Hot Potato #1: Keystone XL pipeline heading for approval

Keystone pipelineThe Keystone XL pipeline is probably the leading “hot potato” energy issue to environmentalists, energy companies and legislators this year, possibly bumping “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing in shale fields for natural gas) to number two. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian oil sands from huge reserves in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the gulf coast of Texas. Most of it is currently in operation, but the final phase is awaiting US State Department approval. It’s a critical issue to follow for those interested in the future of energy in the US.

The main question has been the impact the Keystone XL will have on greenhouse gas emissions, with environmentalists forecasting serious increases. The US Environmental Protection Agency expressed concerns in April over the environmental impact. This was a response to a US State Department analysis that the Keystone XL pipeline will have “no material impact” on US greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department findings were just backed up by a study from the IHS CERA consulting and research firm, which is likely to influence President Obama’s decision on whether to support approval. Like the State Department’s environmental impact review, the IHS study thinks that transportation by rail will probably play an important role in meeting environmental and economic targets. Alternate transportation routes could lead to oil sands production growth going to a higher level or remaining unchanged.

These findings won’t go over well with everyone. Cleanteach analysts and environmental groups tend to be skeptical about bias coming from firms like IHS toward more traditional oil industry backers and not so much toward alternative energy. It’s certainly a mixed bag – many would like to see the US free itself from the power of OPEC nations in setting domestic fuel prices causing economic disruption that goes back to the oil embargoes of the 1970s. To them, creating a strong relationship with Canada’s oil industry is a much better deal. Others would like to see America weaned completely off its addiction to oil, replacing it with alternative fuels and energy. To them, Keystone XL continues to not only support vehicle tailpipe CO2 emissions but increased greenhouse gas emissions to transport the Canadian oil in the first place.

Green and alternative fuel vehicles aren’t ready to take over new vehicle sales. What’s next?

Electric vehicle verus hybrids in salesWhile reviewing the state of the US auto industry in new vehicle sales, it’s easy to get depressed about the condition of electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles. Hybrids and EVs were a little bit over 4% of about 1.3 million new vehicles sold in the US market in July. Sales and of new and converted natural gas vehicles, propane autogas, hydrogen fuel cell, and biodiesel vehicles ran in small numbers (maybe 0.5% of the total). Tracking flex fuel/E85 numbers are not worthwhile since the adoption rate for fueling them on E85 ethanol runs pretty low. The grand vision commonly expressed by government officials and advocacy groups of green/alternative fuel vehicles making up 50% of new vehicle sales by 2050 seems insurmountable at times.

But it’s good to keep things in perspective. Energy & Capital put out one of its usual snarky stock market analyst pieces on plug-in electric vehicles; yet managing editor Jeff Siegel did have some fairly positive things to say about their potential. Federal and state tax credits play into it and will be around for a few more years.

He makes the point that EV sales are impressive so far compared to hybrid sales in their early phase. Approaching 25 months on the market, EVs are hitting the 110,000 total new vehicles sold so far. At that same period of 25 months after market introduction, hybrids were only at about 50,000 units sold. So after another 10 years, EVs should be making up a larger percent of total sales. Hybrids are at about 3.5% of new vehicle sales and EVs could be around 5% to 6% of total sales in about 10 years at its growth current rate. Both numbers are expected by several analysts to be wider going forward. Maybe they’ll both be about 10% of new vehicle sales by 2025 reaching 20%? It’s all possible and other segments could be part of it, such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Maybe other advanced fuels and technologies will take hold and see some substantial numbers as well.

Making it to 50% of all new vehicle sales would make for a massive transition. It could be that looking at the numbers will have to change. What if the US and other major markets hit their targets for highly fuel efficient vehicles (or somewhere near the mark – 45 miles per gallon may not be 54.5 mpg but its way better than 24 mpg). If green/AFV numbers made up to 25% of new vehicles sold and internal combustion engines were reaching 40+ mpg, it would be a much better environment.

