the vetting process — getting the vehicle ready, maintenance process, and charger installation.
  • It’s important to assist site managers in understanding their buildings and charging needs, to work with utilities, and to understand the costs involved.

Thomas Madrecki, director of urban innovation and mobility, UPS

  • About 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2050, making it a difficult scenario for package delivery and other mobility services. E-commerce from Amazon and other companies is seeing huge growth, and that will continue.
  • Upcoming trends include worsening road and highway congestion, safety limitations on vehicle travel, and cities taking on more infrastructure supporting walking and biking. Cities area also taking a leading role on climate change, which will impact they types of vehicles allowed to drive there.
  • UPS is testing out bicycles for last-mile delivery in Hamburg, Portland, Ore., and Ft. Lauderdale. Bicycles have their limitations for what can be delivered, but UPS sees the importance of looking for diversity of solutions for each neighborhood served.

Panelists also had some insights to share during the Q&A portion:

  • Countries in Europe and Asia are dealing with congestion zones. The U.S. is taking more of a hybrid approach.
  • Uber, Lyft, and other mobility companies are adding to the challenges — bringing additional vehicles to roads and increasing traffic congestion
  • The charging infrastructure is a top concern for the future of electric mobility in cities. Charging at night, working closely with utilities, and tapping into state and local incentives is helping fleets grow their infrastructure. 

Federal emissions standards and vehicle electrification key themes at ACT Expo

Staying the course on federal fuel economy and emissions standards, vehicle electrification and all its challenges, and advancements in clean vehicles and fuels, were key themes addressed at this year’s Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, Calif.

Keynote speakers at “Global Trends Accelerating Advanced Transportation Innovation” on Tuesday morning said they would prefer to see that the single national emissions standard launched during the Obama administration stay in effect during a time when the Trump administration prepares to roll back the federal fuel economy and emissions standards. Mary Nichols, chairman, California Air Resources Board; Steve Gilligan, vice president, product and vocational marketing, at Navistar; Tamara Barker, chief sustainability officer and vice president of environmental affairs at UPS; Julie Furber, executive director of electrification at Cummins; and James Burrell, assistant vice president, advanced powertrain group, American Honda Motor Company, Inc., spoke to the issues. 

California and 16 other states had announced that morning that they have jointly sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over EPA Administrator Scott Pruett’s decision to roll back standards for vehicles built from 2022 through 2025. While the feedback period has been reopened by the Trump administration, the EPA administrator is preparing to cut back the standards with the argument that they’re too difficult for automakers to achieve.  

ACT Expo 2018 was a platform for several significant announcements:

Electric trucks:  Battery technology is improving so rapidly, it is becoming more realistic to expect faster adoption of commercial battery electric vehicles (CBEVs), according to Mike Roeth executive director of North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). Roeth gave a presentation on a guidance report released May 1 at the conference by NACFE analyzing the interest fleet owners have in electric trucks and the challenges faced to transition over from diesel to electric. Fleets using EVs for urban delivery in predictable routes between 50-100 miles per day are likely to be the first adopters of electric trucks and vans as the industry norm, according to the study. 

Several speakers and panelists during the week addressed the issues that vehicle electrification faces in fleet adoption. One of these concerns is substantial growth needed in the charging infrastructure that faces challenges in funding, securing space on real estate properties, and meeting building code enforcement.

Meritor and Blue Horizon:  Jay Craig, CEO and president of Meritor, gave a keynote presentation about how Meritor, an automotive components manufacturer, is investing and adapting to clean technologies. Rather than fighting off new clear air standards, his company decided to embrace the technology and move it aggressively to market, he said. Meritor also launched Blue Horizon during ACT Expo, a new technology brand  representing  the  company’s  emerging  platform  of  advanced technologies  centered  on  electric  drivetrain,  efficiency,  and  connectivity  systems. Products offered  under  the  new  brand will include integrated electrified  solutions for Class 4-8 commercial  vehicles  across  multiple  vocations,  including  pickup  and  delivery, drayage/terminal  tractors,  transit  and  school  buses, as  well  as  linehaul  and  other  heavy-duty applications.  

Award winners:  This year’s winners of the ACT Expo awards recognizing fleet operators who show true leadership in clean transportation were — Total Transportation Services, Inc. (TTSI) in the Leading Carrier category; Stark Area Regional Transportation Authority (SARTA) in Canton, Ohio for the Transit & Mobility category; City of Dublin, Ohio in the Leading Public Fleet category; Bimbo Bakeries USA for Leading Private Fleet; and WallyPark for Leading Airport Fleet.

