Telling your story on how you got here, Trump admin rolls back clean car standards

For those of us homebound during the Covid-19 outbreak, what’s the best way to avoid cabin fever and bleak news saturation?

A few good ones I’ve heard or experienced have been: catching up on a good TV show like Westworld, finally getting around to using an exercise machine, cooking healthy meals at home, playing board games with co-residents, chatting with friends and family on Zoom, and writing (or attempting to write) the Great American Novel.

And there’s always telling a good story. One of the best work experiences I’ve had in recent years has been asking stakeholders in advanced, clean transportation how they got here in the first place. How did they get so passionate about the subject matter?

That might have happened during a video interview for Automotive Digest; or a phone interview for an article; or during a luncheon at ACT Expo; or by exchanging emails after connecting on LinkedIn; or watching them give a presentation on the vehicle, fuel, or technology they’ve been championing for years; or talking with them during monthly calls of Green Auto Market’s editorial advisory board.

I’ve had a few more good questions to ask them, or that I got asked. These might include:

 

  • What do you really think it will take for clean vehicles to reach 10 percent (or 25 percent, 50 percent, etc.) of US new vehicle sales?
  • What are the most compelling points to make about switching over from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles; or hybrids; or hydrogen; or natural gas; or propane autogas; or biogas; or renewable fuel?
  • What comes first — the chicken or the egg? The vehicle or the charging/fueling infrastructure? Or, are they equally important?
  • How did you pick this field of endeavor over something more established and safe?

Readers of Green Auto Market have told me quite a few fascinating stories. Their passion for the subject matter and staying informed might have started years ago when they took over fleet acquisitions for a city directed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; or they’ve been obsessed with electric vehicles ever since they made their first do-it-yourself low speed, short range EV from a kit — and years later bought a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or Tesla Model S; or they’ve worked for a government agency promoting adoption of alternative fuel vehicles; or they’ve worked in one or more startups breaking into the world of EVs and charging; or for a major automaker setting up a division in EVs, autonomous vehicles, or mobility services; or they just love to read and talk about the latest in cars, fuels, and vehicle tech.

For those of you interested in sharing your stories about getting hooked on clean transportation — and about what you’d like to see happen in the near future — in Green Auto Market, please email at jlesage378@gmail.com. It would be best to include your name and affiliation (employer, organization, area of interest, etc.); or you can remain confidential about your name and affiliation, if need be.

Speaking of which, here’s my story………

I started following the subject matter in the 1990s while serving as an editor at Automotive Fleet. I spent time talking to fleet managers who were testing out vehicle conversions to natural gas and propane autogas; they started receiving funding grants from Air Quality Management Districts in California (and other agencies around the country) to convert vehicles over to compressed natural gas fueling systems and to have a fueling dispenser placed at their base location.

During that time, I might also have been interviewing someone involved in testing out other alternative fuels such as ethanol and methanol. Support for methanol didn’t last very long after engine corrosion became a major concern. I’d also heard about limited test projects being done — electric vehicles (one of them later becoming General Motors’ EV1), a self-driving truck by the military, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that picked up more support from automakers and government agencies by the early 2000s.

For the most part, interest in clean transportation faded away by the second half of the 1990s. Cheap gasoline and diesel prices; attractive fleet incentives for full-size cars, trucks, and vans; and domestic manufacturer truck and van models that could be customized and equipped for utility fleets, construction, and maintenance operations, took away much of the interest in alternative fuel vehicles by the late 1990s.

The turning point for me was in 2007. As I’ve shared with some of you, on Aug. 12 of that year, I was struck with encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain caused by a previous infection activated again. That one had been herpes simplex that started when I was a child with chicken pox. It was reactivated in 2007 primarily by stress; though it was largely unknown at the time, and it wasn’t diagnosed correctly at first. On that day, my heart stopped twice and I had to be revived — or I wouldn’t have lived through it.

I was hospitalized for about two months, with the encephalitis swell blocking my memory (front, left cortex of the brain) for most of that time period. I wasn’t able to return to my office for work until after the first of the year. During that time after getting out of the hospital and staying home, I found myself going on the internet to research and read about subject matter I’d been digging into earlier — such as while attending the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles Conference in Anaheim earlier that year. Topics that grabbed my interest included concern over global warming; cleantech startups being a hot commodity, with capital available for EV startups and solar and wind power companies; and reading about corporate sustainability policies.

My interest transitioned over to fascination during 2008 — from the gasoline and diesel price spike and volatility, and doing features for LCT Magazine on chauffeured transportation fleets starting to try out alternative fuels. During that year, I profiled the Econation startup company— which was bringing in Priuses, hybrid SUVs, and CNG-powered Lincoln Town Cars to its fleet for corporate trips in Los Angeles.

I was blessed with support for my interest and fascination in these cars, fuels, and technologies while working with Automotive Digest and its team (led by Publisher Chuck Parker). Green Automotive Digest started up in 2010, which gave me an excellent channel for meeting and interviewing several stakeholders in the field.

During all of this time period, I became most fascinated with two key themes — clean transportation offering pragmatic solutions; and the absolute necessity of transportation in our economy and lifestyles. I would end up talking about, and writing about, these topics quite a few times — at least as a backstory to a news item or feature I was digging into.

