Tesla Model 3 leads electric vehicle sales in January, Fuel prices climbing up

Tesla Model 3 leads plug-in sales:  The Tesla Model 3 is now the top selling plug-in vehicle in the U.S., even if Tesla is still behind on its original production forecast from last year. The 1,875 sales total for the Model 3 for January comes from Inside EVs. It’s based on about 860 units being sent to customers at the end of the quarter, which are expected to be counted as deliveries in Q1 2018. The company also said that it was reaching a production rate of 1,000 units per week following the end of Q4 deliveries. The Toyota Prius Prime took the second spot at 1,496 units sold; the Chevy Bolt came in at 1,177, the Tesla Model S had 800 units sold in January, and the Chevy Volt had 713 vehicles sold. Plug-in vehicles had a better January in the U.S. than the overall light-duty vehicle sales market. Autodata Corp. reported a 1% increase at 1.15 million new vehicles sold last month. Inside EVs estimates that battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicle sales went up about 10% from last year, with 12,116 units sold in January 2018 compared to 11,004 in January 2017.

Nissan and Infiniti launching six EVs:  Nissan and its Infiniti luxury brand will represent half of the 12 EVs that CEO Carlos Ghosn committed to last year for the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance. Toshihiro Hirai, Nissan’s corporate vice president for powertrain and EV engineering, said that Nissan will be rolling out four all-electric vehicles and Infiniti will launch two all-electrics over the next five years. Like the Nissan Leaf, these new models will be battery electric vehicles. They won’t be utilizing the company’s new E-Power system, which uses a small gasoline engine to generate power for an electric motor.

Fuel prices climbing up:  Gasoline prices have gone up in the past week in several states. The national average is at $2.605, according to AAA. A year ago it was $2.270, and it’s up from $2.490 a month ago. Diesel is at $2.998, up from $2.509 a year ago and $2.893 a month ago. As for the price of a barrel of oil, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil has gone up from $53.01 on Feb. 6, 2017 to $64.73 today.

Hawaii and California have the highest gasoline prices, at $3.391 and $3.344, respectively. Hawaii is usually one of the highest, with the additional cost of shipping petroleum to the islands built into the cost. California is usually higher than the national average, but prices have been spiking up in the past few months. Starting in November, California motorists have been paying 12 cents more per gallon for gasoline and 20 cents more for diesel. This came from state tax increases being used to improve road conditions.

New vehicle sales haven’t been affected by fuel price increases yet. Trucks were up 8% in sales last month while cars were down 10.8% with small and mid-size cars down even further. Hybrids and plug-in vehicles were up in sales last month, but they still only make a small percentage of total sales – hybrids at 1.91% and plug-ins at a little over 1% of total U.S. light-duty vehicle sales in January. The University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute has seen the sales-weighted average fuel economy in new vehicle sales hover around the 25.0 to 25.3 mpg mark for several months.

But fuel prices are expected to go up this year. Average prices could climb by more than 10%, in the near future says Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at Boston-based GasBuddy, which monitors fuel prices across the U.S.  One OilPrice.com analyst predicts that the price of a WTI barrel of oil will go up from its current $64.73 to about $70 a barrel in the near future.

Gas pump prices have always made for a strong argument to consumers and fleets over buying more fuel-efficient vehicles including hybrids, plug-in vehicles, and alternative fuel vehicles. It was weakened in the summer of 2014 with falling pump prices. That argument will become stronger as fuel prices continue to rise.

 

For Today: Plug-in vehicle sales in May, Pope Francis receives Ampera-e

How plug-in sales performed:  The Toyota Prius Prime led U.S. plug-in vehicle sales for the second month in a row, beating the Chevy Volt 1,908 units sold over 1,817, respectively. The Volt barely nudged out the Tesla Model X, which came in at an estimated 1,800 units sold last month, according to HybridCars. The Model X beat the Model S, with the Model S coming in at about 1,700 units sold. All of the top selling vehicles were up from the previous month with the Model X leading the pack by doubling sales over April. Both Tesla models and the Chevy Volt and Bolt were up over April and over May 2016. Plug-in hybrids did very well overall compared to last month and one year ago. Hybrid vehicles also saw a good month with May sales up 9% over April and 10.4% over May 2016. The Toyota Prius beat the Ford Fusion Hybrid in sales during May.

Waymo self-driving trucks:  Alphabet’s Waymo autonomous vehicle division is testing out its self-driving technology on a Class 8 heavy-duty Peterbilt truck. Testing has been taking place on a private test track in California. Highway testing is to be conducted later this year in Arizona, the company said. This is taking place as Waymo continues its legal battle with Uber over alleged intellectual property theft used in the Otto autonomous truck startup that Uber had acquired. Now Waymo is getting into trucking its own way. “We’re taking our eight years of experience in building self-driving hardware and software and conducting a technical exploration into how our technology can integrate into a truck,” said the company in a statement.

Opel Ampera-e in Vatican City:  Pope Francis, who does believe climate change is real, has accepted the keys to a new Opel Ampera-e (aka Chevy Bolt). Opel CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann delivered the all-electric sedan, which is contributing to Vatican City’s goal to become the first carbon free country in the world through the use of electric mobility and renewable energy. “We are proud that we as Opel can contribute to the ambitious goals of the Vatican City. Our new Ampera-e will make electric mobility feasible for everyday use without any compromises,” said Neumann.

This Week’s Top 10: Conflict and confusion over biofuel blends, Green car sales beat overall sales in February

