Feds working with CARB on clean vehicle rules, Ford and Postmates testing self-driving deliveries

Working out fuel economy and emissions rules:  Federal officials met last month with California Air Resources Board members to work out differences in fuel economy and emissions standards. On Dec. 15, William Wehrum, head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Air and Radiation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deputy chief Heidi King, and Mike Catanzaro, a senior White House aide, discussed goals with CARB officials on maintaining one set of national requirements for automakers in the cars they sell, according to Automotive News. Automakers have been asking the Trump administration to be lenient on fuel economy standards based on the realities of new vehicles being sold with gasoline prices staying low and consumers being more interested in trucks and SUVs. California has taken a more independent, stringent tactic on its zero emissions rules. “We’ve had productive conversations under way with CARB and I would hope those conversations continue to be productive,” Wehrum said. “I think a shared goal is to maintain one national program.”

AeroVironment’s TurboDX chargers:  AeroVironment introduced TurboDX, the company’s next-generation EV charging station for commercial, workplace, utility and residential customers around the world, during CES 2018 in Las Vegas. TurboDX includes 120 and 240 volt charging in a durable, reliable, fast, and safe solution adaptable to a wide range of users’ needs. It’s been certified by Underwriters Laboratory to North American UL Standards for safety and reliability. European variants are certified to IEC standards and bear the CE Mark. Chinese configurations have met CQC certification. An OEM-branded version of the TurboDX has begun manufacturing in China and will ship to customers starting this month.

Hydrogen stations in Japan:  A consortium of 11 companies have signed an agreement to scale up deployment of hydrogen stations and fuel cell vehicles in Japan. A new company will be started up in the spring of 2018 to develop refueling stations. The list includes Toyota, Nissan, Honda, financial institutions, and oil and energy companies including Air Liquide Japan. One of the targets will be to have 160 stations in place fueling 40,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

Ford testing self-driving deliveries with Postmates:  During CES 2018 in Las Vegas, Ford Motor Co. announced a test project being conducted with the Postmates delivery service. City dwellers and workers can tap into the convenience of having deliveries made through a quick and easy process on their mobile device. It will support future efforts to deliver meals and store purchases to consumers though self-driving vehicles. Both the merchants and the consumers’ experiences will be explored during the test project.

In late August, Ford began placing a self-driving test car through a trial project with Domino’s Pizza. Domino’s Pizza employees carried out pizzas for delivery in a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle in an Ann Arbor, Mich., test project. Users were able to track the delivery through Domino’s Tracker mobile app.

Ford safety engineers and a few other researchers went on these delivery rounds to make sure it was being carried out safely and accurately. Consumer opinions about the Domino’s ordering and delivery experience were also tapped into.

Postmates is distinct in the market for delivering just about anything – fast food, restaurant meals, groceries, and hardware store items. Much larger companies, such as Amazon, and exploring deliveries and forging their own alliances in all these areas.

Last year, Uber created an alliance with McDonald’s to bring Happy Meals and other menu offerings to those who order it. Automakers see huge potential in forging alliances with technology companies and mobility services like Lyft. Consumers and employers are showing high demand for specialized mobility services that remain fast, efficient, and affordable. It’s much better than being stuck in traffic and looking endlessly for a place to park.

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

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

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

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

Delivery facing rapid change and growing demand in crowded metro areas

ford-transit-connect-vanDelivery is seeing a fast-changing environment, from packages to food. Delivery vans and small, high mileage cars (especially hybrids) are passing through a paradigm shift in who owns the vehicles and how they’re being used. While the U.S. won’t be switching over to delivery bikes and three-wheelers, commonly used in crowded Asian and European cities with narrow streets, competition for leadership in delivery services is getting fierce.

Some of this drive is coming from Amazon and Google taking on UPS and FedEx. The U.S. Postal Service is undergoing its own change. On the food side, the classic pizza delivery model is being taken over by app-based alternatives like UberEats, Postmates, and GrubHub. Companies entering the space also point to the state of fast-growing cities squeezed with bigger buildings, more cars and pedestrians, and less parking spaces. Delivery companies need to have smaller, nimble, and quick vehicles to meet surging demand. Younger consumers are getting spoiled by services like Uber and Lyft, where you can tap your phone and have a car in front of your place in less than 10 minutes. Older generations are tapping into these convenient services as well, in this new age of the on-demand economy.

