For Today: China joins other countries in banning fossil-fuel vehicles, Daimler cutting production costs to make EVs more profitable

China joins global trend:  China is becoming one of several countries stopping fossil-fuel powered vehicles on its roads. Xin Guobin, the country’s vice minister of industry and information technology, announced in a speech Saturday that regulators are working on a timeline for phasing out the sales and production of the gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Norway, France, and the UK, are already going in that direction. Almost 80 percent of the global auto market is heading toward an eventual phase-out of petroleum-powered cars through government incentives and mandates. It’s a big job – with about 695,000 of 84 million new vehicles sold last year being electric; and with about a billon vehicles out on roads across the world now.

Ford Transit Custom PHEV tested in London:  Fleets took a look at the Ford Transit Custom plug-in hybrid van in the Cenex Low Carbon Vehicle 2017 event in Millbrook, UK. Ford will be testing 20 of these vans with fleets over a 12-month trials starting later this year. It will go 31 miles on battery only and 310 miles on electric and its 1.0-liter EcoBoost gasoline engine. It’s supported by the Transport for London agency with the Metropolitan Police and several city-based companies participating in the trial. “Seeing the PHEV Transits on the road is an exciting milestone, and we look forward to teaming up with our London partners and customers to explore how these vans can reduce emissions and operator costs in the city,” said Mark Harvey, Director, urban electrified van program, Ford of Europe.

Daimler cutting costs to make EVs profitable:  Daimler wants to cut production costs 4 billion euros ($4.8 billion) by 2025, and will channel funds into developing and manufacturing electric cars. CEO Dieter Zetsche and Frank Lindenberg, VP of finance and controlling Mercedes-Benz Cars, only expect to see half the profit margins now for EV compared to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. That could break even, and EVs more price competitive, by 2025. Seeing battery prices come down will be a big part of it. More specifics were given on its electric fleet introductions – by 2022, there will be an electric version of every Mercedes model sold. It will be led by the new EQ electric brand, which Mercedes-Benz is overseeing. The Smart brand will stop selling vehicles with any internal combustion engines in 2020.



For Today: Renault-Nissan and Dongfeng forge EV venture, Ford and Domino῾s delivering pizzas through self-driving car

Renault, Nissan and Dongfeng forge JV:  The Renault-Nissan Alliance is preparing to enter the world’s largest electric vehicle market through a joint venture with a Chinese partner. The alliance has forged a JV partnership with Dongfeng Motor Group Co. to bring an electric SUV to market by 2019 through eGT New Energy Automotive Co., Ltd., the new company. The three companies have been in alliance for years with a shared factory already in place. It will tie into CEO Carlos Ghohn strategy to maximize economies of scale and become more EV competitive, along with Donfeng’s mission to bring “light, electric, intelligent, interconnected and shared” vehicles to the new energy vehicle market. China is in the process of becoming stricter on subsidies and watching out for another cheating scandal. The government is expected to soon announce a zero emission vehicle mandate similar to California’s. Whatever the government requires, automakers are not backing off China’s booming EV market.

BYD profit declining:  Chinese EV manufacturer BYD reports that its profit margin has slimmed this year since the national government has been cutting back on generous new energy vehicle incentives to consumers and automakers. Increasing market competition is also taking its toll. The company expects its net profits will drop up to 25% during the first nine months of this year, compared to shooting up nearly 79% last year. Vehicle sales fell 14.8 percent to 183,637 units sold during the first half of the year. BYD has been the world’s largest manufacturer of plug-in electrified vehicles over the past two years. As passenger cars decline, the company is benefitting from bringing out more electric buses and trucks – such as what’s being built now at its Lancaster, Calif., plant. “We have seen a sales recovery trend for BYD during the past few months, especially in Q2. In addition, BYD is pushing green public transportation in China and globally,” said Bill Russo, managing director at consultancy Gao Feng Advisory Co.

Ford and Domino’s self-driven pizza deliveries:  Ford Motor Co. and Domino’s Pizza are testing out delivering pizzas in a Ford self-driving car. They’re asking customers what it’s like to receive a pizza through a self-driving vehicle. Over the next few weeks, customers in Ann Arbor, Mich., will have the opportunity to receive their order from a Ford Fusion Hybrid Autonomous Research Vehicle. It will be manually-driven by a Ford safety engineer and staffed with researchers. Ford plans to begin producing self-driving vehicles in 2021 and will tap into the data from this test project.

