For Today: GM and Ford move the electrification revolution a few steps further

A well-known automotive market analyst last year told me that he expects sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles to make up 10% to 15% of U.S. new vehicle sales about a decade from now. That will mean that plug-in vehicle sales will have a real impact on manufacturing, marketing, infrastructure, and aftermarket products and services. The days of early adopters have come to an end, and the next phase is beginning – as made evident yesterday by announcements from General Motors and Ford Motor Co.

GM plans to launch 20 new electric vehicles by 2023. Two new all-electric cars will come out in the next 18 months. Whether that’s coming from upcoming fossil fuel bans in several countries, the popularity of Tesla, China’s new energy vehicle market, launching the Chevy Bolt, the emergence of other long-range all-electric vehicles, and a long list of EVs in manufacturer product pipelines, the future is here now.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark Reuss, GM Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain EVP. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

The automaker is also developing hydrogen fuel cell technology as part of its zero emission vehicle drive. One of these is the Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure (SURUS), a four-wheel drive concept vehicle that runs on fuel cells. These provide power to electric motors, making it an ideal ZEV platform for delivery trucks, ambulances, and other applications. Yet EVs will be gaining most of the automaker’s focus and support.

Ford is on track to deliver 13 electrified vehicles over the next five years. Seven have been announced, including a 300-mile range crossover EV that will come out in 2020.

Sherif Marakby, Ford’s head of electrification and autonomous vehicles, said that the automaker will increase the number of all-electric vehicles it will offer, but did not provide details.

Ford is establishing an internal team its calling “Team Edison” to study and develop battery electric cars.

“We see an inflection point in the major markets toward battery electric vehicles,” Marakby said. “We feel it’s important to have a cross-functional team all the way from defining the strategy plans and implementation to advanced marketing.”

Here’s my take on a few trends and developments to watch for:

  • Battery electric vehicles will likely win out over plug-in hybrids in the next decade. While the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Prime will continue to do well, automakers tend to use plug-in hybrid variations of existing models as a way to transition car owners over to plug-in vehicles. EV range will be getting better, and all-electric vehicles are easier to maintain and keep in operation than internal combustion engine vehicles and plug-in hybrids. They use a lot less parts and components and are easier to maintain. Tires and brakes have to be replaced but there isn’t much else to changeover, given that the electric drive train is well made for EVs that are strong in sales.
  • Tesla is playing a leading role in public perception and experience with the technology. The Tesla Model 3 is expected to play a leading role in mass adoption, but the upcoming Model Y electric crossover will be built at mass scale, too. There will be other models coming out including the semi truck aimed at buyers of heavy-duty commercial vehicles. Tesla’s stock performance continues to stay strong and validates that institutional and individual backers believe in the business model. (As a side note, GM and Ford stock prices did well after announcing strong September sales and serious electrification campaigns.)
  • German automakers may be just as important as Tesla in moving the product development and sales trend forward. Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW made big announcements a year ago in the wake of the “Dieselgate” scandal, and with growing pressure from German regulators and from a few other countries. Tesla was taking the lead in the luxury EV side, but an impressive list of pre-orders on the Model 3 opened up the playing field. The product pipeline is covering the bases from Tesla-competitive automakers – electric sedans, SUVs and crossovers, and luxury vehicles.
  • Car buyers want to see realistic, real-world numbers on per-charge driving range, charging time, fast charging, option and trim levels, resale value forecasts, top speeds, horsepower, and torque. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency range ratings are gaining more confidence than the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), with the NEDC using a very different cycle analysis and much longer range.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles won’t reach mass adoption, with EVs winning out. They won’t be going away, with automakers such as Toyota, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Daimler, and BMW committed to the technology. They’ll probably stay at a low level in passenger vehicle sales with a few of the automakers going over to military and commercial vehicle applications. But the barriers will be hard to cross – having enough fueling stations, the cost of the technology and sticker prices coming way down, and finding broad support and trust in the technology. The typical pump price for fueling with hydrogen isn’t known yet, and concerns are being expressed on how expensive it will be to collect and extract hydrogen from natural gas and other sources; and to deliver it by truck and pipelines to gas stations. The ZEV aspect makes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles very attractive, but where is the hydrogen coming from? And EVs are getting cheaper and better all the time, along with the charging infrastructure.
  • Countries adopting fossil-fuel bans will likely have to back off those holistic mandates. It’s much more likely to take several more years (another half century?) before ZEV adoption becomes accepted at that level. It will be tied into radical transformation in how we drive and get around town. An integration of autonomous vehicles, mobility services, and electrification will be behind it, but that is going to take decades to meet thorough testing and safety standards, insurance and liability issues, and to gain enough confidence and trust to reach mass scale. I expect that governments will go back to mandating a certain percentage of new vehicle sales meet their mandates; incentive programs will probably have to be deployed in China and other markets.
  • There’s also the issue of fleet and commercial vehicles used in transport, delivery, and moving employees and customers from Point A to Point B. Fleets are likely to integrate the fuels and technologies – with trucks and buses powered by renewable natural gas and renewable diesel, electrification, and propane and natural gas; and hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and all-electric passenger vehicles used by law enforcement agencies, administrative vehicles, and other functions. Fleet operators make decisions based on economic and environmental factors, along with functionality and ease of use, as do consumers.