Here’s a question for you to consider. What if you could help clean the air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and support technology innovation? Would you consider that intelligent, practical, and inspiring? That’s been a key piece of the formula when a new vehicle technology is introduced to the public. A piece of the press release might state something like: “This fuel will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons this year compared to diesel fuel.”

As for the role of transportation in our cultural and economic development, I think it’s been as important as power, communications, lighting, medical care, and distributing water. The essential value and role that ground transportation has played in human history for 200 years started with rail, and later with internal combustion engines and crank-up starters, the first electric vehicles, and bringing steam-engines over from trains to cars. With it came the eventual domination of petroleum and serious threats to air quality and sustainability of the world we live in.

I have to admit that I do love fast cars that can guzzle a lot of gasoline — with the 1968 Pontiac GTO being my favorite. That wasn’t the second car in the legendary car chase scene in the 1968 movie Bullitt — that was another of my favorites, the Dodge Charger, taking on the classic Ford Mustang. I believe we have the right to own and retain these cars, but they’re certainly not practical for daily commuting.

I would gladly ride to work in a shared, automated, electric SUV or bus. Why stay stuck in traffic, resenting other drivers and feeling bored and restless when you could be chatting with ridemates, playing a video game, watching something really good on a screen, reading your favorite humor columnist, texting comments to friends and family, and more?

I have appreciated researching and writing about the subject matter for previously mentioned publications. I’ve also appreciated my freelance writing with Autoblog Green, Hybridcars.com, and Oilprice.com. I had some good years conducting market intelligence studies on car rental, business travel, and travel management for Abrams Travel Data Services. I’ve also valued participating in speaker panels at AltCar Expo. I do look forward to what’s next, and expect that Covid-19 will be overcome and we’ll get back the business of green cars, fuels, and technologies.

And in other news:

White House finalizes clean car rules:  Last week, the Trump administration announced its rollback of Obama-era fuel-economy regulations from 2012, which aimed to require automakers to up the average fuel economy in their fleets to 54.5 mpg within the next few years. The administration finalized the second part of the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule. The second part of the SAFE rule would require automakers to increase the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5 percent each year. That’s far less stringent than the standards set by the Obama administration, which mandated a 5 percent annual increase in fuel economy. But it’s less dramatic than the Trump administration’s original plan, which was to freeze the standards at 2020 levels through model year 2026. Court challenges are expected to be filed once again. President Trump posted tweets similar to comments he’d made last year: ”My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3500, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer,” he tweeted. “Engines would run smoother. Positive impact on the environment! Foolish executives!”

Automakers close plants, making ventilators:  Here’s a list of US auto factory shutdowns and scheduled dates of reopening in 14 states across the US. Several of the plants will be opening up again this month, between April 13 to 20. Ford and General Motors announced in late March that they’ll be building thousands of ventilators to fight Covid-19. These are taking place in plants that had been shut down from car production. Tesla is showing a new video posted on the company’s YouTube channel, where its engineers show off two versions of a ventilator, a prototype model with its components laid out across a desk, as well as a packaged model that shows how it might look when used by a hospital. CEO Elon Musk made a commitment to build the ventilators last month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for the company’s help.

BYD wants to improve EV battery safety:  BYD last week unveiled its Blade Battery, designed to resolve concerns about battery safety in electric vehicles. At an online launch event, Wang Chuanfu, BYD’s chairman and president, said that the Blade Battery reflects BYD’s determination to resolve issues in battery safety while also redefining safety standards for the entire industry. The Blade Battery has been developed by BYD over the past several years. Due to its optimized battery pack structure, the space utilization of the battery pack is increased by over 50 percent compared to conventional lithium iron phosphate block batteries. While undergoing nail penetration tests, the Blade Battery emitted neither smoke nor fire after being penetrated, and its surface temperature only reached 30 C (86 F) to 60 C (140 F). It would be far less susceptible to catching fire – even when they are severely damaged — than other batteries on the market.

China extending EV sales incentives:  China agreed to extend tax breaks and subsidies on electric-vehicle purchases for two years to provide relief for the struggling industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will keep waiving the 10 percent sales tax on EVs, a benefit that began in 2014 and was due to expire at the end of this year, through 2022, according to a media report. The state council overseeing the program also agreed to prolong subsidies for EV purchases for two years. The sales tax waiver and subsidies apply to battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Emissions drop during pandemic:  The coronavirus pandemic is offering one advantage: shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows according to Wired. Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year. Nitrogen dioxide produced from car engines, power plants, and other industrial processes, is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
(Editor’s Note: Look for the April issue of Wired to read a special section on climate change, entitled, “We Have One Earth — And The Technology To Save It. Go!”)

Clean transportation events to schedule for 2015 – and what to do if you hate attending them

AltCar ExpoIt’s that time of the year again – time to plan for next year. Auto shows, fleet events, AltCar Expo, ACT Expo, electric vehicle conferences…….. Here’s a list of events to consider attending. And don’t forget about making good efforts to get on their speaker, panel moderator, exhibitor, and sponsorship lists. Plus, at the end of this event list there’s yet another list: Ways to make the most of events and conferences, even if you hate going to them.

Auto shows: Here’s the big ones for next year…..

