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.

Prius parent Toyota shifting from EVs to FCVs and advanced hybrids

Toyota and TeslaToyota Motor Corp. has been carefully watched by advocates of clean vehicles – its Prius became the symbol of innovation in the hybrid space even though several other competitive hybrid models were launched around that time. When Toyota made an agreement in 2010 with Tesla Motors to integrate its electric motor and batteries into the Toyota RAV4 EV, along with Toyota’s $50 million investment in Tesla and Tesla’s takeover of the shuttered NUMMI factory in Fremont, Calif., the working relationship looked very promising. It also helped strengthen Tesla’s promise to become a thriving automaker (which was also supported around that time by Daimler’s investment). The Toyota and Tesla relationship seemed to sour this month when Toyota announced that it will phase out an agreement from 2012 for Tesla to deliver 2,600 battery packs for Toyota’s electric RAV4 over three years.

Since then, a Toyota executive has said that the two companies will continue working together on battery technology even though the initial battery-supply agreement will be ending this year. Osamu Nagata, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, acknowledged that Tesla has a clear business strategy for developing a better battery. Automakers and their suppliers do need to work together on developing better batteries, he said. Nagata also talked about the future of fuel-cell vehicles, which Toyota has indicated will become a top priority for the company in coming years.

Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota’s North American region, said during a an interview after Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Green conference that hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles hold greater promise for Toyota. Battery-electric vehicles make sense in a select way as short range urban vehicles, he said. “But for long-range travel primary vehicles, we feel there are better alternatives, such as hybrids and plug-in hybrids, and tomorrow with fuel cells,” Lentz said.

Hydrogen fuel cells have become cheaper on a cost-per-vehicle basis and are more efficient on a well-to-wheel basis; that’s a primary reason Toyota has turned away from a long-term effort to create a viable battery-electric vehicle. Toyota will soon be launching a fuel cell vehicle in California and is investing $7 million in the FirstElement Fuel campaign to bring hydrogen refueling stations to the state.

Toyota also has high hopes for hybrids and will be expanding its vehicle offerings in years to come. The automaker has developed a new semiconductor it says can boost fuel efficiency in hybrid cars such as the Prius by up to 10%. Test models have so far shown a 5% increase, and Toyota thinks it can commercialize the 10% more efficient semiconductor by 2020.

The new semiconductors will manage the flow of electricity through the power control unit that integrates a hybrid vehicle’s battery, motor, and generator. As competition in the hybrid space increases each model year, Toyota wants to strengthen its position marketing the Prius family and its list of other Toyota and Lexus hybrid models. Hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles will be an integral part of Toyota meeting government emissions standards and strengthening its image as a leader in advanced, clean vehicles.

Big Picture: GM has high hopes for a redesigned Chevy Volt; Smith Electric Vehicles shuts down production

Chevy Volt plant productionGeneral Motors would like to pick up steam on sales of its plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt. To get there, GM will be selling two versions of the redesigned 2016 Volt. One will be a lower-priced version with a smaller battery pack and shorter driving range. That will be carried overseas through GM’s Opel division in Europe. The next versions of the Volt will go into production in about 16 months at the automaker’s Detroit-Hamtramck plant. That plant will get a $384 million investment that will be aimed toward the Volt and a new flagship Cadillac sedan and a redesigned Buick LaCrosse.

GM would like to reduce product cost and make the Volt more profitable, and expects to achieve necessary cost reductions in the 2016 model. The automaker would also like to see stronger sales results without investing so much on incentives. The Chevrolet brand reported selling just 58,158 units since the Volt was launched nearly 40 months ago.

