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.”

Goodbye 2016 and Hello 2017, Part 2: Looking at autonomous vehicles, urban mobility, infrastructure, and renewable fuels and energy

Here’s part two of my analysis of 2016 events and a forecast of 2017 trends in clean transportation and mobility:

Autonomous vehicles:

Uber autonomous vehicle test projectMichigan now leading the way: Last month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a package of bills to clear the way for self-driving cars to operate on public roads and re-establish the state as the leader in automotive innovation. The Michigan bills establish regulations for the testing, use, and eventual sale of autonomous vehicle technology, and were crafted to more clearly define how self-driving vehicles can be legally used on public roadways. The new laws allow testing of vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or needed human control – which aims to propel Michigan ahead of California, which had been the leading state in the U.S. for testing autonomous vehicles.

The federal government is going in that direction as well, issuing long-awaited guidelines backing fully autonomous vehicles in September. The U.S. Department of Transportation would like to see uniform, national policies applying to autonomous vehicles. In a joint appearance, Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, released guidelines that encourage technology innovations from companies balanced with concerns over public safety.

Uber continued testing its self-driving vehicles in Pittsburgh, but decided to move from California to Arizona. Uber last month used Otto flatbed trucks to move its autonomous Volvo cars to Arizona after the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked registration of the company’s self-driving cars. California had made regulatory threats to Uber, and things got worse when the ride-hailing company refused to purchase $150 permits for testing autonomous cars that the state requires. There may be more than the 16 self-driving vehicles that had been tested by Uber in San Francisco, and the company hasn’t provided a date on when testing will begin in Arizona.

Google has renamed its Self-Driving Car Project as “Waymo.” Waymo will be an independent unit within the Alphabet parent company. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. Google co-founder Larry Page has been reported to be rethinking his company’s mission. Alphabet/Google, along with Apple, are now looking into partnering with automakers as technology suppliers rather than investing heavily, and going through the complex regulatory process, needed to manufacture their own autonomous vehicles.

Honda has been in talks with Waymo to test out some of the autonomous vehicle technology in Honda’s vehicles. Both companies said that it’s a research project and not a manufacturing agreement to jointly manufacture autonomous vehicles. Honda may choose to provide Waymo with vehicles that are modified to run on Google’s self-driving system; those Honda vehicles would join the existing Waymo test vehicles currently being tried out in four U.S. cities.

Honda follows Fiat Chrysler Automobiles in creating a self-driving vehicle test program. FCA announced in December that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for Waymo. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids (plug-in hybrid vehicles) recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant. Google and parent company Alphabet have also been reported be in talks with FCA about starting up a ride-hailing and ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

Tesla Motors is planning to demonstrate a Tesla vehicle traveling cross country in fully autonomous mode by the end of 2017. During a fall conference call announcing fully autonomous capable hardware, CEO Elon Musk said the company’s goal is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling safely from Los Angeles to New York using the new technology by the end of this year. The software for reaching the fully self-driving mode will need to be validated and approved by regulators before being released to the public. Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well, Musk said. Semi-autonomous features will continue to be available through the Autopilot feature, but Tesla has separated Autopilot from the new fully autonomous features after the fatal crash in Florida was reported last summer. If all of this works out and receives government approval, Tesla would likely lead the market in autonomous technologies. Tesla may have a fully automated vehicle for sale by 2018, beating Ford and BMW, which have committed to rolling out fully autonomous vehicles by 2021.

China would like to become the world’s largest market for plug-in and autonomous vehicles. The Chinese government released a policy report on setting national standards for autonomous vehicles. It’s taking an optimistic approach: “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. The report also forecasts that “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) will make up 40% of the 38 million new vehicles sold in China during 2030. That would make for about 15 million new plug-in vehicles coming to market that year. By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

Impact of autonomous vehicles on fuel consumption: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have conducted a study of a vehicle-platooning scenario and determined the best ways to deploy vehicles in order to save fuel and minimize delays. Their analysis, presented last month at the International Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics, shows that relatively simple, straightforward schedules may be the optimal approach for saving fuel and minimizing delays for autonomous vehicle fleets. The findings may also apply to conventional long-distance trucking and even ride-sharing services. Navigant Research may not agree with those findings. Navigant just released a study which analyzed how fuel is likely to be affected by the growing use of automated mobility systems in light-duty passenger and medium-to-heavy duty goods vehicles. Usage of petroleum and alternative fuels is likely to go up with growing transportation demand in developing nations like China and India; and in developed countries that are seeing surging demand for mobility services and automated systems.