For Today: California and China ZEV alliance, Roush CleanTech sees breakthrough in low NOx

California and China ZEV alliance:  California is forging an alliance with China to move forward on zero emission vehicle technology development, batteries, and sales increases as the U.S. pulls away from the Paris climate change accord. Governor Jerry Brown and California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols met with officials from China’s leading automakers and battery manufacturers this week in an effort to expand cooperation and accelerate deployment of zero-emission cars, trucks, and buses. A new working group was formed through the China-US ZEV Policy Lab at UC Davis to expand cooperation with Chinese vehicle and batter makers. The lab comes from a partnership established in 2014 between UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and the China Automotive Technology and Research Center. Brown and Nichols have been touring China this week as the nation prepares to adopt the state’s ZEV policy with credits for automakers to purchase and trade for meeting emissions rules.

Three events to consider attending:  Advanced Automotive Battery Conference, June 19-22 in San Francisco. For 17 years, the conference has attracted international thought leaders and battery technologists from major automobile makers and their suppliers to discuss key issues impacting the technology and market of advanced vehicles and the batteries that will power them……… EV Roadmap 10, June 20-21 in Portland, Ore. Founded by Portland General Electric and Portland State University, and now produced by Drive Oregon, the conference has established itself as one of the leading electric vehicle conferences in the United States………… Smart Cities Connect Conference & Expo, June 25-28 in Austin, Texas. Co-located with the US Ignite Application Summit, the conference brings together over 200 cities and their respective leadership to prospect and partner with innovative technology and service providers, linking progressive cities with state-of-the-art solutions and best practices.

Breakthrough in propane technology:  Roush CleanTech announced yesterday that it has developed the first propane autogas engine available in class 4-7 vehicles and Blue Bird Type C buses certified to the optional low nitrogen oxide (NOx) level .05 g/bhp-hr. These new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency- and California Air Resources Board-certified propane engines are 75% cleaner than the current emissions standard. “Roush CleanTech’s low NOx engine is a great step forward for the propane industry,” said Tucker Perkins, president of the Propane Education & Research Council. “Propane autogas is well established as an economical, clean-burning and domestically produced alternative fuel ideal for fleets. Now propane gets the biggest return on NOx reductions, too.”

This Week’s Top 10: Ford adding seven new electrified vehicles, China cutting subsidies for plug-in vehicles