Demand for quick delivery is driving change, along with the challenge of driving and parking in crowded city streets. Some of the carriers also support sustainability, removing vehicles from roads and switching over to alternative energy sources for their vehicles. UPS and FedEx have led the way here. Independent contractors delivering restaurant meals and fast food are preferring to drive a Toyota Prius or a small gas-engine car to keep costs contained.

The Ford Transit Connect van (as shown in the photo above) has been a hot commodity for deliveries. The 2017 model has an EPA-estimated rating of 29 highway mpg when equipped with the available 1.6L EcoBoost I-4 engine. It has substantial storage capacity for such a small vehicle – with 103.0 cubic feet of storage capacity designed for easy maneuvering and parking on tight city streets. The Azure electric Transit Connect van left the market in 2012 and doesn’t appear to be coming back. The other increasingly popular model for urban deliveries has been Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter utility van. The next-gen edition may get an all-electric powertrain, according to the Detroit Bureau. The automaker is designing the vehicles with both batteries and autonomous-driving features; these features will be available as soon as 2018, the publication reported.

The federal postal service, which was originally created in 1775, took on another form in 1971 when it was transformed into the U.S. Postal Service as an agency of the U.S. government. Within that decade, rival carrier UPS would experience substantial growth in the U.S. and overseas and Federal Express had its first profitable years.

A few years back, USPS was outsourcing a lot of its package delivery to UPS. That started to change recently, especially with the promotion of postmaster general Megan Brennan last year. Under Brennan, USPS has ramped up same-day delivery in order to compete with rivals FedEx, UPS, and Amazon for the growing share of packages with tight delivery schedules. During this time, USPS made a deal with Amazon.com to deliver groceries in selected cities for Amazon when the online retailer wasn’t able to meet that demand.

Amazon is investing heavily to compete with UPS and FedEx in same-day deliveries. Amazon is trying out a few new services including Amazon Prime package deliveries and Amazon Fresh food delivery. Amazon Flex and Middle Mile Providers have recently started up in a few U.S. cities. If you ever see a white Ford Transit Connect with an Amazon logo, that van will be delivering goods through one of the new services.

Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations and customer service for Amazon, commented on Amazon Flex at an industry conference last year. Amazon Flex is an app-based delivery platform that “enables people to be their own bosses while earning $25 or more an hour,” making Amazon Prime Now deliveries, he said. Drivers will use their own car and smartphone, similar to other popular delivery and ride-hailing services on the market. Amazon is usually promoting an offer for customers that includes free two-hour deliveries. The claim of paying drivers up to $25 an hour sounds quite optimistic, since drivers at other mobility services are typically making $10 to $15 an hour.

With Middle Mile Providers, fleet owners with carrier licenses through the U.S. Department of Transportation will be able haul loads for Amazon. Drivers must be employees of the delivery provider and will likely be required to carry commercial driver’s licenses. They need to drive a cargo van or similar vehicle with at least 200 cubic feet of volume. It appears to be in startup phase with job openings listed in Seattle for a division called Middle Mile Logistics Technology.

In June, Amazon launched a British version of its AmazonFresh food delivery service to break into the UK grocery market. AmazonFresh has previously been deployed in a few U.S. markets, too.

UberEats is counting on the food delivery service being worth the investment. Started in test mode about two years ago, it became its own mobile app in the spring of this year. Uber launched food delivery in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco earlier this year. The initial launch was in Toronto; other growth markets include Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. After trying it out as part of the Uber experience, the company realized that didn’t make sense, with both of these experiences being separate from each other; they needed their own brand names and separate mobile apps.

Self-employed drivers are asked to gather in select parking lots for UberEats and pickup packaged orders for the day from partner food services. They’ll deliver lunch or dinner to workplaces or homes in the vicinity. That differs from other food delivery services where the driver will be picking up food orders directly from the vendors and delivering them to the customers.