Propane vehicles:  More than 13,000 propane autogas fleet vehicles were sold in 2017, according to data compiled by the Propane Education & Research Council. The new vehicles will annually consume approximately 36.8 million gallons of propane, and many will be displacing fuels with higher emissions like gasoline and diesel. “Propane autogas overcame significant challenges in 2017 — from the absence of federal incentives for alternative fuels from the federal government, to incredibly low gasoline and diesel prices throughout much of the year — and we received an overwhelming endorsement for our fuel in all markets. Propane autogas sales virtually held steady in a year where the conventional fuels held all of the advantages,” said Michael Taylor, director of autogas business development for PERC.

Clean Cities anniversary:  The U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. More than 100 Clean Cities coalitions have collectively saved more than 8.5 billion gallons of petroleum nationally, according to the DOE. Comprised of business leaders and fuel providers, government agencies and community groups, the coalitions continue to support and develop projects designed to cut petroleum use in transportation. 

New company name:  Trillium CNG has changed its company name to Trillium. The company has been a top supplier of CNG services for more than 20 years and will continue in that space. Company officials simultaneously announced the name change and a partnership with California-based EV Connect, a provider of electric vehicle (EV) charging solutions. “We believe our company name should fully reflect our offerings. By adding alternative fueling solutions like EV charging and hydrogen fueling to our portfolio we are helping customers reduce tailpipe emissions. Pairing those solutions with renewable fuels reduces the total lifecycle emission profile of our customers’ fleets,” said Bill Cashmareck, managing director of Trillium.

California’s investment in clean vehicles:  California  officials  announced  that the  state  has invested  more than  $1.2  billion  into projects  that  put  a  growing  number  of  zero-emission  and low-carbon  buses, trucks,  and  cars  onto  California’s  roads  and  highways.  About 48%  of these  investments  have been directed toward low-income  and  disadvantaged  neighborhoods – those  most  in  need  of  improvements  in  air  quality. One of these projects will be delivering dozens of electric school buses to rural school districts to help bring low-carbon transportation to students and drivers.

Electric delivery van:  Workhorse Group and commercial vehicle supplier Dana Inc. unveiled a Class 5 van powered by a jointly-built electric axle. The all-electric vehicle is a combination of the chassis and battery pack from a Workhorse E-Gen van, the body of a Morgan Olson UPS delivery truck, and the new Dana axle. The concept vehicle is not yet scheduled for production but interest from potential customers could bring it to market, according to Workhorse. 

Fleets using biodiesel:  According  to  a  new  2018  Fleet  Purchasing Outlook  study  conducted  by the  NTEA – The  Association  for  the  Work  Truck  Industry – 75% of  fleet respondents  planning  to  acquire  trucks  in  2018  anticipate  maintaining or  increasing  use  of  diesel  engine powered  trucks. Additionally,  the  survey  indicated  that  biodiesel  is  now  the  most  popular  alternative  fuel  option  on  the  market, followed  by  E85, CNG, and  electric  hybrid. Survey  data  shows  18  percent  of  fleet  participants  use  biodiesel now – up  from  15% in  2017.

Ultra Clean Diesel:  Renewable  Energy Group,  Inc. unveiled REG  Ultra  Clean  Diesel,  a  patent-pending  fuel  blend  of  renewable  diesel and biodiesel. “REG  Ultra  Clean  Diesel  is  a  CARB  approved  fuel  that  significantly  reduces  emissions, blends  easily  with  petroleum  diesel,  and  is  one  of  the  cleanest  and lowest  carbon intensity  liquid  fuels  available,” said  REG’s Gary Haer,  vice  president,  sales  and  marketing.  “REG  is  uniquely  positioned  to  offer  both  our  biodiesel  and  renewable  diesel  in  a  blended  product.    We  are  committed  to  delivering  solutions  to  our customers  in support  of  clean  air  and  sustainability  initiatives.”

ROUSH unveils EVs:  ROUSH  CleanTech  unveiled  its  newest  carbon footprint-friendly  vehicle — an  all-electric  vehicle built on the Ford  F-650 chassis. The all-electric vehicles will have  a  lithium-ion  battery  system  of  up  to  225  kilowatt  hours and  700  volts.  Depending  on  the  vehicle’s  GVWR,  the  average  range  will  be  up  to  120  miles  with  a  top  speed  of  75  miles  per  hour. “An electric  battery  option  for  medium-duty  trucks  and  buses is a  great  fit  as  there  is  increasing  demand  in  this  gross  vehicle  weight  range  (GVWR)  with  very  few  OEM  solutions,” said  Todd  Mouw,  president. “This  builds  from  our  robust  foundation  already  in  place  at  ROUSH  CleanTech  that  supports  more  than  1,200  customers  and  19,000  propane  and  natural gas  units  on  the  road.”