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. Battle over biofuels: Conflict and confusion over biofuel blends in gasoline – and who will do the blending – continue to shake up Washington. Renewable Fuels Association President Bob Dineen told Reuters last week that Carl Icahn, an oil industry billionaire and advisor to the Trump administration, had told Dineen that the administration would be taking a favorable position for refiners such as corn ethanol producers. The fuel blending of about 10% ethanol to gasoline would be sent down the supply chain to gasoline marketers through an executive order by the president, Dineen said. Icahn and the White House later denied this was said to Dineen. Biofuel groups and producers have been upset that Icahn has been playing this role for the White House. The oil executive demanded during the election campaign that the obligation and costs should go to fuel blenders and not to oil companies and their supply chain partners. Several biofuel companies have also been upset with RFA for taking what had appeared to be a position opposing their stance on the matter. As of Monday, oil refiners including Valero Energy Corp. and CVR Energy Inc. (in which Icahn owns a majority stake) currently have to show environmental regulators they are meeting annual mandates; they’ve urged the federal government to push this compliance further downstream to fuel blenders and integrated oil companies. The White House says it’s taking this request under review. In other related news, U.S. ethanol production set a new record of 15.33 billion gallons in 2016, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). The EIA data showed that the average gallon of gasoline likely contained slightly more than 10.0% ethanol in 2016. The American Petroleum Institute (API) estimates that Environmental Protection Agency rules on 2017 biofuel volumes will put the ethanol-to-gasoline ratio at 10.4%, higher than the 9.7% ration recommended by the oil industry association.
  2. Green car sales in February: Sales of hybrid and plug-in vehicles were up sizably from January in the usual seasonal sales pattern, and both categories beat the overall market according to HybridCar’s Dashboard. Total light-duty vehicles sales were down 1.1% from February 2016, but hybrids saw an increase of 16.3% and plug-ins saw a leap of 45.12% over the previous year. The Chevy Bolt continued to do well, finishing fifth for all plug-in electrified vehicles sold in the U.S. during February. The Chevy Volt had another leading month, finishing in first place with 1,820 units sold; that compares with the No. 2 Tesla Model S, finishing at about 1,700 units sold. For hybrid vehicles, the Toyota Prius Liftback took its first position back from the Ford Fusion Hybrid but both vehicles have sold at nearly the same totals so far in 2017.
  3. EPA likely to issue revised fuel economy: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to reverse course this week on the 2022-25 phase of the fuel economy and emissions standards. The unexpected decision made by the agency at the very end of the Obama administration to approve the proposal and cut short the public comment period has been a source of tension with automaker executives and Washington officials. Last week, auto trade groups representing Ford, General Motors, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and others asked recently approved EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to withdraw the Obama administration’s decision to finalize the rule in January. That had cut short the timing for giving public comments, which was originally supposed to go until April 2018. They would also like to see the rule become more favorable to automakers than what was finalized under the Obama administration. The EPA notice coming out soon is expected to state that the agency will work in tandem with the U.S. Transportation Department to set consistent standards in the ruling, a source said.
  4. Trouble keeping Tesla’s talent: Pressure to get the Tesla Model 3 out on time has led to tough working conditions at the company – and exodus of management. CFO Jason Wheeler’s  departure, just 15 months after he joined Tesla from Google, will be the latest in a round of executives leaving the company. Former execs speaking confidentially said it has to do with long work hours prepping for high-volume production and a tense working environment that reflects the persona of CEO Elon Musk. Of course, setting up shop in Silicon Valley is known to run the risk of high-churnover rate. A Tesla spokesman said the company’s attrition rate was below average among technology companies.
  5. Uber facing heavy criticism: Uber is feeling a “blowback” over the aggressive fighter approach taken by CEO Travis Kalanick and its corporate culture, with the latest being an apology sent to staff by Kalanick over a conflict he’d engaged in with an Uber driver captured on video. Kalanick and others at the ride-hailing giant are known for plunging into new markets around the world, price-war fighting Lyft and overseas competitors, and taking on lofty goals like deploying self-driving and flying cars. The company had been hit hard by news coverage and social media posts leading to Kalanick quitting President Donald Trump’s economic advisory panel over the immigration ban; having a female engineer protest over alleged sexual harassment; being sued by Alphabet’s Waymo over claims its self-driving car’s intellectual property had been stolen; and using a tool called “Greyball” used to fool regulators into thinking the company is not providing ride services in markets where it’s not supposed to be operating. Lyft, its toughest U.S. competitor, is quietly looking to raise $500 million in funding to expand; smaller ridesharing companies such as Juno are able to take advantage of frustration over pay to poach Uber drivers. “I must fundamentally change as a leader and grow up,” Kalanick, wrote in a note to Uber employees last week. “This is the first time I’ve been willing to admit that I need leadership help and I intend to get it.”
  6. What will happen to Ampera-e?: The future of the Opel Amera-e, built on the Chevrolet Bolt platform, is up in the air now that General Motors has sold its stake in the Opel/Vauxhall subsidiary to French automaker PSA Group. The $2.3 billion dollar sale will make PSA the second-largest automaker in Europe. PSA will gain intellectual property licenses from GM as vehicles transition over to PSA platforms. It may be that the originally planned launch of the Bolt as the Ampera-e in Europe will stick to that plan and roll out later this year. Green Car Congress reports that GM and PSA expect they will collaborate on further deployment of electrification technologies. PSA may also source long-term supply of fuel cell systems from the GM/Honda joint venture.
  7. Maven lengthens sharing time: General Motors’ Maven carsharing division has launched a four-week rental plan through a program its calling Maven Reserve; that adds to its previous longest rentals by 24 days. Carsharing members in Los Angeles and San Francisco can now schedule rental of a Chevrolet Volt or a Chevrolet Tahoe for an hourly, daily, or monthly fee, the company said on Friday. Markets being aimed at include entertainment industry people in L.A. and entrepreneurs in San Francisco. It’s expected to expand later to other markets.
  8. Workplace charging in NYC: Calstart yesterday launched “Charge to Work,” a first-of-its-kind electric vehicle workplace charging initiative to increase the adoption of EVs in the New York City area. It’s a three-year marketing and outreach campaign seeking to bring support from over 100 businesses that will encourage their employees to replace their conventional gasoline-engine vehicles with clean and efficient EVs. Announced by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, Charge to Work supports the governor’s Charge NY program, which is accelerating the growth of the electric vehicle market in New York State through education, research, consumer outreach and financial support for the installation of charging stations across New York. The goal is to spur 450 electric vehicles (EVs) and the installation of 132 Level 2 EV charging ports.
  9. 2,150 PHEV pickups sold: Workhorse Group Inc. is now working with Clean Fuels Ohio to bring 500 units of the W-15 Plug-In Electric Pickup trucks to Ohio-based fleets. The company says that, overall, it has received Letters of Intent for 2,150 units of its upcoming plug-in hybrid pickups. The company has received LOIs from Duke Energy, Portland General Electric, the City of Orlando, Southern California Public Power Authority, Clean Fuels Ohio, and one other utility. The company currently builds medium-duty PHEV work vans for several fleet companies including FedEx, Penske, UPS, Ryder, DHL, USPS, and more.
  10. Lucid Air details: During a recent test drive, startup Lucid Motors revealed more details on its upcoming luxury electric car, the Lucid Air. The starting price is $165,000 for the Launch Edition, in which 255 units will be made in 2019. That one gets a 130 kWh battery pack that can carry the car about 400 miles. After that, the Air will see production scaled up to build a cheaper edition. That one will have a 100 kWh battery with about 300 miles of range. Before any of these electric cars roll out, the Lucid will have to put in place its $700 million production plant in Casa Grande, Ariz., which is slated to start production in 2018.