Urban mobility

Urban mobilityAutomakers took serious steps forward during 2016 showing their commitment to mobility services and the changing identity of automakers in the near future.

GM’s investment in carsharing brand Maven, along with $500 million in Lyft and $1 billion acquisition of Cruise Automation, seemed to start the trend. GM will be testing self-driving versions of the Chevy Bolt all-electric car with Lyft. Maven is considered to be a serious competitor to Zipcar and other carsharing services.

Ford Motor Co. last year acquired shuttle service Chariot and forged a partnership with bike-share program Motivate. The automaker sees the importance of tapping the market value by turning to low-fixed cost and less capital revenue streams like Chariot and Motivate, said Ford executive chairman Bill Ford. In March, the company the creation of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a new subsidiary formed to design, build, grow and invest in emerging mobility services.

Toyota launched a Mobility Services Platform (MSPF) to support emerging mobility services like carsharing. The platform will be used to collaborate with service providers and telematics insurance carriers. In May, Toyota and Uber forged an alliance that will create new leasing options. Car buyers can lease their vehicles from Toyota Financial Services and cover their payments through earnings generated as Uber drivers. Toyota also created another alliance tied to the launch of MSPF with U.S. carsharing company Getaround. The two companies will start a pilot program this month in San Francisco.

BMW is moving its ReachNow carsharing service forward. During the L.A. Auto Show’s AutoMobility days, BMW announced that four new services will be launched in four North American cities. A new ridesharing service competes with Uber and Lyft and offers members an on-demand ride service where a driver shows up with a car. ReachNow Ride was scheduled to start up as a pilot program in Seattle last month, and it will be available to all members in early 2017.

Tesla Motors will launch Tesla Network with self-driving capabilities in 2017. In his “Master Plan, Part Deux” in July, Tesla CEO Elon Musk included a system in which a Tesla owner could add a car to a shared Tesla fleet using a mobile app. That’s where Musk introduced the concept of the Tesla Network where the electric automaker will be entering into ridesharing and carsharing services that will be a revenue model for Tesla. The company has been released a few more details lately on its blog and website. Tesla doesn’t want its car owners to use these electric cars for Uber and Lyft rides. “Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car-sharing and ride-hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year (2017),” according to a recent Tesla website statement.

Volkswagen made a series of announcements as it emerges from the “Dieselgate” scandal and commits to vehicle electrification and globally competitive mobility services. The German automaker kicked things off earlier this year by investing $300 million in on-demand transportation service Gett. At that time, the cab-hailing startup had operations across about 60 cities around the world. The German automaker also launched its Moia brand last month, stating that it expects it to become one of the largest mobility providers in the world. The new business will initially offer electric ride-hailing and carsharing services. Electric shuttles will likely be the first fleet vehicles rolled out to customers and they’ll soon be automated, the company said. VW also bought Vancouver-based parking-payment operator PayByPhone, which processed more than $250 million in transactions this year. The automakers wants to become the leader in mobile payments for parking. VW’s financial services unit had previously taken a 92 percent stake in Sunhill Technologies GmbH, Germany’s market leader for mobile parking payments. Another recent announcement by VW was adding a ride-hailing service in Rwanda as part of its mobility services to compete with Uber’s strong presence in Africa and other regions.

Infrastructure

ev-corridor-in-fhwa-mapThe Federal Highway Administration released a map in November showing 55 routes across the U.S. for charging plug-in vehicles and refueling alternative fuel vehicles, with 48 designated charging routes in the new corridor. The Alternative Fuel Corridors covers 35 states and nearly 85,000 miles, according the U.S. Department of Transportation’s FHWA. More miles will be added to the network to accommodate electric, hydrogen, propane autogas, and natural gas vehicles as more alternative fueling and charging stations are built.

The designation of these corridors comes from the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act, which was signed by the president in December 2015. In July, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx put the alternative fuel station provision in motion by calling on states to nominate national plug-in electrified vehicle charging and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling corridors along major highways.

You can view an Alternative Fuel Corridors resources page that includes a map showing each of the charging and fueling networks. There’s only one electric charging route linking the nation, which crosses the Great Plains with Highway 70 bridging between Utah and Colorado. Charging station routes are concentrated in the Northeast, East Coast, Great Lakes region, Texas, and the West Coast. Compressed natural gas will have corridors very similar to charging networks. Hydrogen fueling routes will be concentrated in California, Colorado, the Midwest, and the Northeast.