North American International Auto Show
Jan. 12-25 in Detroit
AKA Detroit Auto Show, this car show is usually considered the biggest one of the year – with its car and truck of the year awards, unveilings, speaker list, and the tradition of being the first big auto show right after the first of the year in Motor City.
Washington Auto Show
Jan. 23-Feb. 1 in Washington DC
New York International Auto Show
April 3-12, NYC
LA Auto Show
To be determined

National Biodiesel Conference 2015
Jan. 19-22, Ft. Worth, Texas

3rd Annual Clean, Low Carbons Fuel Summit
Feb. 3 in Sacramento
Policy makers and industry leaders meet in the capitol to discuss AB 32 cap and trade funds, Low Carbon Fuel Standard, and other pressing issues in California. (And don’t forget about the Blue Sky Award next week Tuesday in Los Angeles.)

SAE 2015 Hybrid & Electric Vehicles Technologies Symposium
Feb. 10-12 in Los Angeles

GreenBiz 2015
Feb. 17-19 in Phoenix

Energy Independence Summit
Feb. 22-24 in Washington DC

The Work Truck Show
March 4-6 in Indianapolis
Work truck fleet owners, managers, and upfitters meet; it’s held in conjunction with the NTEA convention and Green Truck Summit.

NAFA 2015 Institute & Expo
April 14-17 in Orlando
The annual conference for fleet managers and industry suppliers; including clean transportation symposiums with Calstart.

Electric Drive Transportation Association
The leading electrified transportation group is supporting two conferences next year –
28th International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) and Exhibition
May 3-6 in Goyong, Korea
Plus, partnering with ACT Expo 2015 during that time

ACT Expo
May 4-7 in Dallas

National Drive Electric Week 2015
The fifth annual event will be during the week of Sept. 12-20 in cities across the country.

The Battery Show
Sept. 15-17, Novi, Mich.

Electric & Hybrid Vehicle Technology Expo
Sept. 15-17, 2014 in Novi, Mich.

2015 NGV North American NGV Conference & Expo
Sept 15-18 in Denver

3 AltCar Expos
AltCarExpo Texas
To be determined
Bay Area AltCar Expo
To be determined
AltCar Expo
Sept. 18-19 in Santa Monica, Calif.

Meeting of the Minds
Oct. 20-22, Richmond, Calif.
Now in its ninth year, Meeting of the Minds brings together a carefully chosen set of key urban sustainability and connected technology stakeholders, and gathers them around a common platform in ways that help build lasting alliances.

There are a lot of excellent events to attend – and this list will grow when you start counting the important meetings in your local market that you need to attend for networking and staying current on what your peers are saying. But what if you don’t like going to any of them, or you’re so busy that it adds to the pressure of getting a lot of work done on your heavy schedule?

Here’s a list of action steps that are working for me, and that come from peer feedback and a few good articles that I’ve read……..

  • Plan ahead and schedule meetings. Look at the conference schedule and think about what you’d like to accomplish during that time. There are probably a handful of people you want to talk to, and they’re going be very busy during that week. So send them an email or make a phone call a week or two early, and set up a good time for a meeting.
  • Don’t regret missed opportunities. There may be a location in that metro area that you could have visited if you’d gone a day early, and it needs more relationship-building time. There likely will be time-conflicting meetings that you need to attend and have one of your co-workers or colleagues attend the other one for you, to take notes and shake hands. Schedule that ahead of time. Keep in mind what your travel time will be like and how it will affect meeting attendance. If traveling there wipes out a whole day, consider leaving earlier to not miss it; or to make sure somebody will be there representing you.
  • Collect all the content that you can. Don’t miss out on the excellent show coverage and other content you’ll need to gain insight on what was covered at all the speaker panels, product launches and announcements, social gatherings, keynote addresses, etc. Sometimes (such as at ACT Expo) there’s a daily newspaper given out, and the conference folders many times include white papers and press releases. There might also be emails sent out and more information (like special reports) posted on the conference’s website, blog, or social media sites. Local and business media will be covering the event by video, print, and online media – don’t forget to search for it when you get back.
  • Devote a few hours for review and follow-ups once you get back. You’re probably going to be burned out and needing to catch up on things that happened while you were gone. It’s a good idea to build in two-or-three hours soon after you return to review your notes, content, news coverage of the event, emails you received, insights and ideas you gained, etc. Adding follow-up actions to your business plan is a good idea. Don’t contact people that you connected with right away (like the next morning), but don’t let it get too far away. It’s a shame to lose good opportunities.

What fleets want to see in clean transportation

Clean fleetSo why would a company like Elio Motors with its three-wheel electric car choose fleets as its primary market instead of consumers? The company is moving through red tape for its $185 million loan through the US Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program. While it may sound strange that a specialty electric vehicle maker would choose the fleet market, there are reasons for it. According to a post on the Elio Motors Blog: “We have talked about ‘why Elio’ quite a bit, but to the fleet customer the economics are many times larger than for an individual. Think about it, you can save $1,500 a year on fuel which is enough to make a LOT of payments.  Now multiply that times 100, or 200 or as much as 1000!  That is real (huge) savings for companies.  Each gallon of fuel saved is money in their pocket and helps save our environment.”