Big Picture: Mazda’s SkyActiv campaign, F-150 in CNG and propane, Chevy Volt feeds the price war

Mazda Laird Hamilton adHave you seen Mazda’s TV commercial with monster waves being surfed by legend and tow-in surfing pioneer Laird Hamilton? Mazda makes the bodacious claim that its Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology is on the same level. The ad pitches the 40 highway mpg EPA estimate, that it was named a top safety pick by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and that it starts at $16,700. “This is the Mazda way, and this is the Mazda3. What do you drive?”

Mazda has yet to offer any plug-in, hybrid, or alternative fuel vehicles – so its SkyActiv technology is its best bet for meeting federal fuel economy and emissions standards – and for upping its green credentials. Mazda says that the smartness of SkyActiv boils down to highly fuel efficient engines with great compression ratio; ideal transmissions; reduced vehicle weight; safety performance; and a clean diesel version. While Mazda’s sales were slow in the first third of 2013, Mazda credits SkyActiv for starting to pick up the numbers again for its all-new 2014 Mazda6 and versions of the Mazda3 and CX-5 utility vehicle. It’s too early to tell if SkyActiv is making much of a difference; those models were already doing well in their vehicle categories, but sales have picked up for the automaker and SkyActiv is the main focus of its marketing campaign.

Ford offering CNG and propane powered F-150s
Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) nearly have nothing to do with retail light duty passenger vehicles, with the exception of the Honda Civic Natural Gas Vehicle (which has only been sold in very small numbers to retail buyers so far). Now, when it comes to fleets, natural gas and propane autogas-powered trucks are a very big deal. Ford Motor Co. is adding to alternative fuel vehicle offerings with CNG and LPG options for the 2014 F-150 pickup truck. Ford will become the first automaker this fall to offer both a CNG and propane autogas version of a half-ton pickup. Ford expects to sell about 15,000 CNG-LPG vehicles this year. Chrysler and General Motors are offering bi-fuel trucks that can be powered by either CNG or gasoline. Fleets like the alternative fuel trucks for the cost per mile – about a third of gasoline and diesel and reduced emissions compared to conventional trucks. The challenge has been seeing enough product offerings on the market and a refueling infrastructure outside the fleet’s home base. Ford’s announcement is good news for advocates of the alternative fuel and technology.

On the subject of CNGs, Nissan is bringing a CNG pickup truck to the Thailand market. There are expectations that alternative fuel vehicles will be seeing an increase in Asian markets, especially through government-funded projects aimed at reducing air pollutions and vulnerability to fuel price volatility. The Nissan Navara CNG is the company’s first bi-fuel CNG-gasoline engine. It’s powered by an engine that generates 154 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. The new Navara CNG will reduce running costs by two thirds compared to a conventional gasoline engine, Nissan said.

Chevy Volt ramping up the price war
Chevrolet has cut the Volt’s price by $5,000 for the 2014 model year — down to $34,995. The 2013 model had already been cut by $4,000. Sales had been down slightly last month; while sales are up more than 9% for 2013, Volt sales are still behind the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S in the battle for the top spot in the plug-in market. So, the price war continues….

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Via Motors and PG&E roll out emergency power storage in plug-in hybrid trucks
Hurricane Sandy raised hackles for locals living in places like New Jersey last year. Power outages wreaked havoc for residents and employers in ways that tend to get forgotten about until the electricity disappears. Plug-in hybrid truck maker Via Motors has been working on a “power export” offering with Pacific Gas & Electric. The Via pickups can be hooked up to supply electricity for urgent situations, such as a home or medical facility that needs electricity to respond to an emergency. The two companies are working on a Via Motors VTRUX, a range-extended truck with a 300 kilowatt traction motor, 150 kW generator, and 4.3L, V6 engine. It’s able to power 120V and 240V power outlets, which can power tools and export electricity as needed.