Food delivery has been taking off like a rocket trajectory over the past year in transactions. Making the business profitable and finding the right financial backing has been tough. Bloomberg reported a story last week about on-demand meal delivery service Caviar’s parent company trying to sell it off and find better partners in food delivery. Payment processing company Square reportedly tried to unload Caviar early this year. Square reportedly had discussions with Uber, Grubhub, and Yelp between late last year and the start of 2016, but disagreements on pricing ended the talks. With Square backing away, startup Caviar is in a tough position in a very competitive market.

UK’s Deliveroo was funded about £250 million ($306 million) earlier this year, and Berlin-based Delivery Hero was rumored to be lining up an IPO, according to VentureBeat. In the U.S. GrubHub, DoorDash, and Postmates have grabbed a lot of attention; Uber and Lyft riders are known for tapping into these delivery services and tend to look for special discount promotions on meals. Private equity funds are coming in for these food delivery companies, but they haven’t been perceived yet as hot commodity investment opportunities like Uber has been able to win over. Postmates is working hard to be seen as unique in the marketplace – the only delivery service out there that will pick up orders from anywhere that the customer requests – a restaurant, donut shop, BevMo! liquor store, grocery store, 7-Eleven, or some other business.

The business model for food delivery companies was borrowed from Uber and Lyft, with a similar mobile app; driving directions and alliances with Waze and Google Maps; it’s all right there on the phone for customers, from ordering to paying; there are special offers with local and chain restaurants, juice bars, coffeehouses, and fast food stores; and all the drivers are independent contractors passing basic vehicle and driving record checks.

Google has been getting ready to take on Amazon Prime for a leading position in fast, on-demand deliveries and has backed away from food delivery. Brian Elliott, general manager of Google Express, told Business Insider that the company plans to spread its coverage from about 20 states and regions to the entire country by the end of the year. To get there, Google Express decided to close down part of its grocery business and stop selling perishables; these were pilot projects started earlier this year in parts of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Fast delivery is becoming more important for firms to retain their market presence. Amazon was getting a lot more searches and orders placed on a wide variety of products like bottled water and flat screen TVs. Google Express was a way for Google to reinstate itself as the go-to choice for product searches, and to make it easier for people to purchase the goods they’d searched for.

This Week’s Top 10: Reality check for Tesla Motors on manufacturing vehicles, Bill Ford says company looking for partners to expand beyond building and selling cars and trucks