This Week’s Top 10: Hybrid and EV sales down from September, Bolt production starts up

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. 2016 Chevrolet VoltHybrid and EV sales: Hybrid and plug-in sales followed the overall market, which has been down over the past three months. Hybrid sales in October were down 15.3% from September and 13.1% from October 2015. Plug-in hybrid and battery electric car sales were down 29.36% from September, but were up 13.47% over October 2015. The Chevy Volt and Ford Fusion Energi led plug-in hybrid sales. Tesla saw a sizable drop in sales that may been affected by Tesla slowing down production to enable new autonomous technology hardware. Sales in November and December are expected to go back up as Tesla works hard at hitting quarterly sales goals.
  2. Building the Bolt: General Motors has started production of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at its assembly plant in Orion Township, near Detroit. The first of the electric cars capable of going 238 miles on a charge will show up for sales before the end of the year, the automaker said. Badged as the Opel Ampera-e in Europe, the new model is due to be launched in European markets next year.
  3. Toyota long-range EVs: Toyota Motor Corp. may be joining the race for long-range electric cars, according to the Nikkei.  The automaker is exploring mass-producing battery electric cars that would hit the market by 2020, the Japanese news report said. In late October, Toyota said it has worked with Panasonic Corp., which also produces lithium ion batteries with Tesla, to improve the precision in battery cell assembly and extend range. This new battery technology will roll out soon in the soon-to-be-launched Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. That plug-in hybrid will go 37.3 miles on battery alone before the gasoline engine takes over; the new battery technology may go into all-electric, extended range cars, too.
  4. Uber and Maven: Uber announced it will be partnering with General Motors’ new carsharing service, Maven. Uber drivers will be able to rent GM vehicles on a weekly basis. GM and Uber will be in a 90-day pilot where drivers will be able to rent GM vehicles for $179 plus taxes and fees per week. That was a bit surprising given that Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, now has a partnership with GM. A similar program, called Express Drive, had been started up for Lyft drivers and operates in about 10 U.S. cities. Alliances between automakers and mobility services continue to expand this year, including Toyota and Uber; Toyota and Getaround; and Volkswagen and Gett.
  5. LA Auto Show: The Los Angeles Auto Show is launching a pre-car show segment for media and industry professionals called AutoMobility LA. Taking place Nov. 14-17, and to the general public Nov. 18-28 at the LA Convention Center, the latest technology devices will be displayed that embrace all forms of transportation and complement new and traditional vehicles. Located in the South Hall Atrium, “GO” features the latest smart mobility devices that can include electric scooters, bikes, or mobility apps. Also keep in mind that the annual Green Car of the Year award winner will be named on Thursday, Nov. 17 at the Technology Pavilion at LA Auto Show.
  6. Free Tesla charging ending for new owners: Tesla owners had been able to fast charge for free for the past four years, using Tesla’s Supercharger Network. Drivers had access to free charging at a worldwide network of 4,600 chargers. That will come to an end soon as the company adopts a “change to the economics of Supercharging.” Cars ordered vehicles before January 1 and delivered before April 1, 2017, still will have free access to Superchargers. Customers who order after Jan. 1 will receive 400 kilowatt-hours – about 1,000 miles – of free charging credits annually, then will pay a fee “less than the price of filling up a comparable gas car,” the company said. Upcoming Model 3 owners won’t have access to free charging, CEO Elon Musk said during a shareholders meeting in May.
  7. VW scandal continues: Volkswagen AG’s chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch has been added to the list of executives under investigation over fraudulent emissions reporting. The chair and former chief financial officer is suspected by German prosecutors of violating securities laws, especially failing to notify shareholders quickly enough about the financial risks of the scandal. German prosecutors have been at work on plea agreements with other executives; and former CEO Martin Winterkorn and board member Herbert Diess have been under investigation for failing to disclose information.
  8. Gas and diesel engines waning: Internal combustion engines (ICEs) may be heading toward the end of their shelf lives, according to a Lux Research study. Governments may one day make them illegal and ICEs may be priced out of the market, according to the study. Netherlands has considered banning ICEs by 2025, with a similar debate starting in Norway. India would like to see 100% of new car sales go to something other than ICEs by 2030. Germany’s legislature is also considering a total ban by 2030. The study says that ICEs may actually decline earlier than government mandates push for. EVs are getting cheaper by the year, thanks to improving batteries and mass production. ICEs are getting more expensive, due to tougher fuel efficiency regulations that require more complex and pricier engineering like 10-speed rather than five-speed transmissions, double- and triple-turbocharging, and other new and costly technologies.
  9. Wrightspeed extended range trash trucks: Wrightspeed rolled out what is says was the first commercial application of a range-extended electric refuse truck last week. Through its partner company, The Ratto Group, in Sonoma County, Calif., Wrigtspeed’s turbine-electric powertrain will be placed in at least 15 vehicles deployed into the trash hauling company’s fleet over the next year. With fuel economy up to about 7 mpg in combined electricity-liquid fuel operation, the powertrain can slash annual fuel consumption by 70 percent or more compared with the average diesel garbage truck, Wrightspeed said.
  10. Lutz on autonomous vehicles: Bob Lutz, former vice chair at General Motors and champion of the Chevy Volt, thinks that fully autonomous vehicles are 15 to 25 years away. Lutz expressed his views during the annual awards dinner of the Michigan Venture Capital Association. His vision for the future is different than Google’s and several automakers. Cars will be replaced by “modules” that will look like telephone booths laid down, and electronically linked in a seamless train on the freeway moving at 200 to 250 mph. They’ll be powered by inductive electrical rails in the freeway, Lutz said.

