This Week’s Top 10: September plug-in sales, $200K ticket to Mars with SpaceX

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. 2016 Chevrolet VoltSeptember sales: The Chevy Volt continues to be the best selling plug-in hybrid, by far, on the market with 2,031 units sold in the U.S. during September. At 16,326 Volts so far this year, there’s a thin chance it could catch up to 2013’s 23,094 units sold, if not also 2012’s 23,461. The Volt redesign seems to have taken off very well. The all-electric Nissan Leaf saw its first increase in year-over-year sales since December 2014. In September, there were 1,316 Leafs sold, a 5.5% improvement over September 2015. Tesla Motors just reported its third quarter deliveries, which were up 70% over the second quarter. Of the 25,185 units sold and delivered during the third quarter, 15,800 were Model S and 8,700 were Model X. For September sales, one estimate shows the Model S and Model X well ahead of the Chevy Volt and all other plug-ins sold in the U.S.
  2. Ticket to Mars: Elon Musk gave a speech last week topping the Gigafactory and Hyperloop announcements. As SpaceX chief, he spoke last week at the 67th annual International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. Once the company’s Interplanetary Transport System is fully operational, he estimates that a person will be able to travel to Mars for about $200,000 – much cheaper than the $10 billion it would cost you to buy a rocket that you fly to the red planet. One hundred passengers will ride to Mars with 42 Raptor engines, carbon fiber fuel tanks, reusable rockets, and other features. Musk was making the pitch to gain financial backing from current client NASA and others attending the event.
  3. Uber and Otto: Self-driving truck startup Otto talked about its strategy now that ride-hailing giant Uber owns the new company. Uber plans to make Otto the leader in self-driving truck technologies in freight hauling. The ride-hailing company has started the process of selling services directly to shippers, trucks fleets, and independent truck drivers. Otto is expanding its fleet from six to 15 trucks, and is bringing in independent truckers to manage the trips. Those freight hauling trips will start next year with deliveries to warehouses and stores. Uber made the acquisition in August for an estimated $680 million. It ties into Uber’s strategy of developing self-driving car systems through its Pittsburgh test drive project.
  4. Lyft drivers getting Bolts: Lyft drivers will be the first to receive key fobs for their Chevy Bolt when it arrives at dealerships later this year. “Drivers on the Lyft platform will be receiving Bolts to drive first,” said Emily Castor, Lyft’s director of transportation. Castor spoke last week at the World Mobility Leadership Forum at Metro Airport in Detroit. Ride-hailing service Lyft links riders with about 315,000 contractor drivers in about 200 U.S. cities. General Motors and Lyft created the Express Drive rental program for Lyft drivers earlier this year after GM’s $500 million investment in the company. Express Drive offers Lyft drivers the opportunity to rent the GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Equinox, Malibu, Volt and, by the end of this year, the 2017 Bolt EV.
  5. First driver’s license for autonomous vehicle: Nevada last week granted the first autonomous vehicle-related driver’s license to Sam Schmidt, a former race car driver and The state granted Schmidt a license to drive a semi-autonomous test car on public roads under restricted conditions. Earlier this year, Schmidt drove more than 150 mph in the Arrow SAM Car during demonstration laps at the Indy 500. Arrow Electronics designed the SAM car for Schmidt in 2014, and they worked together to get the state to revise regulations allowing Schmidt to drive on roads in addition to race tracks. Schmidt used to be a race car driver, but lost his ability to drive years ago during a near-fatal speedway crash. Schmidt is able to control the car, a modified Corvette Z06, using his voice, head, and breath to steer, accelerate, and brake.
  6. No price cutting: Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent out an email to employees last week asking them to stop offering discounts to drive up sales numbers for the Model S and Model X. Discounts are appropriate for when for Tesla vehicles that had been used in test drives or that were damaged before delivery, he said. Musk asked them to stay away from price cutting and to adhere to a sales approach he called “fundamental to our integrity.”
  7. USPS test project: The U.S. Postal Service has identified six “prime suppliers” that will be producing 50 prototype vehicles from which a Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) will be chosen. The companies are: AM General, Mahindra, Oshkosh, Utilimaster, VT Hackney, and Karsan. The new prime suppliers’ contracts total $37.4 million in business. It may lead to an electric or hybrid design, according to recent reports and USPS.
  8. DMV supports fully autonomous: The California Department of Motor Vehicles revised its recommended policy on fully autonomous vehicles. While the agency had supported having steering wheels and pedals in autonomous vehicles for drivers to take over in case emergency conditions came up, that policy recommendation has changed. DMV revised draft regulations that the most advanced self-driving cars would no longer be required to have a licensed driver if federal officials deem them safe enough.
  9. Report on mobility services: Navigant Research released a report examining trends associated with emerging mobility services most likely to influence the future transportation market, including automated systems and shared vehicle services. A nexus of trends related to emerging mobility services is converging to influence the future transportation market: autonomous vehicles, the consumer shift, multimodal integration solutions, and urban versus rural/suburban population distribution. From parking habits to the number of vehicles in operation, these trends and related factors will have far ranging effects on the transportation landscape, according to Navigant Research.
  10. Testing e-trikes: UPS is testing electric-assist cargo tricycles and several other clean transportation and alternative fuel options in various scenarios around the world as part of a “rolling laboratory” project. The company is looking to resolve a serious challenge: how to keep up with the boom in e-commerce while at the same time reducing its impact on the environment. The e-trikes have a range of 21 miles and a top speed of 15 miles per hour and ample cargo capacity, They’re ideal for narrow European streets, but UPS customers in Portland, Ore., will soon see drivers pedaling around their neighborhoods in a similar model.

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