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…….
- Both hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle sales are up over February 2015 but down from March 2014. Plug-ins are down less than one percent from a year ago, but hybrids continue to see a significant drop from last year’s sales – down more than 23% from March 2014. The Tesla Model S took back the top electric vehicle sales spot, which it had gained in January, from the Nissan Leaf. Tesla Motors released a quarterly statement and said it delivered 10,300 cars in the first quarter of this year – a 55% increase over the first quarter of 2014. Overall, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling EV in the US – with a total of 76,407 versus 75,321 sold for the Chevrolet Volt since these cars were launched in late 2010. The Leaf has been far ahead of the Volt in monthly sales figures for more than a year, and a number of EVs have been surpassing the Volt recently. That could be the case until the 2016 Volt is rolled out later this year. BMW is investing in TV advertising for its i Series, and the BMW i3 has been seeing relatively strong sales numbers for several months.
- Californians make up about 40% of buyers of electric vehicles, but there’s growing concern too much state money is being spent on incentives and that they tip toward upper income consumers too far. Republican state Senator Ted Gaines has proposed eliminating rebates on cars that cost more than $40,000, but incentives would be boosted to $3,500. With the $7,500 federal tax credit, the cost of the vehicle could be reduced more than a quarter of it sticker price. The legislation comes at a time when the state has been criticized for giving most of the rebates to consumers who earn twice the national average; almost a fifth of the funds go buyers of the Tesla Model S with its starting price of about $71,000. Tesla has received about $34 million of the $203 million the state has doled out since the incentive program started in 2010. Almost twice as much as Tesla received in incentive funds has gone to Nissan Leaf owners for the electric car starting at about $29,000. Other states are making changes to their EV incentives; Georgia has passed a highway-funding bill that killed its $5,000 income-tax credit for purchase of an electric vehicles. Illinois suspended its own rebates to close a gaping budgetary hole, and Texas may do the same. Georgia also added a $200 registration fee for battery-electric vehicles.
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- UPS will be installing 15 compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations to support its planned purchase of 1,400 new natural gas vehicles over the next year. Twelve of the fueling sites will be in new natural gas vehicle deployment areas, and three will replace existing stations with higher-capacity equipment. The CNG vehicle purchase represent a nearly 30% increase of UPS’s alternative fuel and advanced technology fleet of 5,088 vehicles in its global fleet.
- BMW has won the World Green Car for the second year in a row. The 2015 award was presented at the New York International Auto Show to the BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. The i8 was also one of the finalists in the category World Luxury Car of the year, and follows the i3 as the World Green Car category winner for this year.
- Auto supplier Delphi Corp. just completed a 3,400-mile road trip in a driverless Audi Q5 test model. The car, with its human driver ready to intervene and take over, drove from San Francisco to New York to test its radar, cameras, and laser sensors. The Audi Q5 stuck to posted speed limits, even when all the other vehicles on the roads were violating them. Other drivers subjected the car and its human occupants to “a few hateful gestures,” said Delphi’s chief technology officer Jeff Owens.
- While the BMW i Series was launched as part of BMW’s commitment to urban mobility, the US market for the i3 electric vehicle has been more of a mixed market than New York City. Two suburban markets in California are doing well marketing and selling the car – Crevier BMW in Santa Ana and Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara; parts of Texas and southern Florida are markets seeing hot demand, says Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America. BMW is approaching “a sustainable rate” of selling 12,000 of the i3s annually, with its starting price of $43,350, including shipping.
- Of all places, Texas is seeing some real gains in clean fuels; by January 2017, Georgetown, Texas, located about 25 miles north of Austin, will get all of its electricity from wind and solar power. The city has a 20-year agreement with EDF Renewable Energy for wind power from a new plant in Amarillo; and has a deal with SunEdison, which will build plants in west Texas that will provide Georgetown with 150 megawatts of solar power. Texas is still the largest producer of oil in the US, the state is also seeing an abundance of wind and solar power.
- Wanxiang says it will begin showing off its version of the Fisker Karma sometime later this month, possibly at the Shanghai Motor Show. In what may be called the Elux Karma, Fisker’s owner Wanxiang is said to be thinking of upping the price tag to around $135,000 for the plug-in hybrid sports cars.
- BASF, a massive chemical company based in Germany, is fighting with Umicore, a Belgian major supplier of battery materials, in US Federal Court in Delaware. The case filed on February 20 has BASF accusing Umimore of selling nickel-cobalt manganese (NMC) cathode materials even though BASF has an exclusive license to it. The case also affects 3M Corp. and Argonne National Laboratory, which are major player in the lithium battery field.