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 factoryTesla taking heat over immigrant worker and supplier relations: Tesla Motors has been facing challenges lately on the vehicle manufacturing front; one of these controversies comes from a Slovenian electrician named Gregor Lesnik working at the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., falling through the roof in May 2015 and suffering broken bones in his legs and ribs and head injuries, including a concussion. Lesnik survived and sued his employers, as reported last week in a San Jose Mercury News’ watchdog report. He’d entered the U.S. in March 2015 with a B1/B2 visa on behalf of his employer, ISM Vuzem, as a supervisor of electrical and mechanical installation. He was going to work in a paint shop at a South Carolina BMW plant but instead was diverted to the Tesla plant to install an industrial heating and cooling system, something his visa did not allow him to do. The lawsuit and media report raised the flag on exploiting immigrant workers and committing fraud; and if the federal government should be watching more carefully. Lesnik alleged in his suit that although his hourly rate was over $10 an hour, it averaged out to a little over $5 an hour, far below minimum wage, because he wasn’t paid overtime for weeks that often reached 80 hours. The same work by a local employee would have cost more than $50 an hour. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied wrongdoing and said his company is auditing the contracts to see if its contractors met wage obligations……. That news story came days after Reuters reported on concerns raised by analysts and supplier executives who asked not to be identified that Tesla’s plan to manufacture 500,000 electric vehicles per year by 2018 has been called into question by several sources close to the issues. Tesla’s ambitious plan has called for moving up high-volume Model 3 production two years earlier than originally projected, which they claim will be very difficult and costly. Larger automakers have had to adjust production volumes to lower levels per year at assembly plants to realistically hit their targets. Tesla continues to have delivery delays for its Model X crossover, and its Model S also missed delivery targets when launched and that’s likely to continue with the Model 3, they say. Tesla says that orders and deposits for the Model 3 have been reduced to 373,000 following cancellations of about 8,000 cars and 4,200 duplicates canceled by the company. As capital intensive as auto manufacturing can be, Tesla also announced last week plans to sell about $2 billion in stock to help finance the accelerated launch of the Model 3.
  2. Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said the company is looking into more partnerships with other companies as it moves to expand beyond manufacturing and selling cars and trucks. The game is changing for automakers this year following General Motors’ moves with Lyft, Sidecar, Cruise Automation, and Maven; and Fiat Chrysler’s deal with Google on self-driving cars. Ford has been investing heavily in electric cars, self-driving vehicle technology, and other initiatives, Ford said. Earlier this year, the company launched Ford Smart Mobility LLC, as part of its efforts to delve into carsharing and other mobility services. Asked about a potential alliance with Google, Ford said, “Anything’s possible with anybody. We have a good relationship with Google” but no alliance to disclose. (Editor’s note: Read the clean mobility feature in this week’s Green Auto Market that includes Volkswagen’s upcoming announcement on mobility services it will be launching during its diesel emissions scandal.)
  3. The 29th World Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition (EVS29) event organizers have announced more keynote plenary speakers for day two of the event. Dan Neil, Pulitzer Prize winning auto columnist from the Wall Street Journal, will sit down with industry leaders to talk electric drive innovation and automaker strategies for scaling success during a robust roundtable discussion. Roundtable participants include: Christoph Huss, Vice President Engineering, BMW of North America; Kazuo Yajima, Alliance Global Director, EV and Engineering Division, Nissan and Renault; Kevin Layden, Electrification Programs and Engineering Director, Ford Motor Company; and Michael Lord, Executive Engineer, Toyota Motor Engineer & Manufacturing. The EVS29 conference takes place June 19-22, 2016 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Register now and gain access to the entire electric drive value chain under one roof.
  4. SAE International approved for publishing “SAE TIR J2954 Wireless Power Transfer for Light-Duty Plug-In/ Electric Vehicles and Alignment Methodology,” a guideline to establish wireless power transfer between infrastructure, vehicle suppliers and OEMs for plug-in electric and electric vehicles (PH/EV). The document will be available from the SAE website on May 31st. SAE TIR J2954 is the first step in standardization and was developed by SAE International’s PH/EV Wireless Power Transfer committee, established in 2010. Jesse Schneider serves as the Chair of SAE International’s Wireless Power Transfer committee and is the Fuel Cell, Electric Vehicle and Standards Development Manager at BMW North America.
  5. AltCar Expo: Oakland hosted the third annual Northern California AltCar Expo on May 20-21. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Nissan showcased hydrogen fuel cell cars, electric vehicles, hybrids, and natural gas vehicles, and renewable diesel vehicles. Attendees were able to test drive the vehicles for free both days. Keynote speakers included Richard Battersby, Equipment Manager and Director, City of Oakland and East Bay Clean Cities Coalition; Peter Van Deventer, Program Director & Diplomatic Liaison, Coast to Coast EV Connection and Consulate General of the Netherlands; John Kato, Deputy Director, Fuels and Transportation Division, California Energy Commission; David Meisel, Senior Director, Transportation & Aviation Services, Pacific Gas & Electric Company; Tim Lipman, Ph.D, Co-Director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley; and Rick Sikes, Chief Operations Officer, carbonBLU.
  6. Mercedes-Benz will likely be launching two electric sedans and two SUVs by 2020. They may be plug-in hybrid, battery electric or both, and are being built with minimal changes from the internal combustion engine models. The electric SUVs may be built on the Mercedes GLA and GLC platforms, and the electric sedans could come from the C-Class and S-Class platforms. Going this route could give the company the opportunity of pricing these EVs lower than the Tesla Model S and Model X.
  7. Volvo will be rolling out its new 40 series compact cars and SUVs, including a plug-in hybrid and an electric car, starting in spring 2018 in the U.S. Details on plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants of the 40 series haven’t been released yet.Last year, Volvo released its new “global electrification strategy,” which will include new plug-in versions of its cars, SUVs, and wagons.
  8. xStorage battery packs: Nissan, through its U.K. division, is following Tesla’s lead by entering the energy storage market. Available for pre-order in September, the xStorage line of battery packs was developed with power-management company Eaton. The partnership between Nissan and Enel SpA, Italy’s largest utility, will let Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 owners sell excess energy back to the grid. Owners can sell energy from their lithium-ion batteries during periods of peak demand to the utility.
  9. Self-driving car survey: The University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation conducted its second annual survey on self-driving vehicles – and found that Americans might tend to agree more with the California DMV’s suggested policy than with Google’s argument for owning completely autonomous vehicles. The survey yielded completed responses from 618 licensed drivers in the U.S. and found that the most frequent preference for vehicle automation continues to be for no self-driving capability, followed by partially self-driving vehicles, with completely self-driving vehicles being the least preferred choice. Respondents still overwhelmingly want to be able to manually control completely self-driving vehicles when desired.
  10. ACT Expo highlights: Check out the photo gallery, conference program, and event summary for ACT Expo 2016, which just took place in Long Beach, Calif. Set for May 1-4, ACT Expo 2017 will return to the Long Beach Convention Center. Event organizer Gladstein Neandross & Associates will be presenting Rethink Methane Symposium 2016 in Sacramento, Calif., on June 29-30, 2016.