Apple competing for share in the connected car space
Connected cars and telematics are a competitive battleground for third parties like Microsoft and Pandora Media, and now Apple is competing for space. By the end of this year, car shoppers will be seeing several vehicles with Apple’s iPhone functions that use Siri voice controls for navigation, texting, emails, and music. It takes a lot of testing and hard work to make these technologies work the right way in cars – and suppliers typically fail to deliver it, according to the Car Lab consulting firm. Automakers know many consumers already use their iPhones as a substitute for built-in navigation systems. The trick for automakers is figuring out a good way to pair the iPhone to their cars in a way that avoids driver distraction and increases user satisfaction. The Chevrolet Spark and Sonic small cars offer Siri, but it hasn’t done well so far in reviews. So Apple has a big challenge ahead, and it will get a lot of attention from connected car analysts.

Workplace charging is taking off, but what does it take to succeed?

For car shoppers to take plug-in electric vehicles seriously, Level 2 and fast chargers should be installed at four locations:

  1. Homes
  2. Workplaces
  3. Starbucks
  4. Trader Joes

In all seriousness, analysts say that the workplace is the leading charging location for now. According to statistics from Ecotality, workplace chargers are used three times as much as typical public chargers. A recent survey by the charger company found workplace charging grew by leaps and bounds in the first half of the year – an increase of about 61% in the first six months of 2013.

The sales figures play into the interest and use at the workplace. There were more than 8,600 plug-in hybrid/extended range and battery electric vehicles sold in the US in June 2013 versus about 3,300 in June 2012.

workplace chargingAs of late July, there were 7,849 public and private non-residential charging stations in the US; 1,579 were located in California, according to the US Dept. of Energy. Workplace charging plays a significant role in the non-residential charging station networks in California, where Google and other employers are taking them very seriously. Google sees them as a key perk for keeping skilled technologists on their payroll and not losing them to a nearby tech company in Silicon Valley.

In its guide for employers interested in setting up workplace charging stations, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency presented eight steps to take for a successful workplace charging infrastructure….

1. Survey employees on their interest in a workplace-charging program.
2. Discuss findings and EV charging needs amongst employees and company’s decision-makers.
3. Examine different types of EV charging equipment options and compare the benefits and costs (Level 1, Level 2, and fast charging).
4. Determine who will own the EV charging equipment – employer, parking lot owner, or third party.
5. Look for any existing incentives that might be available for workplace EV charging.
6. Create a company policy on workplace charging.
7. Contract with a certified electrician to determine ideal locations, comply with local permitting, and install the equipment.
8. Install signage and alert employees.

Toyota had an especially good green car sales month in July

Toyota Prius - Sea Glass PearlHere’s how US green vehicle sales fared during the month of July….

  • Toyota had a very strong sales month overall with a 17% increase over June, bumping out Ford’s place on the ranking list for the first time since March 2010. The Prius family played a big role in the outcome with a 40% increase and sales of 23,294 units for its best sales month ever.
  • Plug-in electric vehicle sales were fairly strong during the month and are moving closer to the 100,000 units sales mark for the year – they’re averaging more than 7,000 a month but were down to about 5,900 in July.
  • The Nissan Leaf beat the Chevy Volt in sales volume – 1,864 units sold for the Leaf versus 1,788 for the Volt.
  • They’re running neck-to-neck so far this year with the Leaf slightly out in front – 11,703 for the Leaf and 11,643 for the Volt.
  • The Leaf has shot way up in sales this year – more units sold in the US in 2013 than during all of 2011 or 2012. The Volt has been keeping pace with last year but moved ahead – it’s now nearly 1,000 Volts ahead of last year’s 10,666 units sold in the first seven months.
  • The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is still ahead of Ford – 817 units sold in July versus 433 of the Ford C-Max Energi and 407 of the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids.
  • The Chevrolet Spark EV sold 103 units in July in California and Oregon only. It’s doing a little bit better than other “compliance cars” in sales – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV sold 46 units, the Smart Electric Drive hit 58, and the Honda Fit EV had 63 units leased out. The Spark was behind two other electric vehicles – the Ford Focus EV at 150 units and the Toyota RAV4 EV at 109. Yet, the Spark was only in its second month on the market and only in two markets.