That sounds very familiar to conversations I’ve had in the past couple of years with fleet managers. There sometimes are concerns and mandates to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, but in the end, containing costs is the top priority given to fleets in corporate, government, and other sectors. For the clean transportation industry, fleets are the focal point of direct marketing. Tesla Motors is benefiting from upper income, educated individuals signing on for lease payments on the Model S, but as for the rest of the green vehicles and infrastructure, fleets make up most of the marketplace. Besides buying in volume, they bring institutional credibility to the new technology. If a municipal fleet brings in 150 compressed natural gas trash trucks; or a delivery fleet reduces its fuel consumption and emissions 20% in one year by switching over to hybrids, that truly stands out with media, stakeholders, and the general public.

Here are a few newsworthy items on what fleet managers are thinking about clean transportation……

  • Debunking myths emanating from common alternative fuel vehicle misconceptions was the focus of a speaker panel at Green Fleet Conference in Schaumburg, Ill., last week. Richard Battersby, manager of Equipment Services for the City of Oakland, Calif., and coordinator of the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition, chaired the panel. Battersby thinks there is a “dizzying choice” available today in fuels: CNG, LNG, renewable natural gas, dimethyl ether (DME), E85, hydrogen, battery electric, plug-in electric, biodiesel, renewable diesel, algae diesel, clean diesel; and there will be more. Read on for interesting quotes on electrified transportation, diesel, biodiesel, propane, and natural gas.
  • The city of Indianapolis signed up for Vision Fleet’s Clean Miles Solution, a total-cost-of-ownership plan for bringing electric vehicles (EVs) into its fleet. It bundles the process together and guarantees all the expenses of purchasing, operating, and fueling an EV. Indianapolis will utilize Clean Miles Solution to deploy 425 EVs in its non-police fleet by early 2016. That will be the largest ever EV deployment by a public fleet in the US. It comes out of an executive order made by Mayor Gregory Ballard in 2012 that pledges the city’s fleet will reach post-oil technology by 2025.
  • PepsiCo has removed 55,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through reducing fuel consumption in its fleet by 24% since 2010. That will continue further for its trucks and passenger vehicles, according to Green Century Capital Management, which is working with Pepsi on its climate change efforts. Pepsi’s plan includes implementing a formal request for proposal process seeking low carbon fuel alternatives from its suppliers.
  • Downsizing the fleet and looking for transportation alternatives has become a viable option for a few municipal fleets in large US cities. Their goals can be met several ways to reduce carbon emissions and fuel consumption. Reducing the number of vehicles in their fleet, based on their utilization rates, has been at the heart of it. Bringing in outside vendors such as Zipcar for its carsharing services is also taking care of short-term transportation needs. Fleet managers will see several of the vehicles in the fleet idling in parking lots for the majority of time. Downsizing the fleet and accessing alternative transportation is reducing costs and bringing accolades to fleet staff.

Reading my notes on the best parts of attending AltCar Expo 2014

AltCar ExpoNow in its ninth year, AltCar Expo 2014 held in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday and Saturday, was a must-attend for several stakeholders in clean transportation. Those of you who’ve receive this newsletter have previously read all about it. As for this year, here are a few highlights from my notes.…………

  • The conference format was different this year. The panel topics were broken out into three sections on Friday – Fleets Track, Policy Track, and AltBuild Energy Track. NAFA Fleet Management Association presented workshops with Katherine Vigneau, professional development strategist, and Bryan Flansburg, director of transportation at University of Colorado and NAFA vice president, educating attendees through the association’s Certified Automotive Fleet Manager (CAFM) program. The role of state and local governments in converting over to alternative fuels, and the role that PEV Collaborative has played in California, were discussed during the policy track. AltBuild Energy co-located with AltCar Expo for building planners and designers to collaborate and discuss energy efficiency and the alternative fuel infrastructure.
  • One of the highlights was listening to Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, making far-reaching forecasts about electric transportation, autonomous vehicles, and solar power. The statements were “outside the box” enough to be humorously mentioned by panelists during later presentations. One interesting point was seeing photos of a street in New York City in 1900 and then in 1913 – with one car featured in 1900 and the street filled with them 13 years later. That’s what is meant by “disruptive technology,” and Seba thinks Tesla Motors and the “gigafactory” are leading the way in this century. By 2030, Seba thinks that all mainstream cars will be electric and internal combustion engines will be obsolete; he based that radical assumption on a model analyzing the technology’s growth rates in the market. Another good one: it wasn’t Henry Ford who invented the modern automobile industry. Seba thinks a key enabler was General Motors and DuPont offering the very first car loans so that average income people could own their very first cars.
  • NAFA’s Sustainable Fleet Standard Program may be rolled out for fleets in January 2015 or soon thereafter, according to Flansburg. NAFA and CALSTART have been working with 14 fleets on developing the measures for the certification program. Participating fleets will be asked to adopt standards based on core metrics (air quality, fuel efficiency, fuel usage, and emissions reductions) and supporting metrics (fleet plan, baseline fuel use, vehicle deployment, and vehicle operations). For measuring the data, CALSTART is utilizing metrics from the US Environmental Protection Agency, US Department of Energy, and the California Air Resources Board. Fleets will be advised to establish a baseline for measurable data with goals of reducing emissions from that point. One fleet might set 2013 emissions and fuel consumption as the starting point for meeting a certain percentage point in emissions reductions for the next few years. There’s no one alternative fuel or technology being recommended; fleets might hit their targets by reducing the numbers of vehicles in the fleet, converting over to natural gas vehicles, increasing driver efficiency, or other methods.
  • Mike Britt, international fleet director at UPS, spoke during a case study panel on the delivery company being a test lab for nearly every type of alternative fuel and technology – CNG, LNG, hydraulic hybrid, propane, biomethane, electric, and hybrid electric. For the 100,000 vehicle fleet, 5% of them are targeted to be alternative fuel by the end of 2015 and 8% by the end of 2016; he thinks the vehicles will have driven one billion miles on alternative fuels by the end of 2017. During that panel, Michael Brylawski, CEO at Vision Fleet, described the challenges of getting fleets to consider electric vehicles (EVs). The company is working with fleets on improving their usage of EVs. For example, Chevrolet Volts used in fleets are only being plugged in to 30% of their potential. Vision Fleet is working with them on upping it to 50%. He says the company will be making a very big EV deployment announcement in about a month from now.
  • It was very good to actually talk face-to-face with a few folks I’ve been on conference calls with and have exchanged emails with. They see AltCar Expo as an important conference to attend, but the decision is getting trickier than it used to be. As one automaker executive said, the challenge is deciding on which conference to attend. AltCar Expo has spun off two other conferences (Dallas and the bay area) and seems to have fueled a number of copy cats around the country tied to car shows, green conferences, etc. Companies have limited budgets for travel and time spent at events.
  • Driving the Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive. While Mercedes-Benz would argue with me placing its B-Class in other another vehicle category, I would say that it’s the very first ever electric crossover, or SUV, to go on the market. I thought it was going to be the Tesla Model X, which is rolling out next year. It was also interesting to drive the B-Class F-Cell; about 70 of them are coming off lease and are available as certified pre-owned vehicles.
  • Mike Calise, senior director, electric vehicle solutions, partner business at Schneider Electric, shared his “its cooler than” marketing method while introducing speaker Tony Seba. He thinks owning a BMW i3 will be cooler than owning a BMW 7 Series luxury car. Early adopters like to make a statement in their purchases.
  • Southern California Gas Company showed the 2015 bi-fuel CNG Chevrolet Impala in the exhibit tent. The bi-fuel Impala will go on sale late this year with a starting price of $38,210; it’s the first manufacturer-produced bi-fuel sedan to come on the North American market.

