New format in GAM looks at news highlights and Toyota’s take on electric vs. fuel cell vehicles

Newsworthy:  Autonomous trucks appear to be ready to adoption on public roads faster than self-driving cars with huge investments being made for that to take place, according to technologists like Tesla and Embark. Trucking companies may not be as optimistic about the fast pace. Tesla will be showcasing its electric truck with some autonomous capabilities, while Silicon Valley startup Embark has been testing its autonomous trucking technology in a three-way partnership with Ryder and appliance giant Electrolux. CB Insights reports that companies will place about $1 billion in commercial truck autonomous systems this year, 10 times the level of spending three years ago………. General Motors’ joint venture company will be able to hit China’s new energy vehicle requirement of 10% in annual sales by 2019 without having to buy credits, GM China chief Matt Tsien said. “I can’t give you any specific (NEV production and sales volume) numbers other than to say that through the complicated formula we will either meet or exceed,” he said………….. Faraday Future is continuing to struggle, with three top executives leaving the company or already having done so. Stefan Krause, a former financial executive at BMW and Duetsche Bank, has left as CFO. Ulrich Kranz, another BMW veteran, and tBill Strickland, head of vehicle manufacturing who previously headed the Ford Fusion program, are exiting Faraday……….. It looks like the Ford C-Max will stop production over the next year. The 2018 model year lineup has dropped the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, and the C-Max Hybrid is expected to finish up at the Michigan Assembly Plant in mid-2018………. Volkswagen may be adding the third-generation Beetle to its electric vehicle lineup built on the new MEB platform, according to Board Chairman Herbert Diess.

State of the Technology:  While Toyota and a few other global automakers are taking hydrogen fuel cell vehicles quite seriously, the clean technology’s chances of reaching mass adoption are still far away. Yoshikazu Tanaka, chief engineer of the Toyota Mirai FCV, said that Toyota won’t be giving up on fuel cell vehicles, but electric vehicles are in a stronger position for widespread adoption in the marketplace. “Elon Musk is right – it’s better to charge the electric car directly by plugging in,” he said.

The Japanase automaker has so far only sold about 2,400 of its Mirais in the U.S., and about 4,300 total worldwide. That comes after two years of being on the market, and pales in comparison to EV sales in China, the U.S., and Europe. Toyota’s strategy is based on a diverse product portfolio, with hydrogen-powered commercial trucks being tested in Japan, sales of the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid taking off, and a new business unit dedicated to electric vehicle development. That comes from increasing pressure by governments to provide fossil-fuel free vehicles in the coming decades; and forecasts by several companies including oil giant Shell.

Fuel cell vehicles will be part of it as zero emission vehicles complying with government mandates, but the expectations are strong for mass adoption of EVs by the 2030s. Toyota doesn’t see a fight between the two technologies to be inevitable. “We don’t really see an adversary ‘zero-sum’ relationship between the EV and the hydrogen car. We’re not about to give up on hydrogen electric fuel-cell technology at all,” Tanaka said.

Fuel cell technology is seeing a lot of its business growth with companies like Amazon using it for powering fork lifts and providing energy to massive warehouse facilities. Plug Power is seeing demand grow in these sectors, with the company reporting 250% revenue growth in the third quarter.

For Today: Judge rules against Waymo’s damages expert, Tesla acquires Perbix to help speed up Model 3 production

Waymo faces tough ruling by judge:  Alphabet’s Waymo is facing a serious challenge in making its court case that Uber is guilty of stealing intellectual property behind its innovative self-driving car technology. The federal judge in San Francisco hearing the trial has excluded Waymo’s damages expert, Michael Wagner, from the case; and has restricted use of financial evidence at the trial, according to a docket entry. Waymo claims that it has received damages worth about $1.9 billion in losses. Uber has denied using intellectual property that had allegedly been stolen by former Waymo engineer Anthony Levandowski. Waymo responded to the judge’s decision with a statement that it could still pursue full damages using “the same documents” relied upon by Wagner.

