For Today: Will the Chevy Volt go away, Fisker parting ways with Nanotech on batteries

Will the Volt go away?:  General Motors is evaluating continuation of six cars, including the Chevy Volt, determining which vehicles will be continued or canceled in the coming years, Reuters reported Friday. The other five would be the Buick LaCrosse, Cadillac CT6, Cadillac XTS, Chevrolet Impala, and Chevrolet Sonic. GM declined to comment. Pressure from shareholders to increase sales may have GM tipping more to pickups, crossovers, and SUVs. It would be a shame to see, with the redesigned Volt doing well in sales – No. 3, close behind the Tesla Model S in the first six months of U.S. sales.

Toyota rolling out new energy vehicle:  Toyota may launch an electric vehicle in China by 2019, to comply with the government’s “new energy vehicle” policy with its strict mandates coming into effect. Toyota said it will introduce EVs in China in a few years, but wouldn’t confirm whether it would start in 2019. Reuters also citied Japanese newspaper Asahi on a story that it the first EV will be built on Toyota’s C-HR sport utility vehicle. The newspaper expects annual output to start at more than several thousand units.

Fisker parting ways with Nanotech:  Fisker, Inc., is ending its joint venture alliance with Nanotech Energy Inc., called Fisker Nanotech, which would have manufactured battery packs for the upcoming EMotion sporty, luxury sedan. The company would have had to focus entirely on Fisker and let other client projects slip away, which won’t work for the company to do, said Jack Kavanaugh, chairman and acting CEO of Nanotech Energy. That JV had started with the Henrik Fisker starting his new electric car company in October. The automaker will continue to “work with Nanotech on the applications of graphene,” but it will use battery cells provided by LG Chem for the EMotion, Fisker said.

 

For Today: CFA on fuel efficient light-duty trucks, Bolt wins IIHS top safety pick

Fuel efficient light-duty trucks:  Consumer Federation of America has found out more about consumer interest in fuel efficient vehicles – this time from owners of SUVs, crossovers, and pickups. CFA found that between 2011 and 2016, light-duty trucks with mpg increases over 10% saw a surge of 59% in sales during that five-year period. It was less for light-duty trucks with less than 10% increase in fuel economy, with 41% seeing an increase in sales during that period. The Toyota RAV4 is a clear example of the trend by increasing in mileage by 10 percent in that time – with a nearly 220,000 unit increase, a 166% gain, in annual vehicle sales. The consumer group sees the federal fuel economy standards moving truck fuel efficiency forward and sales of pickups, crossovers, and SUVs. “This analysis completely debunks automaker claims that consumers don’t value good gas mileage,” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s director of public affairs. “Clearly, the more improvement in MPG, the better the sales.”

GAC Motor coming to America: GAC Motor president Yu Jun announced that seven “new energy vehicle” models – battery electric and plug-in hybrid – will be launched this year. Speaking last week at Michelin’s sustainable mobility summit in Montreal, Yu said that the Chinese automaker plans to enter the U.S. market by 2019. The automaker’s target is to sell one million units annually by 2020, with 20 percent being new energy vehicles. The company has already opened a research and development office in Silicon Valley. The company has set up a global sales and service network for 14 countries.

Bolt wins IIHS top safety pick:  The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 2017 Chevy Bolt a Top Safety Pick award on Tuesday. The electric car the highest score of “Good” on all crash tests and a “Superior” score for front crash prevention. The institute said that the Bolt was the first all-electric vehicle to earn the pick for 2017. Among small cars, the Bolt joins 11 other nameplates as Top Safety Picks, including the 2017 Chevy Volt. the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will still need to crash test the Bolt.

For Today: Will Apple build its own autonomous electric cars? GM builds first self-driving Bolts

Apple Project Titan:  During an interview with Bloomberg Television last week, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the company is making autonomous vehicle technology a top priority. There’s been a lot of speculation over whether Apple will one day take its secret Project Titan electric autonomous car to its own factories. Cook wouldn’t speak to that topic, but did admit that autonomous vehicles is one of three technologies directing artificial intelligence in Silicon Valley – up there with electric vehicles and ride-hailing services. “We sort of see it as the mother of all AI projects,” Cook said. “It’s probably one of the most difficult AI projects actually to work on.”

