This Week’s Top 10: More news from the Detroit Auto Show, Rick Sikes and Keith Leech announce their retirements

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. North American International Auto ShowUnveiling the Chevrolet Bolt and 2016 Volt changes stole the thunder last Monday at the North American International Auto Show. As for the rest of that week…….. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was a keynote speaker at the Automotive New World Congress and said that Tesla will boost production of its electric vehicles from less than 40,000 last year to at least a few million by 2025. The company may not be profitable until 2020. Chinese sales were weaker in the fourth quarter of 2014 than the company had expected; Musk said city-dwelling Chinese consumers have misperceptions about the difficulty of charging their electric cars. On Thursday of last week, Musk traveled to Texas and urged state legislators to ease restrictions on selling Tesla electric cars there, and the possibility of setting up a new car factory or test facility for his “hyperloop” fast train…… Volkswagen debuted its five-seater Cross Coupe GTE. The plug-in hybrid has a maximum output of 355 horsepower and an all-wheel-drive system. It has a manufacturer-estimated fuel economy rating of 70 MPGe…….. Honda showcased its FCV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle concept with US availability of the production vehicle in 2016. The company also announced plans to offer several next-generation, advanced powertrain vehicles, including a new battery-electric model and plug-in hybrid model by 2018………. Ford unveiled the all-new GT, an ultra-high-performance supercar that serves as a technology showcase for top EcoBoost performance, aerodynamics and lightweight carbon fiber construction……… Hyundai revealed a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata midsize sedan that will go on sale this year. Hyundai said it plans to start by selling the 2016 Sonata PHEV in California and nine other U.S. states that mandate sales of zero-emission vehicles.
  2. Two prominent fleet managers have retired. Rick Sikes, fleet superintendent for the City of Santa Monica, and Keith Leech, fleet manager for the City of Sacramento, announced their retirements this month. Sikes is known for leading Santa Monica’s fleet for more than 25 years and bringing it up to 85% alternative fuel including electric, propane, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, and biodiesel. Sikes has served on the leadership team for the city’s AltCar Expo since its inception in 2005. Leech served as Sacramento’s fleet manager from May 2006, where he promoted fleet sustainability with alternative fuels and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Leech has served as President of the Sacramento Regional Clean Cities Coalition; his fleet has been honored several times with awards including taking #1 Government Green Fleet in North America by “100 Best Fleets” and Green Fleet
  3. Former GM product czar Bob Lutz says that Via Motors delivered its first 40 plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Silverado converted pickups to fleet customers, and 200 retrofitted Chevrolet Express vans are in the works. Lutz plays a leadership role with Via, and he says the company expects to sell 50,000 vehicles per year by 2018.
  4. Cheap gasoline prices make it harder to sell electric cars, says Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing. He expects sales to dip in a few countries due to declining gas prices. Maybe a 60-second spot during the Superbowl will help move the metal. The i8 plug-in hybrid is only available in limited production and is quite expensive with a list price of $137,450, but the interest in strong. People are waiting about a year to receive their i8, doubling the delivery this year to 1,000 plus compared to last year. Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, said those i8 models won’t be in the US until October.
  5. Roush CleanTech has earned California Air Resources Board (CARB) retrofit certification for all Ford 6.8-liter vehicles for model years 2012 to 2015 – and is the first company to receive this certification for propane autogas. Any 2012 – 2015 model year Ford E-450, F-450, F-550, F-650, F-53 and F-59 vehicles can now be converted to run on propane autogas in all 50 states.
  6. A recent JD Power and Associates study found that fuel economy has been the top vehicle buying decision for consumers for the past four years; and it should stay high on their consideration list even with the huge drop in gasoline prices, a JD Power analyst said.
  7. The California Energy Commission approved more than $12 million for alternative fuel vehicle projects during its first business meeting of the new year. Regents of the University of California will receive $11.2 million for a natural gas vehicle incentive program; US General Services Administration will receive $600,000 to install 50 electric vehicle charging stations at federal facilities in California; and Linde LLC is receiving $300,000 for a new hydrogen fueling station in West Sacramento.
  8. Uber will provide the City of Boston with data on its ridesharing service trips as part of Boston’s plan to ease traffic congestion and assist in smarter city planning. Uber will provide a quarterly report with trip logs with details on the ride – pickup days and times, distance travel, and zip codes where passengers were picked up and dropped off. That follows new rules from the state of Massachusetts officially recognizing Uber and other ridesharing services as valid modes of transportation. Question: could carsharing services track and report trips to cities and fleets?
  9. Tom Saxton, chief science officer for Plug In America, analyzed how things are going for workplace electric vehicle charging in a blog post. One of the challenges is finding the “just right” fee for charging costs. Free charging is a good thing for kickstarting awareness of electric vehicles but it’s not going to last forever. Free charging can lead to oversubscription and reduce charging availability for those needing charges; that would discourage EV adoption from people who could most benefit from charging at work, Saxton says.
  10. While the price drop at gasoline pumps was a leading topic last week at the Detroit Auto Show, it’s not going to last forever, says Bob Carter, the head of US automotive operations for Toyota. Carter is in agreement with most other automotive executives that those prices will go up; but the question continues on what impact it may have in 2017 during the industry-government review of the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy by 2025 mandate.

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