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Clean Mobility: The latest on VW, Maven, Lyft, Uber, and Google

Matthias Muller at press conferenceVolkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller will be speaking to the company’s senior management in mid-June on how VW will emerge from the diesel emissions scandal more as a “mobility provider” than as an automaker. Based on comments Mueller and other VW executives have made recently, it might look something like this:

  • Developing a strategy to handle the demands of increasingly connected vehicles, driver assistance systems, and the need to develop autonomous technology.
  • Last October after reorganizing management, VW announced its Modular Electrification Toolkit, a standardized technical model for developing plug-in electric vehicles within the Volkswagen Group. The focus is on plug-in hybrids with an even greater range, high-volume electric vehicles with a range of up to 300 kilometers (186.4 miles) and eventually to 500 kilometers (310.7 miles), a 48-volt power supply system (mild hybrid), along with more efficient diesel, gasoline, and CNG concepts. It’s all part of what VW earlier announced as its Modular Transverse Toolkit.
  • In late April, Mueller gave a presentation on the company’s 2015 annual financial statements. He reiterated plans to launch over 20 additional ‘e-vehicles’ by 2020, as VW pushes ahead with developing its bespoke architecture in the form of its Modular Electrification Toolkit. The first vehicles produced on the MEB module are slated to hit the streets at the end of the decade. “We plan to make electric cars one of Volkswagen’s new hallmarks,” Mueller said.
  • VW will be shifting its strategy to profitability, not sales volume. Being No. 1 in global sales won’t be its top priority anymore. It will mean limiting the number of volumes its builds and sales, and using its own resources more efficiently. It will also ties into what other automakers like BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, and Toyota have been experimenting with lately: testing out business ventures focused on mobility services and new technologies: carsharing, ridesharing and ride-hailing, delivery services, autonomous vehicles, vehicle electrification, and urban commuter cars.
  • VW’s investment resources for mobility and electrification will be limited by the vehicle recall. The company said that it lost 16.2 billion euros ($18.2 billion) for 2015 alone once the diesel scandal was revealed last September, and that’s likely only a part of the total cost.

Maven is rolling out to cities as GM’s hourly carsharing/car rental service expands its Ann Arbor, Mich., operations and moves over to Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