Peterbilt also goes electric:  Heavy-duty truck manufacturer Peterbilt launched its all-electric Model 579. It was built by the company in collaboration with Transpower, the California Air Resources Board, and the Port of Long Beach. The heavy-duty Model 579 truck has been designed as a drayage application tractor that will go into service soon at the Port of Long Beach. It’s got 490 horsepower with a 200-mile range through its battery pack with the options of 350-to-440 kWh of power. The recharge takes up to five hours.

Fleets taking cautious approach to clean vehicles, Amazon and UberEats leading in urban mobility

Fleet perspectives on clean vehicles:  While many corporations have ambitious sustainability targets in place, greening their fleets is going to take a while. Automotive Fleet just published an in-depth look at the state of clean transportation through interviews with several fleet managers and suppliers. Fleets are paying attention to an onslaught of future electrified product plans among several global automakers; and commitment by several corporations to become carbon neutral or all-electric in the next five to 10 years. As for now, manufacturer incentives for fleets make gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles more appealing than hybrid or electric vehicles. Lack of demand for electrified vehicles has been part of it, according to Tim Cengel, manager, manufacturer relations for Wheels, which has kept automakers staying conservatie in production volumes being set for hybrids and EVs

Ford abandoning cars:  With Ford essentially exiting the car business in North America, the Ford Fusion will be getting axed, along with the Fiesta and Taurus. The Mustang and Focus will still be produced. The automaker will only be offering the Focus Active hatchback as a debut model in 2019. The Ford Fusion had been selling well in the hybrid market and its plug-in hybrid version. The Fusion Hybrid has been beating the Toyota Prius in sales several times in the past couple of years, but it will be going away. Ford Motor Co. has been losing money producing and selling cars and will be focusing more on trucks and SUVs. 

Amazon and UberEats taking the lead:  The urban mobility sector saw a few interesting announcements over the past week. Amazon is offering a new perk to its 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers. Millions of owners of General Motors and Volvo vehicles in 37 cities will be able to have Amazon packages delivered to the trunk of their vehicles. The In-Car Delivery program comes months after the company launched a program allowing homeowners to provide a digital key to allow delivery drivers to drop a package inside their home………. A convincing argument is being made that rapid growth in online delivery services will be adding to urban traffic congestion and pollution. Manhattan is seeing UPS and FedEx paying millions of dollars in parking fees, with commuters upset about the growing traffic congestion coming from the fast-growing online shopping business………… Uber Eats is taking the lead in meal delivery services in the U.S., bringing in nearly as much revenue as GrubHub. Consumers are now spending more on UberEats than on any other food delivery service in nine of the 22 most-populous U.S. cities, according to a new study.

Tesla continues facing factory obstacles, RNG Coalition map shows fast growth in production facilities

Tesla facing workplace investigation and non-stop factory:  Tesla Inc. continues battling obstacles as it becomes a mass-production automaker, facing a charge over unsafe working conditions and a decision to keep the factory going 24/7. California’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal-OSHA) opened inspection of Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., factory on Tuesday over possible under reporting by the electric carmaker of work-related injuries and illnesses. The inspection may have come from a an article by the Center for Investigative Reporting claiming the misreporting by Tesla with the charge that the company lowered the number of injuries in the official count by stating some were minor or due to personal medical conditions. Tesla denied the accusations in a blog post, calling the publication an “extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.”

More Tesla workers are needed, with the automaker starting around-the-clock production schedules this week at the Fremont plant. It’s being done to ramp up from the recent report of over 2,000 Model 3s being built  up to 6,000 units a week by the end of June. One more shift will be added to general assembly, body, and paint, CEO Elon Musk write in an internal company email. That news came out after the company took another day of stopping production of the Model 3 to improve automation and address production bottlenecks. About 400 workers will be added per week for several weeks to handle the increasing output, Musk wrote. 

Calstart supporting electric airplanes:  Calstart and two cities have launched the Sustainable Aviation Project, which is described as “the nation’s first production all-electric aircraft project designed to develop pilot training opportunities using zero emission electric airplanes.” Calstart’s partners are the Northern California cities of Reedley and Mendota, with funding being provided by the Fresno County Measure C through the Fresno County Rural Transportation Authority. The electric aircraft will reduce both air and noise pollution, and will be able to fly for 60 minutes between charges with a 30-minute reserve. The typical flight training session lasts about 60 minutes. Charging can be done at four regional airports in Fresno County.

