For Today: Elon Musk gets Whitehouse greenlight for east coast tunnels, Chrysler only marketing Pacifica as a plug-in hybrid in California

Tesla CEO gaining support for fast train tunnels:  Elon Musk’s The Boring Company received approval from the White House to build a series of tunnels that could run from New York City to Washington, D.C. “Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins,” he tweeted yesterday. He later tweeted out that formal approval with the Trump administration is still needed, but after discussions they’ve had, he’s confident the project will be able to move forward. That could bring fast Hyperloop-like trains to Los Angeles and important transport routes on the east coast.

Freight haulers ask feds to keep SmartWay:  Major freight shippers, including Walmart, are asking U.S. House and Senate appropriations committees to restore funding for the voluntary SmartWay clean trucking program. Like several clean transportation programs, it had been cut from the Trump administration’s 2018 federal budget proposal. SmarWay has been working with freight haulers to save an estimated eight billion gallons of fuel and significantly reduce diesel trucks’ emissions of NOx and carcinogenic fine particulate matter. The coalition of companies said in a July 14 letter that the program has saved companies about $27.8 billion in fuel costs since it started in 2004.

Chrysler Pacifica plugging into California:  Chrysler is marketing its Pacifica minivan as a hybrid – and not what it really is, a plug-in hybrid – in every state except California. The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles division is concerned that most U.S. consumers will be confused or concerned about having to charge for the first time and be subject to range anxiety. Plugging in is less of a worry in California, which has made up about half of U.S. plug-in vehicle sales. Still, it is possible to occasionally see Chrysler billboard ads in the state that only identify the Pacifica as a hybrid.

For Today: Hyperloop One ready to move forward, OPEC and oil companies see electric cars taking away oil demand

Hyperloop One test:  Hyperloop One is getting ready to test out its 28-foot-long pod in Nevada in the next few weeks, the startup said. Inspired by Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2013, Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One is ready to take the pod transport through vacuum tubes in what could someday be a very fast ride between San Francisco and LA. The goal is to reach 250 miles per hour, which would shorten the car trip quite a bit.

Automated trucks:  Speakers at the Automated Vehicles Symposium in San Francisco on Wednesday expect that autonomous heavy-duty trucks will on the road in as little as three years – sooner than expected for light-duty passenger vehicles. Going to fully autonomous mode will take a while longer for commercial trucks, as it will for cars. Trucking companies are fascinated with the technology for its potential to make truck transport safer, improve customer service, and to help drivers become more productive. “A lot of the technology is driver assist or safety enhancement”, said Max Fuller, executive chairman of U.S. Xpress, a major U.S. trucking company. “If you look at [autonomous vehicles], it will come in pieces.”

Electric cars and oil demand:  Bloomberg New Energy Finance released a study today forecasting that electric cars will be reducing oil demand significantly by 2040. That comes from forecasts presented by OPEC, Exxon Mobil, and BP. OPEC quintupled its forecast for sales of plug-in sales, while Exxon Mobil, BP, and other oil producers also revised up their outlooks in the past year.

For Today: Musk taking first Model 3 as birthday present, PEVs offer way for automakers to hit fuel economy target

Musk gets birthday present: Tesla started production of the Model 3 on Friday, and CEO Elon Musk will be taking the very first one off the line. Musk tweeted on Saturday with two photos of the first model to roll off the production line. Tesla board member Ira Ehrenpreis had been the first make a down payment on the Model 3, but had turned over his rights to the first production model to Musk as a birthday gift. Musk, who turned 46, had previously purchased the very first Tesla Roadster and Model X, but not the Model S. The company is scheduled to deliver 30 of these units by the end of this month and aims to reach 20,000 units per month by December.

Oregon offers rebates:  Oregon is offering a plug-in vehicle incentive similar to California’s. Cars with batteries up to 10 kilowatt-hours, will receive a $1,500 rebate and electric cars with larger batteries will get $2,500. It’s part of a larger $5.3 billion transportation funding. It took the state a few years to get there, with purchase rebates having failed a few times in previous legislative sessions. This time, $12 million was included for rebates of six years for all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles with a base price of $50,000 or less.

Hitting the federal mpg standard:  Plug-in electrified vehicles may be the way that automakers hit the federal standards for corporate average fuel economy, according to a new study. A team from the University of Central Florida and MIT has found that the federal fuel economy standard offers an effective policy solution that will increase adoption of PEVs. That will be the case whether implemented alone or with another policy such as government incentives, according to the study. The current standards determine an automaker’s compliance based on annual production volume-weighted average fuel economy of the automaker’s fleet of total vehicles manufactured. The Trump administration is expected to wait until the original deadline of April 2018 to finalize the second phase of rules through 2025; and will probably soften the standards. Selling much higher volumes of PEVs would resolve that problem; automakers will be motivated to build a wide selection of PEV models and market them effectively to hit federal targets, even if softened by the Trump administration.