Strategic analysis and market data available in Green Auto Market – Extended Edition

Green Auto Market - EELooking for an information resource to view the landscape of where clean transportation is heading? Subscribers to the monthly version of this newsletter, Green Auto Market – Extended Edition, have told me there’s nothing else like it out there – and for a much better price than you’ll see with reports released by market research firms. In the extended edition, you read about strategic developments in the industry and can study market data – hybrid and electric sales; installation of alternative fuel stations and electric vehicle charging stations; publicly-traded stock price for several companies in green transportation; and fuel prices including most expensive markets for gasoline and diesel.

Here’s some of the content that subscribers have recently read:

Will gasoline prices spike in California with fuel being added to cap and trade?
Starting in January, transportation fuels sold in California will fall under the cap-and-trade system. One major oil company is sending a loud warning to the legislature and residents of California: this will cause a big spike in gasoline prices.

How have electrified vehicle sales gone lately? Depends on who you ask
Edmunds.com and Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) saw August hybrid and plug-in sales numbers very differently. Edmunds.com is seeing a stalled market for battery-powered cars – including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles.

CarCharging Group added to list of publicly traded companies
One of the largest charging station network companies, CarCharging Group, has been added to Green Auto Market’s list of publicly traded companies to follow.

Check out a recent edition of Green Auto Market – Extended Edition. For subscribing, go here and scroll down.

And for those of you who missed my announcements, I recently released a white paper, “Hands off the Steering Wheel.” You may be asking, what does this have to do with clean transportation? Quite a lot. I’ve spoken with DMV administrators, automaker and technology supplier executives, and reviewed a number of reports on the subject matter that have been recently released. Google’s announcement in May of this year on its 100 test car fleet launched a lot of coverage and debate in news media and in social media. This paper digs into the legislative, liability, safety, and traffic congestion issues – and what states and the federal government, and automakers and technology companies, are doing about it. Plus, when these cars are likely to show up on our roads beyond the testing process.

Suggested theme for marketing success in clean transportation: Pragmatism

Pragmatism: (noun)

a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories

–Merriam-Webster

Waste Management truckAdvanced, alternative fuel vehicles face the challenges of any new technology – overcoming ignorance and resistance to change. The past four years have witnessed positive, impressive numbers in US sales of electric vehicles (EVs) and breakthroughs in new vehicles and fueling infrastructure for natural gas, propane, and hydrogen. It is going to take a while to see sales increase substantially, and charging and alternative fueling stations to become commonplace.

All that being said, there are green vehicles seeing sales growth; and solid steps are being taken in government and corporate policies embracing alternative fuels and clean transportation. Fleet managers are bringing in more alternative fuel vehicles and doing the numbers on lifecycle cost comparisons; consumers are looking into deals on EVs, or trying out their first diesel, hybrid, or natural gas vehicles (NGVs). Corporate sustainability programs are including clean transportation targets more often lately. They seem to value clean transportation meeting a few of their goals – reducing emissions and petroleum consumption, offering more energy independence, and contributing to domestic economic gains. They do see it as a pragmatic alternative.