Making hydrogen even cleaner:  Hydrogen fuel station company True Zero says that fuel cell vehicles in California have driven 17 million miles and have used 250,000 kilograms (250 metric tons) of clean hydrogen. That’s come from fuel supplied to 18 retail stations owned and operated by the company. There are now 31 stations open across California, supported by California Energy Commission grant funding. Two-thirds of True Zero’s hydrogen comes from fossil fuels, such as natural gas. One third comes from renewable sources such as biomass; the company says that it is working to increase the use of renewable hydrogen.

Tesla acquires automation company to speed production:  Tesla has acquired a company to further automation at its manufacturing facilities, opening the door to increase production of its closely watched Model 3. Perbix, a maker of automated machines used for manufacturing, has been acquired by Tesla after nearly three years of working with the electric carmaker. Tesla has declined to disclose the cost of the acquisition and other details. Tesla will be expanding Perbix’ operations in the Minneapolis area, where the supplier is based. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has recently been making comments about the automation challenges holding up hitting the production timeline that had originally been set for the $35,000 Model 3. In other news, Jon Wagner, Tesla’s director of battery engineering, has left the company and is launching a battery and powertrain startup in California.

 

For Today: Tesla preparing to build EVs in China, DOE funding extreme fast charging

Tesla readying for China plant:  Tesla, Inc., yesterday reaffirmed that it’s been in talks with the Chinese government to set up shop in a free trade zone in the Shanghai region – without indicating whether an agreement has been met. Those talks were reported to have been underway earlier this year. Tesla would still have to pay the 25% import fee that it’s had all along in China, but the company would have costs reduced not having to ship the cars into that market. It would also allow Tesla to stay true to its identity of being an independent operator by avoiding the traditional joint venture with a Chinese automaker that Tesla’s competitors have been doing for years. China is becoming more flexible to grow its local EV market and remain No. 1 globally, to clean up air pollution in its growing cities, and to free up the nation from foreign oil imports. The electric carmaker has been moving in this direction in recent years, with CEO Elon Musk thinking that it’s the most significant market in the world for company growth. The company now has a 5% stake from Chinse internet company Tencent Holdings, which should support Tesla’s strategy in that market.

Ethanol beats Big Oil:  President Donald Trump is keeping his campaign promise to ethanol-producing states by backing off proposed biofuel reductions recently announced by the Environmental Protection Agency. In a letter dated Oct. 19, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said that the agency will keep renewable fuel volume mandates at or above proposed levels, reversing a decision to cut the mandates demanded by oil companies and refineries. It’s a big win for corn-growing states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois, which are economically dependent on demand for corn-based ethanol. Companies such as PBF Energy Inc. and Valero Energy Corp. have been pleading with Trump to revise the costly mandate, and it at first appeared he would be going in that direction.

UK alliance for EV growth:  Automakers are working together in the United Kingdom to better educate car shoppers on the benefits of owning and charging electric vehicles. The Electric Vehicle Experience Center in Milton Keynes, north of London, will feature a multi-brand EV showroom. Sales pitches aren’t allowed, as it will be a showcase for explaining the technology to visitors. Funding participants include BMW, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, and Volkswagen, along with Chargemaster, a UK-based supplier of charging stations. Chargemaster CEO David Martell said the showroom will be carefully watched, and could be repeated elsewhere in the UK if it works.

LG partners with Qualcomm:  LG Electronics is entering the self-driving car market through an alliance with Qualcomm to jointly research and develop autonomous, connected car technology. The two companies have opened a joint research center in Seoul, with another one slated by open in that city by the end of 2018. The partners will be focusing on fifth-generation wireless communications technology – called 5G – that will deliver data much faster than the current technology. The move supports the three major trends in the auto industry – electrification, autonomous technology, and on-demand mobility services. It will also tie into Qualcomm’s efforts to bring wireless electric vehicle charging as a mainstay to vehicles of the future.