RNG Coalition map shows fast growth in production facilities:  The Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) yesterday released a new map and project database of renewable natural gas (RNG) production facilities in North America. The refreshed database shows that the RNG Coalition is on track to double the number of RNG production facilities in North America in half the time that was set in the original goal of what was to be accomplished by 2025. There were 51 RNG facilities in place at the time the coalition was formed in 2015. The new database shows an additional 23 RNG production facilities are currently under construction and another 23 have reached stages of substantial development prior to commencing construction. It also shows there are now at least 76 operations RNG facilities in North America, which makes for 85% growth from the 41 projects that were built between 1982 and 2014.

RNG Coalition membership shows a unique alliance among biofuel producers, natural gas suppliers, natural gas vehicle fueling companies, major oil companies, utilities, and Clean Cities coalitions. The relatively new organization sees RNG as a sustainable strategy with environmental, economic, and energy gains being met while supporting adoption of the clean fuel.

“Redeeming our organic waste-streams by converting them to renewable natural gas for productive end-use epitomizes sustainability,” said RNG Coalition CEO Johannes Escudero. “Increased RNG development, deployment and use leads to greater adoption of the renewables we use to drive, heat and power our homes and businesses, while ensuring the reliability of our electric grid and decarbonizing our gas distribution systems.”

“Converting waste steams into RNG is a very clear success story, largely as a result of the Renewable Fuels Standard,” said Jay Hopper, Vice President of industry developer Aria Energy. “Since the environmental benefits of RNG were ruled eligible to generate D3 Renewable Identification Numbers in 2014, private capital has funded dozens of new projects all across the continent, and dozens more are in process.”

The updated RNG facility database was derived through months of research on RNG facilities by the California-based RNG Coalition and by Energy Vision, a clean energy and renewable fuels nonprofit organization out of New York.

Nissan preparing to launch electric robotaxis in early 2020s, Protean Electric bringing in-wheel electric drive over to Olli

Nissan and DeNA testing robotaxis:  Nissan Motor Co. is preparing to launch electric robotaxis in the early 2020s — but as for now, more real-world testing needs to be done. Last month in Yokohama, Japan, about 300 people participated in test rides in the Easy Ride robotaxis, which are built on modified Nissan Leafs. Easy Ride taps into Seamless Autonomous Mobility, which was developed by Nissan from NASA technology, for the automaker’s fleet operation system. Unexpected occurrences are being tested, such as road construction or an event filled with cars and pedestrians blocking traffic. The robotaxi will have support from in-vehicle artificial intelligence and staff working at a control center monitoring the rides. Nissan is counting on its collaboration with DeNA, a Japanese mobile gaming and communications giant. Easy Ride comes with a DeNA-designed smartphone app, where users can hail a taxi by choosing a time slot and where they want to be picked up from a list of preset destinations. Riders view a tablet computer installed inside the car about recommended events in the area; and users are also sent discount coupons for restaurants participating in an Easy Ride affiliate program.

Model Y starting next year as debt grows:  Tesla Inc. won’t be slowing down anytime soon, with debt mounting to increase Model 3 volume and start up production of its Model Y sport utility electric vehicle. Two sources told Reuters last week that the Model Y compact crossover companion to the Model 3 sedan will start up in November 2019. The sources said that CEO Elon Musk is accepting preliminary bids for supplier contracts on the Model Y. The sources said that suppliers are estimating annual production of 500,000 Model Y vehicles in the U.S. at the Fremont, Calif., plant, with a second factory in China producing a much smaller volume, likely in the tens of thousands. The company had estimated reaching 500,000 vehicles produced this year as the Model 3 is ramped up; Tesla is not reaching that level yet and is unlikely to hit the target. Musk is likely to seek more capital to add the Model Y to its product lineup. Tesla is now burning cash at a rate of more than $2 billion a year. During an interview with CBS’s Gayle King, Musk conceded that the electric carmaker’s robots involved in its Fremont factory process probably slowed down production. Another challenge has been a “crazy, complex network of conveyor belts, and it was not working so [Tesla] got rid of the whole thing,” he said.

Volvo rolling out electric truck:  Volvo’s new FL Electric is being rolled out as a delivery truck targeted to cities banning fossil-fuel powered vehicles. The all-electric 16-ton truck will have between two and six lithium-ion batteries with 100-300 kWh, capable of taking the truck up to 186 miles through six batteries. The truck maker says charging time will be one to two hours with DC fast charging, or up to 10 hours on AC with the 300-kWh battery capacity. Volvo Trucks is bringing its experience over to the FL Electric from producing more than 4,000 electrified buses since 2010. “With attractive incentives, agreed standards and a long-term strategy for urban planning and expansion of the charging infrastructure, the process can go much faster,” said Jonas Odermalm, head of product strategy, Volvo FL and Volvo FE at Volvo Trucks.