Mass adoption of EVs: It’s all about cheaper, extended-range batteries and pervasive fast charging stations

Chevrolet BoltFor plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) to move past their slight share of U.S. new vehicles sales (at 0.68% of the total in September 2015), the consensus of opinion seems to focus on three core principals: the range on a single charge needs to be at least 200 miles; the battery cost needs to come down if EVs are to become cost-competitive on the market; and the charging infrastructure, especially for fast chargers, needs to be widespread across the country – or at least along popular cross-country highway routes. Nissan, General Motors, and Tesla are taking the challenge more seriously than competitors; and bagless vacuum cleaner maker Dyson is taking the battery technology seriously enough to make a $90 million investment.

  • Nissan believes in electric cars enough to forecast the segment will account for 5% of its sales in the next six years – and 10% “in the near future” after that, according to chief competitive officer Hiroto Saikawa during an event last week at the company’s Yokohama headquarters. To get there, Nissan will need an electric car that can travel 200 miles on a single charge. That will be happening through the second-generation Leaf, which will be introduced as a 2017 or 2018 model, Saikawa said. The first-gen Leaf has evolved from its original 73 miles per charge, to 84 miles and now 107 miles as the battery has been improving with model-year changes since its inception.
  • General Motors is counting on its supplier partnership with LG Chem for development of tis first long-range EV in the Chevrolet Bolt; the Bolt starts production a year from now and will probably be a 2017 model-year vehicle. That EV is expected to go 200 miles per range with a price tag of around $35,000 before incentives. LG Chem already supplies lithium batteries for the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV. The changing relationship with LG Chem should help place the Korean company in a leading role in supplying lithium batteries. “GM used to act more like a dictator than a customer,” said Mark Reuss, GM’s global product development director.
  • General Motors has gotten behind another battery maker in the past Sakti3 and its solid-state lithium-ion batteries. That was a $4.2 million investment by GM Ventures five years ago. A much larger investment has taken place this month, with Dyson acquiring Sakti3 in a deal worth $90 million. That’s one of the first investment from the $2.3 billion fund that UK-based Dyson set aside last year to invest in what it calls “future technologies.” Earlier this year, Dyson had invested $15 million in the battery maker. Sakti3’s batteries contain solid lithium electrodes rather than flammable liquid, which gives them higher energy density and will support longer-range EVs. Satki3 CEO Ann Marie Sastry has become well known in the lithium and EV communities, speaking at events and in media interviews.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tesla’s giant $5 billion Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada will produce its first batch of batteries next year, estimating that the plant would reach full capacity in two to three years. Musk also said Tesla could begin producing Model 3 electric cars in China in two years. Manufacturing in China has the potential to slash the sales prices of its models in the world’s largest auto market by a third; and the batteries will be made in Nevada. Tesla says the upcoming Model 3 sedan should cost around $35,000 (pre-incentives) and will have a 200-mile range. Musk said Tesla will create an alliance with a China-based manufacturer to produce the Model 3. Tesla is also counting on Chinese government purchase incentives for sales strength; and the government has committed to provide support for its nation to be a leading market for EV sales.
  • Availability of charging stations will be critical for mass adoption, especially faster chargers. The U.S. Dept. of Energy’s charging station locator reports that there are 11,056 charging stations in the U.S. that host 27,620 charging outlets. That covers Level 1, 2, and fast charger units. PlugShare shows that DC fast chargers and Tesla Superchargers are spread throughout the U.S. Its data doesn’t show CHAdeMO chargers, which are used by the Nissan Leaf and other Japanese automakers. DC fast chargers are used by European and U.S.-based automakers, and Superchargers are only available for Tesla models. For now, Tesla appears to be taking the lead in fast charging, setting up its U.S. network for Tesla model owners to charge across the country on a few major highway routes. CHAdeMO is well developed along the U.S. coasts, but charges at a slower rate than the Supercharger. The Chevy Bolt will only be able to use SAE’s Combined Charging System, which is strong in Europe but will take years to find much presence in the U.S. market. For now, Tesla is in the lead with fast charging across its national network, which it will play into with introduction of the upcoming Model 3.