DOE funding extreme fast charging:  The U.S. Energy Department today announced that up to $15 million will be available for research projects on batteries and vehicle electrification technologies to enable growth in fast charging. It includes electrification projects that will support the development and verification of electric drive systems and infrastructure for what it defines as “extreme fast charging” (400-kW). It’s being done through the DOE’s Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO), which funds early-stage, high-risk research to support improved vehicle efficiency, lowers costs, and increases use of secure, domestic energy sources. It’s part of a VTO-funded report that will be released today, where researchers at Idaho National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory identified technical gaps to bring an extreme fast charging network to the U.S. The full report can be found on the VTO reports and publications page.

For Today: Continental testing out robo-taxi technology, Proterra announces longer range drivetrain

Continental joins robo-taxi movement:  Major auto supplier Continental is making moves to join the futuristic robo-taxi world, starting with an autonomous shuttle called CUbE at its Frankfurt corporate campus. Continental won’t become a manufacturer – CUbE is a testing ground for automated technology that can be supplied to OEMs. The German supplier is watching several OEMs – including General Motors, Ford, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler – making moves toward autonomous mobility services. That might be through an alliance with Lyft, Uber, Maven, Waymo, or another partner committed to the new technology and ride services it has to offer. While the robo-taxi label has stuck in the past year, it’s much more than a taxi ride. This will include shared rides, point-to-point short trips, transporting groups, taxi rides, and shuttle services.

Propane-powered Ford E-350:  Roush CleanTech is now offering a propane-powered Ford E-350 single-rear-wheel and dual-rear-wheel cutaway targeted to buyers of transit shuttles, Type A school buses, and delivery trucks. The company has delivered over 1,000 Ford E-450 propane autogas cutaways to fleets across the country. For agencies and companies looking for smaller, lighter clean vehicles, the new propane Ford E-350 will be available at the beginning of the 2018 model year. They will be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board and compliant with heavy-duty onboard diagnostics.

Proterra makes two announcements:  Electric bus maker Proterra just introduced the DuoPower drivetrain for its Catalyst all-electric vehicles. The Catalyst bus will be five times more efficient than a standard diesel bus with a lot more horsepower and acceleration. It offers a 20% increase in efficiency over Proterra’s standard ProDrive system. For the Catalyst E2 max model, the DuoPower drivetrain enables a nominal range of 426 miles on a single charge, which the company says far exceeds the average distance of North American transit routes. Separately, the company announced that major bus and coach manufacturer Van Hool has selected Proterra to provide its highly efficient battery platform for Van Hool’s first all-electric motor coach. Van Hool’s CX Series electric vehicle will utilize the E2 battery technology.

 

 

For Today: Cummins building electric drive trains, Smart offering electric autonomous cars

Cummins electric heavy-duty truck:  Cummins Inc. is adding electric drive trains to its power options, the company announced yesterday at its Columbus tech center. The 18,000-pound truck will have a 44,000-lb. maximum payload and about 100 miles of range. That beats Tesla’s announcement, which takes place next month and is expected to focus on a 200-300 mile range electric semi truck. Named AEOS after a four-winged horse-driven chariot from Greek mythology, the Cummins electric truck (built by Roush) follows an announcement in June that the company will bring out an electric bus by 2019. Cummins is looking for vehicle manufacturers to work with and large fleets interested in buying them. For now, the electric heavy-duty truck is in the concept phase. The company is well known by fleets for its natural gas truck engines.

Solar-powered dealerships:  SunPower solar dealers are working with auto dealerships across the country to put solar panels on empty rooftops and over parking lots to cut energy costs and to meet sustainability targets. Construction of the solar installations has also helped protect roofs and a fleet of new cars underneath the stations. Minnesota-based Luther Auto Group, the largest privately held auto group in the Midwest, has placed 454 kilowatts of solar at 10 of its dealer locations. They’re projected to save the company more than $2.1 million in electricity costs over 25 years.