Big Picture: BMW i3 makes a splash, Attack of the drones, Plus more

Green Auto Market tree swing imageHere’s a few interesting happenings from the past week…..

  1. BMW unveiled its long-anticipated all-electric i3 hatchback. The German automaker has slowly been testing out electric drivetrains through its Mini Cooper subsidiary and through its ActiveE demonstration model. BMW hosted a series of elaborate events for the i3 on Monday in London, New York, and Beijing. It’s expected to price at $41,350 (plus a $925 delivery charge) in the US prior to incentives. It’s impressing analysts who see the automaker taking the technology very seriously, including investing $2.7 billion into it so far. The i3 can travel about 100 miles on a charge, and there’s also an optional diesel or gasoline range extender package you can buy that allows the car to travel about 300 miles. BMW has utilized lighter materials to extend the range; it’s built on a carbon-fiber based shell and an aluminum chassis.

Competitors will include other luxury brands with alternative technologies such as Lexus hybrid models, though it’s expected to be targeted primarily against German competitors in the home market. The most direct competition overseas will be Tesla Motors. The most popular version of its Model S is pricing at around $70,000. It will take until late 2014 for Tesla’s Model X crossover to come out and go more direct with the i3 in styling and pricing.

  1. Electric vehicle charging station maker AeroVironment just won a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to use its drone for commercial purposes. It’s the first time this has happened, similar to Elon Musk’s SpaceX becoming the first civilian aerospace company to contract with NASA. AeroVironment has been providing its Puma 13-pound unmanned aircraft for military reconnaissance for several years. Now the Puma will be used to monitor oil spills and wildlife observation in the Arctic Circle. AeroVironment thinks its drone models can be used for other applications, like traffic monitoring, police surveillance, and storm tracking.

This is yet another example of robotics and autonomous systems striding forward. It’s similar to driverless cars being tested across the country, and several other advanced technologies. For those with ominous feelings about Big Brother and the Terminator taking over, you might want to get over it. There’s no going back.  

  1. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are on the verge of another breakthrough. UK-based ITM Power has figured out how to reduce the production cost of hydrogen by nearly 33% — from $9.57 per kilogram last year to $6.44 per kg. This includes a 10-year amortization period where its anticipated to drop to $4.13/kg – another 23% drop. The gain is coming from new, more efficient “stacks” – where hydrogen is extracted from electrolysis. Fuel cell vehicles will become much more affordable to fuel up. Now, if they just figure out a way to inexpensively install a lot of hydrogen fueling stations…..
  1. Japanese automakers are working together to install a lot more charging stations in Japan. The current number is about 1,700 fast chargers and more than 3,000 regular chargers; that’s expected to grow to more than 4,000 fast chargers and more than 8,000 regular stations. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi jointly announced their agreement to work together to promote the installation of chargers for electric-powered vehicles and build a charging network service that offers more convenience to drivers in Japan. There will probably be a universal card-based system for charging at many of the stations. The announcement doesn’t mention it, but the fast chargers will be CHAdEMO chargers, which are used mainly in Japan. In North America and Europe the SAE combo charger is the norm.
  1. Electric Drive Transportation Association just brought in new board members and officers. Tanvir Arfi, president of Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, takes over as the new chair. He succeeds Mary Ann Wright, VP of engineering and product development for Johnson Controls, Inc. A former chair, Ted Craver, president and CEO of Edison International, was honored during proceedings. New board members represent a diverse list of technology suppliers to electric drive transportation – ABB, Inc.; Autowatts; Schneider Electric; Qualcomm; Real Power; Odyne Systems; BASF; and CenterPoint Energy.
  1. Biodiesel has worries to deal with; Mercedes-Benz is pulling out of the Illinois market after state lawmakers approved incentives to boost demand for biodiesel. Mercedes-Benz is concerned that if the fuel is poorly blended, it could gunk up its engines and worsen air quality. The German automaker has set a limit of B5, or 5% biodiesel content, and the state’s sales tax revision is focused on biodiesel of at least 10% blend.

