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…….
- Nevada workers protest at Gigafactory: Hundreds of union construction workers walked off the job at Tesla Motors’ “Gigafactory” battery manufacturing plant in northern Nevada yesterday, and some picketed outside the main gate, to protest what union organizers say is the increased hiring of out-of-state workers for less pay. About 350 plumbers, carpenters, electricians, painters and others walked away from the construction site Monday along U.S. Interstate 80 about 25 miles east of Reno. More than 100 picketed outside the main gate. Workers are protesting against what they say is an unfair labor practice that undermines promises to hire mostly Nevada workers in exchange for more than $1 billion in state tax breaks. Tesla said in a statement that it is in compliance with all state requirements. Tesla had begun manufacturing energy-storage devices, including the Powerwall for homes, at the plant. Tesla also had some good news – winning in Indiana, where a bill that would have stopped the company from selling its electric cars in the state was tabled. Tesla has been licensed to sell its cars directly to consumers in Indiana and has operated one store in Indianapolis for two years. General Motors was behind the lobbying to block Tesla in the state as the Detroit automaker gets ready to roll out its competitive model, the Chevrolet Bolt.
- Volkswagen update: Former VW CEO Martin Winterkorn was informed that the carmaker had told regulators it was using emissions defeat devices two weeks before the diesel engine scandal became public, German tabloid Bild am Sonntag reported……. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer in San Francisco said he wants a definitive answer on the status of a fix by March 24 from VW. With VW admitting in September that its vehicles on U.S. roads were using software to emit up to 40 times legally allowable pollution, Breyer wants to see the case move forward soon.
- Hybrid pickups: General Motors is going to give hybrid pickups a test run once again. GM will market test 500 Chevrolet Silverados and 200 GMC Sierras in California. They’ll be equipped with a new version of GM’s eAssist mild hybrid start-stop system. The Chevrolet Silverado 1LT two-wheel-drive crew-cab model and the GMC Sierra Crew Cab two-wheel drive with SLT package will come with eAssist for a $500 charge.
- Clean Cities budget cut: The U. S. Department of Energy announced its 2017 budget proposal that includes a 32% reduction in spending for the Clean Cities program from $48.4 million in FY2016 to $31.5 million for FY2017 (which starts on Oct. 1, 2016). That will completely eliminate funding for the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Community Partner projects. The vehicle technologies deployment fund also had its funding decreased, from $32 million to $23 million. That budget does include an additional $60 million to develop ways to double the fuel efficiency of Class 7 and Class 8 commercial vehicles by 2020.
- Zipcar upgrades its services. Zipcar is finally dealing with the ongoing criticism that you always have to return the carsharing vehicle to the same place you picked it up; and extending the rental has been an annoying process. Zipcar said that “designated vehicles” will be available for one-way trips, reservations can be extended indefinitely, and final destinations can be changed in the middle of a trip. The company has already been piloting the new features in Boston in collaboration with Honda, and the national rollout will use Honda Fits exclusively at first.
- Uber self-driving cars: Uber will be opening a new Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, where its autonomous vehicle research operations are headquartered. The company will build temporary roadways to test self-driving cars as part of its expansion, as well as housing and park space. It will be the first major move since the test project was launched a year ago with Carnegie Mellon University.
- Nissan protecting Leaf from hackers: Nissan felt the need to tighten the security of its Nissan Leaf electric car so that hackers don’t take control. The NissanConnect EV app, which allows Leaf drivers to control the car’s heating and cooling over the phone, had a security flaw publicized by Australian researcher Troy Hunt, so it’s been disabled.
- Motiv Power Systems and Morgan Olson are collaborating to provide an all-electric option for Morgan Olson’s popular “Route Star” walk-in van, built on the Ford F59 chassis. Both companies will be exhibiting at The Work Truck Show in Indianapolis, March 1-4. An F59 chassis equipped with a Motiv all-electric powertrain will be on display in booth #5667. This deal brings together a battery electric powertrain supplier for trucks and buses, and a leading manufacturer of walk-in vans announced today in a partnership to put more all-electric delivery trucks on America’s roads.
- Plug-in Mini Countryman: The next Mini Countryman crossover may get a plug-in hybrid powertrain, with a shared platform coming from the European-market BMW 2 Series Active Tourer. Plans for a plug-in hybrid Mini were confirmed by Andreas-Christoph Hoffman, Mini’s global communications head.
- PERC participating at Work Truck Show: The Propane Education & Research Council will again participate in the Green Truck Summit sessions at the National Truck Equipment Association’s Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. Tucker Perkins, PERC’s chief business development officer, is joining representatives from across alternative fuel industries to discuss “Work Truck Trends and Outlook for Alternative Fuel Technology” from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m., Tuesday, March 1. Perkins will also lead a panel called “The Propane Autogas Advantage: Reduce Your Total Cost of Ownership” from 8 to 9:15 a.m. Wednesday, March 2.