Smart Vision EQ ForTwo:  Daimler’s Smart division will be showcasing the Vision EQ ForTwo, tapping into the company’s CASE philosophy – Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electric. When it does come out years from now, customers will be able to hail a ride in the tiny electric car from their smartphone. Vision EQ vehicles will be able to flow through traffic more smoothing by “talking” to other autonomous vehicles out on the roads. It will be used for carsharing rides, and could be ideal for Daimler’s Car2Go subsidiary.

For Today: Nissan Renault going mobile, FuturePorts explores future of clean trucks

Nissan Renault going mobile:  The Nissan and Renault alliance is entering the self-driving, ride-hailing and shared rides business; and the cars will be electric. It won’t be happening overnight – not likely before 2020 but within 10 years, a company executive said. The two companies have been testing self-driving vehicles. The mobility service will run on pre-mapped courses with predetermined pick-up and drop-off points. The automated system is being worked out with Japanese game software maker DeNA Co Ltd and French public transport operator Transdev SA. Several companies have revealed similar plans through alliances or on their own, including Ford, Uber, Lyft, Waymo, BMW, and General Motors. Tesla will offer its buyers fully autonomous cars that they can rent out for shared rides.

25 years in clean transportation:  CALSTART marks its 25th anniversary in October, with its symposium connecting transportation, jobs, and the environment. This gathering of national policymakers and industry leaders will explore market acceleration through transportation policies and technologies that result in creating more jobs, while meeting our climate and clean air goals. Solutions and actions to stimulate thinking toward a 2030 vision for a clean transportation economy will be explored. Stakeholders will gather on October 25 in Pasadena, Calif.

FuturePorts looks at role of clean trucks in port sustainability
The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are striding forward on their commitment made a decade ago to bring clean trucks to the southland. Trucks powered by renewable natural gas (RNG), batteries, and hydrogen are becoming part of entering the next phase, according to speakers yesterday at FuturePorts in Long Beach, Calif.

More support for fleet operators acquiring these vehicles is likely to come from revenue collected through the state’s cap and trade auction funds, which came from the state’s AB 32 global warming measure, said Wayne Nastri, executive officer at South Coast Air Quality Management District. A new bill in Sacramento, if passed, addresses vehicle smog checks and could also provide more funding for clean heavy-duty trucks, he said.

Fleets in Southern California have been early adopters of RNG, using the clean fuel in refuse trucks, street sweepers, and buses, said George Minter, regional vice president, external affairs and environmental strategy for Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

Yesterday also saw a major announcement by Los Angeles County’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board authorizing the purchase of nearly 300 natural gas buses; the agency will be running them on RNG that can reduce exhaust emissions by as much as 98% when compared to MTA’s current buses.

The Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) Now Plan was presented last month to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition submitted the plan directed at drayage trucks serving the ports. The coalition is giving input as the ports adopt the 2017 Clean Air Action Plan. The ACT Now Plan encompasses all zero- and near-zero emission technologies and fuels, including natural gas, propane, battery electric, hydrogen fuel cell electric, and others that meet a 0.02 g/bhp-hr NOx standard. The .02 standard has been supported by public fleets and transit agencies since being adopted by California Air Resources Board and Air Quality Management Districts about two years ago.

Transit buses, refuse trucks, and medium- and heavy-duty trucks built with Cummins Westport’s ISL G near zero certified natural gas 8.9-liter engine are fueled by renewable natural gas that’s reducing NOx emissions by 90% based on the .02 standard. A Cummins Westport 11.9-liter heavy-duty natural gas engine is awaiting certification by CARB and EPA, Minter said. Other vehicle and engine manufacturers may be rolling out technology suited for near zero emission trucks, especially as the 2023 deadline for hitting Clean Air Act targets approaches, he said.

Caroline Choi, senior vice president for regulatory affairs at Southern California Edison, said her utility has been exploring ways to “decarbonize” transportation through electric power. One project involved converting over cranes to run on electricity instead of diesel at the Port of Long Beach. Electric medium- and heavy-duty trucks are on their way. The company is also getting involved in test projects using electric rubber tired gantry cranes and yard tractors, she said.