This Week’s Top 10: VW paying $4.3B in fines, Tesla speeding up Model 3 production

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. VW settles criminal charges:  Volkswagen’s guilty plea to three felonies in March resulted in the automaker being sentenced Friday to pay $4.3 billion in fines for importing 59,000 polluting diesel vehicles into the U.S. beginning in 2009. The charges were for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and introducing imported merchandise into the U.S. by means of false statements. Without the plea deal, VW would have faced potential criminal fines in the cases of between $17 billion and $34 billion. In a federal courtroom in Detroit, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox called VW’s actions a “deliberate, massive fraud perpetrated by VW management. We don’t know how far up the corporate ladder it goes. Hopefully, the DOJ, and more hopefully, the German government, will continue to investigate and prosecute” those responsible. That ends prosecution by the federal government, but buybacks aren’t yet completed and civil suits continue in the U.S.; criminal investigations continue in other countries, including Germany.
  2. Speeding up Model 3 production:  Tesla will begin volume production of the Model 3 in September by streamlining the tooling process, which runs the risk of facing recalls or warranty repairs. On an investor conference call last month, CEO Elon Musk said the company would skip the usual auto manufacturing procedure, which he called “beta,” to speed up production. Musk said he would instead use “advanced analytical techniques,” which are computer simulations, to speed up the process. Automakers usually test a cheaper prototype model to make sure parts and components fit correctly, adding time and cost to the process but also guaranteeing a higher level of vehicle reliability. Musk has promised to ramp up vehicle production fivefold next year, producing and selling 500,000 vehicles a year by 2018 as the Model 3 enters the market.
  3. More Pacifica plug-ins going to Waymo:  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is providing another 500 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minvans to Waymo’s self-driving vehicle test project. Last year, FCA delivered 100 of these vehicles that Waymo that both companies equipped with its autonomous technology. Waymo had worked with FCA engineers at a Michigan facility to modify the vehicle’s with the technology. Waymo is also planning on opening up test rides to the public, starting in Phoenix.
  4. Amazon goes autonomous:  Amazon is entering the autonomous technology sector by testing out applications to make its product deliveries become faster and more convenient for customers. Details aren’t coming out yet on what the team of a dozen employees is working on but it could be an autonomous fleet of delivery trucks. The internet giant is interested in autonomous trucking for its own deliveries and possibly to sell transport services to other companies such as UPS and FedEx. In January, the company secured a patent for a network that helps autonomous vehicles adjust in changing driving environments.
  5. AAA study on EV interest:  A new AAA study found that 30 million Americans say they’re likely to buy an electric vehicle, with members of the Millennial generation especially interested with 20% wanting to go that route. But the study also found that the interest level hasn’t yet turned into EV sales for most of them. AAA said that concerns include range anxiety, lack of charging stations, and running out of battery power before the end of their drive. Low ownership costs and emerging technologies will improve their sales in the future, according to AAA.
  6. EV Roadmap in Portland:  EV Roadmap 10 invites participants to “test drive the future,” learning from industry leaders as well as the leading communities and regional markets. The conference will be held June 20-21 in Portland, Ore., and will be organized around three tracks: Cars, focusing on the accelerating adoption of electric cars and other EVs. Charging infrastructure, which is evolving quickly to meet the needs of millions of new electric vehicle drivers. Community will focus on the broader “ecosystem” needed for the market to expand. Sessions will include an in-depth discussion of the Electrify America plan, programs designed to bring electric mobility benefits to underserved communities, and analysis of how electric vehicle adoption can lower electricity rates. You can register for the event online.
  7. Penske again named to SmartWay winners:  Penske Truck Leasing has, for the fifth straight year, been given the SmartWay Affiliate Challenge Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Penske is one of nine organizations to receive this honor. The SmartWay Affiliate Challenge is a national challenge developed by the EPA to acknowledge organizations that are contributing to a clean energy economy by reaching out to inform and educate businesses, their communities, truck drivers and other stakeholders about steps they can take to reduce freight emissions and their other environmental impacts. Here’s the list of winners. “EPA commends the SmartWay Affiliate Challenge honorees for their extraordinary level of commitment and enthusiasm in supporting more efficient and sustainable business practices in moving goods,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “These organizations represent diverse industry sectors and stakeholders who believe that American prosperity can be preserved while protecting the environment.”
  8. Next Generation Mobility Challenge:  Toyota and Net Impact announced three finalist groups for the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, which focuses on developing solutions for critical mobility needs in local communities around the world. The winning team will be announced in early summer, and finalists were named to the list based on project design, feasibility, and social impact. The finalists are: “The Hub” – a carpooling concept based in school communities that would be more efficient than public transit and allow commuting parents to spend more time with their families, featuring students from California College of the Arts and UC Berkeley; “Project Mobius” – a company-sponsored employee transportation system for low-income individuals to help them acquire and retain jobs while boosting employee loyalty and reducing environmental impact, featuring students from University of Colorado; and “Para Pickup” – a service that gives people with disabilities safe, affordable and flexible ways to get home, improving on current options which can be inflexible and slow, featuring students from Georgia Tech.
  9. Fuel cell truck test:  Toyota announced “Project Portal,” a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy duty truck use at the Port of Los Angeles. The zero-emission truck proof of concept will take part in a feasibility study examining the potential of fuel cell technology in heavy duty applications. The study will begin this summer and contribute to the Port’s Clean Air Action Plan, which has dramatically reduced harmful emissions from operations at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles since 2005.
  10. Propane autogas in Europe:  European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO) published a special edition of its report on the role propane autogas vehicles have played in the region in recent years. It’s the most widely used alternative fuel in Europe now with more than 12 million passenger vehicles placed in fleets as of 2015. Turkey has 35% of these vehicles with over four million vehicles. Italy and Poland join Turkey in being the only countries with over one million propane-powered passenger vehicles on their roads. Turkey also has the largest number of propane fueling sites, with over 10,000 stations. Germany has the second highest number of propane autogas stations despite having only the fourth largest propane-powered fleet in the region.