  • In its Ann Arbor office, prices for renters range from $6 an hour for the Chevrolet Spark and Volt, to $12 an hour for the Tahoe; and $42 per day for the Spark and Volt, to $84 a day for the Tahoe.
  • As part of the Maven brand expansion, certain residential buildings in Chicago, Washington, and Boston will be equipped with Maven cars for tenants to use for an hourly rate. Other Maven vehicles will be parked throughout the cities for anyone to reserve using a smartphone app developed by GM.
  • Speaking recently at a women’s technology conference in Detroit, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra said carsharing services like Maven can help eliminate the headaches of car ownership in cities where congestion and parking costs are challenging.
  • The automaker sees Maven as critical for its mobility strategy as it competes with carsharing companies like Avis Budget Group’s Zipcar and Daimler’s Car2Go and ridesharing giant Uber through its Lyft alliance. Earlier this year, GM bought a 9% stake in ride-hailing/ridesharing company Lyft Inc. for $500 million.
  • GM working to develop a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles. GM and Cruise Automation, another mobility company GM recently invested in, have begun testing autonomous prototypes of the Bolt in San Francisco. Cruise Automation is providing technology for the test cars. One of GM’s goals is to launch of a fleet of autonomous self-driving taxis with Lyft within a year.
  • About a year ago, GM hired a Silicon Valley engineer, Zafar Razzacki, to lead the marketing and user experience for Maven. Razzacki, who worked for Google and a few tech startups, was profiled by Automotive News as leading the way for shaping the Maven “personal mobility” brand. GM’s objective is to get young drivers in its cars, even if they don’t own them. Assembling a team of outsiders is necessary to get there. “We literally view ourselves and are treated by the company as a small startup within GM,” he said. “We’ve got this crazy assortment of engineers and creatives and technologists and business people all working together. We are breaking a lot of rules. We are trying a lot of new things.”

Uber showed off its latest self-driving test cara hybrid Ford Fusion outfitted with a variety of sensors and high-resolution cameras to gather mapping data and refine the vehicle’s autonomous driving capabilities. It’s being driven through Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh. Uber had previously been involved with Carnegie Mellon University and its group of experienced experts in autonomous vehicle technologies, enough to have donated $5.5 million to the department; and to hire over some of its staff for the Uber project. As of March, CMU had not worked with Uber on its self-driving car test project, according to CMU faculty and administrators. Uber recently joined a coalition that includes Google and to advocate for safety regulations for self-driving cars and help bring them to American roads.

Google recently received a patent for enhancing safety features on its self-driving cars. Google’s approved patent involves coating the front of a car with adhesive for pedestrian safety. It focuses on what would happen if that self-driving car were to hit a pedestrian. Google says coating the front of a car with adhesive could prevent someone from bouncing onto the windshield, sliding under the wheels, or flying into the air and landing in the road. “The adhesion of the pedestrian to the vehicle may prevent the pedestrian from bouncing off the vehicle after the pedestrian impacts the hood,” the patent says.

 