Protean and LM working on self-driving electrified shuttles:  Protean Electric is bringing its in-wheel electric drive system over to autonomous vehicles through a new strategic partnership with U.S. vehicle manufacturer LM Industries. LM is known for building Olli, a self-driving electric shuttle bus. The partnership will start with providing the eDrive system for Olli. Beyond that, the companies will work on new technologies to accelerate future autonomous and transportation-as-a-service (TaaS) vehicle production.

LM Industries focuses on open-source vehicle design. “Open platforms are a critical piece of LM Industries’ strategic vision, allowing us the flexibility to work with innovative companies like Protean Electric and quickly integrate new technologies that let us make great product,” said John Rogers Jr., CEO and co-founder of LM Industries. “Protean Electric’s eDrive technology with in-wheel motors and integrated power electronics, make power-train components obsolete and vehicle digitization easier. It will help us revolutionize self-driving vehicle design creating more space for passengers.”

Protean Electric has been building alliances with other partners including last year with
Consolidated Metco to develop an electric in-wheel drive system to provide hybrid-electric solutions for the medium and heavy-duty commercial vehicle markets. In 2016, a funding round with Chinese investors was carried out, including GO Scale Capital, Zhejiang VIE Science & Technology Co. Ltd., and Tianjin THSG Corporation. The funding has been used to ramp up production in China of Protean’s PD18 product line, and for new product development and formation of a manufacturing joint venture with Zhejiang VIE.

Tesla sees investor and shareholder support wane, NADA and INRIX studies on car ownership and driving

Tesla seeing impact of a difficult year:  Tesla Inc. has been seeing some of its support wane from investors and shareholders as the company hits a rough period of increasing challenges. On April 2, the stock took a dive and hit a one-year low at $244.59. It’s gone back up to around $303 today, but that’s much lower than the 52-week high of $389.61. There’s also been a few critical analysis reports coming out, which have been pervasive in the Seeking Alpha commentaries lately. The challenges are coming from Tesla missing the mark on Model 3 production, a fatal crash in a Model X involving the Autopilot system, the trade war with China that’s likely to hurt Tesla, and tensions with workers played out in a labor complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board. Investors want to see the electric carmaker reach a steady production level on the Model 3 and avoid raising additional capital and debt this year. ”Tolerance for the brand’s history of missed numbers is likely at an end,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher at Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.

Hyundai and Kia wireless charging project:  Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center, Inc. (HATCI) and Mojo Mobility, Inc., have completed a three-year project to develop a fast-charging wireless power transfer system on a test fleet of five Kia Soul EVs. The project was in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. HATCI and Mojo, a wireless technology company, worked together to develop a compact wireless charging system that is capable of transferring more than 10 kW to the vehicle for fast charging while targeting an 85% grid-to-vehicle efficiency. The project also studied durability, safety, and performance. Wireless charging takes place through an electromagnetic field to transfer energy between two coils — a transmitter on the ground and a receiver on the bottom of the vehicle. The driver simply parks the car above the transmitter to begin charging and then energy is sent through an inductive coupling to an electrical device, which uses that energy to charge the electric vehicles’ battery.

NADA and INRIX studies on car ownership and driving:  U.S. consumers aren’t ready to sell off their personal vehicles and get all their mobility needs met through autonomous vehicles, or through ride-hailing or car-sharing services, according to a National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) study. The study tapped into consumer focus groups and a national survey on the future of personal transportation. Only 11% of respondents were interested in giving up their personal vehicles to switch over entirely to other modes of transportation — and that crossed over all the demographics of age, geographic region, education, and income levels. Only 6.5% of them found car ownership to be a hassle. The survey found that ride-hailing services provide some great benefits — especially in urban areas and in places where parking is an inconvenience.

Connected car data firm INRIX just released a study showing that there are some differences in attitudes of consumers doing a lot of city driving and those living outside in more residential areas. The findings of its first Cost of Driving study were released yesterday, which calculated vehicle ownership costs for 30 major cities in the U.S., U.K., and Germany. The study found that traffic- and parking-related costs made up nearly half of the total cost of car ownership in the U.S. Last year, the average U.S. driver faced the highest total driving cost of $10,288, which was 55% more than the average U.K. driver and 14% more than the average German driver. The costs faced by U.S. drivers includes direct (maintenance, fuel, insurance, and parking and toll fees) and indirect/hidden (wasted time and carbon, parking fines and overpayments). Traffic- and parking-related costs made up nearly half (45%) of the total cost of ownership in the U.S. — making mobility services like Uber and Lyft more appealing. The INRIX study indicates that for consumers living in cities, it’s likely there will be less vehicle ownership and more use of alternative mobility options.

