This Week’s Top 10: Federal autonomous vehicle guidelines emphasize innovation and safety, Details released on Chevy Bolt

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. Nissan Leaf autonomousFeds issue self-driving car guidelines: Long-awaited federal guidelines have been issued on self-driving cars. Late yesterday, Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation and Jeffrey Zients, director of the National Economic Council, released guidelines that encourage technology innovations from automakers and suppliers balanced with concerns over public safety. The DOT does recommend having uniform national standards for autonomous vehicles, and states will be included in the process. Several states have been years ahead of the federal government on issuing testing standards. That was part of the DOT’s 15-point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles. The agency also clarified how current regulations can be applied to self-driving cars, and other contested issues. The federal government is encouraging innovators like Tesla, Google, Apple, Ford, Intel, and others, to continue testing and developing autonomous technologies. Tesla’s fatalities in incidents where the Autopilot semiautonomous systems was involved will be closely scrutinized, along with these new federal guidelines, as the nascent technology moves forward.
  2. Details released on Chevy Bolt: Pricing of the all-electric Chevy Bolt starts at $37,495 for the LT trim, with the higher-end Premier trim starting at $40,905. With the federal tax credit, purchasing a Bolt when it rolls out late this year will start at $29,995 for the starting price. Last week, General Motors announced the Bolt will be able to travel 238 miles on a single charge through its 60 kWh battery. For those willing to pay for the Premium level, the Bolt will receive a 360-degree camera system, leather seats, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, and options for forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and several other features.
  3. Clean Technology Forum: Sacramento Clean Cities Coalition is hosting its annual fall conference, the Northern California Clean Technology Forum, Oct. 19-20, at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento. The event brings together regional and national fleet managers and industry stakeholders to explore available technology and vehicle options, as well as looking at policies, incentives, and regulations helping to move the market. CALSTART Senior Vice President Bill Van Amburg will speak on the state of the clean commercial vehicle industry, funding and incentives, future technologies and issues, and vehicle electrification. Another featured speaker will be Bill Griffiths from Montgomery County, Maryland; he was a 2015 fleet manager of the year award winner. This year’s awards will be presented on the opening night reception on Oct. 19 to five award categories: Public Fleet, Private Fleet, Individual, Lifetime Achievement “Career,” and Lifetime Achievement “Superior Accomplishment.” The conference also includes a medium-and heavy-duty Ride & Drive. There is no charge for these activities. You can register here.
  4. VW concept car: Volkswagen sent out teaser photos of an electric car that VW says will be compact and long range. It will be an integral part of the German automaker emerging from its “dirty diesel” scandal; the company expects the concept car to roll out in 2018 or 2019. It will be the first car to be built on VW’s new MEB (modular electrification kit) platform, the company said in a statement. VW is pitching the car for being as “revolutionary as the Beetle was seven decades ago.”
  5. Autonomous vehicles fast approaching, Lyft exec says: Self-driving cars will show up in real numbers five years from now, and ride-hailing firms will take the lead. That’s according to an exclusive Time interview with John Zimmer, Lyft’s cofounder and president. He doesn’t see consumers trading their cars for self-driving cars as much as consumers paying for trips in self-driving cars that they don’t own. Car ownership will “all but end” in major U.S. cities within 10 years, according to Zimmer. Zimmer’s interview was published days after Uber began adding riders to its self-driving vehicle test runs in Philadelphia, the first time this experience has been made available to the general public.
  6. Tesla makes energy deal with SCE: Tesla Energy will supply 20 megawatts of energy storage to Southern California Edison – enough to power about 2,500 homes for a full day, according to Tesla. The Tesla Energy batteries will make up the biggest lithium-ion battery project in the world in total megawatt hours, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. The deal with SCE comes from the utility’s efforts to prevent blackouts by fossil-fuel electricity generation with lithium-ion batteries.
  7. BYD expanding California plant: Chinese automaker BYD said that it’s launched the second of three expansion phases at its manufacturing plant in Lancaster, Calif., which will add an additional 40,000 square feet added to the existing facility. The company currently employs about 400 people working at the plant, with plans to triple employment. That’s coming from increased demand for its electric coaches and buses, along with new medium- and heavy-duty trucks. When asked if BYD plans to produce light vehicles in the U.S. (such as popular electric car models sold in China), a company spokesman declined to comment.
  8. Auto suppliers bullish on 2025 targets: Calstart recently conducted a survey of 23 suppliers selling parts directly to automakers. Seventy percent of the companies surveyed think that the U.S. shouldn’t back away from its 2025 fuel economy and emissions goal, according to John Boesel, president of Calstart. Fifty-nine percent said the target is creating job growth, according to the study.
  9. NGV sales forecast: According to Navigant Research, global annual natural gas vehicle sales are expected to grow from 2.4 million vehicles in 2015 to 3.9 million in 2025. Nearly 40 million light duty NGVs are expected to be on roads around the world by 2025. Several regions of the world have substantial markets for natural gas vehicles that are expected to continue growing over the next decade, but at a slower pace than what was projected prior to the drop in petroleum prices. Additional issues could hinder growth prospects, including ongoing political tensions in Eastern Europe that could affect supply and the prices of gas exports from Russia to Western Europe. Another trend to follow will be battery suppliers making major gains in battery cost reduction and capacity; making EVs more competitive compared to NGVs.
  10. Uber in Detroit: Uber will be adding Detroit to its office locations, to work with automakers and top suppliers. At an event hosted today by Society of Automotive Engineers in the Detroit area, Uber’s vice president of global vehicle programs Sherif Marakby announced that the company is planning on opening a facility in the Detroit area. The news follows Uber’s launch of a self-driving car test project in Pittsburgh last week that makes rides available to the general public. Uber will be looking for Tier 1 suppliers to design its hardware, he said. He also mentioned that Uber will be looking to work with automakers in that area to develop and modify its autonomous fleet.

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