Retail Automotive Summary – October 2014

Retail Automotive Summary – October 2014

Big Picture: California’s ZEV targets adopted by seven more states, NHTSA not recalling Tesla Model S and now there’s been another crash

ZEV Action PlanGovernment fleet vehicles are expected to play an integral role in California and seven other states requiring 15% of new vehicles sold to be zero-emission vehicles by 2025. Governors from seven states – Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Vermont – met in Sacramento on Thursday with California’s governor to say they’re following California’s rule. The governors agreed to buy more ZEVs for their fleets, and will be taking other important actions that could spur sales. A lot more charging stations will need to be there, and the agreement includes efforts to have building codes simplify installations. Cash incentives and discounted electricity rates for home charging are being considered, and developing shared standards for charging networks and common road signage are part of the agreement. Charging station installations should play a big part in all of this coming together.
The non-binding agreement will likely push sales of battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles in those states. Automakers have been supportive of the agreement, and say it will be easier to sell them if the initiative applies to eight states and not just California; these eight states make up 23% of US new vehicle sales. If the states meet this ambitious target, it would bring 3.3 million of these vehicles on their roads by 2025.

Tesla Model S not getting recalled by NHTSA for battery pack fire, but what about Mexico fire?
It appears that Tesla Motors is walking away from its post-crash battery fire and won’t be getting recalled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. On October 1 in Kent, Wash., a lithium-ion battery in a Model S caught fire after the car collided with a large metallic object on the state highway. NHTSA has found no evidence that the fire came from a vehicle defect or from violations of US safety standards. It was day one of the 16-day federal government shutdown, and NHTSA didn’t send an investigator to the scene of the crash. The agency consulted with Tesla and is still “gathering data” on the fire, but it is not going to conduct an investigation process that could lead to recalls. Two other plug-in electric vehicles have gone through NHTSA investigations and recalls due to fires – the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma.
Tesla now has another Model S fire to deal with as reports and video footage have come out on an Oct. 18 crash and fire in Merida, in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. According to media reports, the driver was under the influence of alcohol and escaped with no injuries. The driver was speeding into a roundabout and then collided with a tree. It’s too early to tell if the crash pierced into the battery and started the fire.

Truck makers in federal appeals court over EPA compliance
Implementing federal regulations on fuel economy and emissions for commercial trucks has become a legal battle. Truck makers are split over whether one of the major OEMs should be granted the ability to pay penalties instead of complying with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard. Navistar International Corp. paid a penalty to allow its non-conforming engines to go to market. Daimler Trucks North America, Mack Trucks, and Volvo Group North America are challenging EPA rules following its 2001 heavy-duty engine standards for nitrogen oxides (NOx).
The EPA wanted to see 95% of NOx emissions reduced by 2010. That led to a split among truck makers on how to comply – Daimler, Mack, and Volvo have used selective catalytic reduction technology and did meet the standard; Navistar relied on a different technology and failed to comply, hence paying a penalty of $2,000 per engine. The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has been hearing the case on the EPA ruling and whether Navistar’s efforts could comply for a Clean Air Act exemption that allowed for the engine to enter the market if the penalty fine was paid. Daimler and other OEMs are claiming the exemption unfairly penalized their successful efforts to comply.