The long-term changeover from personal vehicles to more use of alternative transportation modes — ride-hailing and car-sharing services, carpooling and vanpooling, public transportation in buses and trains, electric scooters, bicycling, and walking — will likely take several more decades to see any real impact on auto sales and the number of vehicles on roads and city streets.

The NADA study made reference to Uber, Lyft, Zipcar and Didi Chuzing (China’s largest ride-hailing service) in February signing a statement of principles supporting a mandate that all autonomous vehicle in urban areas be part of shared fleets — not personally owned. That appears to be the most likely scenario to how automated mobility will grow in the U.S. and other countries — through partnerships between mobility services, technology giants, and automakers that have government backing. It will all take several more years of testing to overcome concerns about driver, passenger, and pedestrian safety.


Tesla may be blocked by China tariffs, What it will take for EVs to be mass producible

Challenges increasing for Tesla:  Tesla Inc. continues experiencing a very tough period as China included electric vehicles on its list of additional tariffs — as the trade war escalates with the Trump administration. Other automakers could be hit by SUV tariffs if enacted, but having joint venture alliances with Chinese companies will soften the blow. China is Tesla’s largest foreign market, and Tesla competitors will have a real advantage in China. CEO Elon Musk continues facing a wave of serious challenges. During the Q1 earnings call this week, the company announced that production and sales of the Model 3 have been increasing, with 2,020 Model 3s built during the last week of March up to about 5,000 units a month expected in about three months. But the company’s $10 billion debt load is a much more pressing issue, with cash dwindling and its bonds continuing to slide after the company’s credit rating was cut. Tesla has about $1.2 billion in debt maturing over the next year, and analysts expect the company will burn through $2 billion of its cash this year. There’s also the second fatal crash related to Tesla’s Autopilot system from the March 23 fatality of Tesla Model X driver Walter Huang on U.S. 101 in California when his electric SUV slammed into a highway barrier. The National Transportation Safety Board on Sunday said it was “unhappy” that Tesla had released information about the crash, expects to issue a preliminary report on its findings in a few weeks.

ACT Expo speakers announced:  Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo just released its speaker list for the event taking place April 30 through May 4 at the Long Beach Convention Center. The keynote presentation will be made by Jay Craig, CEO and president of Meritor, a leading component manufacturer, on how the company had to change its strategy to integrate electric vehicle components into its portfolio. Other featured speakers include: Thomas Madrecki, Director of Urban Innovation and Mobility, UPS; Michael O’Connell, Vice President Supply Chain, Fleet Sustainability, Frito Lay; Mary Nichols, Chair, California Air Resource Control Board; Heather Tomley, Director of Environmental Planning, Port of Long Beach; Madhav Acharya, Technology to Market Advisor, ARPA-E Department of Energy; Elizabeth Fretheim, Director of Sustainability, Walmart; Timothy Papandreou, Strategic Partnerships Manager, Waymo; and Janea Scott, Commissioner, California Energy Commission. You can view the full agenda here.

How EVs can go mass market:  A new study by McKinsey & Co. in partnership with A2Mac1, a provider of automotive benchmarking services sees 2017 as a benchmark year with 1.3 million EVs being sold worldwide, a 57% increase over 2016 sales. While that stays at about the 1% level for global new vehicle sales, the study explores steps that will need to be taken to make it up to 25% of new vehicle sales by 2030. To become mass producible, four factors will need to be addressed, according to McKinsey.

One of them focuses on building “native” EVs (new battery electric models on their own platforms) is quite costly in the form of engineering hours, new tooling, and other factors, the cost savings will become substantial compared to non-native EVs. The weight of the cables is coming down in EV powertrains, and there are less parts being used than earlier versions of their EV models. Another advantage is having fewer compromises to make in EV architecture and bodies, allowing for an average of 25% larger battery pack volume. These and other changes in new EV models are bringing longer range, more power, and faster charging. The purchase price is coming down for new EVs and a few older models like the Nissan Leaf.

Green Auto Market would add another factor to future EV sales: prepare for incentives drying up. The US appears to be going here faster than other countries, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s statement released this week, which was as many had expected it would be. Fuel economy and emissions standards appear to be softening up. Federal funding for alternative fuel vehicles and tax incentives for electric vehicles will also see little support. The U.S. may be going here sooner than other countries, but it is a factor in all of them as EV incentives eventually fade away. Costs will eventually be coming down through cheaper battery packs, and manufacturing uniformity and flexibility as the McKinsey study recommends. Manufacturers and dealers may have to fill some of that void with other incentives — rebates, zero percent financing, trade-ins, fleet discounts, etc.

