This Week’s Top 10: Plug-in hybrids see surge in sales, Tesla’s Q1 financial performance

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. 2016 Chevrolet VoltEV sales in April: Plug-in hybrids are taking the lead this year, jumping 40 percent in first quarter U.S. sales versus that same period in 2015, according to Edmunds.com. In April, they were up 96.4% over April 2015 and up 9.6% over March 2016. Battery electric vehicles were down nearly 12% from the previous month and were up 3.8% over the previous year according to HybridCars.com and Baum & Associates. At 6,266 units sold, BEVs were still in the lead over PHEVs at 5,842, but the gap is tightening. BEVs had been dominant in the market for the past two years. The Chevrolet Volt and Ford Fusion Energi led the way for PHEVs, and were up 119.1% and 87.2%, respectively, over last year. The Tesla Model S was down 10.5% from last year and the Nissan Leaf was down 49.3% from April 2015. The Leaf finished 6th on the list after the BMW i3; not long ago, it was in the top sales position. The all-electric BMW i3 broke the market trend for this year, doubling its sales since a year ago and going up 145.2% in sales over March 2016. In the top positions, the Volt finished the month with 1,983 units sold, and number two was the Model S, finishing at 1,700 units sold.
  2. Tesla Q1 performance: Customer deposits for the $35,000 (or more, depending on options chosen) Model 3 helped Tesla raise cash on hand during the first quarter of 2016 as it reported a wider net loss of $282 million. Revenue rose 22% to $1.1 billion. Struggling to solve quality problems with its first two models while getting ready to launch the all-new Model 3 has been costly for Tesla Motors. It was another deficit for the automaker which has yet to see a profitable quarter, but losses narrowed, taking industry analysts by surprise. Using Tesla’s preference for non-GAAP accounting, the loss shrank to $75 million, or 57 cents a share, which was better than Wall Street had forecast. Analysts and shareholders took even more interest in a dramatic statement from CEO Elon Musk during the quarterly call – the electric carmaker will build 500,000 cars in 2018 and close to one million by 2020, two years ahead of the original schedule.
  3. Self-driving Bolt taxis: Ridesharing company Lyft and its major investor General Motors will likely be working together on a self-driving test project with Chevrolet Bolt taxis on public roads within a year; though neither company has confirmed this news story. The testing program will make use of technology developed by Cruise Automation Inc., the self-driving technology startup GM plans to buy for $1 billion. GM did say that the “Chevrolet Bolt EV is the ideal platform for ride sharing solutions,” the automaker said in a statement. “We believe electrification blends perfectly with autonomy when it comes to technology integration.”
  4. EcoCAR 3: Cal State Los Angele’s EcoCAR 3 team has just shipped its modified 2016 Camaro to General Motors’ testing facility in Yuma, Ariz. That’s where all 16 teams’ cars will be inspected and scored on how far teams were able to progress on hybrid vehicle integration since receiving their Camaros in December 2015. There are two more years to go in EcoCAR 3. It’s the third racing competition from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Vehicle Technology Competition (AVTC) series. All 16 North American university teams are competing to redesign a Chevrolet Camaro to reduce its environmental impact, while maintaining the muscle and performance expected from this iconic car. Sponsored by DOE and GM and managed by Argonne National Laboratory, the EcoCAR  racing series have been excellent training grounds for students in developing hybrid technologies, working effectively on a team, and opening doors for excellent job opportunities in the auto industry.
  5. Another legal fight for Uber: Less than a month after ridesharing giant Uber settled two class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts, another one has been filed in a federal court. The new lawsuit affects all current and former Uber drivers in the U.S., except for those in California and Massachusetts. The suit, filed last week in federal court in Chicago, asks the court to classify Uber divers as employees rather than independent contractors and other issues similar to the San Francisco case. In another news development, voters in Austin, Texas, have rejected a proposal for loosening regulations affecting Uber and Lyft. Both companies are pulling operations out of the city for now. In late 2015, Austin’s City Council approved an ordinance requiring companies like Uber and Lyft to be regulated like taxis with fingerprinting for background checks. Both ride-hailing companies pushed for a ballot proposal that ended up working against them.
  6. Goodbye, Joe Jobe: Joe Jobe is leaving his position as CEO of National Biodiesel Board after nearly 20 years of service, to pursue other opportunities. The board will be searching for a permanent replacement immediately. Jobe started with NBB in 1997 and was named CEO in 1999. During that time, he helped lead the industry from 200,000 gallons of biodiesel use to over two billion gallons projected in 2016. Biodiesel is being used as a clean fuel by a growing number of fleets for their trucks, as was mentioned last week at ACT Expo.
  7. Looking for office space: Apple is looking for 800,000 square feet in the Bay Area to set up its autonomous vehicle and Titan electric car project. Google is looking for 400,000 more square feet for its self-driving car research and development operations. Victor Coleman, a notable San Francisco Bay Area landlord told Wall Street Journal that Apple seeks real estate in the area. He said that Google (Alphabet), and several automakers are actively searching out large real estate spaces as well; the areas may be used for autonomous vehicle development, he said.
  8. Networking charging stations: A new Navigant Research study says that communications technologies like RFID and Wi-Fi are one of the main reasons that electric vehicle charging installations are able to spread around the world. Having the right communications systems in place helps EV drivers gain access to charging power and pay for it. Whether it’s free or for a fee, the charging station must be able to communicate consumption data to the site owner or network operator, the study says.
  9. Hybrid supercars: As part of its business plan through 2022, more than half its cars will be hybrids, said Mike Flewitt, CEO of British supercar maker McLaren. McLaren will be working with other high-end luxury performance carmakers facing global emissions regulations and upscale car buyers interested in the new technologies, including British carmaker, Bentley, and Chinese EV start-up LeEco.
  10. BeeZero fuel cell carsharing: Starting this summer, 50 Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell cars will be stationed around Munich for short-term rentals using a mobile app. European industrial gas producer Linde will be helping make that a viable possibility by setting up the world’s first hydrogen fuel cell-powered BeeZero carsharing system. Renters can keep the cars as long as they need them, though rates aren’t yet available on the BeeZero website.

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