Solar power facing some very tough times

solar panelsFor business starters and investors looking at greentech/cleantech as a good possibility, keep something in mind:  It is a very, very tough business to survive and thrive in. Plug-in electric carmakers have been finding it out, and now solar power suppliers are going through their own wringer.

It’s not all bad news for the solar business. There are some real solar market opportunities for commercial and residential buildings, especially among electric vehicle owners. As Craig Shields of reported, 35% of EV owners in the US (and about 56% of EV owners in California) either have or are installing solar panels on their homes. California, and a few other states, are pushing for renewable energy through mandates and subsidies, and solar makes the most sense for meeting the renewable targets. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who also serves as the chairman of SolarCity, sees great opportunity in solar power, and Solar City’s stock price trend has been very strong for several months.

More recently, the pressure has been getting intensified for companies making and installing photovoltaic (PV) panels on buildings. Here’s my take on what the solar industry is dealing with:

  1. Electric utilities are not happy with solar. Utility companies are now pushing hard to roll back government incentives designed to promote solar power and other renewables. They’re worried about their profits being carved away and the future of their industry being in question, and are lobbying to stop credits being issued by state governments.

While the Energy Information Administration reports that solar only makes up one quarter of one percent of the country’s power generation, utilities are taking it very seriously.  Arizona’s largest utility is pressuring the state’s regulatory agency to reconsider its plan to issue a generous utility credit. In North Carolina, Duke Energy wants to see a new set of solar fees implemented for solar customers. There’s lobbying being done in California by the major utilities – in a state with lots of subsidies and the largest solar market in the US. (On the other hand, these utilities are playing a part in the integration of solar to meet California regulations based on AB 32 and as part of their campaigns for smart grid innovation.)

  1. Chinese companies are taking business away from US solar companies. The European Union had the most recent political fight over this issue, which has been a big one for the Obama administration. Tariffs are being applied to Chinese solar suppliers doing business in the US and Europe, but it doesn’t seem to be enough to stabilize it. Chinese solar companies can flood the market with products and low pricing (called “dumping”); these companies are able to do it by receiving huge subsidies from the Chinese government, and by using a much cheaper labor force to make the PV panels.
  1. The buyer market is limited. While there are a lot of subsidies for building owners in places like California to bring in solar, it’s still targeted to a very limited audience. Solar companies have been very successful marketing to groups like members of a few environmental organizations; or by partnering with automakers selling EVs, such as SolarCity has done with Tesla and Ford. It comes down to the challenges faced by other greentech companies – how do you get the consumer to make that commitment?

There a lot of questions floating out there on how much it costs to install and maintain solar panels; how much it lowers your electricity bill and does that make the investment worthwhile; and do solar and other renewables stand a chance of taking power generation away from coal? Very big questions. We’ll see what happens.

Goodbye car guys, hello smart transportation players

traffic in LAThere’s more evidence that change is in the air, when it comes to car ownership in America.

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) just released two studies on the issues. One study showed by that the rate of vehicle ownership on a per-person, per-household, and per-licensed driver basis peaked in 2006 prior to the Great Recession. Another UMTRI study found that there’s been a significant decline in vehicle miles traveled – those numbers peaked in 2004.

The studies have found change is due to increased telecommuting, higher use of public transportation, greater urbanization, and changes in the ages of drivers. A big one is Gen-Y/Millenials losing interest in drivers; only 28% of 16-year-olds had driver’s licenses in 2010, compared with 44% in 1980, according to UMTRI. Miles driven by young people 16-to-34 years old also dropped quite a bit – 23% between 2001 and 2009. Older drivers also play into it – they make up the majority of drivers on American roads and are tending to drive shorter distances.

Expanded transit systems and bike-share networks are also playing into less miles driven behind the wheel. Bicycle commuting in the US grew by 47% between 2000 and 2011, and at much higher levels in a few bike-friendly cities.