Green Auto Market’s guesstimate on what to expect in 2016

  • Volkswagen diesel recallWhat’s next for VW: The first part of this new year will see details released on the Volkswagen recall by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board on a proposed fix for its diesel-engine cars. EPA and CARB will be making an announcement this month regarding solutions proposed by Volkswagen for about 482,000 cars equipped with EA 189 engines; some models will likely require hardware and software updates, while other may require only a software solution. The recall might be tied into the lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed in a civil complaint yesterday on behalf of the EPA (see news coverage above). Electric vehicle launches may be a channel for VW to tap into to restore its image as a responsible global corporation. On January 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show, Volkswagen’s new chairman, Herbert Diess, will make a keynote speech announcing VW’s “new era in electric mobility” that will broaden its pre-existing commitment to electrification along with a new all-electric concept car. It’s still unknown whether that new vehicle will be an electric version of its flagship next-generation Phaeton sedan, an electric Microbus, or something else.
  • Presidential election: The Obama administration has been supportive of U.S. Department of Energy grants for clean vehicles and tax incentives for electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles, among other supportive measures. As that president leaves office in a year, questions are coming up on what leading candidates think about environmental issues, clean energy, and alternative fuel vehicles. On the Republican party side, in the latest voter polls, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, have been the leading candidates. On the Democratic party side, Hilary Clinton is the obvious choice now that Bernie Sanders has stepped out of the race. Alternative fuel vehicles hasn’t been a topic of discussion at presidential debates, but the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, released in November, and the issue of climate change, have been. Cruz and Rubio strongly oppose CPP and all three Republican candidates think there’s no real proof climate change and global warming are really happening. Free market economics is a philosophy all three embrace. Cruz opposes the Renewable Fuel Standard as he doesn’t support subsidies and the federal government picking “winners and losers.” As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio opposed executive orders limiting greenhouse-gas emissions and setting stricter limits for cars sold in Florida; he thought the state should instead embrace the free-market approach. Trump strongly supports the Keystone XL pipeline and hydraulic fracking. Clinton supports a goal of having at least 33% of the nation’s power generated by clean energy sources by 2027; believes climate change is an urgent challenge; and has been unclear on positions on Keystone XL or offshore oil drilling.
  • Clean transportation events: Calstart’s Clean Low-Carbon Fuels Summit will be in Sacramento, Calif., on February 23; Green Truck Summit will take place March 1-3 in Indianapolis; NAFA I&E with its Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program will be April 19-22 in Austin, Texas; ACT Expo will be going back to Long Beach, Calif., on May 2-5; AltCarExpo will take place on September 16-17 in Santa Monica, Calif; and Automotive Fleet’s Fleet Technology Expo will be held October 17-19 in Schaumburg, Ill. And don’t forget Clean Cities coalition events throughout the year.
  • Fuel prices: Low gasoline and diesel prices have been deal breakers in the past year and a half for fleets investing in CNG and propane conversions and consumers backing away from hybrids and electric vehicles. The global oil supply is expected to eventually feel the effects of growing demand from developing nations; as for now the supply is high enough to keep fuel prices down into 2016.
  • Autonomous vehicles: Testing programs will continue to put miles on the road in states that have adopted autonomous vehicle road testing (with most of it still in California). Austin, Texas, is working on a test program with Google on its roads, and hopes to see the state of Texas get on board. Watch for automakers to continue rolling out connected car and semi-autonomous features this year. A good example of this trend is Toyota designing a system to improve and accelerate the mapping of U.S. roads needed to put autonomous vehicles on the roads. It will be debuted at CES 2016 for rollout in 2020.
  • Hydrogen infrastructure: Hydrogen fueling stations are slowly rolling out in California, with construction underway within a few states in the northeast. Check out the federal H2USA collaborative projects for updates on Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and California.
  • Crowdfunding capital: As described in Green Auto Market about a year ago, crowdfunding has gone way beyond a funding source for student film projects and startup rock bands. The Securities and Exchange Commission has released rules on the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (JOBS Act) that will take effect in May 2016. That’s expected to bring in more investors who will provide more funding than has been the norm in cleantech crowdfunding projects in recent years.
  • Hybrid Terrafugia TF-X: For those of you fascinated with futuristic vehicles, check out the Terrafugia TF-X, which just received Federal Aviation Administration approval for test flights. This mid-size car has twin helicopter-style rotors at the tips of its wings that fold out of the car and lift the TF-X into the sky. Once it’s up in the air, electric engines teamed with a 300-horsepower engine provide power. The rotors fold back, and a ducted fan pushes the TF-X along. It has a cruising speed of about 200 mph, with a range of about 500 miles.
  • Infrastructure growth: During 2015, compressed natural gas fueling, electric vehicle charging, and E85 stations had the largest growth curve. CNG went up 98 stations in the U.S., EV charging went up 2,811 stations, and ethanol (E85) increased at 173 more gas stations.
  • Biofuels: Lux Research predicts that waste oils will dominate next-generation biofuels in upcoming year. Biodiesel made from novel feedstock, specifically waste oils, will lead novel fuels capacity in 2018. Cellulosic ethanol and renewable diesel follow with 19% and 18%, respectively.
  • The future of Uber: While ridesharing giant Uber is expected to add more investors and will consider going public on the stock market, a big legal question will have even more impact on its future. The question of whether it will be a transportation network linking car owners to riders or a company with employee drivers will be carefully watched by Lyft, Airbnb, and other “shared economy” startups. Boston-based attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan is representing Uber drivers in California who want to be considered employees (or at least have some of those financial benefits). Liss-Riordan thinks it’s a much bigger question with the on-demand, shared economy encouraging misclassification and mistreatment of its workers – and that includes food delivery startups. Liss-Riordan currently has a lawsuit against Postmates pending in federal court in California; and in California state court, she’s filed class-action complaints against DoorDash and GrubHub. The Uber class-action lawsuit, and these other suits, will take much longer than 2016 to see final court rulings, but analysts are paying a lot of attention to these cases. Uber management certainly cares about it as its business model is based entirely on independent contractors – and eventually with driverless cars being in its fleet.

