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…….
- August sales up from July, down from last year: Electric vehicles were up slightly in August over the previous month, and hybrids saw a 5.5% gain. Compared to the previous year, all segments were significantly down – hybrids by nearly 22%, battery electric by 23.4% and plug-in hybrids by 36%. Diesel passenger cars were down 7.4% from July and 9.4% from August 2014. Experts say that the launch of new versions within the next four-to-six weeks of the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in, along with the 2016 Nissan Leaf with longer per charge driving range, was the main reason August sales were down so far from the previous year; gasoline prices staying down also explains why hybrid and diesel vehicles were down from last year.
- Tesla delivering Model X starting Sept. 29: The Tesla Model X – first announced in early 2012 – will start being delivered to customers who reserved the luxury electric SUV starting on Sept. 29. Customers have been willing to pay a lot for it. The special edition Signature series rolls out first with a price tag somewhere between $132,000 and $144,000 (before federal, state, and local incentives). Lower priced standard models will be coming out in the near future. Customers have access to an online configurator where they get to choose from a list of options including the exterior color and whether or not they want to pay more for the super-fast Ludicrous mode. The Model X Signature edition will have a 90 kilowatt-hour battery and an estimated range of 240 miles per charge. The Model X is built with “falcon wing” rear doors and access to free charging at Tesla’s Supercharger network. The Signature series comes with Autopilot features including self-parking.
- Westport and Fuel Systems Solutions merging: Westport Fuel Systems is the new name of a merger between Westport Innovations and Fuel Systems Solutions, Inc., two leading makers of alternative fuel vehicle engine and fuel system technologies. Westport is known for its work in heavy-duty and high horsepower natural gas vehicles. Fuel Systems Solutions comes from the light- and medium-duty vehicle space which includes its Impco Technologies division; Impco systems are used by fleets for conversion of internal combustion engines over to propane autogas and natural gas. Westport Fuel Systems had an equity value of $351 million based on recent closing share prices for the publicly traded companies; combined annual revenues for 2015 is expected to be $380 million to $405 million.
- California may raise bar on petroleum reduction: The bill, the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, seeks in part to cut petroleum use by motor vehicles in half by 2030 from 1990 levels. That would be up from the current 20% reduction target by 2030 that are in alignment with the federal fuel economy regulations. The new bill is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s broad plan to ward off climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. It would not require zero emission vehicle sales volumes, but it directs the California Air Resources Board to issue a plan by 2027 to achieve the 2030 targets. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington trade group, opposes the pending California bill as it stands. The trade group says enactment of the bill would disrupt the alignment of state and federal standards.
- EV carsharing in Indianapolis: Residents of the Indianapolis area will have access to an electric carsharing service called BlueIndy. Fifty of the eventual 500 electric vehicles (EVs) were put into service last week; the program is based on providing convenient, cleaner transportation with the swipe of a membership card. This will be operated by Bolloré Group of France, which already operates carsharing services in several other cities, including the world’s largest EV sharing service: Autolib’, in Paris. Indianapolis is the first U.S. electric carsharing service provided by Bolloré Group. The Bluecars used in the program run on Lithium Metal Polymer (LMP) batteries developed by Bolloré, and have a range of 120 miles between charges. So far, 125 parking spaces in the Indianapolis area are equipped with charge points. Eventually there will be 1,000 parking spaces in 200 BlueIndy stations outfitted with charging infrastructure and easy-to-use customer kiosks.
- More details on MB and BMW EVs: Mercedes-Benz is working on an electric vehicle that will go 311 miles on a charge and will be coming out “soon,” according to development chief Tomas Weber. The electric drive concept would fit into Mercedes’s flexible architecture, allowing it to be employed in more than one car; it will compete directly with the Tesla Model S, Weber said. BMW will be launching two new plug-in hybrids at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid model of the 3 Series. The second new plug-in hybrid–which is not expected to come to North America–is the 225xe; it’s a variant of the 2 Series Active Tourer that is only sold in Europe at this time. BMW is also said to be in the planning stage with an i5 electric car based on the 5 series.
- New green bus deployments: Bus operators are bringing in more alternative fuels. Many Detroit Public Schools students will ride to and from schools in 35 propane autogas-powered school buses. That will make it the third largest fleet of propane autogas school buses in the state of Michigan. The Blue Bird Vision Propane buses will lower costs while improving the environment by reducing Detroit’s carbon footprint. Chinese vehicle manufacturer BYD Motors, through its U.S. division, has been awarded what it calls America’s largest electric bus order. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has made an agreement allowing up to 800 heavy-duty buses from all different propulsion types, including 12 different categories. BYD Motors is the only electric bus maker globally that manufactures seven different all-electric buses, BYD says; the company was awarded wins in 10 of the 12 available vehicle categories and has the ability to deliver any of their buses within six months.
- More propane offerings from ICOM: After winning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approvals for its JTG liquid-injection bi-fuel and dedicated propane autogas systems, ICOM North America will be extending its fleet offerings. ICOM won several EPA approvals for the Ford 3.7-liter V6 engine lineup on vehicles used in the police, government and livery markets. The company says it expects to shortly announce additional EPA certifications for key fleet platforms and technologies.
- Car Charging Group enters energy storage: Car Charging Group has finalized an agreement with Technology with Spirit (“TWS”), a global energy storage and rechargeable battery solutions company. Through this relationship, Car Charging can now offer TWS’ energy storage and rechargeable battery project solutions to its current charging site hosts as well as to future property partners in conjunction with or independent of EV charging services. Car Charging Group can now offer its property management clients a comprehensive solution to reduce energy costs.
- Honda fueling NGVs: Honda may have left the natural gas vehicle market with its decision to stop producing CNG Civics, the automaker is not giving up on the alternative fuel. Honda recently opened up a CNG fueling station at its Marysville, Ohio, campus. It’s one of the largest vehicle manufacturing plants in North America, receiving hundreds of deliveries per day. Honda had Trillium CNG install the first CNG refueling station at an of Honda’s North American facilities. According to a Navigant Research report, the total number of CNG refueling stations in North America is projected to grow to a little more than 1,800 over the next 10 years from 1,560 today. That number easily could be much larger.