Proterra funding:  Electric busmaker Proterra just closed another funding round with $55 million coming through BMW i Ventures and Al Gore’s sustainability focused investment firm Generation Investment Management LLP. “More than ever before, cities are looking for sustainable transportation solutions that can reduce pollution efficiently and effectively. Proterra is incredibly well positioned to help accelerate the growth of sustainable cities and continue our transition to a clean energy economy,” said Gore, the former vice president and climate change activist who serves as chairman at Generation Investment Management.

Autonomous Bolts:  General Motors just announced that it has finished building 130 autonomous Chevy Bolt test vehicles at its plant in Lake Orion, Mich. That means the company is now capable of mass producing autonomous Bolts and other self-driving models. CEO Mary Barra has said GM is the only automaker capable of building high-volume autonomous vehicles in its assembly plant. GM will also working with ride-hailing firm Lyft on testing these vehicles with Lyft drivers.

Clean transportation’s pivotal events in 2016, and what to watch for in 2017

chevy-bolt-in-cityPlug-in sales trends and new car launches:  Plug-in hybrid was the top-selling category over all-electric vehicles in 2016, which switched over a sales trend that had been led by the Tesla Model S and Model X, and Nissan Leaf, in all-electric vehicle sales. The revamped 2016 Chevy Volt has been the top seller in the U.S. and the Ford Fusion Energi nearly doubled its sales in November over the previous year. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been leading the electric vehicle market this year in Europe, beating the Renault Zoe and Nissan Leaf.

The all-electric Chevy Bolt has been taking center stage lately as it rolls out to dealers in California and Oregon, and the rest of the country next year. The 238-mile per charge EPA rating, and $37,496 pre-incentive price have driven the enthusiasm and interest. Earlier this year, Tesla Motors unveiled its 200-mile plus, $35,000 Model 3 in the spring, and started taking $1,000 down payment pre-orders; over 400,000 consumers opted in by summer time. The Bolt vs. Model 3 race has become more significant and news worthy than the Nissan Leaf vs. Chevy Volt launches in late 2010. Both General Motors, and especially Tesla, are gearing up for production levels beyond what’s ever been seen in plug-in sales. The Model 3 forecast is much bigger than that of the Bolt with 100,000 units planned for 2017 and 400,000 units in 2018; but there’s always the possibility that GM will scale that up to stay competitive.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid (plug-in hybrid) was significant for the being the first electric minivan, and for being the first time Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has taken a plug-in vehicle all that seriously. The Fiat 500e has been a “compliance car” to meet California’s ambitious and strict zero emissions vehicle targets, with only a small volume produced and sold in the state. FCA has been showcasing the Pacifica Hybrid at the LA Auto Show and other events, while the gasoline-engine Pacifica been highly visible in billboard ads and online campaigns. FCA’s decision to launch the plug-in hybrid version along with the gasoline-engine version shows that automakers see utility vehicles (especially crossover SUVs) being very important for increasing plug-in sales.

The Honda Clarity Fuel Cell represented a step forward for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and for a standalone green car product line. Like the Prius being offered in four technologies (including the refreshed Prius Prime plug-in hybrid), the Clarity will later come out in all-electric and plug-in hybrid versions. Honda sees the Clarity as its brand offering three electric variants, with the first one, the Clarity Fuel Cell, having the best mileage in its class. The Clarity Fuel Cell has 366 miles of range in the EPA rating, which beats the Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell. This car faces the challenges of all fuel-cell vehicles: limited fueling stations beyond California, and making the big leap to get car buyers to take the new technology seriously. Electric vehicles are making strides forward beyond early adopters, but that’s taken nearly six years through what is now a wide range of product offerings, charging infrastructure improvements and expansion, competitive pricing, and hands-on experience with the technology.

The unexpected victory of the Trump campaign will take a while to be sorted out for advocates of clean transportation and energy. Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to the Environmental Protection Agency was the first blow, along with the impression gained that the 54.5 mpg by 2025 phase two period for 2022-25 vehicles would be postponed and softened. Pruitt and other agency appointments have been distressing for environmental and cleantech groups. The latest news has included acting EPA Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe telling the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in a letter that the agency won’t be extending the deadline for a review of the fuel economy and emissions standards. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has gone in the other direction – that enforcement agency is postponing the enforcement of the rules starting with 2015 model year vehicles to the 2019 model year; and NHTSA will allow for more input from automakers in the rule-making process on clarifying discrepancies between the greenhouse gas emissions standards regulated by the EPA and the fuel-economy standards enforced by NHTSA. Automotive executives, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, are taking a business-first approach to dealing with the Trump administration. Musk, along with GM CEO Mary Barra and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, accepted Trump’s invitation to participate in a Strategic and Policy Forum that frequently will advise him on economic issues and jobs growth.