What seems to be working? Pragmatic messages seem to be clicking with shoppers and buyers:

  • You get to drive by gas stations while smiling big – the original Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt ads played on these messages, and you can still see it in TV commercials for new EVs.
  • You could also pull up into a gas station and have more options – buying less fuel, choosing biodiesel or ethanol, and eventually even more – hydrogen, methanol, natural gas, and maybe even an EV fast charger; as mentioned in the upcoming film, “Pump.”
  • Lifecycle ownership cost savings – this big question is still being worked out. What does it cost for a fleet to convert over to natural gas or propane compared to gasoline and diesel engine vehicles? How long until the acquisition cost evens out? There’s always the question of how long incentives will last, how many charging and fueling stations there are – or the cost of having one installed on your property. But it is a tipping point that’s taken seriously in electric, CNG, propane, hybrid, and flex-fuel vehicle options for fleets and consumers. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have a big challenge here, but their pricing is starting to come down; and per gallon equivalent pricing on hydrogen will be released in the near future by government agencies. Rising gasoline prices always help tip the scale to green vehicle, but the prices are probably not going to be spiking up substantially anytime soon. Finding other analytics and messages makes a lot of sense.
  • Reducing greenhouse gas/carbon emissions – that’s becoming the widely accepted global tracking standard, whether or not the policy is based on the climate change/global warming issue or if its primarily a logical, accepted standard. It’s becoming the broad standard that encapsulates air pollution, smog, carbon, and other pollutants. The advantage coming from GHG/carbon emissions as the standard is that you can reduce your emissions several ways – purchasing EVs, natural gas, or other alternative fuel vehicles; buying more fuel efficient vehicles and hybrids; driving less and using carsharing and ridesharing services; using stop-start technologies and reducing driver idle time; or some combination of methods. That’s good news for those concerned about emissions, or who are being directed by their employers to reduce vehicle emissions.
  • Connectivity to mobile devices, dashboards and WiFi, and to “the internet of things.” A good example being Android Auto, which offers a simple and intuitive interface, integrated steering wheel controls, and powerful new voice actions designed to minimize distraction and keep the driver focused on the road. Automakers and technology suppliers are integrating safety systems that are considered a stepping stone toward autonomous vehicles. It also brings more simplicity to drivers. They can find charging stations, NGV stations, schedule maintenance, and use carsharing and ridesharing services – all from their mobile device integrated into their dashboard.
  • Economic development and job creation. If you’re looking for perspectives on this issue, ask a venture capital executive; or a good number of automotive executives, military officers; scientists, college students, and young professionals. Many people see clean transportation as a pragmatic, win-win scenario, meeting economic and environmental targets. There are significant job announcements, as reported by Environmental Entrepreneurs. Another sustainability organization, Ceres, has always supported federal mpg standards as a vital catalyst for reducing fuel consumption and emissions and creating more jobs.
  • The US has a strong platform for capitalizing on technology innovations – with examples being Tesla Motors and its Model S and the “Gigafactory;” General Motors research centers, Ford’s personal mobility campaign; automaker sustainability and water conservation campaigns, such as Ford’s Oakville Assembly plant sending zero waste to landfill; and EVs, hybrids, NGVs, propane, hydrogen, and advanced biofuels seeing increasing signs of acceptance and support.

This Week’s Top 10: DOE offering $4.5M in Clean Cities funding, Tesla announces more price-competitive model