Bill Ford shares ideas on the transformation of automakers into personal-mobility companies

Bill Ford“With a growing global population and greater prosperity, the number of vehicles on the road could exceed two billion by midcentury. Combine this with a continuing population shift toward cities, with a projected 54% of the global population in cities by 2050, and it becomes clear that our current transportation model is not sustainable. Our infrastructure cannot support such a large volume of vehicles without creating massive congestion that would have serious consequences for our environment, health, economic progress and quality of life.”  — Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Co.

Bill Ford’s comments, which you’ve just read, were featured recently in The Wall Street Journal’s 125th anniversary issue where leaders were asked to predict what’s coming up. Ford is in a unique position in the auto industry – being the great-grandson of Henry Ford, who “redefined mobility for average people,” along with articulating bold, forward-thinking ideas on where automakers need to go in the next 20 years. Bill Ford understands the inner working and challenges faced by global automakers in moving forward, along with the market dynamics that will likely cause automakers to transform their identities.

Ford Motor Co. has been on the front lines with these issues – whether that be through having to clean up another miles-per-gallon overstatement, or producing lightweight aluminum-body pickup trucks and selling more hybrids and plug-in hybrids. Bill Ford sees the landscape changing overall for the global auto industry in addressing these potential solutions………

  • Space-efficient vehicles that run on gasoline or alternative energy sources.
  • Beyond the energy fueling the vehicles, Ford says that using materials and manufacturing processes committed to sustainability are very important. Aluminum is a good example, as is carbon fiber, in approaching the life-cycle supply chain from a new perspective.
  • Rethinking the role of vehicles in transportation – making them “smarter and more integrated into the overall transportation system.” OEMs will no longer be just car and truck makers, but will redefine themselves as “personal-mobility companies.”
  • Cars will need to be able to interact with each other in a city’s infrastructure, networking with other transportation modes like trains, buses, and bikes.
  • Ridesharing and carsharing companies like Lyft, Uber, and Zipcar symbolize a major shift in thinking – from individual ownership to transportation alternatives.
  • Bill Ford is a believer in connectivity – with “wireless communication, infotainment systems and limited functions for automated driving and parking” being of much importance.
  • Autonomous driving is becoming possible, and is already starting to show up in technology features making cars safer and easier to drive. Beyond completely driverless cars, Ford says that some entrepreneurs are looking into the feasibility of flying cars.
  • The auto industry has entered a new phase in its history. “The next 20 years will see a radical transformation of our industry, and will present many new ways of ensuring that my great-grandfather’s dream of opening the highways for all mankind will remain alive and well in the 21st century and beyond,” Ford wrote.

 

Why driving cars is dropping in popularity in Southern California

traffic in LASouthern California has always been a key bellwether for transportation trends in the US and in the world. The region that had one of the best mass transit systems through the 1940s became the hub of auto sales and traffic congestion starting in the 1950s. Now that trend appears to be changing course.

Automotive News pointed to several key indicators showing that the love affair with the car is fading…

  • Light rail has been expanded 26% in the past eight years with 18 miles more of track coming by 2015. Bike lane networks have doubled to 292 miles. Bus and train ridership is growing – up nearly 5% in May 2013 versus May 2011.
  • Even more significant – the total number of passenger cars has declined in Los Angeles. The market rebounded from the recession, but the 2012 sales numbers were 28,000 less than five years earlier.
  • Consumers have a lot more options that gain their interest away from traditional cars – electric cars, hybrids, bike lanes, light-rail, and car-sharing plans such as Zipcar are on the rise.
  • Toyota and Honda have sold a lot of small-to-midsize cars in this market for several years and are putting a lot of emphasis now on hybrids, natural gas vehicles, and plug-in electric vehicles.
  • Traffic congestion is getting worse – LA had its longest congestion-related delays in the US in April. The average driver wasted 5.2 hours, up from 4.5 hours in April 2012.
  • Sharing rides is gaining in popularity especially with young people, through social circles, and there’s more interest in bus and rail rides and car sharing.