And in other clean transportation news……

  • More bad news on the EV startup front: Smith Electric Vehicles, based on Kansas City, Mo., has temporarily stopped plant operations. The company is best known for its Smith electric delivery truck, and says that it’s not shutting down operations for good. CEO Bryan Hansel says manufacturing the vehicles has yet to become profitable; he says suppliers and investors have been informed that it’s a temporary shut down and is part of the company’s plan to scale up production and sell enough of them to turn a profit.
  • Tesla Motors is setting up a new finance arm to entice companies to lease the Model S as one of their fleet vehicles. Small and medium-sized businesses will be able to calculate the leasing cost on Tesla’s website will offer them an attractive value proposition. The new Tesla Finance unit offers leases through partner banks with a guaranteed resale value. Tesla is also getting ready to start selling cars in China this month. Tesla CEO Elon Musk will be delivering a few of the first ones to customers. He’ll also be meeting with representatives from China Petroleum & Chemical (also known as Sinopec) this month about constructing charging units in the refiner’s nationwide network of service stations. The charging network is expected to start in Beijing and then roll out to surrounding areas.
  • CleanFUEL USA has rolled out the propane autogas industry’s first complete fuel network management system for electronic dispensers. Using CleanFUEL eCONNECT, fleet managers can economically monitor and control fuel inventories faster and easier than ever before with real-time data insight, flexible report storage, and remote access capabilities.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency may continue to be sympathetic to the biofuels industry; EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy recently spoke to the issue at North American Agricultural Journalists meeting in Washington DC. McCarthy expects the EPA’s final rule to be different than the proposed version released in late 2013. After reviewing more than 200,000 on the Renewable Fuel Standard proposal, EPA is looking more closely at the realities of the fuel market, with one of them being the realities of the fuel blend wall. The agency expense more legal challenges for any RFS standards. “We need to be able to justify it in court, McCarthy said.
  • Tesla Motors has taken a swing at “lemon law king” attorney Vince Megna’s lawsuit against the electric vehicle maker. While insisting that it doesn’t believe in automotive “lemon laws,” the company says there are several good reasons to be skeptical about the lawsuit and denied some of the claims. Megna made a big splash on the internet with a Youtube video on behalf of client Dr. Robert Montgomery of Franklin, Wis.; Montgomery stated in the filing that he had a number of problems (such as a malfunctioning door handles) with his Tesla Model S that led to it being pulled of the road for 66 days. He wants Tesla to buy it back under a law that take affect after the vehicle is pulled off the road at least 30 days during its first year of life.

New Jersey’s Tesla decision a watershed for dealer franchise vs. OEM corporate stores

Tesla store“This [the ban on Tesla] is a disturbing trend and deals a big blow to the future of automotive retailing. It also pushes the US behind the rest of the world. So far the resistance to Tesla and any kind of progressive thinking in auto sales had been relegated to the southern states. New Jersey’s decision could now influence states such as New York and Massachusetts, which have so far been more supportive of Tesla.” – Kumar Saha, senior industry analyst with Frost & Sullivan’s Automotive and Transportation research group.

On March 11, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet members and appointees voted to block Tesla from direct sales. The administration ruled in favor of a state requirement that new cars must be sold through licensed franchises from a rule proposed last October by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission; that happened around the same time Tesla opened two of its own stores in the state. Tesla CEO Elon Musk took a shot at Gov. Christie, accusing the expected 2016 Republican presidential candidate of making a “backroom deal” to keep Tesla out of the state. Musk put more pressure on Christie, whose administration has been taking heat for alleged bullying of opponents – the most notable event occurring last year when former high-ranking officials faced potential criminal charges after ordering lanes approaching the George Washington Bridge be closed, creating a traffic nightmare.

This dramatic decision by New Jersey follows several state-by-state battles in the direct OEM sales versus state franchise law battle. Auto dealers in Ohio, New York, Minnesota, and Georgia have fought Tesla. Texas dealers successfully backed a law setting the nation’s toughest restrictions on Tesla. Arizona, Colorado and Virginia also imposed limits.

In New Jersey, the New Jersey Coalition of Auto Retailers spent more than $155,000 on lobbying last year. Gov. Christie received about $65,000 in campaign contributions from people associated with the auto industry during last year’s primary and general election campaigns.

There’s a lot at stake in how these lawsuits and lobbying ventures play out. The legal history of state franchise laws protecting dealers are not too clear – that varies by industry with many retail sales transactions being conducted in corporate stores without any franchised operators in these branded networks. The state franchise laws are about a century old now, and other automakers have taken on the fight of breaking them long before Tesla Motors. Dealer networks have been very successful at lobbying in state legislatures and winning court battles.

Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. attempted to operate a few company-owned stores in the late 1990s and early 2000s as internet sales became more economically viable. Dealers won that battle – today you can shop for, and spec out, cars on OEM websites, but you have to buy or lease them through a dealership. Truecar.com experienced a similar experience after its 2011 Superbowl commercial promising the best local market price from dealer in their area. Dealers in several states attacked Truecar for allegedly violating laws regulating auto brokering, price advertising, and other legal issues. The onslaught hurt Truecar’s finances, as about 2,600 dealers bailed out of Truecar; it forced the company to spend much of the year overhauling its relations with dealers.

As Frost & Sullivan analyst Kumar Saha said, automotive retailing is changing fast. Dealers may be winning some of the state legal battles with Tesla, but may be losing a lot more business in the future as the business model changes.

Big Picture: Gobble, gobble….. A few clean transportation items before you leave for the holidays

turkeys driving a carAs you break for a long holiday weekend, here are a few happenings to read about…..

Things seem to be wrapping up for Fisker Automotive. Hybrid Technology Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investor group led by billionaire Richard Li, is buying the company’s assets for $25 million. That means the US Dept. of Energy will be losing about $139 on Fisker; the DOE will be overall be recovering about $53 million from its original $192 million disbursement.