Electric vehicle charging network EVgo kicked off the nation’s quickest fast-charging station in Baker, Calif., at the site of the World’s Tallest Thermometer. Drivers going from Los Angeles and Las Vegas can see how hot it’s getting out there, and can pull over for a very fast charge. These days,

50-kW CHAdeMo or Combined Charging System (CCS) fast chargers are about as fast it gets. EVgo has started constructing a 350-kW fast charging station in Baker. The charger company says that these chargers will be seven times faster than any fast chargers currently available, and that they represent a new level of convenience. Electric vehicles with the biggest battery packs that travel the farthest per charge will be able to get 80% charged in less than 20 minutes.

Renewable fuels and energy

renewable-energyRenewables:  While not yet officially announced, Scientific American just reported that renewable-energy sources such as solar and wind are expected to account for 8% of U.S. electricity-generation capacity in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar growth is behind much of it.

For the first time ever, new solar-generating capacity is expected to exceed new generating capacity for wind and natural gas, according to the report. The federal report won’t be available until March, but Scientific American reported that the volume of new solar installation and their energy capacity is expected to outpace both wind and natural gas as energy sources. Natural gas isn’t counted as a renewable energy, but has become an important source of energy powering electric plants in recent years as the country has been moving away from coal power.

RFS and LCFS: American Petroleum Institute (API) estimates that 2017 gas station fuel volumes will put the ethanol-to-gasoline ratio at 10.4%, higher than the 9.7% ration recommended by the oil industry association. That comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s adjustment of biofuel blends last year. However, California’s low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) may be taking off as the fuel source of choice for many sustainability advocates. A recent study by Lux Research that LCFS may become the new standard for government policies to meet emissions reduction goals, calling it the trend “a new generation of policies is based on technology-agnostic carbon intensity metrics.”

Renewable diesel and conventional electricity used to power electric vehicle will be the near-term winners in low-carbon transportation fuels under the Lux analysis, followed by renewable electricity to charge EVs in third place. Canada has embraced LCFS as its national standard. In November, Canada announced that the country will adopt a national clean fuels standard. The national standard studies low-carbon fuel standards being used in California, Oregon, and British Columbia, according to a report.

The latest in autonomous, shared, electrified rides from Uber, Google, FCA, Tesla, and China

uber-volvo-self-driving-vehicleUber has been testing its autonomous, shared rides for the past month in California, and it may be blocked by the state government from continuing these trips. The California Department of Motor Vehicles on Wednesday sent the ride-hailing company a cease-and-desist letter demanding it must stop its self-driving car tests in the state.

That hasn’t stopped Uber so far. On Friday, the company said it will continue the tests despite the DMV’s statement. The California Attorney General has threatened an injunction if Uber does not comply. Uber said that its semi-autonomous car system isn’t different from what owners of Tesla vehicles can do with the Autopilot driver assistance systems and that other automakers’ cars offer with parking and collision avoidance.

Launched in Pittsburgh this past September, Uber’s pilot program has been testing about 100 self-driving Volvo XC90s plug-in hybrid SUVs and Ford Focus hybrid sedans, each one with an engineer riding along to monitor it and take control if necessary. Customers are allowed to decline rides in the self-driving cars if they choose and wait for a regular Uber ride. In San Francisco, the company is using 11 sensor-packed Volvo XC90s. Some are meant to pick up customers, and others will be used to log mapping and sensor research miles.

In both Pittsburgh and San Francisco, the cars are not capable of being driven without active physical control and monitoring, according to Uber. The company said it has asked the DMV what is different about its technology compared with Tesla’s, which have an Autopilot partially self-driving feature. Uber said that it hadn’t yet received an answer.

As least 20 other companies have applied for and received the DMV permits to test on California roads, including Google, Tesla, Ford and Nvidia.

Google names project Waymo, may back away from fully autonomous
Google’s Self-Driving Car Project was renamed “Waymo” last week. While the company had previously been an advocate of fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels or pedals, it may be backing away from that stance. A technology news media website, The Information, reported that the growing competitive climate with several companies entering the space has caused Google co-founder Larry Page to rethink his company’s mission.

Waymo will be an independent unit within the parent company. Alphabet executives said the company is close to bringing its autonomous driving to the public and will reveal more later.

While autonomous vehicles used to be nothing more than a testing project for several automakers and tech companies, lately it’s become a much more viable sector for commercializing a new technology. Page is concerned that Alphabet and Google could be left behind. Google may be in a better position to provide technology to automakers rather than go through the capital-intensive, lengthy, and complex regulatory process of building and selling its own autonomous cars.

It may have been behind Chris Urmson leaving Google this year. Urmson, a longtime champion of fully autonomous vehicles as he headed Google’s self-driving car project for years, left in August. The New York Times had reported that Urmson wasn’t happy with the leadership of John Krafcik, formerly the head of Hyundai America, who was hired in 2015 to be chief of the project. The Times report also said that Urmson had argued with Google co-founder Larry Page over where the division was headed. Urmson may be starting his own autonomous car software firm, according to media reports.