Consumers and fleet operators also want to know more about rate costs tied to charging electric vehicles, Choi said. The utility is looking into rate pricing to keep it stable and eliminate demand charges.

Ash Corson, alternative fuels vehicle manager for Toyota, talked about Toyota’s Project Portal, which is testing out heavy-duty fuel cell drayage trucks at the ports. Toyota engineers have been working on hydrogen-fueled Class 8 trucks capable of carrying up to 80,000 pounds. A Toyota video showed a fuel cell truck having a lot more torque power than a diesel truck.

Choi and Minter engaged in a bit of banter over which technology, electric or RNG, is really zero emissions – or less. Minter made the point that RNG can go lower than electric, with some of it reaching net negative in emissions when the material comes from sewage treatment plants, landfills, and particularly from dairies. Choi distinguished clean energy, coming from renewable sources like wind and solar, from renewable fuels like biomethane.

Nastri reiterated SCAQMD’s stance on being technology neutral, supporting technologies that are dramatically reducing vehicle emissions. All of the panelists agreed on that point, and emphasized being cooperative in the decades-long battle between petroleum and clean fuels.

For Today: Lots more Tesla factories coming, 2 million EVs worldwide

Several more Tesla factories: Tesla has some very big plans in store, according to CEO Elon Musk during yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting. The company may need to build at least three and possibly as many as 10 or 20 new factories to keep up with expected demand. That will include the current models, the upcoming Model 3, and the Model Y crossover, which Musk says is the next new vehicle in development for a 2019 launch. It will be the company’s most popular vehicle ever, he said, so a lot more new factories will be needed; and to support more Gigafactory battery production. Other hot topics included whether to change board member seats to annual instead of staggered three year (which failed), and safety concerns for Fremont, Calif., plant workers (Tesla is dealing with it, Musk said).

Latest in automated tech: Bosch and TomTom have brought a first-ever to automated driving – high-resolution maps. Video data is being used from radar signals with billions of individual reflection points. Automated vehicles can use the map to determine their exact location in a lane down to a few centimeters, Bosch said. It will enable these vehicles to reliably determine their location at all times. Reflection points are formed everywhere that radar signals hit – for example, on crash barriers or road signs – and reproduce the course a road takes. It speaks to safety during a time when industry leaders like Bill Ford are asking questions about how autonomous vehicle technology will really work; and how it will respond to emergencies and unexpected occurrences that happen while driving.

2 million EVs: There were about two million plug-in electrified passenger vehicles on roads around the world by the end of 2016, according to an International Energy Agency report. That number was next to zero just five years earlier; however it’s still just 0.2% of light-duty vehicles, according to the report. Last year saw a surge in sales – 60% more than in 2015, with much of that taking place in China. “China was by far the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40% of the electric cars sold in the world and more than double the amount sold in the United States,” the IEA wrote in the report. “It is undeniable that the current electric car market uptake is largely influenced by the policy environment.”

For Today: Lyft part of self-driving Renault Zoe test project, Natural gas vehicle Road Rally Across America kicks off

Lyft part of self-driving Zoe test project:  Ride-hailing company Lyft will be testing out self-driving Renault Zoe electric cars in Boston with autonomous vehicle tech company NuTonomy. The two companies are waiting for approval from Boston city officials, but they do expect the pilot demonstration to begin in the next few months. The study will examine the passenger experience during self-driving rides as the electric cars travel through certain neighborhoods in Boston. Lyft has been forging other alliances in the autonomous vehicle front – including an upcoming project with shareholder General Motors and another one with Waymo. Ride-hailing giant Uber had taken the lead on that front starting last year with a Pittsburgh pilot project that included passengers getting rides; but Uber has distanced itself from Pittsburgh and is focusing on test rides in Arizona.