This Week’s Top 10: September plug-in sales, $200K ticket to Mars with SpaceX

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

  1. 2016 Chevrolet VoltSeptember sales: The Chevy Volt continues to be the best selling plug-in hybrid, by far, on the market with 2,031 units sold in the U.S. during September. At 16,326 Volts so far this year, there’s a thin chance it could catch up to 2013’s 23,094 units sold, if not also 2012’s 23,461. The Volt redesign seems to have taken off very well. The all-electric Nissan Leaf saw its first increase in year-over-year sales since December 2014. In September, there were 1,316 Leafs sold, a 5.5% improvement over September 2015. Tesla Motors just reported its third quarter deliveries, which were up 70% over the second quarter. Of the 25,185 units sold and delivered during the third quarter, 15,800 were Model S and 8,700 were Model X. For September sales, one estimate shows the Model S and Model X well ahead of the Chevy Volt and all other plug-ins sold in the U.S.
  2. Ticket to Mars: Elon Musk gave a speech last week topping the Gigafactory and Hyperloop announcements. As SpaceX chief, he spoke last week at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. Once the company’s Interplanetary Transport System is fully operational, he estimates that a person will be able to travel to Mars for about $200,000 – much cheaper than the $10 billion it would cost you to buy a rocket that you fly to the red planet. One hundred passengers will ride to Mars with 42 Raptor engines, carbon fiber fuel tanks, reusable rockets, and other features. Musk was making the pitch to gain financial backing from current client NASA and others attending the event.
  3. Uber and Otto: Self-driving truck startup Otto talked about its strategy now that ride-hailing giant Uber owns the new company. Uber plans to make Otto the leader in self-driving truck technologies in freight hauling. The ride-hailing company has started the process of selling services directly to shippers, trucks fleets, and independent truck drivers. Otto is expanding its fleet from six to 15 trucks, and is bringing in independent truckers to manage the trips. Those freight hauling trips will start next year with deliveries to warehouses and stores. Uber made the acquisition in August for an estimated $680 million. It ties into Uber’s strategy of developing self-driving car systems through its Pittsburgh test drive project.
  4. Lyft drivers getting Bolts: Lyft drivers will be the first to receive key fobs for their Chevy Bolt when it arrives at dealerships later this year. “Drivers on the Lyft platform will be receiving Bolts to drive first,” said Emily Castor, Lyft’s director of transportation. Castor spoke last week at the World Mobility Leadership Forum at Metro Airport in Detroit. Ride-hailing service Lyft links riders with about 315,000 contractor drivers in about 200 U.S. cities. General Motors and Lyft created the Express Drive rental program for Lyft drivers earlier this year after GM’s $500 million investment in the company. Express Drive offers Lyft drivers the opportunity to rent the GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Equinox, Malibu, Volt and, by the end of this year, the 2017 Bolt EV.
  5. First driver’s license for autonomous vehicle: Nevada last week granted the first autonomous vehicle-related driver’s license to Sam Schmidt, a former race car driver and The state granted Schmidt a license to drive a semi-autonomous test car on public roads under restricted conditions. Earlier this year, Schmidt drove more than 150 mph in the Arrow SAM Car during demonstration laps at the Indy 500. Arrow Electronics designed the SAM car for Schmidt in 2014, and they worked together to get the state to revise regulations allowing Schmidt to drive on roads in addition to race tracks. Schmidt used to be a race car driver, but lost his ability to drive years ago during a near-fatal speedway crash. Schmidt is able to control the car, a modified Corvette Z06, using his voice, head, and breath to steer, accelerate, and brake.
  6. No price cutting: Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent out an email to employees last week asking them to stop offering discounts to drive up sales numbers for the Model S and Model X. Discounts are appropriate for when for Tesla vehicles that had been used in test drives or that were damaged before delivery, he said. Musk asked them to stay away from price cutting and to adhere to a sales approach he called “fundamental to our integrity.”
  7. USPS test project: The U.S. Postal Service has identified six “prime suppliers” that will be producing 50 prototype vehicles from which a Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) will be chosen. The companies are: AM General, Mahindra, Oshkosh, Utilimaster, VT Hackney, and Karsan. The new prime suppliers’ contracts total $37.4 million in business. It may lead to an electric or hybrid design, according to recent reports and USPS.
  8. DMV supports fully autonomous: The California Department of Motor Vehicles revised its recommended policy on fully autonomous vehicles. While the agency had supported having steering wheels and pedals in autonomous vehicles for drivers to take over in case emergency conditions came up, that policy recommendation has changed. DMV revised draft regulations that the most advanced self-driving cars would no longer be required to have a licensed driver if federal officials deem them safe enough.
  9. Report on mobility services: Navigant Research released a report examining trends associated with emerging mobility services most likely to influence the future transportation market, including automated systems and shared vehicle services. A nexus of trends related to emerging mobility services is converging to influence the future transportation market: autonomous vehicles, the consumer shift, multimodal integration solutions, and urban versus rural/suburban population distribution. From parking habits to the number of vehicles in operation, these trends and related factors will have far ranging effects on the transportation landscape, according to Navigant Research.
  10. Testing e-trikes: UPS is testing electric-assist cargo tricycles and several other clean transportation and alternative fuel options in various scenarios around the world as part of a “rolling laboratory” project. The company is looking to resolve a serious challenge: how to keep up with the boom in e-commerce while at the same time reducing its impact on the environment. The e-trikes have a range of 21 miles and a top speed of 15 miles per hour and ample cargo capacity, They’re ideal for narrow European streets, but UPS customers in Portland, Ore., will soon see drivers pedaling around their neighborhoods in a similar model.

This Week’s Top 10: EV sales up nearly 60% over last year, Wanxiang seeking permission to build EVs in China

