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…….
- BYD taking on batteries: Chinese automaker BYD Co. is taking an active role in the global automotive and energy markets. The company, backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., will be adding 18 gigawatt hours of global production for batteries over the next three years, putting it on par with Tesla Motor’s $5 billion “gigafactory” for electric vehicle battery manufacturing and energy storage capacity. Most that battery production is in China, but the company is opening a large factory in Brazil this year and will scale up production in the US. In 2013, BYD opened two manufacturing plants in Southern California for producing electric buses and batteries. On Friday, ridesharing giant Uber announced that it will be working with BYD on testing a fleet of electric cars for Uber drivers. This is the first time Uber will try out electric cars (which has been a popular fleet offering with carsharing companies Car2Go and Zipcar). The test program was kicked off a few weeks ago in Chicago and may be expanded to other cities.
- DOE projects awarded: An interesting medley of universities, coalitions, and associations have just been granted about $6 million for 11 projects supporting advancement of clean transportation by the US Department of Energy (DOE). Some of the projects will help consumers and fleets adopt alternative fuel vehicles and infrastructure to help spread education and support for these projects. For example, a state agency in Florida is leading the Drive Electric Orlando project and received $400,000 to increase consumer familiarity and support for plug-in electric vehicle adoption.
- Forgetting to shut down your Volt: A recall has been issued on about 64,000 Chevrolet Volts in model years 2011, 2012, and 2013; the problem stems from drivers mistakenly leaving the car running (which does happen on cars with keyless fobs running partially or completely on battery power). That means hazardous carbon-monoxide could spread in that area, which can be quite toxic in a garage. General Motors has issued the recall and notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about it.
- Goodyear and green tires: Goodyear rolled out two green concept tires during the Geneva Motor Show. The first one sounds similar to what Protean Electric offers – its BHO3 can provide an additional source of electricity for electric vehicles – similar to energy coming from regenerative braking and power produced by Protean’s in-wheel electric-drive system. Goodyear’s BHO3 can harness heat created during normal driving conditions for producing electricity. The second concept from Goodyear, the Triple Tube, offers a pump that can adjust the tire into three different configurations; one of them, “Eco-Safety,” inflates the tire decrease rolling resistance.
- Tesla relieving range anxiety: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday that the automaker will announce a software update on Thursday that will “end range anxiety” and satisfy driver concerns about running out of battery power. In other Tesla news, the electric carmaker will be moving executive positions around to deal with its growth in deliveries in Asia, North America, and Europe. Jerome Guillen, vice president of global sales and service, will change over to a customer satisfaction role. Tesla will hire regional executives to better manage challenges like gaining sales traction in China.
- Porsche may be making an electric car: Porsche may enter the luxury battery powered sports car world to take on Tesla Motors – and long-term competitor Ferrari SpA. Porsche AG chief Matthias Mueller acknowledged Tesla’s practical approach during a press conference on Friday. Porsche will be rolling out is seventh model line by 2020 but has yet to decide on the details. It will be a sports car model that would go directly after Ferrari.
- Autocycles being adopted: Twenty six states now have laws in place, or are developing them, allowing three-wheeled, enclosed vehicles that are usually called autocycles to go street legal. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has introduced legislation that would bring the autocycle classification to the federal level. One of these companies, Elio Motors, has been gaining a lot of interest in the past year for its three-wheeler electric autocycle available for $6,800.
- Intrigue continues on Apple: Is Apple Inc. entering the electric vehicle (EV) market? Investor shareholders have expressed interest in the technology giant creating a joint venture with Tesla Motors to build the most cutting edge EV ever, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook. “Quite frankly, I’d like to see you guys buy Tesla,” an investor told Cook recently, who sloughed it off. In other news, Apple asked a US court to dismiss a civil lawsuit filed by battery maker A123 Systems over engineers hired by Apple. Apple says it’s too speculative to proceed and has avoided giving out details on whether or not it will be starting up an EV manufacturing or lithium battery division.
- Billions in advanced vehicle R&D: Automotive News just released an in-depth analysis piece on the massive challenges global automakers are facing in new technologies. Long gone are the days of slowly testing and developing new vehicle powertrains. The US 54.5 fleetwide fuel economy standard and tightening emission rules in Europe are driving much of the changing landscape; as are innovations in electric vehicle and hybrid systems – and companies like Google, Tesla, Apple, Uber, and Zipcar changing the rules of the game. That means billions in investments and a higher level of risk – with one example coming from Volkswagen, which will spend $7 billion in North America over the next five years on new plants, models and technology, and a new engineering center.
- Valeo making investments: French automotive supplier company Valeo is looking at acquisitions that could leverage its role in fuel efficiency and autonomous vehicles. Hybrid technologies is one route the company is traveling to help automakers cut fuel consumption and carbon emissions. Another strategy is through connected, self-driving cars. Valeo announced a deal with Mobileye on March 11 to use the technology company’s image processors in autonomous and collision-avoidance applications.