This Week’s Top 10: More revealed on what plug-in owners think about charging and paying for it, Four green cars made the list for Vincentric Best CPO (certified pre-owned) vehicle values

Nissan Leaf chargingby 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. More on what plug-in owners think about charging and paying for it: More is being learned about the charging habits and preferences of electric vehicle drivers, based on a study by Morepace Inc. A community of more than 250 battery electric vehicle (BEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) owners were polled in June and July on usage of public charging stations and other chargers. BEV owners are much more likely to have home chargers, with a rate of about 90%. BEV owners tend to use public charging stations when necessary, while PHEV owners use them whenever they’re available. About 88% of all the owners said they could always find an open charger when visiting stations – and they prefer to visit establishments that do have charging stations than those that don’t. As for how much they’ll pay, respondents said they’ll generally pay about $2-to-$3 for a one-to-two hour charge. About 71% do pay to charge their vehicle; of those who do not pay, about half said they will still not pay to charge if there was a fee required. All different types of payment schedules will need to be explored, according to the research company. Paying a monthly fee for a charger is only going to be worth it to the driver using that charger frequently.
  2. Four green cars made the list for the Vincentric Best CPO (certified pre-owned) vehicle values in the compact hatchback (Nissan Leaf), premium compact hatchback (Lexus CT 200h), compact sedan (Honda Civic Hybrid), and wagon (Volkswagen Jetta Diesel) segments for 2014. Vincentric’s list includes 41 segments and the vehicles that offer the best value for resale after initial ownership.
  3. Tesla Motors resolved a trademark dispute in China –Zhan Baosheng, who had registered rights to the company’s name in China before the automaker had entered the market, agreed to settle the dispute last week “completely and amicably,” Tesla said in an email statement.
  4. Why I enjoy getting my daily email from Green Car Reports – Catchy titles and spot-on analysis. Here are a few of today’s stories…… Don’t Be Fooled: Only Three Electric Cars Are Sold Nationwide Today……. Electric Cars Bought By Fleets: Cost Still An Impediment ……… Where Are Natural-Gas Vehicles Most Popular And Most Numerous? ……… More ‘Tesla Truth’ Reveals Depths Of Derangement Over Electric-Car Maker.”
  5. Propane and natural gas vehicles have new and expanded websites – Propane Education & Research Council launched a new website, Propane.com, to serve as a source for information about propane safety and newly developed propane-powered technology across the fuel’s top markets: agriculture, commercial landscape, industrial, on-road fleets, and residential. NGVAmerica launched a new website with improved and expanded features. The homepage features a navigation bar and drop-down menu with a new Stations section that provides current station counts and analysis, as well as detailed pages covering CNG and LNG station design, construction, and economics.  The Vehicles section now contains content covering the consumer, fleet, and high-horsepower market segments.
  6. Nearly three quarters of Americans surveyed by Consumer Federation of America (CFA) favor that truck manufacturers be required to increase fuel economy of large trucks to reduce their fuel costs – with much of that saving being passed on to consumers. A new CFA report estimates that the average American household spends $1,100 extra on consumer goods and services to cover the cost of fueling up inefficient medium- and heavy-duty trucks. These costs are passed on by companies to consumers through price hikes on everything from milk to large appliances.
  7. National Electric Drive Week 2014 will be taking place Sept. 15-21, 2014; cities across the US will host their own ride and drive events on one of these days. Each event is led by local plug-in electric vehicle drivers and advocates; they typically include some combination of EV parades, ride-and-drives, electric tailgate parties, press conferences, award ceremonies, informational booths, and more. Plug In America, Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association serve as the national team providing support to the events throughout the country.
  8. Clean transportation and advanced vehicle technologies were key themes at this year’s CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich., organized by Center for Automotive Research….. Lighweighting vehicles is bringing significant side benefits to automakers hoping to increase fuel economy……. Dodge Ram 1500 EcoDiesel sales have been strong since launching the highest-mileage ever full-size pickup……. Advanced technologies like active grille shutters are another way automakers are moving forward on hitting the CAFÉ standard of 54.5 mpg by 20205….. The race for domination in pickup truck fuel economy is getting more intense.
  9. Biofuels groups are taking on Big Oil again for playing a role in squeezing the Renewable Fuel Standard and the US Environmental Protection Agency’s stance on it. Taxpayers for Common Sense say that oil companies paid only 11.7% of US income on federal taxes during the past five years, compared to the statutory 35% corporate tax paid by other companies. Fuels America released its list of the top 10 people that benefit from a weakened Renewable Fuel Standard including Big Oil executives and oil spill cleanup crews.
  10. Volkswagen is taking a “holistic approach” to offset its carbon emissions including a carbon reduction project to offset emissions created from e-Golf production and distribution. The automaker also named SunPower as its official solar energy partner power provider; Bosch Automotive Service Solutions as its preferred home-charging and installation services provider, and selected ChargePoint to provide charging stations to its dealer network and to provide US e-Golf owners access to its network of more than 18,000 charging stations nationwide.