This Week’s Top 10: GM and Lyft bringing out self-driving Bolts soon, Battles ensue over autonomous vehicle rules

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. GM bringing out 1,000s of automated Bolts: General Motors believes enough in the synthesis of electric vehicles, autonomous driving, and shared rides to roll out “thousands” of self-driving Chevy Bolts through its Lyft alliance by 2018. That comes from two sources familiar with the matter who weren’t identified. GM’s Maven carsharing business unit is likely to be involved in managing some of the automated Bolts as well, sources said. That would make for the largest fleet deployment of self-driving vehicles ever seen, as Waymo, Uber, Ford, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and others prepare for commercialization of the nascent technology. Analysts think that the fusion of EVs, AVs, and mobility will be taking place in increasingly crowded, polluted cities around the world. Automated EVs can be recharged efficiently and cheaply, are much easier and cheaper to maintain than ICEs, and can converge more logically with computers already driving AVs. Human drivers are expected to deliver most of the trips for Lyft, Uber, Maven, Zipcar, and others in the near future, but autonomous vehicle trips are thought to provide a solution to mobility services getting hit with peak demand during periods when there aren’t enough drivers out there and fares are known to skyrocket.
  2. Battles ensue over future of autonomous vehicles: Thorny legal issues are being delved into as autonomous vehicle technology strides forward. Waymo, Uber, a few automakers, and industry groups are working against potential new state laws that would only allow automakers to test autonomous vehicles in those states. Michigan started it all off with a bill that was given input from General Motors limiting access to state testing to automakers. The state did revise the bills wording of “motor vehicle manufacturer” based on suggestions by Uber and Waymo to include companies developing and testing self-driving systems. Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, and Illinois are reviewing bills in line with Michigan’s first version limiting access to automakers, Automotive News reports. Last week, executives from Toyota, General Motors, Volvo, and Lyft urged the U.S. Congress to unify the patchwork of state laws governing testing and development of self-driving cars. One of the problems has been how much the regulatory structure varies by state, with California wanting a more careful, phased in testing and adoption procedure and Michigan supporting fully autonomous vehicles in the near future. Ford Motor Co. has found that gradual, semi-autonomous vehicle testing hasn’t been the way to go; with several Ford engineers falling asleep during test runs. The rides have been relaxing enough for engineers to fall asleep and take away the human safety factor. Ford agrees with Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car division and a few other automakers that Level 5 fully autonomous is the way to go; there are also several other automakers who disagree over that one and think vehicles should stay at Level 3 for now and complete extensive testing.
  3. Fighting over fuel economy standards: Automakers and environmental groups are prepared for a long-term skirmish over the future of the 2025 federal fuel economy and emissions standards. Tension increased after a recent letter was sent o President Donald Trump signed by 18 auto industry executives asking him to reinstate a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency review of fuel economy regulations through 2025. Automakers say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unfairly cut the public comment period short before the Obama administration left office. Automakers had been sending out warning to the administration on job loss and heavy costs connected to manufacturing and marketing these fuel efficient vehicles; when the public has been showing more interest in SUVs, crossovers, and pickups. Environmental groups have been threatening legal action if the rule gets weakened.
  4. Some Nissan dealers love the Leaf: While the Nissan Leaf has been seeing softening sales in the U.S. in the past couple of years, some markets are very strong for the electric car. It depends a lot on the dealers. In Seattle, the Leaf is outselling the brand’s volume-leading car, the Altima. In Kansas, Delaware, New Jersey, Minnesota and Connecticut, Leaf sales have risen by double and triple digits in the past few months, according to Brian Maragno, Nissan’s director of electric vehicle marketing and sales. Boulder Nissan loves the Leaf and plans to sell a lot more them; other dealers are wondering what’s next for Nissan EVs in the pipeline. Ride and drive events work well for Boulder Nissan. “The Leaf now accounts for 80 percent of the new cars we sell here,” Ted Christiano, executive manager of Boulder Nissan in Boulder, Colo. “We’re doing a great business with them.”
  5. Prius Prime sales: The Toyota executive considered to the “father of the Prius” when it was launched 20 years ago thinks that the plug-in hybrid will hit the million unit sales mark faster than the original hybrid version. Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said he expects Prius plug-in hybrids to pass the one million unit sales mark in less than 10 years, which is how long it took for the hybrid Prius to reach that sales benchmark; that will include the original Prius Plug-in Hybrid and the new Prius Prime. The company expects to sell about 60,000 Prius Primes a year, with more than half of these vehicles being sold in Japan. The original Prius plug-in hybrid only had about 75,000 units sold from its launch in 2012 to its closure in 2015. “Environmental awareness has become a bigger issue today than it was 20 years ago, and demand for environmentally conscious products has increased,” Uchiyamada said.
  6. Greenest and Meanest: The Hyundai Ioniq Electric won the highest-ever green car score in American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s annual Greenest vehicle award, with the BMW i3 coming in a close second. Each car is given a green score by ACEEE based on an environmental damage index, which estimates pollution coming from vehicle manufacturing, the production and distribution of fuel that powers the vehicle, and vehicle tailpipe emissions. The Mercedes-Benz AMG G65 was named the Meanest vehicle on this year’s list, tying with the Chevrolet G2500 Express passenger van; these vehicles are considered to be the least friendly to the environment.
  7. Advanced biofuels: A new Lux Research study sees first- and second-generation biofuels bowing out to newer low-carbon fuels. Biodiesel is projected in the study to lose 26 percent market share by 2022 due to the rapid growth of low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels such as renewable diesel. The study predicts advanced biofuels will nearly double in five years to 9.6 billion gallons per year. “A new era of technology commercialization has brought the global biofuels industry to the cusp of a tipping point, as new facilities target low-carbon and high-performance drop-in biofuels,” said Runeel Daliah, Lux Research associate and lead author of the report.
  8. Midwest coalition: A new group called Evolve will bring together supporters of electric vehicles from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The American Lung Association and other organizations are joining together with these states to promote the campaign. Evolve is also partnering with eight regional Clean Cities coalitions, which will be hosting more than 200 events across the Midwest states starting this year through 2020.
  9. Volvo electrified launches: Volvo will be bringing out a three-cylinder engine plug-in hybrid, a battery electric vehicle (its first production BEV), and a new 48-volt micro hybrid in 2019. This new three-cylinder PHEV will feature a 9.7-kilowatt hour lithium ion battery in the tunnel, an electric air conditioning compressor, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and a 55-kW electric motor. Estimated battery-only range will be about 31 miles.
  10. Smart electric cars: Mercedes-Benz USA has announced that Smart cars is becoming an electric-vehicle only brand. For the U.S. and Canada markets only, the company will stop selling the gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo coupe and convertible later this year. The Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the all-electric Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio. “Developments within the micro-car segment present some challenges for the current Smart product portfolio,” Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told dealers in the letter, which was obtained by Automotive News. “Therefore, with the launch of the fourth-generation Smart ForTwo electric drive this summer, the Smart lineup will consist exclusively of the zero-emissions Smart electric-drive coupe and cabrio in the U.S. and Canada.”

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