Cleantech stock prices beyond Tesla, plus options if the IPO doesn’t work out

If you’re looking to add cleantech stock to your portfolio, is there anything to buy beyond Tesla Inc. (TESLA)? If you’re a startup cleantech or clean transportation company, is going public viable for your financial future?

Tesla’s stock price and market valuation grabbed a lot of attention last week, with the irony of its market capitalization rising over $49 billion versus Ford Motor Co. (F) being at $44.63 billion (as of late Friday). Ford’s shares were trading at $11.23 and Tesla closed Friday at $302.54. Not bad for a company that’s never earned a quarterly profit.

It continued into yesterday with the Tesla stock climbing 3.3% Monday to $50.9 billion in market capitalization, eclipsing General Motors (GM) to become the highest ranking automaker in the U.S. – not in vehicle sales but it market valuation. Tesla is within $1 billion of Honda and making it into the top five global automakers in market value.

“Tesla engenders optimism, freedom, defiance, and a host of other emotions that, in our view, other companies cannot replicate,” said Alexander Potter, an analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos., who upgraded the stock Monday. “As they scramble to catch up, we think Tesla’s competitors only make themselves appear more desperate.”

Some critics worry that Tesla has become a cult of personality around charismatic CEO Elon Musk; while others see the real value coming from the quality and performance of the Model S and Model X and the impressive figure of bringing in over 400,000 pre-order down payments last year on the Model 3; not to mention Superchargers and Tesla Energy. A few Wall Street analysts are worried Tesla won’t be able to hold a stable financial position in the next couple of years as it ramps up to produce more than 500,000 vehicles a year and increases its debt. There’s also the big question of whether the SolarCity merger was a wise way to go. The latest stock surge is a clear sign that electric vehicles are being seen as an integral part of transportation’s future – with Tesla well positioned to tap into it.

If you look at cleantech stocks or take a visit to Alternative Energy Stocks, you’ll find it difficult to locate stocks that are growing in price and have market valuation anywhere near Tesla’s. Leading solar power company SolarCity had been doing very well in stock market performance up to about a year ago, but then started seeing its stock value plummet. The company was facing a few serious hurdles, which prompted the company to merge late last year with Tesla. That meant SolarCity stock was no longer listed in NASDAQ market quotes.

Green Auto Market Extended Edition tracks stock performance on a monthly basis. Tesla is the only publicly traded company on the list that has over a billion in market cap, though SolarCity used to be on that list. Vivint Solar, the second largest solar power company in the U.S., was looking very good about two years ago in stock price increases and market value. It had been split off from parent company Vivint Smart Home and was doing well after its IPO. SunEdison was going to acquire the company last year, but the deal fell apart, which brought stock prices down. The two Vivint companies are partnering now to go after more market share dominated by Tesla’s SolarCity; and that includes increasingly popular smart-home tech offered by companies like Vivint.

Some companies tracked in Alternative Energy Stocks have only a small portion of their business in cleantech. AeroVironment, Inc. (AVAV) is a good example. While it plays a leading role in bringing electric vehicle charging stations to the U.S., that segment of the company’s revenue pales in comparison to AeroVironment’s role in aerospace.

About 10 years ago, cleantech stock and private equity funding was a hot commodity with renewable energy and electric car startups gaining backing. That took a dive after the Great Recession grabbed hold and venture capitalists and institutional stock fund managers started looking elsewhere, such as mobile device applications and Silicon Valley tech firms.

Government grants, especially through the U.S. Department of Energy, filled some of that void for a few years. It became a battleground in Congress, and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used the public funding and bankruptcies of solar startup Solyndra, plug-in hybrid sports carmaker Fisker Automotive, and lithium battery company A123 Systems as campaign fodder against President Obama.

Private equity has filled some of the void, with much of it coming from China. Wanxiang Group, a major auto parts supplier, has helped salvage and rejuvenate Fisker and A123 Systems through post-bankruptcy acquisitions. Karma Automotive is now using the Fisker Karma drive train system in its Karma Revero plug-in hybrid sports car. A123 Systems has switched over from lithium iron phosphate to nickel manganese cobalt (NMC) technology to meet the market demand for advanced battery chemistries in high energy applications, some of which will include plug-in vehicles. A lot of the company’s focus lately has been on 48-volt batteries.

Some of the investments coming from China aren’t working out so well. U.S.-based startup Faraday Future is owned by LeEco and Chinese tech entrepreneur Jia Yueting. LeEco has faced its own set of financial problems and may be backing away from Faraday Future at this time.

LeEco is a major investor in another electric car startup grabbing a lot of attention these days. California-based Lucid Motors is looking for $700 million to establish its Arizona factory and build the “Air” electric luxury sedan. Lucid claims that the Air will go 400 miles per charge through two AC induction motors capable of producing 1,000 in combined horsepower.

Lucid Motors is now working on a Series D financing round. Once that funding is secured, ground will be broke on its production plant. It will carry out the process gradually in three phases.

For those interested in filling out their stock portfolio with companies getting good marks in sustainability performance, it might be a good idea to look at the supply chain and tech company partnerships.