EPA emissions ruling expected to soften up, Mack Trucks rolling out geofencing for emissions improvements

EPA ruling on emissions coming out soon:  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will be releasing its final ruling on the fuel economy and emissions standards this week, as the deadline approaches Sunday, April 1. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is expected to announce a cut in the standards and issue a new rule-making timeline. The new standards could be released as early as this summer. Bloomberg and Reuters, citing anonymous sources, reported on Friday that the second round of rule, covering 2022-2025, will be relaxed. Automakers had asked the Trump administration to stick to the original April 1 deadline, and to block the Obama administration’s late decision to accelerate and end the review. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has differing concerns than the EPA under the Obama administration. Margo Oge, the former EPA official who helped develop the fuel economy and emissions standards, said she is worried that NHTSA is preparing to “gut the 2025 program.” Her concerns have been raised by reports in Bloomberg that NHTSA was considering options such as dropping fleetwide fuel economy to 35.7 mpg by 2026, down from the 46.6 mpg target set under the Obama administration.

Nissan wants to maintain EV lead:  Nissan wants to maintain its market leader position in electric vehicle sales gained through the Nissan Leaf by launching eight new EVs and hitting a one million annual EV sales target by 2022. The new strategy will also mean bringing out 20 new models with autonomous driving technology to 20 markets by that time. All of its Nissan and Infiniti models will have 100% connectivity by that time, the company said. The Japanese automaker plans to increase global annual revenue during that time to 16.5 trillion yen ($160.0 billion), from the 12.8 trillion yen ($120.0 billion) announced in the fiscal year that ended last month. That will come through a sustained 8% operating profit margin, Nissan executives said at a briefing on Friday at Nissan’s global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan.

Mack Trucks finding fuel savings at ports:  Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks will be using “geofencing” technology to switch over a plug-in hybrid truck between electricity and diesel in a pilot program. Mack trucks is testing out an automated GPS-based system that can switch between multiple modes of operation to reduce diesel consumption and air pollution. The geofencing utilizes GOA and radio-frequency identification technology at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which has been able to increase fuel savings in the 25-to-30 percent range. The ports have become a hub for alternative fuel testing; that includes a Cummins Westport project testing low NOx natural gas engines, Toyota testing a fuel cell electric drayage truck, and a few battery-electric BYD drayage trucks moving freight from the ports to area warehouses.


Mahindra and Ford partnering on an EV, Investigating the Uber autonomous vehicle crash

Mahindra and Ford developing EV:  Mahindra Group and Ford Motor Company today announced they’ll be jointly developing new SUVs and a small electric vehicle. The companies see it as an opportunity to leverage Ford’s global reach and expertise and Mahindra’s scale in India and its successful operating model. One of the SUVs will be a midsize sport utility vehicle built on the Mahindra platform; it will be sold independently by both companies as separate brands. They’ve also agreed to evaluate co-development of a compact SUV and electric vehicle. They’ll also be working on connected car solutions for consumers. Mahindra has been bringing EVs to the Indian market in recent years, including the e20 through its Reva subsidiary.

Outlander PHEV important for Mitsubishi sales:  The Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid crossover vehicle could a “halo vehicle” for the brand in the U.S. to help increase sales. Hitting 130,000 vehicles sold per year in the U.S. is part of a three-year strategy unveiled late last year. The all-new Eclipse Cross crossover vehicle will also help increase sales, said Don Swearingen, COO of Mitsubishi Motors North America. The Outlander PHEV has seen strong sales results in Europe in recent years, and was finally launched in the U.S. late last year. It’s getting a national advertisement now in the U.S. and will have a national social media program, and some dealers are probably going to launch their own local market advertising programs to support Outlander PHEV sales, he said.

Investigating Uber autonomous vehicle fatality:  Toyota Motor Co. has suspended its self-driving car test drives to assess the situation following the pedestrian fatality in Tempe, Ariz. That fatality involving an Uber test vehicle and driver prompted the ride-hailing firm to suspend its tests in Tempe, Ariz., Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. Toyota has put its fleet of autonomous test vehicles on hold in Ann Arbor, Mich., and in the San Francisco area. Self-driving startup NuTonomy has put its Boston test vehicles on hold after city officials requested it after the Arizona fatal crash. Ford and General Motors are continuing their tests on public roads; Waymo and Lyft declined to comment on the status of their self-driving car test fleets since the fatal Uber collision.

There was a safety driver behind the wheel at the time of the Uber fatality, which raises the question of what the driver should have done to intervene; and if the driver would have been unable to stop the collision. Tempe police reported that a video from the Uber self-driving car that struck and killed a woman on Sunday shows her moving in front of the self-driving car suddenly, a factor that will affect conclusions made by investigators. Since then, more news has been reported on the findings. The onboard cameras showed that the operator didn’t have his eyes on the road, and that the pedestrian was visible for at least a second before the crash took place.

