Summertime is coming to an end with Labor Day over now. Students are going back to school; if the school will be opening and allowing them to attend. We’ve got a big election coming up, and interest remains high on other fronts — including whether a Covid-19 vaccine will be available soon, protesting continues, fires and hurricanes surge on, and what impact all of this is really having on the economy (more on that topic next week).
What could happen to transportation, mobility, and fuel in this environment? Election results will be the main event to answer that question, with a wide chasm between the Trump and Biden campaigns on climate change, clean fuels and energy incentives, low-interest loans for cleantech, and other key issues.
Here’s a look at some of the news coverage, polling, and forecasting that’s analyzing what’s going on out there during such a turbulent time.
Are kids going back to school?
Students in K-12 school districts, colleges/universities, and technical training programs— both public and private — have been going back to classrooms across the country; and some will have to wait a few more weeks before the school opens; or stay at home and attend through online courses for the time being. At the college level, many of the announcements came out in late July or early August, with some of them surprising students and their families by retracting earlier plans to open up again; many of these announcement came from private colleges and universities. The real challenge has been discerning when its safe enough to open up, and what health and safety protocols have to implemented. Experts have been looking at zone mapping and other reports on red zones to avoid, and yellow and green zones that can be accessed following strict guidelines.
Who’s winning electoral college votes?
Lessons learned during the 2016 election seem to be taken very seriously this year by both presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton may have had about a 2.8 million lead in popular votes, but didn’t have enough electoral college votes to score the victory. Sifting through polling data and electoral college state forecasts show Joe Biden so far to have a clear lead. The Economist, as of Sept. 8 data, shows Joe Biden taking 334 and Donald Trump taking 204 with a minimum of 270 needed to win.
Mail-in ballots — what could be the impact?
President Trump has been sounding an alarm about mail-in ballots ruining this election, which he’s called “the greatest scam in the history of politics.” Election experts say the US is not mired in election scams, as is the case in many countries around the world. Cases of mail-in voting fraud, and electoral fraud in general, are exceedingly rare in the US. While it was common to see fixed ballots in US elections many years ago, especially in small towns, the issue this year appears to be about the huge change coming from polling booths being closed due to Covid-19 and the necessity of mail-in ballots. Will the head postmaster at USPS be able to carry it out on time, and is he willing to do so? Trump may be stirring the pot in this election since he’s been trailing behind Biden in early polling surveys. If he does challenge the results from Tuesday, Nov. 3, it could be dragged out for several weeks; something like former vice president Al Gore calling out an investigation of Florida votes from the 2020 election.
Covid-19 vaccine testing and hope for recovery
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked public health officials in the states to prepare to distribute a coronavirus vaccine by late October or early November. It that coming from pressure by the Trump administration to look good for the election? Readiness to start testing? The need to pressure key players to get it started? It may take longer than hoped for, now that Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and other vaccine developers are said to be planning to issue a pledge not to seek government approval until the vaccinations prove to be safe and effective. The pharmaceutical companies might issue the pledge soon, according to two people familiar with the matter.
How candidates are addressing police tactics and protesting
Messages given by the two presidential campaigns could be their most significant and long-lasting statements this year; though stopping Covid-19 and restoring the economy are up there on the list, too. The Trump campaign is downplaying charges of racist law enforcement tactics, especially treatment of black Americans; Trump instead is speaking about bringing back order and safety to cities torn by police shootings, protests, and upheaval. The Biden campaign is coming from the other side — as clearly represented by Biden speaking on the phone with Jacob Blake, the black man shot in the back and paralyzed by police in Kenosha, Wis., and visiting sites in that town where demonstrations had taken place. That was soon after Trump had visited the city to praise law enforcement and reiterate his party’s messages over urban unrest.
Extremist groups taking advantage of protest demonstrations
Protests have taken a deadly turn in the last three weeks, and authorities say extremists are responsible. The Wall Street Journal released a podcast last week detailing it, with what happened in Charlottsville, NC, in 2017 during the Unite the Right rally as a predecessor of what’s been taking place in Wisconsin and Oregon. Protests started by some of these right wing groups (and a few left wing groups) in April over what they saw as extreme measures take by government to contain Covid-19. Left wing, anti-fascist Antifa groups started showing up at protests too for Black Lives Matter along with extreme groups on the right. Boogaloo Boys, Patriot Prayer, and other right-wing groups have been champions of chaos, which some would like to see take the form of another civil war. These are not like right-wing groups in the past with well known leaders showing up at events. Now these activists can just show up somewhere, cause damage, then quickly exit. The far-right vigilante who killed two protesters on the streets of Kenosha, Wis. on Aug. 25, raised more concerns about these killings increasing. Tension was added with 1,000 pro-Trump, right-wing protesters gathering outside Portland, Ore. yesterday in a show of force against left-wing protestors. Law enforcement may have to use what worked well in containing ISIS in the Middle East, analysts say; another tactic would be banning guns at events and strictly enforcing it.
California ballot initiative could stop AB5
If a California court allows the state’s AB5 implementation to precede in the coming weeks, which is expected to be the case, the business model for Uber, Lyft, and other mobile app-based company operating in the state, will be overturned. But they’re at war with the state, and may block enforcement of AB5 through Proposition 22. The ballot initiative has been funded by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. While AB5 established three criteria that workers must meet to be independent contractors rather than employees, Prop. 22 would exempt app-based drivers from this test, labeling them as independent contractors. So far, they’ve raised more than $110 million to promote the bill, while opposition has only raised $900,000. If it does get passed by voters, the legal issue won’t be automatically resolved. That will probably take more time in courtrooms, which could mean years before it’s legally defined. Uber, Lyft, and the others will probably continue to operate under their current business models — unless an appeals court decisively rules that AB32 will be protected.