Johnson Controls International (JCI) is getting strong sustainability ratings, and is considered to have tangible value on the stock market. The company has been included in 40 sustainability indices in recent years and claims to have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions intensity 41% from 2002 to 2014. JCI is a leading supplier of batteries for hybrids and EVs, along with being a recycler of lead-acid batteries; and a large producer of automotive electronics and parts such as seats and instrumental panels. It’s also well known for being a leading provider of energy management products and HVAC for buildings.

Renewable Energy Group (REGI) has been finding supporters, including a stock market analyst making annual recommendations to Renewable Energy World. The company has becomes a leading producer and seller of biomass-based diesel in the U.S. Turbulence over renewable fuel standard credits and low oil prices have hurt the company and many others, though the company’s fuel and stock prices are finding more backers in the market. The company is also doing well through a Services department that provides facility management and operational services to biofuel and cleantech facilities.

Several major automakers and their supply chain partners have been working on using less energy and water in their factories and other facilities. Ford just made the World’s Most Ethical Companies for the eighth year. The automaker was acknowledged for making Partnership for a Cleaner Environment (PACE) part of its ethics and sustainability drive. That program was set up to encourage sustainability practices, including water and energy conservation, throughout its global supply chain. General Motors (GM) now has 122 landfill-free facilities around the world that recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations, about three fourths of which are manufacturing plants. The company has committed to using 100% renewable energy by 2050.

Last year, Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) launched a six-phase sustainability initiative through 2050. Along with clean energy and water efficiency, the company says that 100% percent of its new vehicles sold that year will be zero emission.

Tech companies like Apple, Google, and Facebook have gained a lot of backing supporting their share prices. They’re also heavily engaged in powering their facilities with clean energy, as detailed in a 2GreenEnergy blog post. Apple and Facebook clouds are powered by renewable energy. Amazon’s web service, which hosts Amazon.com, Pinterest, Netflix, Spotify, and many other major websites, said it will utilize 100% clean energy for its global network.

You can also take a look at Cleantech Group’s list of companies and weightings for those included in the Cleantech Index. There are no automakers on the list, but a few suppliers and tech companies are being followed including Siemens, ABB, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, Borg Warner, Trimble Navigation, Intertek Group, and engineering firm Ricardo.

Tesla has been wise to tap into just about every imaginable source of funding out there, short of crowdfunding (unless you want to put the $1,000 down payments for the Model 3 in that category). The electric carmaker took a Department of Energy loan that it paid back early. Its stock market value continues to be strong with Musk continuing to be the largest shareholder in the company.

Musk has said that Tesla could likely have disappeared if it weren’t for significant investments made by global automakers Daimler and Toyota in 2009 and 2010. Both of these companies have sold their shares in Tesla for excellent profits. They did tap into Tesla’s electric drive system for some of their first steps into electric vehicles before ending the partnerships.

Like many automakers, China will be a vital growth more for Tesla in the future. Musk had said China will someday become Tesla’s largest market, and the company just reported making $1 billion sales last year in that market.

A Chinese company has also become one of the largest investors in Tesla. Chinese tech giant Tencent Holdings just invested $1.78 billion, or about 8.2 million shares, making it Tesla’s fifth-largest shareholder. The first four largest shareholders are Musk and investment companies Fidelity, Baillie Gifford, and T. Rowe Price.

Tesla needs strong cash flow to get the Model 3 launched in high volume. Tencent wants to diversify its portfolio and is a big believer in how sizable EVs and the charging infrastructure will be. The company has been investing in Chinese EV startups. One of these, NextEV, also has a U.S. office near Tesla’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, and is committed to rolling out an electric supercar that will be Tesla-competitive.

Details coming out on Autopilot fatality in Tesla Model S

Tesla AutopilotThe fatality of a driver in a Tesla Model S with Autopilot is being described as the very first casualty from an autonomous vehicle technology. Here are details from the incident and where this may lead in the near future..……..