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. Ford announces seven of 13 electrified vehicles: Ford CEO Mark Fields gave a speech this morning announcing the introduction of an all-new battery electric small SUV, coming by 2020, which has been engineered to deliver an estimated range of at least 300 miles. It’s one of seven of 1ford-electrified-vehicle-announcment3 new global electrified vehicles the automaker plans to introduce in the next five years, including hybrid versions of the F-150 pickup and Mustang in the U.S., and a plug-in hybrid Transit Custom van in Europe. A high-volume autonomous hybrid vehicle designed for commercial ride hailing or ride sharing will be launched globally in 2021, starting in North America. Ford will also launch two new, pursuit-rated hybrid police vehicles. The automaker will be adding 700 direct new U.S. jobs and investing $700 million during the next four years, creating the new Manufacturing Innovation Center at its Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan.
  2. China cutting new energy vehicle subsidies: Makers of plug-in cars, commercial trucks, and buses will have their generous subsidies cut this year by the Chinese government in the wake of misreporting of production and sales to the government. The Ministry of Finance put caps on subsidies and increased technical specifications required to receive funding, Reuters reported. News had surfaced in September about a scandal with false reports being submitted, along with failure to meet technical requirements needed to gain more “new energy vehicle” government funding for plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Subsidies have been considered to be primary driver for making China the world’s largest market for EV sales. Busmakers had their subsidies cut in half, from a previous cap of 600,000 yuan (about $86,000) down to 300,000 yuan ($43,000) per vehicle. For plug-in passenger cars, incentives started being reduced with a 20% drop in 2017. Medium and heavy-duty trucks, and specialized-use vehicles will be capped at 150,000 yuan ($21,584). Local government subsidies will be capped at 50% of what the national government is making available. Technical specs include measuring by energy density and range requirements. Fast chargers for buses will receive more in subsidies. The national government has also been adding automakers to its list of companies being granted licenses to manufacture plug-in vehicles and receive subsidies. A division of Jiangling Motors became the seventh company allowed in the system in late December; Chinese auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group, owner of Karma Automotive and A123 Systems, was added earlier in the month.
  3. Nissan plug-in hybrid: Nissan may be manufacturing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, according to a senior Nissan official. The collaboration forged last year between Nissan-Renault and Mitsubishi would mean that the new plug-in model will use technology from the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. Takashi Shirakawa, head of R&D for Nissan Europe, said that the Nissan plug-in hybrid will use Mitsubishi technology. The Outlander PHEV has become the top-selling plug-in electrified vehicle sold in Europe. It’s due to come the U.S. sometime this summer. Nissan so far has had all-electric models in its lineup, the Leaf and the e-NV200 concept van. In the first part of December, Japan’s Nikkei reported that Nissan-Renault will be collaborating with Mitsubishi on a common EV platform. The global automaker said the goal of the common framework was to reduce the price of an EV by about 20 percent, and more in line with the price of gasoline-powered vehicles. Key components, such as the motor, inverter, and battery, will be shared by Nissan-Renault and Mitsubishi.
  4. Self-driving Fusion Hybrid: Ford will be showing its next-generation Fusion Hybrid with autonomous vehicle features at CES starting this week in Las Vegas. It’s said to have more computing power, advanced Lidar sensors, and a more targeted field of vision than previous self-driving test Fusions. Ford is using the car as part of its larger strategy to have production-ready fully autonomous vehicles available in the next few years. New features along with the enhanced Lidar system include cameras and radar, algorithms for location and path planning, computer vision and machine learning, highly detailed 3D maps, and adequate computing space and power. “The car must be able to perform what a human can behind the wheel,” said Chris Brewer, chief program engineer for Ford’s Autonomous Vehicle Development, adding that “our virtual driver system is designed to do just that.”
  5. From Volt to Bolt: It’s taken a little less than 10 years from the introduction of the Chevy Volt concept at the 2007 Detroit auto show until affordable, long-range electric Chevy Bolts started being delivered to the first buyers. Automotive News covered the history of these plug-in vehicles, including General Motors’ bankruptcy and the important role both the Volt and Bolt have been playing as GM has reinvented its corporate identity in the industry. It’s been over 20 years (1996) since GM launched the EV1 in very limited numbers; but that electric car has been credited many times in the history of electric vehicles; including GM now working hard at making up for having quickly pulled the EV1 off the assembly line. GM’s investment in ride-hailing firm Lyft and their joint testing of self-driving Bolts marks a landmark in the changing role automakers are taking on in electrification, autonomous vehicles, and mobility services.
  6. Lamborghini Urus plug-in hybrid: Lamborghini R&D chief Maurizio Reggiani said a high-performance plug-in hybrid SUV will likely be revealed in 2017 and go on sale in 2018. The Lamborghini Urus will also be released as a twin-turbo, 4.0-liter V8 model, he said. Turbocharging will be part of the performance power for the PHEV and twin-turbo V8 versions. The Volkswagen-owned sports car brand says it will become “the ultimate super athlete in the SUV segment.”
  7. Autopilot features added: Tesla Motors continued putting the pieces in place for its fully autonomous hardware to move forward – and to keep it integrated with the semi-autonomous Autopilot system. CEO Elon Musk tweeted Saturday about the company beginning testing Autopilot safety features through a software upload to 1,000 new Tesla vehicles that have been built with the fully-autonomous hardware. Model S and Model X vehicles built after October have the fully-automated features built in, in what Musk calls “Hardware 2;” these new vehicles had Autopilot safety features left out for testing later to make sure they’re compatible. The 1,000 vehicles received a software upload with the Autopilot safety features added over the weekend to work out any problems; and to bring them in line with older Model S vehicles that had received Autopilot hardware once it started being added in September 2014.
  8. Propane vehicles sales growth: Roush CleanTech has found converting and selling propane-powered school buses to be taking off in the market, along with its propane vans and heavy-duty pickups.  It took the company six years to sell over 14,000 propane vehicles, but the company is on track to sell 6,000 more vehicles converted to run on propane autogas by the of 2017. The company says that it’s been able to make the business case that propane makes for a better, more cost effective alternative fuel than compressed natural gas.
  9. LCFS summit: Calstart is holding the fifth annual Clean, Low-Carbon Fuels Summit on February 27-28, 2017, in Sacramento. The Summit is known for being one of the premier gatherings which brings together legislators, regulators, and industry executives to discuss what is needed for the low-carbon fuels industry.  This year’s program will jointly focus on opportunities for California, as well as developments happening in other states and Canada. We will also be taking stock of what the incoming US presidential administration means for the clean, low-carbon fuels industry. For the first time, the Summit is open to the public. You can receive the early bird rate if you register by January 14.
  10. FCA automated electric car: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles unveiled a new, semi-autonomous electric minivan at CES in Las Vegas yesterday. Called the Chrysler Portal, the vehicle was “created by millennials for millennials,” according to FCA. The automaker worked with Samsung Electronics as its provider of 360 degree cameras and other sensors, and Panasonic Automotive as its supplier for infotainment, wireless connectivity and audio systems, the company said.