Some cleantech and clean energy analysts expect to see growth in solar and wind power, vehicle electrification, alternative fuels, battery energy storage, and energy efficiency, during the Trump years. There’s been substantial growth in these technologies in recent years, along with more acceptance and interest from end users; government incentives and policies may not be as important as they were during the Obama administration. There’s also stringent mandates, and generous incentive programs, still in place in Europe and Asia, that will support growth in vehicle electrification and renewable energy.

The Volkswagen court settlement on October 25 has gained a great deal of interest in the clean transportation community. To address the excessive NOx emissions from Volkswagen’s diesel cars, $2.7 billion has been allocated to fund the Environmental Mitigation Trust (EMT). The portion of the settlement to reduce NOx exposure and air pollution allows for each state to allocate EMT funds within court settlement guidelines; it’s based on the number of VW diesel vehicles sold and registered in those states and will be spent by VW over a 10-year period. Of that total, $2 billion will go to supporting zero emission vehicles. Of that $2 billion, VW will invest $800 million in California and $1.2 billion throughout the rest of the nation. The EPA says that ZEV funding from VW is to be spent on things such as Level 2 charging at multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, and public sites; DC fast charging facilities accessible to all vehicles utilizing non-proprietary connectors; and brand-neutral education or public outreach that builds or increases public awareness of ZEVs. The $700 million remainder from the EMT funding could also provide opportunities for suppliers of other alternative fuels and infrastructures including natural gas, propane autogas, biofuels, renewable natural gas, and renewable diesel.

Five global automakers have committed to rolling out rolling out millions of new plug-in electrified vehicles in the next few years – and that list doesn’t include Tesla Motors. Volkswagen, Daimler, BMW, Hyundai, and Toyota have made serious commitments this year to design, develop, and launch over 40 new models by 2025 and manufacture several million per year. That’s being driven by Tesla quickly gaining over 400,000 down payments on the upcoming Model 3. Another market pressure comes from the “Dieselgate” scandal, prompting governments in the U.S., Europe (primarily Germany), and Asia to tighten emissions rules and enforcement.

Volkswagen was the first to make an announcement – that it would be introducing 30 new all-electric vehicle models by 2025, and would produce two-to-three million EVs per year by that time. Both Daimler and BMW announced a few months later that their global sales will include 15-to-25 percent all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles across their brands within 10 years. Combined, that would be about three quarters of a million up to one million new PEVs sold per year starting in about 10 years. Daimler previewed its new EQ electric car brand through the Generation EQ concept at the Paris Motor Show. For Hyundai, the all-electric Ioniq was scheduled for launch by the end of this year, with plug-in hybrid and hybrid versions to follow. The Korean automaker said it will roll out a new electric car model every two years to keep pace with how quickly electrified technology is emerging in the market. As for Toyota, in late November Toyota President Akio Toyoda said that he’ll be heading the company’s newly formed electric car group. Toyota had backed away from its previous alliance with Tesla and became committed to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. More recently, the company has committed to hybrids, fuel cell vehicles, and PEVs to meet global regulations and to remain competitive in the global market. Toyota has been seeing breakthroughs in its battery technology, which seemed to help the Japanese automaker commit to rolling out new PEV models.

Next week, part two: autonomous vehicles, infrastructure, urban mobility, and renewable fuels and energy.

This Week’s Top 10: Chevy Bolt stays on schedule, Congressmen ask for extension of mid-term comment period

