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………..
- PG&E charging network: A years-long struggle over Pacific Gas & Electric’s initial plan to run a 25,000 electric vehicle charging project has ended with a California Public Utilities Commission decision scaling the network down to 7,500 chargers. On Thursday, CPUC unanimously supported what will be the country’s largest utility-led charging deployment. The “Charge Smart and Save” plan includes 7,500 EV charging points in workplaces, multi-unit residential buildings, and disadvantaged communities, and is capped at a cost of $130 million – much less than the $650 million that had been earmarked for the 25,000 unit plan. Electric Vehicle Charging Association, which represents EV charging companies, and other groups had asked CPUC to consider an alternative plan; they seem to be satisfied that they’ve been given mostly what they’d been seeking. PG&E will be limited to how much of the charging network it can own, which had been a key stumbling block in the past. “This proposed decision accelerates the adoption of EV charging in northern California in a way that preserves innovation and competition,” said Pasquale Romano, ChargePoint’s CEO.
- DiCaprio backs BYD: Former Fisker Karma advocate Leonardo DiCaprio has signed on to promote China-based BYD’s electric vehicles and zero emissions campaign. It comes at a time when BYD has been promoting its “Cool the Earth by 1°C” campaign for the creation of a “Zero Emissions Energy Ecosystem.” BYD and Oscar-winning actor DiCaprio will spread the word on plug-in cars, utility vehicles, buses, solar energy, renewable storage, and light electric monorail systems – all of which are being developed and produced by the company. DiCaprio launched a documentary on climate change, “Before the Flood,” in which he starred, at the Toronto International Film Festival in September; the film featured an interview with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
- VW settlement in Canada: Volkswagen AG has agreed to spend up to C$2.1 billion ($1.6 billion) to buy back or fix 105,000 diesel vehicles and compensate owners over the emissions scandal, the automaker said. The German automaker also agreed to pay a C$15 million ($11.18 million) civil administrative penalty along with the Canadian settlement. That brings up the total to more than $18 billion to address diesel emissions issues in North America. VW expects to soon settle a deal on another U.S. recall involving buybacks or fixes for another 80,000 polluting U.S. diesel 3.0 liter Porsche, Audi, and VW vehicles. In a related story, German auto supplier Robert Bosch GmbH may be settling a lawsuit filed by U.S. owners related to the diesel emissions cheating scandal for more than $300 million. Bosch had previously called the lawsuit “wild and unfounded” after it was filed last year. VW owners have claimed the supplier had helped design the “defeat device” software that VW had been using for years to pass diesel emissions tests.
- Musk and Kalanick join panel: President-elect Donald Trump has named Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to a Strategic and Policy Forum that frequently will advise him on economic issues and jobs growth. Musk and Kalanick will join General Motors CEO Mary Barra on the panel, along with several other top-ranking executives from U.S. companies. Trump’s transition team said they’ll be part of a forum that is composed of “some of America’s most highly respected and successful business leaders” that “will be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his economic agenda.”
- Toyota’s environmental report: Toyota will be lighting up its new U.S. corporate headquarters in Plano, Texas, with solar power. That was part of the recently published 2016 North American Environmental Report, where Toyota outlined these positive impacts. Over the past year, Toyota’s North American operations have reduced water usage by nearly 100 million gallons. The company also announced plans for a 7.75 megawatt solar array at Toyota’s new headquarters campus in Plano, Texas, which will reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by 7,122 metric tons, or the equivalent of the electricity used by almost 1,000 homes in a year. It’s all part of Toyota’s Environmental Challenge 2050, which focuses on completely eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions from its vehicles, operations, and supply chain.
- DOE grants: The U.S. Department of Energy has issued two grant funding programs involving advanced, clean transportation. Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) announced that its Renewable Energy to Fuels Through Utilization of Energy-Dense Liquids (REFUEL) program will convert low-cost renewable energy into a transportable chemical fuel and use these fuels for transportation applications, while reducing production costs and environmental impact. Most selected REFUEL projects target the production of ammonia or its conversion to hydrogen or electricity. DOE also announced that $19.7 million, subject to appropriations, will be granted to support research and development of advanced vehicle technologies, including batteries, lightweight materials, and advanced combustion engines; and innovative technologies for energy efficient mobility. Its purpose is to accelerate energy efficient transportation and systems.
- Plug-in hybrids taking lead: Navigant Research predicts that the current level of electrified vehicles making up 3% of global sales will go up to 9% by 2025. That includes hybrid, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric vehicles. The research firm thinks hybrids and plug-in hybrids will switch places; with hybrids currently making up 73% of electrified vehicle sales; and by 2025, plug-in hybrids trading places, coming in at 72% of sales. The Chevy Volt has been leading the way in U.S. plug-in electrified vehicle sales and the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV has been leading in Europe. That market presence will grow as automakers roll out more plug-in offerings, including new, larger vehicle body types. All-electric vehicles aren’t typically designed to go this route as much as plug-in hybrids tend to be, said the study.
- SDG&E trucks: San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has signed an agreement with XL Hybrids, a developer of hybrid truck solutions, to purchase up to 110 of its plug-in electric hybrid truck systems between 2017 and 2020. The XL Hybrids’ system will convert commercially available gasoline-powered trucks into electric hybrids, powered in part by energy generated by the sun and wind. The conversion of these trucks will deliver a 50% improvement in miles driven per gallon, reduce operating costs, extend the life of the vehicles, and increase the overall range of SDG&E’s fleet.
- Lucid Air launch: Startup electric carmaker Lucid Motors, formerly known as Atieva, unveiled its Air “executive sedan” last week, which the company says will be able to travel up to 400 miles on a charge. That power will be stored in a 100 kWh battery pack, and its motor will be able to hit up to 1,000 in horsepower. The company is taking deposits on the car now and plans to begin deliveries in early 2019. A company executive acknowledged it’s an ambitious plan to roll out its first car in two years, but also said the company is confident it will be reached.
- Boring concept: Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted several times over the weekend about his next grand, visionary dream: digging a below-ground tunnel for some sort of vehicle to deliver passengers. “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging …” he posted on Twitter. That was followed with more. “It shall be called the Boring Company”, and another tweet read: “Boring, it’s what we do.” Will these be Hyperloop pods traveling at lightning speeds underground? We’ll have to wait to read more.