  • The crash took place on May 7 in Williston, Fla., but wasn’t in the public spotlight until June 30 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said preliminary reports indicated that the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes.
  • The 2015 Tesla Model S sedan crashed in northern Florida into a truck that was turning left in front of it on a double-lane highway. The Tesla didn’t stop, hitting the trailer and traveling under it. The Tesla then ran off the road, hitting a fence and a power pole before coming to a stop.
  • It is the first known fatal accident involving a vehicle being driven by itself by means of sophisticated computer software, sensors, cameras and radar. Federal regulators, who are in the early stages of setting guidelines for autonomous vehicles, have opened a formal investigation into the incident.
  • The Florida Highway Patrol identified the Tesla driver who was killed as Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. He was a former Navy SEAL known for dismantling bombs for the Navy during the Iraq war, then coming home to start his own company to extend internet service into rural America. He loved his Model S so much he nicknamed it “Tessy.” He celebrated the Autopilot feature that made it possible for him to cruise the highways, making YouTube videos of himself driving hands-free. In the first nine months he owned it, Brown put more than 45,000 miles on the car. In a YouTube video that Brown posted a month before the fatal crash showing the technology saving him from another collision and wrote that he was “very impressed. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities,” Brown wrote on April 5 in comments posted with the 41-second video.
  • Tesla Motors issued a statement on the incident and investigation on June 30 that said it’s the first known fatality in over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. In “A Tragic Loss,” posted in the company’s blog, Tesla said that neither Autopilot nor the driver “noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”
  • A digital video disc player was found in the Model S after the crash, the Florida Highway Patrol officials said on Friday. Whether the portable DVD player was operating at the time of the crash has not been determined. Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts on Friday about whether the player was showing a movie.
  • The 62-year-old driver of the tractor trailer, Frank Baressi, told the Associated Press that the Tesla was driving so quickly that it “went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” Combined with the alleged high rate of speed the Model S was traveling, Baressi told the AP that he witnessed the Tesla “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” though he acknowledged that he only heard the movie and couldn’t see it. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said to AP.
  • One driver on the Florida highway said that right before the crash, the Model S was driving well over the speed limit, according to a local resident interviewed during a TV news report who had spoken to the witness.
  • Evidence from the crash will take NHTSA several weeks to issue a statement. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash. During the preliminary investigation, NHTSA will gather additional data regarding this incident and other information regarding the automated driving systems. “The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles,” NHTSA said in a statement.
  • The federal government is expected to release its national guidelines for autonomous vehicles this month, and will likely acknowledge the NHTSA investigation of the Tesla crash. Speaking last month at a telematics conference in Novi, Mich., Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA, expressed concern over how much is really known about the safety of autonomous vehicle technology. “We need new safety metrics,” Rosekind said. “We also are going to have to broaden our view on the data sources for what those metrics might be. We have laboratory work. We have simulations and real world data.” The industry and regulators don’t know everything they don’t know about the safety of the most advanced autonomous technologies, he said.
  • Google has collected a lot of data from its self-driving car test runs in recent years. Its self-driving test cars have been in several minor collisions, but on the receiving end. Earlier this year, Google filed a California DMV accident report confirming that one of its autonomous vehicles (a Lexus RX450h) collided with a bus in Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus approaching from behind would slow or stop to let the car through. The Lexus smacked into the side of the bus at low speed, damaging its front fender, wheel and sensor in the process. It was a minor incident with no injuries.
  • Google test cars primarily use a laser system known as Lidar (light detection and ranging), a spinning range-finding unit on top of the car that creates a detailed map of the car’s surroundings as it moves. Lidar is also used now on many of the experimental autonomous vehicles being developed by Nissan, BMW, Apple and others, but not by Tesla. The Tesla uses a computer vision-based vehicle detection system, but according to the company, it is not intended to be used hands-free and parts of the system are unfinished. Some experts speculate that a Lidar-driven car might have avoided this fatal crash.
  • Safety of vehicle drivers and passengers, and pedestrians and bicyclists, have been the core issue behind allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested, and eventually to roll out, on U.S. roads. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles made that very clear when the state adopted the nation’s first permission and guidelines for testing self-driving cars on its roads. Google and other companies have emphasized that issue more than any other reasons for investing in the technology. The Tesla fatality will heighten the debates – over whether cars should be fully autonomous as Google advocates, or they should have allowances for humans to take over in emergencies as the California DMV and others have expressed.
  • NHTSA just released a statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2015, which estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. That’s an increase of about 7.7% as compared to the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. It would will mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008, which saw 37,423 fatalities. This data will likely affect the debate even more.
  • Tesla just announced it will be releasing this month its Autopilot software version 8.0. That was in the works long before reporting of the investigation of the fatal crash, but the company says the update is the most important to its touchscreen since the launch of the Model S in 2012 and features significant improvements to the Autopilot. It will allow for improvements in the general Autopilot experience in traffic, but more significantly, it will introduce automatic off-ramp in exits on the highway, Tesla says.

This Week’s Top 10: Renewable Fuel Standard biofuel blends may be resolved, Tesla Motors announces Model S 70D

