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…….
- EV and hybrid sales: Plug-in electric vehicle sales were up substantially month-over-month and year-over-year – 17% over January and 6.7% over February 2014. The Tesla Model S, Chevrolet Volt, and Ford Fusion Energi saw sizable gains over last year, while the Nissan Leaf was down 22.4%.The Nissan Leaf has been declining in its position as the clear market leader, coming in fourth place for the first time, narrowly behind the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid. Tesla is continuing to take the lead in overall electric vehicle sales, with the Model S far ahead of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf – and the recently launched Model X seeing a 25% increase in sales over January 2016. Hybrids continue to be hurt by low gasoline prices, declining to 1.8% of overall market share when it was in the 2.5% range for a long time. Sales were down nearly 10% since last year.
- Three green versions of Ioniq: The 2017 Hyundai Ioniq might have been the most interesting green car news story from last week’s Geneva Motor Show. The hatchback was displayed in all three forms in which it’ll be sold: hybrid, battery electric, and plug-in hybrid. It will be the first vehicle offering by a major automaker offered in all three battery-powered options; while there’s been talk of it and concept cars, Hyundai appears to be serious about bringing all three versions soon.
- Self-driving cars right for elderly riders: Aging Americans will be well served by self-driving cars, according to Google – as 43 million American in the U.S. are 65 or older and another 10,000 people reach that mark every day. Nearly 80% live in suburbs and rural areas and will need more transportation support for doctor appointments, groceries, and seeing family and friends. Florence Swanson, 94, recently became the oldest person ever to ride in one of the Google self-driving cars; she was given that opportunity after her painting of a guitar player won a Google contest. Google self-driving car project CEO John Krafcik featured Swanson during a January presentation in Detroit. Krafcik, formerly head of Hyundai’s U.S. division and president of TrueCar, is one of about 40 automotive professionals who now work for the Google autonomous vehicle project. That makes for more than 20% of the 170 workers in that business unit. Those with auto industry experience have skills ranging from exterior design to manufacturing, and come from a wide range of companies including Tesla, Ford, and General Motors.
- Propane in truck fleets: Nestlé Waters North America is adding more than 150 medium-duty beverage delivery trucks fueled by propane autogas to its fleet. Baking industry leader Bimbo Bakeries USA has acquired 84 new propane-powered Ford F-59 trucks, to operate in three of the company’s major markets. Each Nestlé delivery truck is equipped with a California Air Resources Board- and Environmental Protection Agency-compliant ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas fuel system with a 45-usable gallon fuel tank. BBU’s truck’s were equipped with ROUSH CleanTech fuel technology; and each of these new propane autogas fueled delivery truck will cut carbon dioxide emissions by about 192,000 pounds compared to gasoline.
- Natural gas vehicles: The reduced cost of gasoline and diesel caused natural gas vehicle production and sales to drop last year, Matthew Godlewski, president of NGVAmerica, said to an audience at the Work Truck Show. Heavy-duty vehicles sales were flat, but the light-duty and medium-duty vehicle segments saw a drop in sales numbers. Steady growth in the natural gas fueling infrastructure and new natural gas engines are bright spots for NGVs, Godlewski said.
- AARP-E praises energy storage: The federal government’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy reported making big gains toward creating a next generation of batteries for energy storage last week during its annual conference. ARPA-E director Ellen Williams said the agency has funded several high-risk battery projects that utilize newer technology than Tesla’s Powerwall batteries. Other good news for the energy storage market came from GTM Research/Energy Storage Association’s U.S. Energy Storage Monitor 2015 Year in Review. The U.S. energy storage market just had both its best quarter and best year of all time. The U.S. deployed 112 megawatts of energy storage capacity in the fourth quarter of 2015, bringing the annual total to 221 megawatts.
- DOE and EPA fleet programs: The U.S. Department of Energy increased funding for its SuperTruck II program designed to increase fuel efficiency of Class 7and 8 trucks; it will also provide funding for several projects that would develop alternative powertrains for medium-duty vehicles. During Green Truck Summit, DOE’s Reuben Sarkar announced that the SuperTruck II initiative would receive $80 million in funding, up from the initial proposal of $60 million. In other federal agency news, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is offering $26 million in grant funding to fleets to reduce diesel emissions from the existing fleet of diesel engines. The deadline to apply for the funding is April 26.
- BMW jumping into self-driving car race: Days before BMW’s 100th birthday, Klaus Froehlich, the automaker’s board member for research and development, announced corporate plans for a completely overhauled company, where half the r&d staff will be computer programmers working on self-driving cars projects. During the Geneva Motor Show, Froehlich said that BMW sees its competitors as including firms like ridesharing company Uber and third-party sales site Truecar, which he described as “new intermediaries.”
- Extended range: The 200-mile range per electric vehicle charge isn’t quite right, according to Daimler AG head Dieter Zetsche – 310 miles per charge range is “probably a reasonable number to pursue,” Zetsche said last week at the Geneva auto show. Another needed step: battery costs must fall for EVs to reach prices that will prompt consumers to swap gasoline-powered vehicles for electrics.
- The state of VW: Last month, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer set a March 24 deadline for Volkswagen to state whether it has found a fix for 600,000 diesel cars that is acceptable to U.S. regulators. No deal, according to VW brand chief Herbert Diess; it will take months rather than weeks to reach an agreement with U.S. regulators on an emissions fix, a newspaper reported on Saturday. In other news, a detailed report was submitted to a German court on Feb. 29 by law firm Goehmann stating that VW delayed releasing information on the diesel situation to allow for talks aimed at reaching a settlement with U.S. regulators; and that the talks could have been jeopardized if the matter was already public. The law firm is arguing for VW that the delay was a legitimate move aimed at striking a deal with regulators.