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. EV salesEV sales up 59%: Sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in July shot up about 59% over a year ago, with the Chevy Volt leading the pack, according to HybridCars.com’s Dashboard. EV sales were up 3.7% over June. The Volt sold 2,406 units in the U.S. in July – 24.2% over June and 83.2% over July 2015. It only had a slight lead over the Tesla Model S, which was estimated to have sold 2,400 units in that month. The Tesla Model X estimate came in at third with 1,500 sold, but that was down 25% from the previous month. The BMW i3 had a leap in sales over June with 1,479 sold – 143.3% over June and 58.2% over the previous year. Hybrid sales saw a gain over June, up 17.8%, but were down 8.5% over June 2015. The Toyota RAV4 hybrid was up about 25% over June, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid has been doing very well with 38.4% over June and 63.1% over July 2015.
  2. Building Karmas in China: Wanxiang Group, the owner of Karma Automotive, has applied for a license in China to build plug-in hybrids on the Fisker Karma platform. The Chinese auto parts supplier is one of several non-automakers entering the electric car market in China as the government offers manufacturers incentives for building the cars and to consumers for buying them under the “new-energy vehicles” plan. In the U.S., Karma Automotive is setting up a marketing campaign modeled after Tesla’s corporate-owned store model and Fisker Automotive’s previous concept of creating a network of luxury franchised dealers. Starting in September in Orange County, Calif., with the launch of the Revero four-dour coupe, Karma will show the first of its “brand experience centers” similar to a Tesla retail store.
  3. Clinton supporting RFS: The Hillary Clinton campaign has dismissed a media report that it’s supporting California’s low-carbon fuel standard model over the federal biofuels blend in the Renewable Fuel Standard. Republican candidate Donald Trump has also been said to support RFS. “As Hillary Clinton said repeatedly during the primary, she is committed to getting the RFS back on track and making sure the US remains a leader in advanced biofuels,” said Tyrone Gayle, a Clinton campaign spokesperson. “While we have engaged a wide range of stakeholders and experts throughout the campaign on biofuels and other issues, we do not support replacing the RFS with a national low-carbon fuel standard.”
  4. Krafcik on Tesla crash: John Krafcik, CEO of Google Self-Driving Car Project, was interviewed by Bloomberg on several big topics, including the fatal Tesla crash using the Autopilot semi-autonomous system. Krafcik brings his years of experience in product development at Ford and serving as CEO at Hyundai Motor America. He’s one of several auto executives now on the Google team, he said. To start off, Krafcik said it’s important to keep in mind that the Tesla with Autopilot wasn’t a self-driving car; or Level 4 (L4) in the federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles, which is called Full Self-Driving Automation. “That was a car with traffic-aware cruise control and a lane-keeping function – an L2, where, for better or worse, it was the responsibility of the driver to be cautious,” he said. “We, as humans, are fallible creatures. [The crash] confirms our sense that the route to full autonomy, though much harder, is the right route.”
  5. Tesla Motors quarterly report: Tesla Motors Inc. reported its 13th straight quarterly loss to shareholders. Revenue shot up 33% during the quarter ending June 30 to $1.27 billion from rising sales of its Model S and Model X. The cost of ramping up production has taken its toll, and delivery has been behind schedule. Tesla reported last month that it had missed its delivery target for the second consecutive quarter, raising doubts that it would hit its annual target. The company’s net loss widened to $293.2 million in the second quarter, from $184.2 million a year earlier.
  6. GM EV1 chief hired: Faraday Future has brought over the head of General Motors’ EV1 program from the 1990s. Peter Savagian, the former electric propulsion chief, at GM has been hired by Faraday to lead the powertrain development of its first production model. Electrek reported on after seeing it on LinkedIn, where Savagian lists himself as Faraday Future’s vice president for engineering and says he will “lead engineering operations for powertrain, battery and related high voltage systems.”
  7. Clean transportation growth in California: A new Calstart report indicates that California’s climate and energy policies are not only helping to protect the environment and improve air quality, but are also helping to accelerate growth of the clean transportation technology industry in the state. The report profiles the development of a burgeoning manufacturing sector that is producing zero- and near-zero emission light, medium and heavy duty vehicles, as well as clean fuels, engines, vehicle components, and new mobility services.
  8. GNA supports sustainability at Port of LA: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last month announced the formation of a new advisory board to help reduce carbon emissions and guide sustainable growth at the Port of Los Angeles. Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA) worked with the Port and the Mayor’s office to identify, invite and confirm participation of a diverse collection of committee members including, environmental, labor, industry, government, and community leaders. The 10-member Sustainable Freight Advisory Committee will work to advance sustainable policy and expand the use of zero-emission technology at the largest container port in the nation.
  9. CAR study on urban mobility: The Center for Automotive Research released a report at the Management Briefing Seminars concluding that ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft could transform worldwide transportation, but don’t expect car sales and transportation to change dramatically in the U.S. Millennials and some baby boomers in U.S. cities are proving to be early adopters for services such as carsharing, ride-hailing/ridesharing and even bike-sharing, CAR says. But Americans in less densely populated suburbs and rural areas will continue to rely on traditional car ownership. CAR forecasts carsharing programs will attract 3.8 million users and nearly 51,000 vehicles in 2021, up from 1.6 million users in 2014.
  10. What GM thinks about shared rides: General Motors sees demand for ridesharing and carsharing growing 95% in the next two years, Julia Steyn, GM’s vice president of urban mobility programs said at the CAR Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. Steyn said customers of Maven, GM’s personal mobility brand, have driven more than five million miles since the its January launch with acceptance from customers going strong. “The whole idea of owning a car, parking it for $1,000 a month and letting it sit there 90 percent of the time is just ludicrous,” Steyn said.