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. Renewable Fuel StandardThe long-dragged-out biofuels standards may be coming to a conclusion. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will propose draft biofuels targets for 2015 by June 1 as part of a lawsuit settlement with oil industry trade groups. The American Petroleum Institute and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers had filed a lawsuit stating that EPA delays in setting renewable fuel use requirements have led to uncertainty and volatility in biofuel markets; oil trade groups are tired of dealing with market volatility of Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credit prices, which is part of the Renewable Fuel Standard rules requiring that fuel refiners mix a certain volume of ethanol into gasoline and biodiesel into diesel each year. The EPA has been dragging out defining the rules that it will set for biofuel volumes. Its decision in late 2013 to reduce the ethanol mandate and maintaining the biodiesel mandate led to a wave of public outcry by biofuels producers and anger by oil industry trade groups over the instability and whether the EPA would reduce the biofuels targets.
  2. Tesla Motors continues grabbing our attention. Last fall, it was the Tesla Model S P85D with “P” standing for performance; now, there’s the Model S 70D with more power, longer range per charge, and price tag with $5,000 added. The 70D is an all-wheel-drive Model S with a 70-kilowatt-hour battery pack, with 240 miles of range and priced at $75,000 before incentives; and it gets 514 horsepower (hp) to all four wheels from two electric motors. That compares with 208 miles on a charge and 380 hp on the base model rear-drive Model S. As for the “D” in Model S 70D, that stands for dual motor, which will be standard.
  3. Henrik Fisker is dropping the Thunderbolt supercar. Former Fisker Automotive co-founder, and previous Aston Martin design director, Henrik Fisker, has settled a lawsuit by Aston Martin against plans to produce the $400,000 Thunderbolt. Fisker claimed it was based on the current Aston Martin Vanquish, a V-12 powered supercar that was to have been modified with custom styling and cosmetic features. Aston Martin says it was too close to the iconic sports car featured in James Bond movies and infringed on Aston Martin’s intellectual property rights. Fisker had shown off the Thunderbolt at the Amelia Island Coucours d’ Elegance car show last month, and said it would be marketed through the Galpin Aston Martin dealership in California.
  4. ClipperCreek releases cost-competitive charging station. ClipperCreek announced availability of its popular LCS-20 EV charging station with a plug, previously available only as a hardwired unit. ClipperCreek released the LCS-20P Level 2 EV Charging Stations now starting at $379 hardwired and $395 with four plug options, the four most common residential 240V supply power plugs.
  5. Elio Motors CEO Paul Elio still needs a few more investors. Elio just spoke at the New York Auto Show and said that to meet the $230 million to begin production of its two-seat, three-wheel fuel efficient vehicle is still falling short – the company needs another $165 million to get these cars on the road. Elio thinks that the $6,800, 84 mpg vehicle is ideal for cost-conscious fleets and consumers. A big question will be whether Elio Motors will be able to qualify for a low-interest loan through the US Dept. of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program that will be re-launched soon.
  6. Rethink Methane Symposium coming up. Gladstein, Neadross & Associates (which puts on ACT Expo) is launching the inaugural Rethink Methane Symposium on June 9-10 in Sacramento, Calif. It’s focused on helping stakeholders understand how renewable methane from biological and synthetic sources can help California meet its climate protection and air quality improvement goals. Featured speakers will be Hector De La Torre of the California Air Resources Board, Peter Lehner of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Julia Levin of the Bioenergy Association of California, and Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation.
  7. Massachusetts offering more EV rebates. Electric vehicles have been popular enough in Massachusetts to use up the initial $2 million incentive funding. Now Governor Charlie Baker has allocated an additional $2 million to the state’s Mor-EV rebate program. Mor-EV, which stands for Massachusetts Offers Rebates for Electric Vehicles, provides up to $2,500 to state residents who buy or lease electric vehicles.
  8. BMW wants to double plug-in sales. BMW would like to double sales of its i3 electric and i8 plug-in hybrid models this calendar year. The BMW i3 had 6,092 in sales from its launch in May of last year through December; the German automaker would like to double that to 12,000 units sold of its i3 battery electric and i3 REX range-extended small hatchbacks by the end of this year. The i8 was introduced in August and took in 555 in sales last year; that number is intended to be 1,000 this year. BMW is happy to see strong demand for both models, said BMW North America CEO Ludwig Willisch.
  9. GM prepping for redesigned Volt. General Motors says it will stop production of its 2015 Chevrolet Volt in May to reduce US stockpiles and to prepare for the highly anticipated 2016 Volt plug-in hybrid. Production of the redesigned 2016 Volt is expected to start late this summer. The suspension comes from lower-than-expected sales, factory renovations and engineering changes, the company said. Volt sales had dropped 19% to 18,805 units in 2014, and 48% in the first quarter of this year to 1,874 units. In other news, GM is thinking about spending $1 billion to renovate its Tech Center campus in Warren, Mich. GM has asked the city for tax breaks on the project. The Tech Center has been the hub of many projects since the 1950s including hosting a battery lab for electric-drive vehicles like the Volt.
  10. Kevin Wood, project manager for clean transportation, at Center for Sustainable Energy, sees the plug-in and fuel cell vehicle markets taking off right now. They have a proven track record in fleets. While they don’t meet the needs in every duty cycle yet, in passenger vehicles and sedans, there’s no reason to not be looking at these technologies. You can hear his perspective on these plug-ins and fuel cell vehicles, and other alternative fuel vehicles, in this Fleet Management Weekly video.
  11. Extra from this week’s Green Auto Market Extended Edition: How Hawaii has become a significant electric vehicle (EV) marketplace. EVs with strong incentives have their appeal in Hawaii – with destination charges and a higher price for gasoline than any other market in the US, EVs become as, or more, attractive with cost-conscious car shoppers living in the state. Hawaii ranks second in the US behind California in the number of electric vehicles registered in the state, according to figures recently release by the US Energy Information Administration. The adoption of electric vehicles is a key component in the state’s target of reaching of 70% in clean energy by the year 2030. Here’s more on how to subscribe to that weekly newsletter and read all about it, plus a section on clean transportation company publicly traded stocks – and resources to check out on following these stocks and market trends.

This Week’s Top 10: Apple stirs up frenzy as potential EV maker, EPA refining fuel economy testing procedures