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

doe-logoHere’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. The US Department of Energy is now offering $4.5 million more in funding for alternative fuel vehicles through Clean Cities. The goal is to increase consumer outreach, training, and strategic planning; technologies and fuels include plug-in electric, natural gas, propane autogas, and flex-fuel vehicles. Concept papers to apply for funding are due the beginning of next month, Aug. 1, 2014. Areas of focus are on-the-road demonstrations, safety-related training, and emergency preparedness. Read more about the announcement and find the link to apply for funding here.
  2. A long-awaited announcement came out last week on a more price-competitive model from Tesla Motors. Starting in 2017, Tesla’s Model III car will be introduced with a starting price of $35,000. That model will follow the upcoming Model X crossover and is thought to compete directly with the BMW 3 Series. It will be the first time Tesla enters the market somewhere between the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf in starting prices. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said it will get 200 miles on a full charge, and will be about the same size as the BMW 3 Series.
  3. The US Environmental Protection Agency may be rethinking fuel economy ratings. Automakers may have to road test their vehicles to verify mileage claims posted on window stickers, according to a proposal being considered by the EPA. The EPA is requesting more accurate information in the wake of Ford, Hyundai, and Kia overstating fuel efficiency on some of its models. “Some automakers already do this, but we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers,” Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, told The Wall Street Journal.
  4. Google Earth Outreach is working with Environmental Defense Fund to map out natural gas leaks under the streets of Boston, Indianapolis, and New York City’s Staten Island. Google is providing cars and drivers traveling streets to measure leaking natural gas, which is mostly methane, through its Google Street View mapping; along with sensing and analytical technologies to measure environmental indicators. Two years ago, the California Air Resources Board launched a mapping tool using Google Earth that allows users to locate major sources of greenhouse gases and examine the emissions of each facility. Along with Street View and driverless car technology, another recent move by Google was a $500 million acquisition of Skybox Imaging in June. Skybox Imaging provides commercial high-resolution satellite imagery, high-definition video, and analytics services. It will be interesting to see where Google is going with telematics, mapping, and autonomous vehicle technologies.
  5. Level 2 charging will grow 14-fold by 2020, says research by GlobalData. The market could grow from $67 million in revenue this year to $947 million by 2020. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has provided attractive incentives for electric vehicle (EV) charging stations installations, according to the study.
  6. LG Chem is working on second-generation batteries for electric vehicles that can travel more than 200 miles per charge when it comes out in 2016. The battery maker, based in South Korea, currently supplies batteries for General Motors, Renault SA, and other automakers.
  7. The Government Car Service in the UK is considering a few Tesla Model S deliveries to transport officials. The government has dedicated 5 million pounds ($8.6 million) for the program designed to buy more than 150 ultra-low emission vehicles.
  8. Volvo is setting up a global partnership with ABB to co-develop and commercialize electric and hybrid buses along with fast charging systems. Their first project will be the implementation of Volvo electric hybrid buses and ABB’s automatic e-bus chargers in the Luxembourg public transport system; 12 Volvo Electric Hybrid buses will be running on existing lines by 2015.
  9. Tesla Motors offered a $10,000 prize at a hackers conference for any one of them that could hack into a Model S. Chinese hackers at the SyScan360 conference in Beijing say they’ve found a vulnerable entry point. A post on the social network Weibo said that the IT department from Chinese company Qihoo 360 Technology Co had been able to take control of the car’s door locks, horn, headlights and sunroof. Tesla Motors has promised to fix any “legitimate vulnerability” to the Model S.
  10. Student Transportation Inc.’s 435 school buses operating in Nebraska’s Millard and Omaha public school district were able to gain cost saving of $5,000 per day switching over to propane autogas. That data comes from a one-year test program. The buses travel between 100 to 150 miles per day for an average of about 50,000 miles each year, as was learned during the one-year test program; that equates to about 4.2 million fewer pounds of carbon dioxide being released after switching over to propane.

Making the case for natural gas vehicles

NGV fueling stationIt was interesting to read a Houston Chronicle reporter’s account of the Natural Gas Vehicle USA conference, which just took place in that city. Ryan Holeywell’s conclusion in “The road ahead still isn’t clear for natural gas trucks,” is that companies are quite skeptical about investing in natural gas vehicle (NGV) conversions.

Holeywell cites some impressive sources; UPS can’t get a return on investment in natural gas-fueled tractors unless they travel 500 miles a day, according to Jeff Yapp, UPS vice president for global automotive engineering and operations. Dennis Beal, vice president of global vehicles at FedEx Express, said that trucks that run on natural gas cost much more than their gasoline and diesel counterparts.

I would say there are a few points about the alternative fuel missing from that article………

Fuel cost savings:  Compressed natural gas has been costing users about $2.25 recently in gasoline-gallon equivalent (GGE) pricing compared to diesel, which has been in the $3.90 range recently; gasoline has been about $3.65 in the national average price. Diesel and gasoline prices are likely to go up in the wake of the conflict being experienced in Iraq and instability within other key suppliers of oil to the US market. Energy analysts expect natural gas pricing to remain stable in the US over the next 10 years due to the abundant supply. Several fleets are in the process of making or reinstating contractual agreements with CNG suppliers to lock in the fuel price over a period of time. While alternative fuel tax credits expired at the end of 2013, businesses would be able to take another $0.50 to $0.75 GGE off that price if the tax credits come back; that could bring the cost of CNG down to as low as $1 GGE in some locations, said John Coleman, fleet sustainability and technology manager at Ford Motor Co.

UPS and FedEx are supporters: UPS does see natural gas as the “big game changer,” according to Scott Wicker, the company’s chief sustainability officer. The transport company can save 40% in fuel costs running its long-haul semi-tractor fleet on natural gas instead of gasoline or diesel. Reducing gasoline and diesel is part of the company’s mission to cut emissions and operate more efficiently, Wicker said. FedEx is testing out CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vehicles in its fleet; Frederick Smith, chairman and CEO of FedEx Corp., expects 5% to 30% of all US long-distance trucks to be fueled by CNG or LNG over the next 10 years – as the cost of the trucks come down and fueling stations become more common.

Incentives: While federal tax credits expired at the end of 2013 on the fuel, there are several state programs out there that can reduce the cost of vehicle conversions and fueling. If you look at the US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center, there’s a map of the US by states to click on. In Texas, when the new fiscal year begins in September, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will administer its next NGV Grant Program. Qualifying vehicles must be on-road vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 8,500 pounds and must be certified to current federal emissions standards. TCEQ can also award grants through the Clean Transportation Triangle Program, which supports the development of a network of natural gas fueling stations along the interstate highways connecting Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Forth Worth.

Fueling infrastructure: Besides privately held CNG and LNG fueling stations, publicly accessible stations are starting to see the light of day. The US Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center reports there are now 713 CNG stations and 53 LNG stations in the US. These numbers tend to increase each month and are expected to provide a refueling infrastructure alongside the nation’s highways in the near future.