FCA delivers self-driving minivans to Google, discussing ridesharing service
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced yesterday that it has completed building 100 minivans that are being outfitted with autonomous vehicle equipment for the new Waymo subsidiary. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrids recently were completed at the automaker’s Windsor Assembly Plant.

Google parent Alphabet also has been in talks with FCA about starting up a ridesharing service using Chrysler Pacifica minivans. Google would like to utilize a semi-autonomous version of the Chrysler Pacifica minivan that it’s developing with FAC for the new service as early as the end of 2017, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The ridesharing service will be tied into the 100 Pacificas that the two companies agreed in May to develop together – and that FCA has completed. They’ll be using the plug-in hybrid version of the Pacifica minivan during the self-driving testing process.

FCA has been enthusiastically marketing the new plug-in hybrid version, which it calls the Pacifica Hybrid. The automaker will reveal an all-electric version of the Pacifica during the CES electronics show in Las Vegas next month, sources said. FCA has been looking for ways to roll out more zero emission vehicles as the global regulatory front tightens up on emissions.

Other automakers, including Volkswagen, BMW, Ford, Toyota, and General Motors, have made serious investments with partners this year to stride forward in ride-hailing, ridesharing, and carsharing mobility services.

Tesla wants to control how its cars are used for ridesharing
Tesla Motors may not like to see the presence of a startup firm that has taken the name “Tesloop,” which is offering Tesla vehicles for share rides to its customers. In October, Tesla said that it wants to launch its own shared ride service and doesn’t want to see its electric cars used outside that network.

Tesloop, based in Los Angeles, offers city-to-city shared vehicle trips. The startup seems to be structured more like longtime transportation companies than ride-hailing firms Uber and Lyft. The Tesla vehicles used in the Tesloop fleet have a California TCP number on the rear bumper, which means the company is certified as a commercial passenger carrier in the state. The company has to follow commercial vehicle insurance and driver guidelines that other transportation service providers have to follow; including more extensive driver background checks than Uber and Lyft so far have to comply with.

In October, Tesla announced that it will not allow any of its electric vehicles to be used by owners to drive for ride-hailing companies such as Uber or Lyft. While sharing rides with family and friends is fine, the company said it doesn’t want to see its self-driving vehicles used for revenue purposes outside of its own Tesla Network, which will be launched later on.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car sharing and ride hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” the company said.

Tesloop works with drivers now, which it calls “certified Tesloop Pilots,” but the firm is enthusiastic about tapping its autonomous systems as soon as possible. “As autonomous car technology improves over the next three years to the point where it is safer than human drivers, we expect this to become a common reality,” the company said on its website.

As for now, trips in a Tesla Model X and Model S are driven by a “certified Tesloop Pilot” and carry passengers to points throughout Southern California and out to Las Vegas. As a marketing message, the company sells $39 trips between cities.

The company will be spreading its network in the San Francisco, San Diego, and Santa Barbara areas. Vacation spots like Palm Springs are emphasized. The company uses Tesla’s Supercharger network of fast-charging ports.

China aims to be No. 1 in electrified and autonomous vehicles
China has ambitious plans to continue being the leading global market for plug-in electrified vehicles, and would like to play a leading role in autonomous vehicles – according to a planning document that was revealed recently in Beijing.

By 2030, the report expects to see “new energy vehicles” (plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles) make up 40 percent of the 38 million new vehicles that will be sold in China during 2030, or about 15 million units.

The report estimates that semi-autonomous vehicles, called “partially autonomous,” will make about 50% of new vehicle sales in China by 2020. “Highly-automated” cars (close to being fully automated) will make up 15% of sales by 2025; and fully autonomous vehicles will account for 10 percent of new vehicle sales by 2030, according to the report. That would mean four million fully autonomous vehicles would be sold each year.

Things are already in the work in China – and in the U.S., in what may also end up in China. Chinese company Baidu is teaming up with Nvidia to use artificial intelligence to building a platform for self-driving cars. LeEco, NextEV, and Lucid Motors are tapping into cutting-edge autonomous technology and talent directly from California. That may end up in vehicles sold the in the Chinese market, too.

China’s policies also include some ambitious emissions reduction targets through these measures. It also encourages foreign countries to share their best electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies with Chinese partners – or be blocked from having access to the market.