As recently reported in Green Auto Market, Southern California is once again the bellwether of changes in transportation trends.

  • Light rail has been expanded 26% in the past eight years. Bike lane networks have doubled to 292 miles. Bus and train ridership is growing – up nearly 5% in May 2013 versus May 2011.
  • Even more significant – the total number of passenger cars has declined in Los Angeles. The market rebounded from the recession, but the 2012 sales numbers were 28,000 less than five years earlier.

Transportation alternatives, sometimes called Smart Transportation, are gaining a lot more interest in sprawling urban environments. It’s tied to consumer interest in…..

  • Carsharing, vanpooling, and group transportation modes.
  • Alternative vehicle technologies including plug-ins, hybrids, and alternative fuels.
  • Bike lanes and safety gear for bicyclists.
  • Light rail and busing.
  • Living closer to work and retail stores with more foot traffic – and less annoyance with finding parking spaces and being charged fees for them. Plus more telecommuting through the latest technologies.
  • Eventually, advanced vehicle technologies are expected to play a larger role in the solution through autonomous vehicles that can park themselves and eventually driverless cars. Safety, reduced traffic congestion, and cleaner air are typically cited reasons for moving forward in these breakthroughs.

The Big Picture

  • Welcome to the weekly edition of Green Auto Market. Some of you were previously reading Green Automotive Digest, and others have been reading the monthly Green Auto Market for the past year and a half. This weekly blog newsletter is produced by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, along with Automotive Information Network, Inc. (parent of Automotive Digest, Dealer Digest Daily, Fleet Management Weekly, and Used Car Market Reports). This newsletter will be published on Tuesday mornings; it will continue offering the same analysis, coverage, and style – now in a more timely weekly format.

As for this week…..

  • Chevrolet is marketing torque power in its Spark EV, which has been launched in California and Oregon. A new online video declares that the car’s 400 pounds-feet of torque are “more than a Ferrari 458 Italia.” The 30-second spot shows the minicar zooming through a gleaming white test facility at the speed of light – it goes 0 to 60 mph in 7.6 seconds, faster than the Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf, GM says.
  • Mack Trucks is following parent company Volvo Trucks and will begin production of dimethyl ether-powered Pinnacle Axle Back models with the 13-liter MP8 engine in 2015. Volvo introduced its DME option with fuel supplier Oberon Fuels in Sacramento last month. DME engines emit no soot — diesel particulate filter. When produced from biomass or biogas, DME can provide up to a 95% percent carbon dioxide reduction compared with diesel.
  • More than 3,000 attendees made it to ACT Expo 2013 last month in Washington, DC, making it the largest and most significant US annual conference on alternative fuels and vehicles. It took place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy as a platform to put key players together in green ground transportation. “We’d like to thank our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers and attendees for a terrific event in Washington,” said Erik Neandross, CEO at organizer Gladstein, Neandross and Association. ACT Expo 2014 will be held with NGV Global 2014, the world natural gas vehicles meeting. These will take place May 5-9, 2014 in Long Beach, Calif.
  • Hertz has not officially entered the car sharing business – unlike Avis, which bought Zipcar, the largest car sharing company, at the beginning of 2013. Yet Hertz is in the car sharing business through its 24/7 service, which offers rentals at any time of day or night for any length of time. Hertz has about 35,000 vehicles in the US equipped with technology enabling the car sharing service. By 2016, the car rental giant expects to have about 500,000 vehicles ready worldwide for this 24/7 (also called Hertz On Demand) service. That would be about 10 times the size of the current car sharing industry, Hertz said.
  • General Motors plans to double the amount of models that achieve 40 mpg highway or better by 2017. The Chevrolet Volt, Sonic, Cruze Eco Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel already meet that requirement, and the 2014 Cadillac ELR and Spark EV will do even better when released. GM’s long-term approach to sustainability enables us to increase efficiency and re-imagine personal mobility to best meet customer needs and lifestyles, the company said.
  • Ford is attempting to make things right for its 2013 model hybrid vehicles that have been coming up short on its fuel economy performance compared to the official ratings. The company is offering free software upgrades intended to improve fuel economy to owners of 2013 Ford C-Max and Fusion and Lincoln MKZ. Ford drew a lot of criticism following 2012 tests by Consumer Reports, which reported that the Fusion hybrid had 17% less and the C-Max had 21% less than Ford’s original promise of 47 miles per gallon. 
  • The 2014 BMW i3 has an MSRP of $41,350, before BMW’s $925 destination fee–for a starting price of $42,275  before the federal tax credit or local incentives.