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. Apple electric minivanIs Apple becoming an electric automaker competing directly with Tesla and the majors? The answer is yet to be determined, but it stirred up a media frenzy last week as big as Google’s self-driving car venture last year. The stories were captivating: lithium battery maker A123 Systems sues Apple for allegedly stealing away top engineers to build its own battery pack – and these and other Apple engineers are likely to apply for several patents protecting the new technology. Sources told media that Apple is working on an electric car that may roll out by 2020. The Wall Street Journal piece that started the wave of coverage said that Apple’s secret project has been named “Project Titan,” and hundreds of Apple employees have been assigned to design the electric minivan. Apple has large cash reserves and could be positioning itself to offer cutting-edge technologies for cars that could be as significant as the iPhone has been in the smartphone space. Former General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz doubts Apple will be setting up vehicle manufacturing assembly plants. “Do I think they are going to work with vehicles? Yes,” Lutz said. “Do I think they intend to produce entire cars? No.”
  2. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is updating fuel economy test procedures to make them more accurate than they’ve been criticized for being in the past couple of years. The revision focuses on testing rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag of vehicles as they roll from 70 mph to a stop on a straight, flat track. These calculations are used to program dynamometers that determine fuel economy ratings in EPA test cycles. The new standards will need to more accurately address the effects of road load levels over a broad range of speed. The EPA will be meeting with automakers in the next few months to discuss their testing procedures, said Chris Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation Air Quality.
  3. West coast ports may see their work stoppage go away and shipping go back to normal. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union and Pacific Maritime Association have reached tentative agreement on a new labor contract that had been backing up cargo carriers in long lines in recent weeks. Japanese automakers had been feeling the squeeze, especially Honda which said that the backup cost the automaker about 25,000 vehicles in lost production. US Labor Secretary Thomas Perez last week brokered a deal in San Francisco between the union and a group of shipping companies.
  4. Fisker Automotive is considering three options for its company name: eLux Technology, Elux Automotive, or keeping its current name. According to an inside source, including “Lux” in the name could commemorate the company’s chairman, Lu Guanqui; the Chinese billionaire and founder of Wanxiang Group Corp. acquired Fisker about a year ago in bankruptcy court for $149.2 million in cash.
  5. For those interested in working with the US military on advanced vehicle technology projects…… the US Marine Corp. issued a Request for Information (RFI) for its next Expeditionary Energy Concepts technology demonstration that will be held June 23-25, 2015, at Camp Lejeune, NC. Three vehicle technology areas will be included in this year’s demonstration: hybrid/electric all-terrain vehicles; advanced batteries and energy storage; and fuel cells up to 10 kW. The deadline to respond to the RFI is Friday, March 6.
  6. Tesla Motors has a diverse group of backers in its fight against franchised dealers. Ten public-interest groups have signed a letter to US governors and legislators supporting Tesla’s right to directly sell its electric vehicles at retail stores across the country. Among the 10 groups were the environmentalist Sierra Club and Americans for Prosperity – a political action group founded by the Koch brothers. In other news, Tesla may be granted permission to open up to 12 stores in Texas. Six state legislators have filed bills that would give permission to Tesla to directly sell to customers.
  7. Navigant Research expects electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) to see big gains in coming years. Global revenue for EVSE charging services should grow from $81.1 million in 2014 to $2.9 billion in 2023. That would include residential and commercial electric vehicle charging for Level 1, Level 2, DC fast charging, and wireless EVSE.
  8. Volvo will be launching an autonomous vehicle pilot program by 2017. The Drive Me project will use Volvo vehicles equipped with a variety of sensors designed to detect weather and traffic, pedestrians, and other safety and mobility factors. Some of that data will come from a combined radar and camera system mounted at the top of the windshield.
  9. Ryder System has set up an online natural gas vehicle maintenance program for all of its North American maintenance network with more than 6,000 employees at Ryder’s 800 facilities. Technicians will learn about the entire spectrum of all natural gas vehicle platforms and configurations. Ryder trucks have put in more than 30 million miles driven as natural gas vehicles for the commercial transportation industry; the company has 14 natural gas vehicle maintenance facilities and 260 natural gas vehicle trained technicians.
  10. California Air Resources Board received a letter signed by about 100 businesses, organizations and individuals, highlighting key benefits of the state’s six-year-old Low Carbon Fuel Standard. Key benefits mentioned in the letter included diversifying the state’s fuel supply and increasing independence from fluctuating oil prices and gas pump prices; spurring greater use of clean alternative fuels and vehicles; and cutting air pollution and improving public health.

This Week’s Top 10: Henrik Fisker has suprises in store at LA Auto Show, Toyota and Daimler sell off Tesla Motors stock shares