Automakers back Paris accord:  Automakers look like they’ll be ignoring President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement. Both General Motors and Ford issued statements in opposition to Trump’s decision. Both companies acknowledged that climate change is real, and that the U.S. decision will not affect their clean car strategies and manufacturing improvements. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had been clear he’d be leaving Trump’s economic advisory panel if he pulled the U.S. out of the Paris accord. Even oil giants Exxon and Shell have been backing the Paris agreement and would like to see Trump change course. It would seem that other automakers’ strategic plans on climate change and clean air would be in line with GM and Ford, including Toyota, Honda, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler, Nissan, Renault, Volvo Trucks, BYD, and others.

Natural-gas truck road trip:  “Road Rally Across America” started yesterday in Long Beach, Calif., as several heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles powered by natural gas began a coast-to-coast road trip from California to Washington, D.C. The trip was kicked off by representatives from the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition (CNGVC), which is calling for the adoption of low nitrous oxide emissions heavy-duty truck technology powered by renewable natural gas in the Clean Air Action Plan of the San Pedro Bay Ports. That, called ACT Now, was announced last month in Long Beach during ACT Expo 2017. The 4,825-mile road trip is being sponsored by NGVAmerica. “NGVAmerica and its membership, including companies like Clean Energy and SoCalGas, believe that natural gas-fueled vehicles are the best and most immediate solution for eliminating the negative impacts of diesel and combatting climate change,” said Chad Lindholm, vice president of sales for Clean Energy and representative of NGVAmerica.

For today: Lift joins up with Waymo, Musk boring underground LA

  • Lyft partners with Waymo: Ride-hailing firm Lyft has forged a partnership with the Waymo self-driving car firm. The partners will work on pilot projects and product development in self-driving car technology, with the end goal of bringing needed transportation to fast-growing cities. The timing of the deal comes about as Waymo has taken ride-hailing giant Uber to court over allegedly stealing that technology. Uber had acquired the Otto startup, which led Waymo filing the lawsuit based on claims of intellectual property theft. Yesterday, the federal judge ruled that Uber must return Waymo documents. The judge also said that Uber can continue working on self-driving car technology, but Anthony Levandowski must be removed from any work relating to a key automated technology called lidar. Levandowski had been a leader in Google’s self-driving car research and a founder of the Otto self-driving truck firm.
  • Boring in LA: In a set of photos and video on his Instagram page Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk showed what’s been happening with The Boring Company concept. What started in late 2016 as a set of Twitter posts about his frustrations being stuck in traffic while driving to Hawthorne (SpaceX HQ and Tesla service center), shows an “electric sled” that can go up to 125 mph through an underground tunnel somewhere in Los Angeles. The word “Boring” has to do with boring a tunnel underground. Musk has been secretive about where it’s located, and how much ground it covers. The tunnel has got to be at least a mile long, if you watch the videos. Musk said that the tunnel will run from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Culver City, Santa Monica, Westwood, and Sherman Oaks. There will be more tunnels, and they’ll cover all of the greater Los Angeles area, he said. No word yet on whether Musk has regulatory approval to continue the track – or Boring Machine 1, which he’s nicknamed Godot.
  • Chinese EV plant: Guangzhou Automobile Group, or GAC Group, has started building a vehicle assembly plant in China’s southern Guangdong province that will have the capacity to product up to 200,000 electric cars a year by the end of 2018. It should cost the company about $700 million to get there. The company’s first electric car, the GE3, was introduced at the 2017 Detroit auto show in January. Its new plug-in hybrid sedan, the GA3S, and plug-in hybrid SUV, the GS4, were unveiled at the Shanghai auto show in April.
  • Propane fueling acquisition: Agility Fuel Solutions’ Powertrain Systems unit has acquired the assets of CleanFUEL USA and some of its employees. The company will add business locations in Wixom, Mich., to focus on fuel systems, and Georgetown, Texas to focus on refueling equipment. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. Powertrain Systems will be able to offer complete propane fuel systems for commercial vehicles based on patented liquid propane injection technology. The company said it will be able to offer “turnkey propane fueling packages for both private fleet and retail locations, enabling a complete propane solution for commercial fleets globally.”
  • Renewable diesel station: Ryder System has begun to offer renewable diesel (RD) fuel at its San Francisco fueling facility, located at 2700 3rd Street. With this implementation, Ryder customers will be better able to address their sustainability goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while still utilizing diesel vehicles. Based on production levels and availability of RD, Ryder will continue to monitor other markets with plans for expanding this offering. The company also plans to analyze market opportunities that would benefit its customers to have RD available for their fleets.
  • GM’s sustainable tires: General Motors Co. is taking on another corporate sustainability drive by changing over to tires made from sustainable natural rubber. The automaker is working several tire suppliers to create an industry first. The definition of sustainable tires includes that the natural rubber “did not lead to deforestation,” was harvested to aid an area’s economic and social development, and is “managed in a transparent and traceable manner.” This will apply to about 49 million tires that the Detroit automaker buys each year. GM is also known for its going “landfill-free” at its facilities around the world, with all waste from daily operations recycled, reused or converted to energy.

