This Week’s Top 10: Plug In America study on promoting electric vehicles, Freightliner gets first-ever autonomous truck licensed

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. Plug In AmericaEffectively Promoting EVs: A new study by Plug In America analyzes how promotional efforts have performed in the US since automakers began the latest round of plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) launches in late 2010. “The Promotion of Electric Vehicles in the United States — A Landscape Assessment” delivers 11 key findings followed by recommendations Plug In America believes will stimulate PEV market growth. While the numbers are impressive – with over 300,000 PEVs now on US roads and nearly 120,000 of those being delivered last year – the report states that inconsistent governmental policies form a patchwork quilt across the country. Automakers have created over two dozen PEV models, yet only a few are actually available for purchase by consumers in all 50 states. “The U.S. stands at the crossroads of the largest technology in personal transportation in its history,” says principal researcher Kirk Brown, Plug In America’s Director of Strategic Partnerships. “The question ahead is how do we capture this early market growth and deliver the benefits of these vehicles to all consumers, everywhere.”
  2. Autonomous Heavy-Duty Truck: Freightliner Trucks, a Daimler Trucks North America division, just earned the first-ever license in the US to operate an autonomous heavy-duty truck. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval has given the green light to Freightliner for what it calls the Inspiration Truck; the truck was unveiled last week along with a promotional video showing the Inspiration Truck rolling over the wall of the Hoover dam. The truck was extensively tested on Nevada roads before being granted the license; Daimler cites the high percentage of truck-involved accidents that include driver fatigue and the solution that Inspiration Truck provides.
  3. Concern over Tesla Earnings: While Tesla’s new energy storage division grabbed a lot of attention and enthusiasm last week, Tesla Motors’ first quarter earnings call went in another direction. Analysts are concerned about how long the company will be depleting its cash and cash equivalents – which went down to $1.51 billion on March 31 from $1.91 billion three months earlier. Adam Jonas, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, is concerned that cash could run out in about three quarters if this rate continues. During the quarterly call, Tesla executives said the spending has been focused on the upcoming Model X launch, toolings, a new paint shop, the Gigafactory, and its sales and service network. On a more positive note, Bloomberg Business reported that since launching its new battery storage product for homes and businesses, the company has taken orders for about $800 million in potential revenue.
  4. Hawaii Backs Off E10: Hawaii lawmakers passed a bill last week that would put an end to 10% ethanol blend (E10) in Hawaii gas stations. Gov. David Ige hasn’t yet made a decision on the bill, but he indicated he may be signing it. When the state followed California’s original lead and mandated the ethanol blend in 2006, the idea behind it was to support alternative fuels and to boost local agriculture. Opponents have made a convincing point that it’s missed the mark since Hawaii has been importing the blended fuel and paying a high cost for it.
  5. Customer Support from Fisker: Fisker Automotive is starting to emerge from the ashes after its 2013 bankruptcy and buyout by Chinese giant auto parts maker Wanxiang last year. Fisker has opened up a customer support program (CSP) for Karma owners that includes complementary services. For current owners of the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid, the program will provide parts and labor for covered repairs free of charge up to $2,000; owners are entitled to additional CSP benefits of $2,000 for parts and $1,000 for labor for covered repairs above and beyond the program benefits.
  6. Formula E a Big Hit: The Formula E electric race car series, which went through Long Beach, Calif., in early April, is gaining a lot kudos. Sellout crowds have been showing up, major new sponsors and investors, and a long list of cities interested in hosting future races. “We have over 180 cities that have requested to have a race, and many of them are ready to pay quite substantial money for that,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said.
  7. Toyota and Mazda Partnership: Toyota and Mazda haven been in discussion about trading green technologies. Under a partnership deal, Toyota would supply fuel cell and plug-in-hybrid technology to Mazda; in return, Mazda would provide its proprietary Skyactiv technology to Toyota to grow its lineup of fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel vehicles. The companies have worked together on projects for years, including 2010 when Toyota provided its hybrid vehicle system to Mazda.
  8. ARI SustainableWorks: Leading fleet management services provider ARI just launched ARI SustainableWorks, a consulting service designed to help organizations configure best-in-class fleets supported by clean, efficient, and cost-effective fleet solutions. The consulting team examines the entire life cycle of a vehicle fleet in order to determine how best to customize their recommendations and solutions. This includes evaluating fleet utilization, determining how best to strategically implement clean technology vehicles, developing more efficient driver behavior strategies, and conducting comprehensive fleet emissions reporting.
  9. Paid Public Charging: One of the classic debate topics about electric vehicle (EV) charging stations is who will pay for all the thousands of public stations that need to be deployed to reduce range anxiety. So far, it hasn’t really been EV drivers. Nearly two of out of three public charging stations in US are free to use, according to PlugShare’s quarterly report. For restricted-access public stations, that ratio increases to about 75%. Examples of restricted access charging stations include workplaces with employee-only charging, stations located behind gates, and dealerships with charging for existing customers only.
  10. GM Falling Behind on Battery-Powered Vehicles: General Motors is falling far behind on its original intent to sell at least 500,000 vehicles with some form of battery power – including the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, Chevrolet Spark battery-electric vehicle, Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, and GM vehicles with its eAssist system that boosts fuel efficiency in gasoline-powered cars. The company said it counted 180,834 electrified GM vehicles on U.S. roads last year, up from 153,034 electric-powered vehicles in 2013. The automaker is looking forward to launching its 2016 Volt with an increased driving range of 50 miles on battery; and its Chevrolet Bolt all-electric car that will begin production in 2016 and is expected to have a 200 mile per-charge driving range.

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