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. Chevrolet BoltBolt launch: The Chevy Bolt is back on track to launch by the end of the year, and it had never gone off course, according to Chevrolet. Several media reports and enthusiast websites said that the Bolt would be delayed by six months. The Bolt remains on schedule, with U.S. sales set to begin by year end, according to a Chevrolet spokesman. General Motors engineers have been spotted testing Bolts equipped with correct finishes and colors in the Detroit area, which means that the Bolt is on schedule.
  2. Midterm review extension: Three Congressional leaders asked federal environmental and safety officials to extend by 60 days the public comment period for the midterm review on new vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards. Fred Upton, chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce; Ed Whitfield, chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power; and Michael Burgess, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, signed the letter that was sent to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator Mark Rosekind.
  3. Audi electrified: Audi is preparing sporty models and electrified vehicles for launch as it emerges from parent company’s diesel reporting scandal. Audi has committed to make sure 25% of its sales will be plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles by 2025. Audi said the e-tron Quattro all-electric crossover vehicle will go on sale in 2018 as the lead model in its electrified vehicle campaign, with U.S. sales expected to start in 2019.
  4. California bill on HOV stickers: Plug In America has been opposing a bill in the California legislature, Assembly Bill 1964, that supports plug-in hybrids but limits purchase incentives on battery electric vehicles. The electric car advocacy group appreciates support the bill gives to High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) carpool lane green stickers for plug-in hybrid vehicles, but opposes limitations placed on white stickers for battery electric vehicles. As of last night, the bill had not progressed through the voting procedure in Sacramento and is likely to be put on hold.
  5. AB 1613: CALSTART is supporting California Assembly Bill 1613, which is backed by President pro Tempore Kevin De León and would allocate approximately $1.2 billion in revenues collected under the state’s cap and trade program. The majority of the funds were generated during auctions held by the state in 2015. “If Assembly Bill 1613 is approved by both houses, it would enable approximately $20 million in high-value clean transportation projects in the San Joaquin Valley. A number of very promising and different electric trucks and buses would be deployed in the Valley if this legislation passes,” said CALSTART President and CEO John Boesel. Read all about the clean transportation projects being funded that include electric transit buses and postal trucks.
  6. Fuel cell military pickup: General Motors will be testing out a hydrogen-powered Chevy Colorado pickup with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) for military use. TARDEC says that it appreciates fuel cell capability because of its capabilities in off-road environments and because it is quiet. Additional tests will include demonstrating exportable power generation. GM and TARDEC will showcase the fuel cell vehicle at the Association of the United States Army’s fall meeting.
  7. Uber takes a loss: Uber lost $1.27 billion in the first half of 2016, according to sourves attending a shareholder call recently for the privately-held company. Incentive subsidies paid to Uber drivers, especially in China, caused much of the loss, the Uber chief financial officer said during the call. Subsidies for Uber’s drivers are responsible for the majority of the company’s losses globally, Gupta said during the earnings call. Some of that loss has come through intense competition with Chinese ride-hailing market leader Didi Chuxing. Uber has lost about $2 billion in two years in China, and has invested at least $1 billion in subsidy incentives for drivers in that market, according to the Bloomberg report. The recent deal with Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi is expected to help stabilize Uber’s financials. Another challenge has come through an aggressive price war with Lyft.
  8. Startups getting hit in China: Starting up an electric vehicle manufacturing company has been a hot commodity for angel investors in China, including well-known technology business leaders. That’s expected to take a downward spiral as the government leans toward cutting the list down to only 10 startups that will be receiving permits to become vehicle manufacturers. Half of those spots might already be taken. Beijing Electric Vehicle Co. and Hangzhou Changjiang Passenger Vehicle Co. have been grated permits. Companies preparing to file include Wanxiang Group, LeEco, and WM Motor.
  9. Kia Optima PHEV: Car and Driver reviewed the Optima PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle), Kia’s first plug-in. The main difference from the regular Optima hybrid lurks under the rear seats and trunk floor: a 9.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack that, Kia claims, allows the PHEV to go up to 29 miles in electric-only mode and to operate at speeds of up to 75 mph on battery and electric motor, according to the reviewer.
  10. Cap and trade funds: See where funds raised by California’s cap and trade auction end up. It’s called the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund and has committed $850 to the state’s high-speed rail project as its largest recipient. Low carbon transportation projects are receiving $325 million to back zero and near-zero emission passenger vehicle rebates, freight transportation projects, and others.