Government backlash grows worldwide on false reporting from automakers on green initiatives

electric-bus-in-chinaThe Chinese government is taking punitive action on more than 25 vehicle manufacturers, from makers of passenger cars to buses, in a breaking scandal over subsidies granted for “new energy vehicles.” It’s one in a series of global scandals in the past year over false claims made by automakers related to regulatory compliance and subsidies for fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and vehicle electrification.

Five Chinese bus makers are being penalized by the government for taking about 1 billion yuan ($150 million) in illegal subsidies, including a division of popular Chinese carmaker Chery Holding. Nissan, Hyundai, Geely, Anhui Jianghuai Automobile (JAC Motor), a subsidiary of BYD, and other carmakers in China have been accused of violating funding program rules. One busmaker will have its production license revoked while other companies will be fined. Government incentives helped Chinese sales of all-electric and plug-in hybrid passenger vehicles, trucks, and buses climb to 331,000 units last year. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers revised its estimate for this year’s new energy vehicle orders to 400,000 from 700,000 vehicles on Friday, after the government announcements on automakers being penalized.

On September 18, it will be one year since the Volkswagen diesel car emissions scandal blew up. On that day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation of the Clean Air Act after finding VW intentionally programmed turbocharged direct injection (TDI) diesel engines to activate certain emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing. Last week, a VW engineer became the first employee to be indicted and to plead guilty on criminal charges over the emissions cheating.

VW engineer James Robert Liang pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to commit fraud against the U.S. government and VW customers, and for violating the Clean Air Act. The plea agreement also includes Liang being willing to cooperate with the U.S. government’s investigation into the diesel emissions fraud investigation.

The conspiracy charge does indicate that other VW employees will face criminal charges by the U.S. government. This will take place during a vehicle recall process with government agencies in the U.S., Germany, South Korea, with other governments likely to follow a similar path.

Other automakers face intense government scrutiny in regulatory compliance. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is under investigation in Germany for false reporting on diesel emissions. Mitsubishi had its corporate offices raided by law enforcement in Japan last month over its mileage reporting scandal; that follows similar reporting scandals that enmeshed Hyundai, Kia, and Ford in 2013-2014.

Here are a few questions I’d like to have answered by automakers over these scandals:

  • Will uniform global standards be adopted by government agencies and automakers measuring vehicle mileage and greenhouse gas emissions? Automakers are measuring miles per gallon differently than the EPA, though that may be changing toward more uniformity. The speed cars are driven at, the weight of the vehicle, external temperatures and conditions, and road incline grades, affect mileage, automakers say. But can they follow uniform guidelines that determine how all vehicle mileage ratings are determined? Diesel emissions measures can be manipulated by the testing methods being utilized. Electric car driving range on a single charge illustrates the distinctions in reporting standards that can throw off measurements. An all-electric car may get 300 miles of range by European NEDC estimates, but it would be a shorter range by EPA standards. The automaker will brag about 300-mile range, but won’t explain the distinctions unless it’s in small type in a footnote.
  • How serious are automakers about reducing emissions? Global automakers are fearing their demise in a fast-changing industry. The Chinese auto market is becoming the most important one beyond the U.S. and Europe; and other markets like India, Brazil and Russia are growing. Growing vehicle classes are changing the game, from SUVs, crossovers, and luxury vehicles. New technologies like autonomous systems, infotainment connectivity, mobility services, and collision-avoidance systems are up there with vehicle electrification, and many times are much more important to automakers. What’s going to motivate them to invest in electrified and alternative fuel vehicles – and that includes manufacturing and marketing through dealer networks?
  • Will they get away with it? VW is going to spend at least $20 billon in the U.S. alone in the government settlements and court cases. VW and many players in the game seem to think the German automaker will eventually absorb these losses and clean up its act. Some automakers won’t be able to make it through this type of crisis unless they merge with larger companies (like Mitsubishi is doing with Nissan). Automakers would to be wise to take honest emissions reporting, and spending of public subsidies, much more seriously. Consumer surveys, purchase trends, voting patterns, and opinions shared over the internet, indicate that more is being expected from automakers – from transparency and authenticity, adoption of advanced vehicles technologies, sustainable manufacturing, and compliance with emissions standards.