Why Robert Downey Jr. tapped into Tesla’s Elon Musk for “Iron Man” character

Robert Downey Jr in Iron ManWant to grow your market capitalization five times in less than a year, up to $15 billion in market value? Well then, get a celebrity to head your company. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has become an expert at grabbing regular-and-social media attention; whether that be through unveiling the Supercharger fast chargers for the Model S or teasing the public with his Hyperloop transportation concept that can make it from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 45 minutes.

“Iron Man” director Jon Favreau and Elon Musk himself say that Robert Downey Jr. did, in part, base his superhero character Tony Stark on the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and a co-founder of PayPal. This character is a true entrepreneur – a big risk taker with a big ego who will bet everything to change the world, according to Rocketboom. Musk heads SpaceX, the first civilian space travel company to link up with the international space station, which took place in May 2012. He’d done very well in taking Tesla public and seeing the stock price skyrocket soon after its first quarter earnings were announced.

Tesla’s market cap recently made it equal to Italy’s Fiat and France’s PSA Peugot Citroen combined, says The Detroit Bureau, and it was added to the Nasdaq 100 stock index. That can certainly change day to day in stock trading; more recently, Tesla stock tumbled 14% after an ominous report from Goldman warning that its stock was overvalued. Tesla’s stock prices had been surging since its first quarter earnings report – and that was the first quarterly profit for the company.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson has his eye on how well Tesla Motors performs; he thinks it has the potential to be a disruptive force to the automotive industry and he doesn’t want to be caught off guard. Akerson assigned a small team to study Tesla and how it might threaten GM’s business.

A few reasons I think Tesla Motors is seeing Model S sales grow, and that stock prices could stay above $100 a share…

  1. Musk and his staff – including former chief strategist at Apple’s retail stores, George Blankenship – have been highly skilled at going viral with their messaging for a pretty small marketing spend. Musk is addicted to Twitter, and the company is great at teasing the media and their audience with unveiling events.
  2. Tesla showrooms grab your attention. Dealer associations may win in the courtroom, but Tesla is placing enough retail stores in the style of Apple to inspire rabid fans.
  3. Ride and drive events –They’ve been skillfully scheduled and promoted. Once you get behind the wheel of the Model S, it’s easy to get hooked.
  4. They’re very good at utilizing Musk’s looks and charisma in interviews and TV guest appearances. Elon Musk has his fans on Wall Street, along with bloggers and Twitter followers who dig superheroes.
  5. Great product:  Sit in a Model S and check out its double screen dashboard, connectivity and functionality, and feel its powerful torque once you press the pedal, and you’ll be very impressed. Consumer Reports just gave the Model S its highest rating, with 99 out of 100 points.
  6. If the price is too high, check out the funding deals through its “revolutionary” financing package. Guaranteed resale value is also helping close deals.

Stay tuned for more info on fast-as-the-speed-of-light Hyperloop. “Will publish Hyperloop alpha design by Aug 12,” Musk posted on his Twitter page. Musk first mentioned the Hyperloop a year ago at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, Calif. – what he called a “fifth mode of transportation” and what he thinks is a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table. He estimated it would cost about $6 billion to build a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles Hyperloop; that’s only about a tenth the cost of a plan that’s been floating around the state for years for a proposed high speed rail between the two cities. There’s a partnership that he may be developing a working relationship with – a company that could potentially build the Hyperloop to go 4,000 miles per hour. Pretty exciting stuff.