The National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the fatal accident earlier this week. It’s the second autonomous vehicle technology fatality being investigated by the NTSB after the May 2016 crash that killed a Tesla driver while using the Autopilot semi-autonomous system. In September, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said operational limitations in the Tesla Model S played a major role in the May 2016 fatal crash. In January, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NTSB sent investigators to research a crash that took place that month between a Tesla vehicle traveling in semi-autonomous mode and a fire truck in California.

UAW filing string of charges over Tesla’s Fremont plant, Ford faces set of challenges for profit and electrification

Tesla vs. UAW:  Labor relations are getting worse between Tesla Inc. and its factory workers in Fremont, Calif., which the UAW is using to file a string of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. As was reported last week, conditions have been difficult for management and labor in Fremont as Tesla ramps up the Model 3 production line to try and reach goals that had been set last year. The UAW complaints may present another challenge for Tesla management to overcome to reach these targets and retain a stable workforce. The union conflict had been publicized in February 2017 when Tesla employee Jose Moran posted a blog article detailing harsh working conditions. Moran said that some of these workers had contacted the union because of it. In October, Tesla fired about 700 workers, which CEO Elon Musk said was part of routine performance reviews. Volkswagen has faced similar efforts from the UAW to organize its plant in Chattanooga. The union lost a vote in 2014 to unionize factory employees, but has successfully organized a group within the plant to stay with it. Workers in the greater Bay Area, where Fremont is based, have been known to be more supportive of unions than in other parts of the country; but the UAW and all the other major unions in the U.S. have been losing support and membership for several decades. Convincing a majority of the workforce to bring in the union is very difficult to carry out.

Nordic region strong in EV presence:  A new report from International Energy Agency recognizes the Nordic region (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) for taking the global lead on electric vehicle adoption. With nearly 250,000 electric cars sold in the region by the end of 2017, the five countries represent about 8% of the total number of these vehicles that have been sold around the world. Norway, Iceland, and Sweden have the highest ratios of EVs per person in the world. Norway leads the way with a 39% market share of electric car sales, the highest globally, and the Nordic region follows behind China and the U.S. as the third largest EV market for sales. Policy support has been behind much of the growth, according the IEA report. Successful programs have included measures reducing the purchase price of EVs, tax cutes, local incentives that exempt on road-use charges and parking fees, and policy support for the the charging infrastructure.

Ford CEO facing performance pressure:  Ford’s announcement last week that it will be taking on Toyota as the U.S. leader in hybrid sales comes at a time when Ford CEO Jim Hackett is being pressured to lead the company through a transition over to more profitable trucks and crossovers, electrification, and smart vehicle technologies. Last week, Ford said it will be replacing more than 75% of its North American lineup and adding four nameplates in the next two years. By 2020, the automaker hopes to see pickups, utilities, and vans making up 86% of its sales, up from about 70% today. The automaker will be selling eight utilities in North America, up from six today.

Ford says it will be offering a hybrid variant — either a traditional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or both — on every new utility it adds or redesigns going forward. The automaker expects to go from its current spot at No. 2 in hybrid sales to taking away the top spot from Toyota by 2021.

The automaker’s corporate moves have been aimed at refining its financial and market strength in the U.S. market along with its global presence. The global strategy has been heightened by China’s booming auto market and that government’s push for new energy vehicles.

Taking a look at its current sales in the U.S. vehicles shows that the company has a long way to go for hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles. As for Toyota’s U.S. electrified vehicles, the company sold 3,889 Prius Liftbacks in February. For the year, it has sold 7,900 in the U.S., slightly edging out the Ford Fusion Hybrid. The Toyota Prius C is at 1,527 and the Prius V is at 1,040 vehicles sold for the year. The Prius Prime plug-in hybrid has so far sold 3,546 units.

Ford is discontinuing the C-Max hatchback after six years on the U.S. market. U.S. production for the C-Max Hybrid will end in mid-2018, according to Automotive News, and production for the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid model has already ended. The C-Max has been the automaker’s worst-selling mass-market U.S. nameplate.

Analysts and shareholders have kept the pressure on Ford to improve financial and stock performance. The company has been accused of being too reliant on low-margin car models and outdated SUVs.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne is thought to have tipped the auto industry more toward trucks with praise he’s received for killing the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200 and emphasizing the Jeep SUV and Ram pickup. That’s helped FCA see its profits rise, which has grabbed attention with groups of shareholders.

The Ford Fusion and Chevrolet Impala may be pulled off assembly lines as the truck switchover continues. That would be ironic on the electrified vehicle side. Ford’s Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid have been fairly strong in U.S. sales.