This Week’s Top 10: GM and Lyft bringing out self-driving Bolts soon, Battles ensue over autonomous vehicle rules

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. GM bringing out 1,000s of automated Bolts: General Motors believes enough in the synthesis of electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and shared rides to roll out “thousands” of self-driving Chevy Bolts through its Lyft alliance by 2018. That comes from two sources familiar with the matter who weren’t identified. GM’s Maven carsharing business unit is likely to be involved in managing some of the automated Bolts as well, sources said. That would make for the largest fleet deployment of self-driving vehicles ever seen, as Waymo, Uber, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and others prepare for commercialization of the nascent technology. Analysts think that the fusion of EVs, AVs, and mobility will be taking place in increasingly crowded, polluted cities around the world. Automated EVs can be recharged efficiently and cheaply, are much easier and cheaper to maintain than ICEs, and can converge more logically with computers already driving AVs. Human drivers are expected to deliver most of the trips for Lyft, Uber, Maven, Zipcar, and others in the near future, but autonomous vehicle trips are thought to provide a solution to mobility services getting hit with peak demand during periods when there aren’t enough drivers out there and fares are known to skyrocket.
  2. Battles ensue over future of autonomous vehicles: Thorny legal issues are being delved into as autonomous vehicle technology strides forward. Waymo, Uber, a few automakers, and industry groups are working against potential new state laws that would only allow automakers to test autonomous vehicles in those states. Michigan started it all off with a bill that was given input from General Motors limiting access to state testing to automakers. The state did revise the bills wording of “motor vehicle manufacturer” based on suggestions by Uber and Waymo to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems. Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois are reviewing bills in line with Michigan’s first version limiting access to automakers, Automotive News reports. Last week, executives from Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, and Lyft urged the U.S. Congress to unify the patchwork of state laws governing testing and development of self-driving cars. One of the problems has been how much the regulatory structure varies by state, with California wanting a more careful, phased in testing and adoption procedure and Michigan supporting fully autonomous vehicles in the near future. Ford Motor Co. has found that gradual, semi-autonomous vehicle testing hasn’t been the way to go; with several Ford engineers falling asleep during test runs. The rides have been relaxing enough for engineers to fall asleep and take away the human safety factor. Ford agrees with Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car division and a few other automakers that Level 5 fully autonomous is the way to go; there are also several other automakers who disagree over that one and think vehicles should stay at Level 3 for now and complete extensive testing.
  3. Fighting over fuel economy standards: Automakers and environmental groups are prepared for a long-term skirmish over the future of the 2025 federal fuel economy and emissions standards. Tension increased after a recent letter was sent o President Donald Trump signed by 18 auto industry executives asking him to reinstate a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of fuel economy regulations through 2025. Automakers say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unfairly cut the public comment period short before the Obama administration left office. Automakers had been sending out warning to the administration on job loss and heavy costs connected to manufacturing and marketing these fuel efficient vehicles; when the public has been showing more interest in SUVs, crossovers, and pickups. Environmental groups have been threatening legal action if the rule gets weakened.