Declining Leaf sales and the state of plug-ins in the U.S. market

Nissan Leaf on dealer lotIf you look at U.S. green car sales numbers, you’ll notice that the Nissan Leaf is down considerably – while others, including arch-competitor Chevrolet Volt – are up noticeably lately. The Leaf isn’t the only plug-in seeing declines in U.S sales. The BMW i3 has dropped way down this year, and Ford has announced that the Ford C-Max hybrid and plug-in hybrid will be vanishing in 2018.

What’s behind it? Here are a few points to consider on the state of plug-in sales in the U.S……….

  • Overall plug-in electric vehicle sales were up in February over the previous month and the previous year. Tesla Motors is behind much of that increase with Model S and the Model X, and the redesigned Chevrolet Volt has been seeing increases in recent months after a long period of sales declines.
  • A period of change for the Leaf: Not long ago, the Nissan Leaf was seeing sales in the high 2000s to low 3000s, and was by far the best-selling electric car in the world; but sales dropped down in 2015 and into 2016. The Leaf sold only 930 units in the U.S. in February 2016, down 22.4% from February 2015. A new study by IHS cites the obvious reasons the Leaf has been seeing declines: cheap gasoline prices; increasing efficiency of conventional engine vehicles; and buyers’ waiting for the redesigned new model-year version of the Leaf that’s coming up, and other new electric vehicles that will be rolling out.
  • Driving range may be part of it: While the 2016 Leaf in the SV and SL trims were put on the market in November with range increasing from 84 miles per charge to 107 miles per charge, Leaf sales didn’t go up. The “200 mile range” factor may be hurting Leaf sales. The Chevrolet Bolt was shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January with the announcement that the price competitive 200-mile range Bolt will be available by the end of this year. There’s also been a lot of interest in the Tesla Model 3 coming out in 2017 with a competitive starting price around $35,000 and more than 200 miles per charge. Tesla will have an unveiling of the Model 3 by the end of this month with more details on its availability and features released. Nissan hasn’t revealed details on the range of the redesigned 2017 Leaf. In 2014, Andy Palmer, who was then executive vice president and Nissan’s spokesman for the Leaf, said that the refreshed 2017 model would be going at least 186 miles on a charge to keep up with competitors.
  • Nissan will be releasing details soon: Nissan has been quiet about the refreshed Leaf, but it’s expected to be announced soon – perhaps at the New York International Auto Show in April with sales starting in October. It could be later, such as sometime in 2018. There’s also been speculation that the Next-generation Leaf will arrive right after Nissan’s Power 88 business plan, which ends March 31, 2017. It will probably be tied to new battery chemistry for Nissan and Infiniti that should be ready by early 2017. An Infiniti luxury EV is on track for a 2017 debut; and the Leaf and an Infiniti EV may share the same battery technology.
  • Leaf may look a little bit different: The Nissan Leaf will probably continue to have a hatchback layout, but with a more mainstream design. That’s the engineering and design direction Chevrolet took with the 2016 Volt and that Toyota adopted with the 2016 Prius. The new Volt doesn’t stand out as much on the street as the previous versions did and looks more like competitors, such as the Hyundai Sonata. The 2016 Prius has had fixes, such as its exterior base being lifted off the ground to avoid scraping when exiting driveways; its rear window being more visible for drivers; and its look changing the most since it was launched in Japan in 1997. Automakers have been going in this direction in recent years with aerodynamics, fuel-efficiency, and lightweighting becoming more important. It’s harder to tell them apart. I’ve wondered if that may hurt brand loyalty for the Leaf and Volt, as both of them have stood out clearly on freeways, much like the Tesla Model S.
  • Longevity of the Leaf: The Leaf has taken a bad rap over its relatively low resale value and range degradation of its battery. Both of these factors have been improved, with Kelley Blue Book recently commenting on resale values for the Leaf improving; and concern over the durability and performance of the Leaf battery waning. These problems do tend to linger in public perception, as the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma experienced with their highly reported battery fires. The Tesla Model S went through that crisis as well, but the automaker did a much better job of dealing with it and reaffirming consumer confidence by adding its titanium underbody shield. There’s also a recall by Nissan that was just announced on about 47,000 2013-2015 model year Leafs that will look into braking performance in cold weather; the cars’ electronic brake booster may freeze, requiring the driver to exert more pressure on the brake pedal. Recalls arent necessarily a crisis for the vehicle if it’s handled promptly and professionally by dealers and OEMs.
  • Limitations on dealer lots: The Chevrolet Volt has seen sales increases in recent months but hasn’t returned to its strongest monthly sales figures. The refreshed Volt is available in just a few states to accommodate the early rollout of 2017 model year in the spring of this year. Nissan launched the 2016 Leaf in October 2015 with a choice of two different battery sizes – 24kWh battery pack offering 84 miles of range and 30kWh pack with an EPA-rated range of 107 miles. That wasn’t enough to drive up sales. Nissan may be taking a more conservative approach by adding the extended range battery as an option only, and working on the new battery with nearly double the range for the 2017 or 2018 model year.
  • What Ghosn thinks: Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn and other company executives appear to be championing the Leaf, per usual; and the production process at the Smyrna, Tenn., plant has been about the same since the Leaf started being built there in 2013. Ghosn recently said that he thinks development of the charging infrastructure is a more important issue than battery range, but the company is still committed to leading the EV revolution.
  • China may be more important than the U.S. market. Ghosn recently said that his company has high hopes for the China market. He thinks it will help that the Leaf is much cheaper than the Tesla Model S, and that pricing will be very important in that market to convince skeptical first-time car buyers that an electric car is the way to go. Nissan is likely spending more in the Chinese market on marketing campaigns. Marketing for the Leaf isn’t nearly as visible these days in U.S. as it was in the early days of 2011-to-2012. Nissan has been offering inexpensive lease deals, discounts, and a No Charge to Charge promo with free charging for two years in select markets. It will be interesting to see how Nissan markets the redesigned Leaf in the U.S. There’s also the possibility that the Chinese government may phase out subsidies for purchasing EVs, which would take some wind out of the sales of its growing EV market.
  • What happened to the BMW i3? The BMW i3 has seen similar sales patterns as the Nissan Leaf. In December 2015, 1,422 units were sold in the U.S.; only 248 units were sold in the U.S. in February. The plug-in hybrid variant of the BMW X5 crossover utility vehicle did better – with 345 units sold in February in the U.S., versus 248 for the electric-only i3. The BMW i8 has dropped out of the top 10 in U.S EV sales. The honeymoon may be over for the i Series plug-ins, and BMW may not be that committed to selling them in marketing campaigns, incentives, and dealer programs. BMW did cross the 50,000 sales unit mark for the i Series in January. The i3 was launched in Germany in September 2013 and the i8 in June 2014. They were sent to global markets like the U.S. soon after their launches. BMW isn’t backing away from supporting the i3 and i8, but it appears to need even more support in this phase of declining interest in overall EV sales by consumers and fleets. BMW may be adding i5 to its i Series plus-in vehicles, with a lightweight carbon-fiber body, but the automaker hasn’t yet confirmed whether that will be added to its product offerings.
  • Ford C-MaxFord changes gears on C-Max series: It was surprising to hear that Ford will be killing off the Ford C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid models in 2018. Sales numbers haven’t been strong enough for Ford to stay committed to the relatively new crossover hatchback models. AutoForecast Solutions reports that Ford will end production of the C-Max at its Wayne, Mich., assembly plant in 2018. Ford will make room at that plant for the Ford Ranger, which has been made in Thailand, to compete with GM’s smaller trucks. In February, Ford had strong overall sales – except for the C-Max and the largely discontinued E-series van – which were the only two models that saw sales declines during that month.
  • What happened to the C-Max?: When the C-Max was launched in the fall of 2012, it looked very good as a direct competitor with the Toyota Prius. The C-Max Hybrid sold 19,162 units in the U.S. in 2015; it was number 14 in December hybrid sales, and it used to be in the middle of the top 10. Ford sold 8,433 C-Max Energi units in 2015. It was number nine in plug-in sales for December, lower down on the list than it has previously been. The C-Max Hybrid was down 26% in 2015 in U.S. sales compared to 2014, and the Energi plug-in hybrid was down 10%. As for competing with the Prius, Toyota has been down in Prius sales as well with dropping gas prices hurting sales; but Toyota is still committed to the Prius brand, rolling out the refreshed version in late 2015 as a 2016 model, and stating its commitment to keeping it in production. Ford quickly lost interest and commitment to the C-Max.
  • Fusion may be the winner: During February, the Nissan Leaf ended up in fourth place right behind the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid on the U.S. plug-in sales list. It appears that Ford may be sticking with the Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi. The midsize sedan has done consistently well in its sales position on the U.S. market for hybrid and plug-in sales. The Ford Focus Electric, a battery electric model, may be getting more internal support from Ford, along with the Fusion, than the C-Max has received. That’s a real shame. I was thinking of buying a C-Max Energi. I’ve been looking for a cost-competitive plug-in hybrid with a utilitarian design ideal for transporting goods, such as helping somebody move or taking my surfboard to the beach. It wasn’t that long ago that plug-in hybrids were assumed to be the best way to go in the U.S. market with range anxiety being a big concern for reaching Americans who put a lot of miles on their cars each year. It’s become more difficult to discern the best route to take for creating improving sales in the U.S. and overseas markets. The Nissan Leaf had been beating the Chevrolet Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in, and the all-battery Tesla Model S grabbed that position in the EV race over the past year. Auto analysts do expect automakers to stay committed, overall, to rolling out more plug-in models in the next few years – to meet national fuel economy and emissions guidelines; with expectations that gasoline prices will eventually creep back up; and assuming that consumers and fleets do expect to have a long list of hybrid and EV models to choose from.