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. Henrik FiskerFisker surprise announcements scheduled for LA Auto Show: Fisker Automotive’s co-founder and former CEO has come back on the scene for the first time after quitting, and later attempting to acquire, his extended-range sporty luxury car company last year. Henrik Fisker says he’ll be unveling two new cars on November 20, a media day at next month’s LA Auto Show. Back-to-back press conferences are scheduled with no details yet revealed, except for the fact that they’re being sponsored by the mega-Ford dealer Galpin. The first session will be taking place with Galpin Auto Sports, the dealer chain’s custom-car division and the other session will be hosted by Galpin Motors. One of them is predicted to be more of a muscle car than an environmentally sound, fuel-efficient model. Fisker has been known to be quite a designer, overseeing the BMW Z8 and Aston Martin V8 Vantage sports cars, plus a few others. One of his other businesses has been Fisker Coachbuild, which made restyled versions of the BMW and Mercedes-Benz luxury cars.
  2. Toyota and Daimler have sold off some, or all, their stock shares in Tesla Motors. Daimler made big gains of selling off its remaining 4% shares and bringing in $780 million from its original $50 million stake. Toyota didn’t reveal the timimg or amount of its latest sale. Its initial investment of $50 million gave it 2.5% share in the company in May 2010. While the Toyota RAV4 battery and motor deal is ending later this year between Toyota and Tesla, their relations appear to be solid. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company would sign a new deal with Toyota in the next two-to-three years. Daimler and Toyota were likely taking advantage of the extremely high value of Tesla shares – closing yesterday at $221.67.
  3. Sierra Club releases tool for EV shoppers. The Sierra Club is now offering car shoppers its “pick-a-plug-in” website tool to find the right electric vehicle (EV) for them. Pick-a-plug-in asks the user a few questions about driving habits and vehicle needs, and then generates a list of EVs that fit the bill. There’s no recommended car featured, but leading models are given based on how many miles a day the person drives, whether the person takes frequent long trips, whether there is a place to plug in the car, and how much money the person is prepared to spend.
  4. ChargePoint says you can pay for your charge on PayPal. While over half the 19,000 chargers in the ChargePoint network are free, the company is now moving forward in the payment process. ChargePoint employees at its San Jose, Calif., campus, can go to 34 charging ports and pay for ChargePoint with PayPal. This must be entertaining for Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, a former PayPay co-founder.
  5. Asplundh, a tree expert company, is bringing in propane-powered medium-duty trucks. Asplundh provides tree management services to utilities and municipalities, and will start off its propane autogas vehicles with two Ford F-650 trucks powered by Roush CleanTech’s propane augogas fuel systems. “We were searching for a cost-effective alternative fuel that provides an adequate refueling infrastructure and also meets our environmental initiatives,” said John Talbot, director of fleet services for Asplundh Tree Expert Co. “Propane autogas was our answer.”
  6. GM adds to its sustainability credentials with more solar. Along with its landfill-free facilities, General Motors is adding to its solar power. A new 2.2 megawatt, ground-mounted solar array will be set up by the end of this year at its assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio. Once the last of the more than 8,500 solar panels are in place, it will be GM’s largest solar installation in the western hemisphere, the automaker said.
  7. Navigant Research expects EV growth, though not an easy one. Navigant Research expects the global light-duty electric vehicle (EV) growth to be sizable – from 2.7 million sold in 2014 to 6.4 million in 2023. These numbers include hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles. That growth rate will take a lot of hard work, according to the study, with much competition coming from automakers producing more fuel effient internal combustion engine vehicles. Stop-start technologies, lightweight materials, engine downsizing, and growing interest in clean diesel, is putting the pressure on OEMs to reach the level they’re stiving for in electrified vehicle sales.
  8. Smart parking tools available through ParkMe and Microsoft. For those of you affected by “urban mobility” (carsharing, ridesharing, e-bikes, parking, etc.), there was an interesting announcement made by ParkMe, which is probably the largest provider of real-time parking data to car owners through the mobile devices. ParkMe will provide parking data to Microsoft Corp. to be integrated into its Bing search engine. Users will be better able to access smart parking tools to find nearby parking, check real-time availability, and pre-pay for the cheapest and most convenient parking at their destinations.
  9. Telsa and US Bank offering cheaper lease payments. Tesla CEO Elon Musk just wrote in the company’s blog how the agreement with the major bank can lower monthly lease payments by as much as 25% on a new Model S. Another perk: the Tesla happiness guarantee. If you don’t like the car for any reason in the first three months, you can return it and the lease obligation is waived. “The only catch is that you can’t then immediately lease another Model S,” Musk wrote.
  10. Brazil loves biofuels but holding back on EVs. The Brazilian government just released a green-car incentives programs that excludes battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Import duties are cut on new hybrid cars, though that does not include tax breaks or other perks. Electric vehicles are excluded entirely because the country’s electricity grid doesn’t have the capacity to handle an influx of EVs and all the charging they need. Recent droughts have lowered water levels in the dams that power hydro-electric electricit plants. Brazil has had to look for other methods of electricity generation.

“Pump” documentary explores potential of alternative fuels and recovery from oil addiction

Pump movie fuel station“What’s the gas station of the future going to look like? It’s going to look like a lot different than today’s,” says Jim Lane, editor and publisher of Biofuels Digest. “What’s going to break the monopoly at the pump is entrepreneurs who build alternative distribution.”

Lane makes this statement in “Pump,” a documentary opening in theaters next month. This documentary tells the story of America’s addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly and simply how it can end and make available choices at the pump. Fuel can become cheaper, cleaner, and American made – and in the process, create more jobs for a stronger, healthier economy.

The documentary is directed by Josh Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, and narrated by Jason Bateman; it opens in New York and Los Angeles on Sept. 19, 2014. Josh Tickell directed the Sundance award-winner, “Fuel,” and his spouse Rebecca Harrell Tickell co-directed two other documentaries with Josh, “Freedom” and “The Big Fix.” Years ago, Josh was known for his Veggie Van Voyage, where he drove 25,000 miles over two years in his vegetable oil biodiesel van to educate Americans on the benefits of the alternative fuel.

Like their other documentaries, “Pump” is featuring a few famous experts on the subject – one of them being Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. “It’s possible to create compelling, affordable electric cars,” Musk says in the movie. “There’s been a monopoly on the fuel system in this country,” says John Hofmeister, former president of Shell Oil Co. and author of Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk from an Energy Insider. Hofmeister is founder of a nonprofit organization, Citizens for Affordable Energy.

“We have the ability to stop using oil right now,” David Blume, author of Alcohol Can Be a Gas. “All cars run equally well on methanol, ethanol, or gasoline.” As seen in the photo image from the documentary, a gas station of the future may offer gasoline, methanol, ethanol, biodiesel, and natural gas. Propel, a company specializing in ethanol and biodiesel at fuel stations, is featured in “Pump.”

AltCar Expo will present a panel discussion on the documentary on Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014 at 3:00 pm, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  Participating panelists include David Blume, founder and CEO of Blume Distillation and author of Alcohol Can Be a Gas; John Brackett, auto engineer and enthusiast; and Eyal Aronoff, co-founder, Freedom Foundation.