Emissions reductions: As panelists talked about at the Natural Gas Vehicle USA conference, the challenges and costs to deploy NGVs can be pervasive. Building NGV refueling stations can be up there in cost, and conversions can be in the $8,000 to $18,000 range depending on the vehicle’s weight and other factors. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 25% compared to diesel and gasoline engines does help make the case. Waco-Texas based Central Freight Lines has 114 CNG vehicles in its 1,600 unit fleet; driving range has fallen short of that needed for fleet operations that were estimated when installing 75-gallon CNG tanks into its trucks. All that being said, the company remains committed to the technology and has 50 more NGVs on order. “We’ll continue to invest in CNG because we’re committed that it’s the right thing to do and the right way to go,” said Mari Borowski, director of business development for Central Freight Lines.

Why I’m passionate about (and obsessed with) clean transportation and alt-fuel vehicles

AFVs beat gasoline“When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters – one represents danger, and the other represents opportunity.”  U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy said in a 1959 speech.

I’ve been fortunate to have fascinating conversations with several readers of this newsletter in recent years. That could have happened while preparing for an Automotive Digest video interview, during an article interview, while seated near each other at industry conferences, or while standing in line at ride and drive events. Some people in my social circles tune out while I sermonize on the benefits of clean transportation being deployed in the US and around the world. Other people have their share of passion on the topic – including personally driving a hybrid, electric vehicle, natural gas car, or something similar. Sometimes they manage hundreds of these vehicles in their fleets.

Beyond the bells and whistles of a particular green car, here are typical points that I, and many of my peers, make during these conversations………

  • Reducing tailpipe and carbon emissions. As the article on China covers this week, the number of vehicles on roads is increasing and bringing serious ramifications to urban centers around the world. Ground transportation makes up a big chunk of carbon emissions and air quality impact – whether that be through passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, or buses. I tend to be “technology neutral” about how we do it. Some advocate plug-in electric vehicles as the only way to go, or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, or natural gas vehicles, or clean diesel, or small cars that get high mileage, or……. you name it. I tend to support all of them – as long as the case can be made that they’re all built on scientifically tested, safe technologies and fuels that meet government rules.
  • Turning problems into solutions. As you read the quote from JFK above from my consulting website, it points to a realistic assessment of global conditions. China, India, and Brazil are the emerging economic markets – the US no longer plays its dominant role, nor does Europe. All of these economies are becoming more interlinked and dependent on each other (as was clearing demonstrated by the Japanese earthquake of 2011). For the US, clean transportation and alternative fuel vehicles represent four huge opportunities: job creation; research and development for advanced technologies; breakthrough technology and fuel innovations; and capital investments. It is definitely tough to gain support from venture capitalists in Silicon Valley and other regions for green vehicles compared to smartphones and tablets – but there’s a lot of growing interest out there in clean transportation and for cleantech overall.  Turning waste into energy also points to another problem-into-solution, such as renewable natural gas being made from sewage and garbage.
  • Training and development opportunities. There are a lot of Millennials/GenYers out there who’ve had great, expensive college educations but are working at Starbucks; along with talented service technicians who want good paying jobs. There a quite a few people in their 40s and 50s who’ve burned out on their office jobs or have been laid off during the Great Recession. How about getting them into automotive and charging and fueling infrastructure jobs? There’s a need for engineers, designers, service technicians, charging station installers, renewable energy technicians, alternative fuel station and storage tank experts, vehicle service and repair departments, emergency first responders, battery makers, dealers, vehicle remarketers, and others to make clean transportation thrive. And don’t forget educators – there are some excellent training and development programs out there that need our support.
  • Recovery from fossil fuel addiction. As 2GreenEnergy’s editor Craig Shields depicts in blog posts and books, fossil fuels used in electricity and transportation dominate decisions in Washington and in corporate boardrooms. That is starting to change, but the challenges are enormous. While Shields would likely not get along with former president George H.W. Bush, they would agree on one thing:  “We’re addicted to oil,” as Bush said in his State of the Union speech in 2006. Former oil tycoon and natural gas champion T. Boone Pickens would agree with that statement and always talks about how many barrels of foreign oil the US imports every day. As for me, I would go back to the JFK quote – turn problems into opportunities. Whether you believe in climate change or not, how about cleaning air quality, creating jobs, and recovering from oil addiction through clean transportation and alternative fuel vehicles? That sounds pretty darn good to me.
  • This isn’t just a momentary fad. All of the technologies and fuels have gone through spurts of possibility in the past before quickly fading away – natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in the early 1990s, electric vehicles (EVs)  in the late 1990s, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the early 2000s, and flex-fuel vehicles in the second half of the past decade……… This time, none of them are likely to go away. EVs have recently hit an overall sales trend stronger than the early days of hybrids; there are more green vehicles being announced by OEMs or in the pipelines than ever before; the charging and fueling infrastructure is moving forward at public and private stations; incentive programs aren’t going away anytime soon; gasoline and diesel prices are high enough for consumers to take notice; corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organizations are adding clean transportation to their sustainability programs and policies, and they seem to be expecting that their employees comply; and sales figures for EVs, hybrids, clean diesel, NGVs are still small, but nearly all the forecasts say the numbers will be growing through the next 10 years along with hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, propane autogas, and biofuels. And take a look at media coverage in a given week, such as what gets summarized in Green Auto Market. There are always significant, substantial vehicle launches, studies, government policies and incentives, partnerships, and innovations. It appears that clean transportation and alternative fuel vehicles are here to stay.