This Week’s Top 10: GM unveils the Bolt crossover and Volt redesign, More news from the Detroit Auto Show

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. Chevrolet Bolt conceptThe Detroit Auto Show opened with a bang for Chevrolet as it announced the Bolt electric crossover and the redesigned 2016 Volt. Rumors about General Motors working on a crossover version of the Volt have been fairly accurate – only it has a different name and it will be all-electric, not a plug-in hybrid like the Volt. The Chevrolet Bolt is expected to roll out in 2017 and compete directly with the Tesla Model X electric crossover. General Motors says the Bolt should get 200 miles per charge and will sell for about $30,000 with the federal tax incentive; and it will play a big role in strengthening its leadership role in electrified transportation. (See photo of the Bolt concept car.) The 2016 Chevy Volt was revamped to address needed improvements, including quieting the engine, improving performance and adding space to the interior. It will also deliver a lot more range – an estimated 50 miles per charge instead of its current range of 38 miles.
  2. More from Detroit Auto Show: Winners of the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards were the Volkswagen Golf “family” (which will include all-electric and clean diesel versions) and the Ford F-150 and its lightweight aluminum body and improved fuel efficiency. Mercedes debuted its new plug-in hybrid, the C350. Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche downplayed fuel economy in these days of cheap gasoline and focused on performance – zero to 60 in 5.9 second, sports-car like handling, and the ability to reach a top speed of 130. The Nissan Leaf may more than double its output in its next version – up to 200 miles on a single charge. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unofficially made this comment following a media briefing.
  3. Nissan is working with NASA on a five-year project to enable autonomous vehicles. By the end of this year, a fleet of Nissan Leafs will be tested to use hardware and software jointly developed by Nissan and NASA. Testing will take place at Nissan’s Silicon Valley Research Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
  4. California Gov. Jerry Brown raised the bar again during his State of the State address last week. Gasoline consumption should be reduced by 50% over the next 15 years, 50% of the state’s electricity supply should be powered by renewables by 2030, and energy efficiency should be doubled in existing buildings. Brown, at age 76, just started his fourth and final term as California’s governor and wants to see the state heighten its role in the fight against global warning.
  5. Solar-powered electric car Stella has been nominated by TechCrunch as one of the five biggest Technology Achievements for its upcoming 8th annual “Crunchies Awards.” Stella is up against an impressive list of contenders — Apple Pay, The Block Chain (Bitcoin), Rosetta Mission’s Comet Landing, and SpaceX Lateral Booster. Stella, created by Solar Team Eindhoven from the Eindhoven (Netherlands) University of Technology, has been widely recognized and is gaining support. Stella took first place in the 2013 Michelin Cruiser class at the World Solar Challenge race in Australia. Partners include National Drive Electric Week, Plug In America, and the Coast to Coast EV Connection project. The team calls it the “world’s first solar-powered family car.”
  6. Pope Francis is expected to issue an “encyclical” outlining the Catholic Church’s stance on climate change. It will likely reinforce the church’s strong stance with concern over climate change and its impact on the planet and its population. This has been gaining a wave of media coverage and social media mentions for its symbolism. The leader of the Catholic Church with its 1.2 billion members is joining ranks with most of the world’s leading scientists – uniting religious and moral issues with science, at least on the global warming question.
  7. Here comes the fastest electric car………. The Detroit Electric sports car is moving forward and will soon be built at a new facility in Leamington Spa in England. Detroit Electric is shooting for building the world’s fastest electric car that will hit 60 mph in a mere 3.7 seconds and is powered by a 285-hp electric motor. It’s being built on the chassis of the Lotus Elise, the same as the now-discontinued version of the original Tesla Roadster. While still calling itself Detroit Electric, the company had to move out of that hometown overseas to England last year.
  8. Car-sharing company car2go, will be launching its service in China. That will happen in the Chinese metro market of Chongqing within the next year, and will involve a fleet of several hundred Smart Fortwo small cars. The subsidiary of Daimler AG says it now has 12,500 vehicles operating in 29 locations and serving over one million customers in Europe and North America.
  9. RIN prices have doubledRenewable Identification Number (RIN) prices have recently doubled year-over-year in all three reported categories – biomass-based diesel, advanced biofuel, and renewable fuel. They’re still about 30% below the peak period during the summer of 2013, commonly referred to as “RINsanity.” High RIN prices are expected to shield biofuel producers from falling oil prices, while refiner profits will be cut into by high RIN expenses if RIN prices remain high.
  10. So who will be the dominant force behind self-driving cars? Google or Daimler? Mercedes played it up at the Consumer Electronics Show showing off its “F 015 Luxury in Motion” concept car with its futuristic metallic exterior, swiveling seats to support face-to-face passenger conversations, and touch screens every passenger could access. Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said that this Mercedes-Benz will provide an escape from the crowded urban environment of the future.