Tesla Motors has lost it marketing leader – George Blankenship, who played a key role in setting up Apple’s retail stores and brought much of it over to Tesla, left the electric carmaker last month. As everyone knows by now, it’s a sensitive time for Tesla as NHTSA has decided to recall most of the Model S units for investigation and Tesla is working on overdrive to expand stores in North America, Europe, and Asia. Blankenship has been vague on his Linkedin page about why he’s leaving; he’s now 60 and is officially taking on the role of “Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family.”

But there is some good news for Tesla. The automaker won a near-perfect score for its Model S, as it displaced the Chevy Volt at the top of Consumer Report’s annual vehicle owner satisfaction survey. It’s the best score the magazine has seen in years – 99 out of 100 points.

The Nissan Leaf is paying off for the automaker, according to Jose Munoz, Nissan’s senior VP of sales and marketing for the Americas. The Leaf is not the top reason customers are referred to the Nissan brand, he said, and the vehicle is now profitable.

Green Truck Summit is getting some ink – it will be March 4-5 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show 2014 in Indianapolis. It will offer attendees more than 20 educational sessions and a chassis OEM forum moderated by Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard.

Luxury SUV buyers and non-luxury car shoppers are most likely to consider buying alternative fuel vehicles including EVs, hybrids, hydrogen-power, or CNG-powered vehicles. That comes from a Phoenix Marketing International study. About 50% of the survey respondents were neutral to alternative fuel vehicles, while the two aforementioned categories have the highest percentages of “very” or “extremely” to purchase an alt-fuel vehicle.

UPS was among the award winners at the NGV Achievement Award. United Parcel Service and Mike Scarpino, regional manager for DOE Clean Cities Coalition, were among the recipients of 2013 NGV Achievement Award held Nov. 20 in Atlanta. UPS was recognized for 25 years of exemplary NGV industry leadership. Eleven recipients were recognized during the gala and reception dinner at NGV America’s 2013 North American NGV Conference and Expo. Richard Kolodziej, president of NGVAmerica, was given a lifetime achievement award.

The cap and trade market is getting some play in California. California companies paid about $297 million for carbon allowances on the state’s carbon auction. On Nov. 19, California’s fifth auction took place, where companies such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical paid $11.48 per allowance to release one metric ton of carbon as early as this year. That was a lower price than a previous sale in August, when it sold for $12.22 per metric ton. All together, the five auction events have raised $1.4 billion.

For those interested in real-time traffic data being readily available….. INRIX, Inc. introduced INRIX XD™ Incidents, which correlates real-time traffic flow data with information from nearly 400 public and private sources including media partners, departments of transportation, emergency responders, and community reports via mobile, and in-vehicle applications, as well as social networks like Twitter. The service offer traffic intelligence that reports more accidents, road closures, and other incidents across significantly more roads in more countries and at much greater speed than ever before.

The latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure

hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesTesla CEO Elon Musk got a lot more media coverage for calling fuel cell technologies “bullsh#t”  –except when used in a rocket. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles don’t come anywhere near the energy density of the lithium-ion battery pack located inside the Tesla Model S, he said.

So what’s the latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

  1. The infrastructure is very thin – the US Dept. of Energy says there are only 10 hydrogen stations in the US, most all of it in California. California did approve a funding plan that will be bringing 100 hydrogen stations to the state. Europe is ahead of the US on the infrastructure, especially in Italy, Germany, and Belgium.
  2. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are being included in the zero emission vehicle policies adopted by California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Vermont.
  3. Hyundai wants to beat competitors by bringing the first of its fuel cell models to US dealer showrooms in early 2014. The volume of these cars will be limited, with total worldwide sales to reach about 1,000 over the next three years, the company said.
  4. Toyota will be putting a fuel cell vehicle into limited production by 2015. Honda says it will be rolling out a replacement to its FCX Clarity fuel cell car. General Motors, which has been testing out its Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell SUV in Project Driveway, will begin production of its own hydrogen vehicle later in this decade. There’s no word yet on what Mercedes will be doing next with its F-Cell, which like the FCX Clarity, has met with very limited sales so far in California.
  5. Fuel cell vehicles are in the midst of ramping up to commercialization, according to Navigant Research. The challenge is reaching sufficient volume to bring down system and plant costs. This is where technology partnerships that we’re starting to see between automakers comes to play. Fuel cell bus deployments are gaining in volume, as are fuel cell scooters and forklifts, which are being carefully monitored by automakers who are rolling out hydrogen fuel cell cars.
  6. Home energy stations, such as one that can generate hydrogen from natural gas, are being tested out by Honda.
  7. The value of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are being recognized by automakers and advocacy/support groups for a few reasons: you can fill the tank in just a few minutes; they’re zero emission, clean vehicles; hydrogen can be extracted from a number of natural sources; the price for manufacturing these cars is coming down quite a bit; they’re fun to drive, as people participating in Project Driveway or driving a fuel cell vehicle at a car show will tell you.