This Week’s Top 10: Electric vehicle sales were strong in February, Hyundai Ioniq green options shown at Geneva Motor 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. Tesla Model XEV and hybrid sales: Plug-in electric vehicle sales were up substantially month-over-month and year-over-year – 17% over January and 6.7% over February 2014. The Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Volt, and Ford Fusion Energi saw sizable gains over last year, while the Nissan Leaf was down 22.4%.The Nissan Leaf has been declining in its position as the clear market leader, coming in fourth place for the first time, narrowly behind the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid. Tesla is continuing to take the lead in overall electric vehicle sales, with the Model S far ahead of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – and the recently launched Model X seeing a 25% increase in sales over January 2016. Hybrids continue to be hurt by low gasoline prices, declining to 1.8% of overall market share when it was in the 2.5% range for a long time. Sales were down nearly 10% since last year.
  2. Three green versions of Ioniq: The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq might have been the most interesting green car news story from last week’s Geneva Motor Show. The hatchback was displayed in all three forms in which it’ll be sold: hybrid, battery electric, and plug-in hybrid. It will be the first vehicle offering by a major automaker offered in all three battery-powered options; while there’s been talk of it and concept cars, Hyundai appears to be serious about bringing all three versions soon.
  3. Self-driving cars right for elderly riders: Aging Americans will be well served by self-driving cars, according to Google – as 43 million American in the U.S. are 65 or older and another 10,000 people reach that mark every day. Nearly 80% live in suburbs and rural areas and will need more transportation support for doctor appointments, groceries, and seeing family and friends. Florence Swanson, 94, recently became the oldest person ever to ride in one of the Google self-driving cars; she was given that opportunity after her painting of a guitar player won a Google contest. Google self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik featured Swanson during a January presentation in Detroit. Krafcik, formerly head of Hyundai’s U.S. division and president of TrueCar, is one of about 40 automotive professionals who now work for the Google autonomous vehicle project. That makes for more than 20% of the 170 workers in that business unit. Those with auto industry experience have skills ranging from exterior design to manufacturing, and come from a wide range of companies including Tesla, Ford, and General Motors.
  4. Propane in truck fleets: Nestlé Waters North America is adding more than 150 medium-duty beverage delivery trucks fueled by propane autogas to its fleet. Baking industry leader Bimbo Bakeries USA has acquired 84 new propane-powered Ford F-59 trucks, to operate in three of the company’s major markets. Each Nestlé delivery truck is equipped with a California Air Resources Board- and Environmental Protection Agency-compliant ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas fuel system with a 45-usable gallon fuel tank. BBU’s truck’s were equipped with ROUSH CleanTech fuel technology; and each of these new propane autogas fueled delivery truck will cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 192,000 pounds compared to gasoline.
  5. Natural gas vehicles: The reduced cost of gasoline and diesel caused natural gas vehicle production and sales to drop last year, Matthew Godlewski, president of NGVAmerica, said to an audience at the Work Truck Show. Heavy-duty vehicles sales were flat, but the light-duty and medium-duty vehicle segments saw a drop in sales numbers. Steady growth in the natural gas fueling infrastructure and new natural gas engines are bright spots for NGVs, Godlewski said.
  6. AARP-E praises energy storage: The federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy reported making big gains toward creating a next generation of batteries for energy storage last week during its annual conference. ARPA-E director Ellen Williams said the agency has funded several high-risk battery projects that utilize newer technology than Tesla’s Powerwall batteries. Other good news for the energy storage market came from GTM Research/Energy Storage Association’s U.S. Energy Storage Monitor 2015 Year in Review. The U.S. energy storage market just had both its best quarter and best year of all time. The U.S. deployed 112 megawatts of energy storage capacity in the fourth quarter of 2015, bringing the annual total to 221 megawatts.
  7. DOE and EPA fleet programs: The U.S. Department of Energy increased funding for its SuperTruck II program designed to increase fuel efficiency of Class 7and 8 trucks; it will also provide funding for several projects that would develop alternative powertrains for medium-duty vehicles. During Green Truck Summit, DOE’s Reuben Sarkar announced that the SuperTruck II initiative would receive $80 million in funding, up from the initial proposal of $60 million. In other federal agency news, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering $26 million in grant funding to fleets to reduce diesel emissions from the existing fleet of diesel engines. The deadline to apply for the funding is April 26.
  8. BMW jumping into self-driving car race: Days before BMW’s 100th birthday, Klaus Froehlich, the automaker’s board member for research and development, announced corporate plans for a completely overhauled company, where half the r&d staff will be computer programmers working on self-driving cars projects. During the Geneva Motor Show, Froehlich said that BMW sees its competitors as including firms like ridesharing company Uber and third-party sales site Truecar, which he described as “new intermediaries.”
  9. Extended range: The 200-mile range per electric vehicle charge isn’t quite right, according to Daimler AG head Dieter Zetsche – 310 miles per charge range is “probably a reasonable number to pursue,” Zetsche said last week at the Geneva auto show. Another needed step: battery costs must fall for EVs to reach prices that will prompt consumers to swap gasoline-powered vehicles for electrics.
  10. The state of VW: Last month, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer set a March 24 deadline for Volkswagen to state whether it has found a fix for 600,000 diesel cars that is acceptable to U.S. regulators. No deal, according to VW brand chief Herbert Diess; it will take months rather than weeks to reach an agreement with U.S. regulators on an emissions fix, a newspaper reported on Saturday. In other news, a detailed report was submitted to a German court on Feb. 29 by law firm Goehmann stating that VW delayed releasing information on the diesel situation to allow for talks aimed at reaching a settlement with U.S. regulators; and that the talks could have been jeopardized if the matter was already public. The law firm is arguing for VW that the delay was a legitimate move aimed at striking a deal with regulators.

This Week’s Top 10: Volt leads EV sales in a soft month, ACEEE names Greenest and Meanest lists