Auto sales and EVs
US car sales were down 19.8 percent in August, and automakers expect sales to remain depressed for the remainder of the year. Those looking for more affordable, smaller new cars and crossovers, are being nudged out to the market as automakers have limited their inventory to larger, higher-margin vehicles. “We’ve just been amazed at how resilient the market has been,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst for Cox Automotive. “The people who have money have plenty of it, and they are spending it on expensive vehicles. The low end — that’s where the job losses are.”
China’s auto market is expected to grow only slightly in the next five years, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).
Auto sales are expected to record 27.75 million vehicles in 2025 up from 25.77 million in 2019. Sales of new energy vehicles came in at 1.24 million units last year. The government would like to see 2 million NEVs sold per year, but that will take a while to get through the Covid-19 crisis and for more government incentives to come back to the market.
It’s been fascinating to watch Tesla’s stock perform well during Covid-19. The worst thing that’s happened lately is that company isn’t quite ready yet to be added to the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rating; but CEO Elon Musk probably doesn’t care. Tesla retained 19 percent of the global plugin vehicle market during the first half of this year. What changes is that top selling corporations that own several different automotive brands as well as “alliances” of brands had higher percentages of the overall market.
Volkswagen Group had 13 percent of the market; Renault-Nissan Alliance had 9 percent of the market, and BMW Group and Hyundai–Kia each had 7 percent of the market. Sales are down from last year, unlike Europe where EV sales doubled last year’s rate, coming in at 8 percent of the market in the first half of 2020. The overall market plunged 38 percent while Europe’s EV market grew. The numbers were skewed and represent only 14 countries making up 98 percent of the battery electric vehicle market.
Mobility, travel, and fuel
Ride-sharing/hailing through the major global brands has been hard hit, while autonomous vehicle test runs where put on hold in the spring. The long-term trends may be positive for traditional automakers. For car shoppers who had used mobility services, about 39 percent say they plan to use services like Uber and Lyft less often from now on, according to a June survey. About 44 percent say they plan to take public transportation rides less often. About a third of those surveyed plan to use their personal vehicles more often when Covid-19 comes to an end. “The conclusion is that people are really seeing cars in a new light, both as an escape – a way to get away from the quarantine and stress that we’ve all had over the past several months – but also as a safe way to get around,” said Madison Gross, director of consumer insights for CarGurus.
As for travel and tourism, that global industry has seen its worst performance since 1950. Smaller countries completely dependent on the travel business have been particularly hard hit. That comes as no surprise given that cruise ships, airlines, and airports were put on hold before other industries in early 2020.
On the freight transport side, the US Dept. of Transportation unveiled the National Freight Strategic Plan on Sept. 3. The plan’s objectives include improving the safety of the freight system, modernizing infrastructure, and supporting the development of data and technologies as primary goals.
Oil prices, along with gasoline and diesel, are expected to stay down for the near future. The world’s largest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, cut pricing for oil sales in October, as the oil producer sees fuel demand wavering amid more coronavirus flare-ups around the world. WTI Crude has been trading around $40 per barrel lately, a modest improvement over the crash starting in the spring. For gasoline and diesel prices in the US, the Energy Information Administration forecasts that gas will average $2.12 per gallon this year and $2.23 next year. For diesel, the EIA said it expects the average national price to stay at $2.54 per gallon this year and $2.57 next year.
Natural gas and electricity are expected to stay at about their same levels as experienced since 2018, with only a slight cost increase expected for next year according to EIA. As reported in ACT News, stability in natural gas fuel prices continues to help commercial fleets make the case for investing more in clean transportation. Compressed natural gas has been the widely used alternative to diesel in heavy freight transportation.
And in other news:
Sustainable Transportation in a Post-Covid World: Creating opportunity from uncertainty the focus of AltWheels Fleet Day
AltWheels Fleet Day will be bringing together corporate and municipal fleet managers and clean-fleet stakeholders to reduce emissions, lower costs, and create solutions for tomorrow’s sustainable transportation needs. The virtual event takes place on Monday, Oct. 5., 2020. The event consists of panels, exhibits, and vehicles offering a showcase of alternative transportation solutions.
The event’s keynotes include:
Strategies and best practices for decarbonizing transportation: how to make progress during the COVID cloud by Bill Van Amburg, CALSTART.
Overview on critical shifts: Transportation post COVID-19 and where the economy is going Anirban Basu, Chairman & CEO Sage Policy Group
Keynote speakers this year including Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of the Sage Policy Group. Anirban serves as Chairman of the Maryland Economic Development Commission, teaches global strategy at Johns Hopkins University, and serves the Chief Economist function for a number of organizations around the country.
Leading strategies from fleet managers managing in uncertain times: How to move forward and find opportunities in the current environment with speakers from UPS, NACFE, National Grid, and Trucking Association of Massachusetts.
Green Auto Market is co-hosting AltWheels along with several Clean Cities coalitions, NAFA, NACFE, and other organizations. You can register for the event here on this site.