  4. Some Nissan dealers love the Leaf: While the Nissan Leaf has been seeing softening sales in the U.S. in the past couple of years, some markets are very strong for the electric car. It depends a lot on the dealers. In Seattle, the Leaf is outselling the brand’s volume-leading car, the Altima. In Kansas, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota and Connecticut, Leaf sales have risen by double and triple digits in the past few months, according to Brian Maragno, Nissan’s director of electric vehicle marketing and sales. Boulder Nissan loves the Leaf and plans to sell a lot more them; other dealers are wondering what’s next for Nissan EVs in the pipeline. Ride and drive events work well for Boulder Nissan. “The Leaf now accounts for 80 percent of the new cars we sell here,” Ted Christiano, executive manager of Boulder Nissan in Boulder, Colo. “We’re doing a great business with them.”
  5. Prius Prime sales: The Toyota executive considered to the “father of the Prius” when it was launched 20 years ago thinks that the plug-in hybrid will hit the million unit sales mark faster than the original hybrid version. Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said he expects Prius plug-in hybrids to pass the one million unit sales mark in less than 10 years, which is how long it took for the hybrid Prius to reach that sales benchmark; that will include the original Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the new Prius Prime. The company expects to sell about 60,000 Prius Primes a year, with more than half of these vehicles being sold in Japan. The original Prius plug-in hybrid only had about 75,000 units sold from its launch in 2012 to its closure in 2015. “Environmental awareness has become a bigger issue today than it was 20 years ago, and demand for environmentally conscious products has increased,” Uchiyamada said.
  6. Greenest and Meanest: The Hyundai Ioniq Electric won the highest-ever green car score in American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s annual Greenest vehicle award, with the BMW i3 coming in a close second. Each car is given a green score by ACEEE based on an environmental damage index, which estimates pollution coming from vehicle manufacturing, the production and distribution of fuel that powers the vehicle, and vehicle tailpipe emissions. The Mercedes-Benz AMG G65 was named the Meanest vehicle on this year’s list, tying with the Chevrolet G2500 Express passenger van; these vehicles are considered to be the least friendly to the environment.
  7. Advanced biofuels: A new Lux Research study sees first- and second-generation biofuels bowing out to newer low-carbon fuels. Biodiesel is projected in the study to lose 26 percent market share by 2022 due to the rapid growth of low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels such as renewable diesel. The study predicts advanced biofuels will nearly double in five years to 9.6 billion gallons per year. “A new era of technology commercialization has brought the global biofuels industry to the cusp of a tipping point, as new facilities target low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels,” said Runeel Daliah, Lux Research associate and lead author of the report.
  8. Midwest coalition: A new group called Evolve will bring together supporters of electric vehicles from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The American Lung Association and other organizations are joining together with these states to promote the campaign. Evolve is also partnering with eight regional Clean Cities coalitions, which will be hosting more than 200 events across the Midwest states starting this year through 2020.
  9. Volvo electrified launches: Volvo will be bringing out a three-cylinder engine plug-in hybrid, a battery electric vehicle (its first production BEV), and a new 48-volt micro hybrid in 2019. This new three-cylinder PHEV will feature a 9.7-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery in the tunnel, an electric air conditioning compressor, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a 55-kW electric motor. Estimated battery-only range will be about 31 miles.
  10. Smart electric cars: Mercedes-Benz USA has announced that Smart cars is becoming an electric-vehicle only brand. For the U.S. and Canada markets only, the company will stop selling the gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo coupe and convertible later this year. The Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the all-electric Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio. “Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart product portfolio,” Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told dealers in the letter, which was obtained by Automotive News. “Therefore, with the launch of the fourth-generation Smart ForTwo electric drive this summer, the Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the zero-emissions Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio in the U.S. and Canada.”