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. 2016 Chevrolet VoltJanuary EV sales: Plug-in electric vehicle sales saw the typical downturn pattern for the month of January. Winter Storm Jonas, which closed parts of the Eastern Seaboard for several days, has meant that less car shoppers have visited dealerships. With 2015 down slightly from 2014 in overall EV sales, January didn’t start this new year on a strong note. The Chevrolet Volt had the most sales in January at 996 cars sold in the U.S., up from 542 one year earlier. Sales strength was supported by the all-new Volt rolling out to dealerships, and winning Green Car Reports’ 2016 Best Car To Buy award. Tesla Model S came in second with 859 units sold in January, down from 1,100 sold in January 2015. The Nissan Leaf had 755 units sold versus 1,070 one year earlier. The recently launched Tesla Model X came in at number four with 370 units sold, up from 199 units sold in December 2015. Volkswagen e-Golf came in at fifth place with 328 units sold, up from 181 sold a year ago.
  2. ACEEE names Greenest and Meanest: Mercedes-Benz topped the Greenest and the Meanest categories in the 19th annual rankings released by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Mercedes-Benz’s Smart Fortwo Electric Drive tied the Chevrolet Spark EV for No. 1 on the Greenest List for 2016, with each ranked at 63 points on the ACEEE rating system. The 12-cylinder SUV, Mercedes-Benz G65 AMG, finished at the bottom of the scores with a 20, and topping the Meanest List for vehicles least friendly to the environment. Battery-powered vehicles were big on the Greenest list this year. For the first time ever, the list is completely populated by plug-in and hybrid vehicles. “Fortunately, the electricity sector is slated to become cleaner over the life of model year 2016 vehicles, thanks to the Clean Power Plan, and that has bumped up electric vehicles’ green scores this year. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that how green your electric vehicle truly is depends on the electricity it uses to charge,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.
  3. Tesla applies for dealer license: Tesla Motors is trying to work around Michigan’s ban on OEMs selling directly to consumers by filing for a “Class A” dealership license to sell new and used cars in the state. Tesla initially filed in November and submitted follow-up information in recent weeks. A state spokesperson said a decision will be announced in one-to-two months from now. Companies granted the Class A dealership classification will also need to have a licensed repair facility in place, which Tesla has done in other states.
  4. Cruz takes Iowa: Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been opposed to the federal biofuels mandate, didn’t seem to be hurt by opposition received from the Iowa’s corn ethanol establishment. Cruz had about 28% of the vote, followed by Donald Trump at 24% and Marco Rubio at 23%.Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad had previously told voters that they shouldn’t vote for Cruz because of his opposition to ethanol. While the fuel is very important to the state’s economy, with 47% of the state’s corn going into ethanol, public opinion has changed since Barack Obama campaigned from a very pro-ethanol position in the 2008 primary. Analysts point to changing social conditions, including more Iowans moving to cities like Des Moines and working within a broader economic landscape than a state that had been driven entirely by agribusiness for many years.
  5. National Biodiesel Board convention: On the advanced biofuels front, the National Biodiesel Board celebrated growth in biodiesel production and consumption last year during its annual conference. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released 2015 volume numbers just prior to the convention, reporting that US consumers used a record of nearly 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel last year. According to NBB CEO Joe Jobe, the numbers “show without question that the Renewable Fuel Standard is delivering significant volumes of Advanced Biofuel to the American people.” More than 1,000 biodiesel industry leaders and supporters attended the conference. Another newsworthy announcement: Peterbilt and Kenworth manufacturer, PACCAR Inc., now approve of B20 biodiesel in 100% of its vehicles, old and new; which means that over 100,000 new trucks are joining the biodiesel ranks, traveling over twelve billion miles year round.
  6. VW preparing for volatile shareholder meeting: Volkswagen is preparing to release the results of an internal investigation on the use of “defeat device” software to cheat on emissions tests, which will be released at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on April 21. VW’s leadership is preparing for what’s expected to be a tense session with shareholders. Dozens of large shareholders plan to sue VW in a German court, seeking compensation for the plunge in its shares due to its emissions test cheating scandal. VW’s investigation, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, includes testimony from around 50 Volkswagen employees, who testified under amnesty granted by the company to induce them to talk. One employee testified that VW’s use of “defeat device” software was an “open secret,” which VW has denied, according to German newspapers. VW is investing more in electric vehicles, partially to repair its image as an environmentally responsible company. The all-electric Volkswagen BUDD-e may see production in the near future. Debuted last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, the BIDD-e would be built on the company’s Modular Electric platform.
  7. Batteries can be stumbling block: While Ford will be investing $4.5 billion in electrified vehicles to catch up with Tesla and GM, the company has been frustrated with the slowness of developing next-gen batteries. “Battery costs are not coming down fast enough to democratize it,” said Kevin Layden, director of Ford’s electrification programs. With no technology breakthroughs coming around the corner, Ford’s scientists and engineers are finding gradual ways to reduce the costs of lithium-ion batteries by 10% to 20% from one generation to the next, he said. That is reducing battery weight and cost while boosting power.
  8. New president follows Underwood: Energy Vision has named Matt Tomich, 29, its new president as founder Joanna Underwood steps down while continuing to retain her role as chair of Energy Vision’s board. Underwood has played a strong role in supporting development of renewable natural gas in fleet applications. In this Automotive Digest video interview, Underwood talks about how RNG, or biomethane, that comes from landfills, sewage treatment, and agriculture, turns expensive solid waste burdens for communities into clean, available fuels. Tomich worked with a pioneering green chemistry startup based in Kansas City before joining Energy Vision in January 2012. “I’m proud to be able to continue building on Energy Vision’s remarkable first decade,” Tomich said.
  9. Love’s acquires Trillium CNG: Love’s Travel Stops announced an agreement to purchase natural-gas fuel provider Trillium CNG for an undisclosed price. That will expand Love’s network of public access CNG facilities to 65 from 37. Chicago-based Trillium was acquired last year by WEC Energy Group. “Many of our customers, including fleets and motorists, appreciate the stable pricing that CNG offers, so we’ve remained committed to developing our CNG network,” Love said in a statement. Trillium designs, builds and maintains CNG facilities; the company has provided annual fuel deliveries totaling more than 55 million gallon equivalents of CNG.
  10. ExxonMobil exploring cellulosic fuels: ExxonMobil has an agreement with Renewable Energy Group to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from non-food sources such as agricultural waste. ExxonMobil is tapping into REG’s patented technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing. This comes at a time when the oil company has been heavily criticized for possibly obscuring what it knew about the risks of climate change. Working with REG will accomplish the oil company’s goals of avoiding a biofuel that might have a major impact on food supplies; and “exploring future energy options with a reduced environmental impact,” said ExxonMobil Research and Engineering VP of research and development Vijay Swarup.

A look at year-to-date numbers on U.S. green car sales

Chevy Volt at dealershipCar shoppers are weighing the pros and cons of buying their first-ever or next-generation acquisition of clean technologies in new vehicles. Gasoline prices staying down and the 2016 model year launch of refreshed models are influencing purchase decisions.

  • Hybrids are down 15.7% year-to-date compared to the first nine months of 2014; sales are down 5% from September and declined 1.3% from October 2014. Gasoline prices are staying down, and are expected to do so into at least the first months of 2016. With more cost-competitive, highly rated small cars and crossovers, the competition is steep. The Toyota Prius hybrid models made up nearly half of October hybrid sales, and Toyota and Lexus models made up six of the top 10.
  • On the plug-in electric vehicle side, the Tesla Model S continues to lead in sales. The revised 2016 Chevy Volt is starting to roll out slowly to dealerships, and is getting a turnaround on soft sales – coming in at 2,035 compared to 2,100 for the Model S and 1,238 for the Nissan Leaf. Consumers seem to be waiting longer for the new Leaf. The Volt closely trails the Leaf in total U.S. sales to date since the initial launch in late 2010, with 84,656 delivered and the Leaf at 87,190. The Leaf is about 3,500 units sold ahead of the Volt year-to-date in 2015.
  • Fueleconomy.gov just released its 2016 EPA mileage ratings. The BMW i3 led the list in estimated mileage (MPGe) with 117 combined MPGe for the BMW i3 REX (range extender) plug-in hybrid and 124 combined MPGe for the BMW i3 battery electric model. The Volt came in at #2 on the plug-in hybrid ranking with 106 combined MPGe for the 2016 model; and the Chevrolet Spark EV finished at #2 on the battery electric chart with 119 combined MPGe. At 986 total sales in October, the BMW i3 has held a steady position in the top five this year.
  • The Ford Fusion and C-Max continue to hold a steady pace mid-way on the sales list this year for the Fusion Hybrid and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid; and the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid.
  • The first wave of the Volkswagen TDI diesel emissions scandal has hurt sales on the VW models named on the list; and that list looks to be expanding with a new EPA report (which is being fought by VW). The Ram Pickup continues to dominate the list of diesel passenger vehicle sales, which was in the works long before the VW scandal. That truck has had a strong share of diesel sales for several years, and hasn’t been dragged into allegations of misreporting its emissions. At 48,789 pickups sold this year, it far outpaces No. 2 on the list for October – Audi Q7 diesel, which has sold 3,579 units in the U.S. this year.