General Motors has found out recently how serious the Chinese government takes guidelines such as these. The automaker, which plays a large role in China’s auto market through its partnership with Chinese companies, is under investigation by the Chinese government for potential anti-trust violations. Forbes thinks that the risk of serious damage is low, and that China uses such tactics to keep foreign companies a little bit off balance and to follow China’s lead.

 

Tesla separates new fully automated Level 5 system from semi-autonomous Autopilot Level 2 features

tesla-video-on-fully-automated-systemTake a look at Tesla’s new video, released hours after the Wednesday evening media conference call announcing its full self-driving hardware. It starts with a statement separating the new system from semi-autonomous Autopilot features: “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”

A passenger sits in the driver’s seat of a Tesla Model X and places his hands under the steering wheel just as the Rolling Stone’s 1966 song, “Paint It Black,” provides background music. That song refers to black and white screen images laced into the video that shows viewers the new full self-driving capabilities that Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained Wednesday evening during the conference call. “Right rearward vehicle camera” is the first feature displayed in black and white during the video. After taking a spin around on city streets and a freeway, the all-electric SUV comes back to Tesla’s office. The passenger gets out of the Model X in the parking lot, which then moves forward without a human driver, and stops to let a pedestrian safely cross the lot. The Model X parks itself against a curb as the song comes to an end.

Tesla has said that Autopilot is at Level 2 on the autonomous vehicle scale, with a combination of two technologies designed to make driving easier. The new system will be what some organizations, include the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) would define as Level 5, which does not have any option for human driving – no steering wheel or controls. Automakers and suppliers are running the gamut over which level they’re supporting in the next few years. Tesla seems to be joining in with Google and Ford in supporting Level 5 fully autonomous vehicles, with Tesla having the potential to bring it first to market.

Tesla shares the viewpoint of Google, and other self-driving car advocates, on the necessity of bringing fully automated vehicles to roads to save lives. During the media Q&A on Wednesday night, Musk addressed the issue, referring to the fatal crashes in Florida and China this year tied to the Autopilot system:

“One of the things I should mention that frankly has been quite disturbing to me is the degree of media coverage of Autopilot crashes, which are basically almost none relative to the paucity of media coverage of the 1.2 million people that die every year in manual crashes. [It is] something that I think does not reflect well upon the media. It really doesn’t. Because, and really you need to think carefully about this, because if, in writing some article that’s negative, you effectively dissuade people from using an autonomous vehicle, you’re killing people.”

The fully autonomous system will need to gain government approval before it’s allowed to be activated and used by Tesla owners. Tesla said that high-end Model S and Model X vehicles equipped with hardware for full autonomy are already in production, and the upcoming Model 3 will have it as well. Previously built vehicles without the new hardware won’t have the fully autonomous features.

During that conference call, Musk said his goal is to demonstrate a vehicle traveling in fully autonomous mode from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017. Autonomous features will be introduced gradually over a period of time, and will be based on what Musk called “Hardware 2.”

The software for reaching the fully self-driving mode will need to be validated, and the new system still need to be approved by regulators. Tesla expects to reach those milestones in time, which Musk said would be much safer than cars currently on roads driven by humans.

“It will take us some time into the future to complete validation of the software and to get the required regulatory approval, but the important thing is that the foundation is laid for the cars to be fully autonomous at a safety level we believe to be at least twice that of a person, maybe better,” Musk said Wednesday.

The Tesla blog article, posted Wednesday, describes the new fully automated system. It will provide eight surround cameras with 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range, compared to one camera in previous Tesla vehicles. Twelve updated ultrasonic sensors improve the range, allowing for detection at nearly twice the distance of the prior system. A forward-facing radar with enhanced processing provides additional data through whatever weather and lighting conditions the vehicle is traveling through.

The question of whether Tesla will follow a similar path as is being tested by Uber, General Motors and Lyft, and Ford’s strategy to integrate autonomous systems to ride-hailing services, was clarified on Thursday. Yes, Tesla will be entering that space, and it will be called Tesla Network.

Tesla posted a disclaimer to its website on Thursday providing more information to a comment Musk made Wednesday. He said Tesla is building new vehicles with the necessary hardware to eventually enable full autonomy.

“Please note that using a self-driving Tesla for car-sharing and ride-hailing for friends and family is fine, but doing so for revenue purposes will only be permissible on the Tesla Network, details of which will be released next year,” read the Tesla website disclaimer.

The concept was originally announced by Musk in his July blog post, “Master Plan, Part Deux.” The Tesla CEO outlined a system in which a Tesla owner could add a car to a shared Tesla fleet using a mobile device app, allowing it to “generate income for you” and lower the cost of ownership. Musk said that in cities where car ownership is lower, Tesla would operate its own fleet.