This Week’s Top 10: Hackers could throw monkey wrench into autonomous vehicles, New developments in Washington

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. FCA dealing with hackersFCA cyber security vehicle recall: When it comes to following autonomous vehicles/self-driving cars, concerns are typically raised about liability issues after accidents, personal privacy, and acceptance of the technologies by car owners. There is an even bigger issue that will have to be addressed by automakers, technology suppliers (especially Google), DMVs, and NHTSA: cyber security. FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) is going through a major recall now of 1.4 million vehicles that was spurred by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s concerns over a Uconnect radio system made by Harman International Industries – and which has also been placed in other vehicles by other automakers. Hackers are likely to find the challenge too big and exciting to set aside; that was the case with a Jeep Cherokee that ended up running into a ditch because of game playing by hackers. That was a safe and legal event recently organized by Wired.com to see if hackers could break through the security wall. Last week, a researcher warned of another potential security breach: hackers could exploit a security flaw in a mobile app for General Motors’ OnStar vehicle communications system. A new survey by Kelley Blue Book indicates consumers are very concerned about how vulnerable they are in today’s connected cars. Automakers are investing a lot of capital and resources into connected vehicles, which they believe is the transition channel over to semi-autonomous and fully automated vehicles in the next 10 years. BMW, Audi, and Mercedes have made a $2.8 billion bid to buy Nokia’s next-gen mapping business; and Apple may work with BMW to bring a customized, autonomous version of the electric BMW i3 to market. My suggestion to the industry would be to send your staff to hackathon competitions in Silicon Valley and offer high-paying jobs to the winners.
  2. New developments in Washington: Two legislative items moved ahead Thursday in the U.S. Senate. The Vehicle Innovation Act reauthorizes the Department of Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Program (authorizing $313.6 million in funding for the next budget year, and a 4% increase annually through 2020), which promotes partnerships to conduct research and development to improve fuel efficiency in vehicles. The Act promotes investments in research and development of cleaner vehicle and advanced safety technologies that will create more fuel-efficient vehicles. It was included in the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015 approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. On the House of Representative side, President Obama has signed into law H.R.3236, whose many highway funding provisions include a measure meant to ensure that liquefied natural gas (LNG) and propane autogas are taxed fairly relative to diesel and gasoline. Natural gas vehicle industry association NGVAmerica says the passage of H.R.3236 will permanently solidify the law’s alternative fuel measure; the association says that it will modify the federal highway excise taxes on LNG and autogas to be based on the fuels’ energy content, rather than on their volume.
  3. Uber enters auto finance: Ridesharing giant Uber has expanded its leasing program for drivers to have cars to transport passengers. It’s called Xchange Leasing and offers drivers more affordable leasing payments. It’s been impressive enough to bring in Cox Automotive and Westlake Financial Services and other companies into pilot programs. In other news, the Global Business Travel Association released results on a survey of business travelers and travel buyers, who say that one in four (24%) of travel buyers say their company does not allow their business travelers to use ride-sharing companies. Right now, 11% of business travelers are using ridesharing companies like Uber versus 36% using rental cars, 24% taking taxis, and 13% using chauffeured transportation. And in other Uber news, Uber just closed $1 billion in another round of funding from investors that include Microsoft; the company is valued at nearly $51 billion and is expected to go public.
  4. Major companies commit to reducing carbon: Thirteen large corporations (Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart) have signed the White House’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge. These companies have committed to using “greener” fleets to help meet carbon footprint goals. In related news, UPS said it will buy 46 million gallons of renewable diesel over three years, 15 times greater than prior contracts, as the company seeks to further reduce carbon emissions. The fuels will be supplied to UPS by Finland-based Neste, Iowa-based Renewable Energy Group and San Francisco-based Solazym.
  5. PlugShare Guide launched: Recargo Inc. has introduced its PlugShare Guide, a new plug-in vehicle consulting service for the electric vehicle (EV) industry. PlugShare Guide will develop strategies, policies and plans for assessing, promoting, installing and managing EV infrastructure as well as strategies to accelerate EV adoption using the company’s rich market intelligence, proprietary research and analytical tools. PlugShare Guide’s initial project is with Pacific Gas & Electric to analyze and recommend a layout of fast charging infrastructure across the utility’s service area, in partnership with Energy + Environmental Economics (E3) and U.C. Davis.
  6. Work truck study: National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA) and its Green Truck Association (GTA) affiliate division, recently released the 2015 Work Truck Electrification and Idle Management Study, showcasing directional industry trends on commercial vehicle efficiency, system electrification, and idle reduction. The report offers practical insights into the fleet manager’s perspective on new truck electrification technologies and idle management, NTEA said.
  7. Cuba opens door to new vehicles: A lot of change is taking place in Cuba, including placing an order for 719 new cars for tourist rentals from China-based BYD. In other news from Latin America, BYD also reported the sale of ten 12-meter K9 battery-electric buses by BYD do Brasil for Campinas, in the state of São Paulo. Campinas will be the first city in Brazil with a fleet of fully battery electric, zero emission buses.
  8. New Plug In America exec: Joel Levin, former vice president of business development at the Climate Action Reserve, has been named executive director of Plug In America. An expert on U.S. and global carbon markets and California climate policy, Levin oversaw development of the Climate Action Reserve, the state-chartered nonprofit that runs North America’s largest carbon offset registry. “This year, Plug In America marks the tenth anniversary of our efforts to electrify transportation, and we look forward to expanding our efforts with Joel at the helm,” said Plug In America board president Michael Thwaite.
  9. CalCharge adds partners: CalCharge has added six new partners, including major players Toyota and German mega-supplier Bosch. Overall, 18 automakers, parts suppliers, and energy companies have joined the initiative – which has also teamed up with a number of national research labs. CalCharge pairs companies with three Bay Area national labs: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The main goal of CalCharge is to find ways to boost power, drop costs, and extend battery life.
  10. Qualcomm makes deal for wireless charging: Qualcomm has a new deal with Swiss electric car parts maker Brusa, allowing the firm to develop, manufacture, and supply its Halo charging plates to other companies. Qualcomm has fitted its Halo system of wireless, inductive chargers to Formula E course cars and other test vehicles. Wireless charging may be a long way’s out, but Qualcomm imagines a future in which these plates are as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi hotspots; that may include highway charging lanes, where electric can top up their batteries as they drive.

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