And in other green car news……

  1. Cost of ownership analyst company Vincentric says that hybrids can be pretty darn good for lifecycle ownership cost. In its 2013 Hybrid Analysis, 13 of the 33 hybrid vehicles on the market have lower cost-of-ownership than their gasoline-only counterparts; that’s two more hybrid models than was on the 2012 Vincentric study. However, with the increased number of hybrids on the market, the number of financially cost-effective hybrids out there dropped from 44% to 39%.
  2. Tesla Motors hired Doug Field as vice pres­i­dent of vehi­cle pro­grams. Field was an Apple Inc. exec­u­tive and for­mer Ford engi­neer and will be respon­si­ble for dri­ving devel­op­ment of new vehi­cles for the lux­ury elec­tric vehi­cle car­maker. He was in charge of devel­op­ment of sev­eral Apple prod­ucts such as the lat­est Mac­Book Air, Mac­Book Pro, and iMac.
  3. A bipartisan group of 13 House members asked the regulatory Commodity Futures Trading Commission to investigate the alleged manipulation of the market for ethanol credits. A letter to the commission said price volatility experienced this year in the market used by oil refiners to meet renewable fuel standard may be due to fraud and manipulation. Credit prices shot up to $1.44 in July and have gone back down to the 30-cent range.
  4. EvCarCo, Inc., has secured a license for electric/hybrid vehicle technology. The company says that the technology allows for production of lightweight fully wheel chair accessible electric and hybrid buses and has the capability to be utilized for niche utility vehicles such as garbage trucks and city utility vehicles. EvCarCo says that it is an automotive retailer deploying a coast-to-coast network of eco-friendly dealerships and vehicles.
  5. Things might be changing on the dating circuit. About 2,000 women in the United Kingdom were surveyed recently and the majority found owners of Toyota Prius hybrids and Nissan Leaf electric cars to “conscientious” and “intelligent,” and more likely to be safe drivers. On the other hand, a majority of respondents said that owners of expensive sports are “arrogant” and some of them find them to “self-centered.” As for safety, 38% said that male sports car owners are a “danger on the roads.”
  6. Ford Motor Co. is focusing on “big data” and analytics to increase fuel economy, reduce vehicle emissions, and support other sustainability initiatives, said John Viera, global director of sustainability, at the 2013 Net Impact conference in San Jose, Calif. Ford is using a science-based model that forecasts CO2 emissions that will be generated by the fleet of vehicles on roads worldwide for the next 50 years. That’s helping Ford set aggressive fuel economy targets to help reduce carbon. Ford’s EcoBoost engines play into it, as do Ford hybrid plug-in hybrid, all-electric, flex-fuel, biodiesel, CNG and LPG vehicles. The automaker’s analytics also optimize millions of possible vehicle combinations exploring all possible transportation scenarios. This has resulted in green products such as Ford Auto Start-Stop, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions when the car is idling.

How AltCar Expo has become a workable event model

AltCar Expo logoChristine Dzilvelis, one of the partners who organizes AltCar Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., has a different perspective on what constitutes a successful community event than what I wrote about recently. For example, on Friday afternoon, September 20, during AltCar Expo, a speaker panel on electric vehicle charging stations at multi-family housing units led to action being taken by stakeholders. The intensive three hour discussion led to a planned installation in Santa Monica; key players like Schneider Electric began working out the details.

Dzilvelis said the feedback the organizers are getting is appreciation from local residents and from stakeholders such as automakers on hosting a grass roots, hands-on annual event. People are overwhelmed by all of the new technologies, and AltCar Expo makes it easier for fleets, industry, and the public to experience the vehicles and have their questions answered. “AltCar Expo is not a business to make money,” she said.

What seems to be working best is strong local/regional events. Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo and Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) have been receiving kudos, but other national events like Green Fleet Conference & Expo and Plug-in 2013 are only getting small-to-medium attendance that are very supplier-intensive. ACT Expo is getting better feedback, but there’s still a lot of concern that it’s dominated by CNG vehicles. AltCar Expo, now in its eighth year, gets positive feedback for playing a role in pushing alternative fuel vehicles forward by bringing together leaders in government, fleets, automakers, and infrastructure, along with local residents who are very interested and supportive of having this event each year. This year, they especially loved seeing and driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, Dzilvelis said.

Dzilvelis is part of two other events with similar goals for public education and bringing stakeholders together. The first annual Northern California AltCar conference will be taking place March 14-15, 2014 at the Craneway Pavilion (a former Ford plant) in Richmond, Calif.; it’s sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. On March 28-29, 2014, the fifth annual Texas AltCar conference will be held at the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas, and is being sponsored by Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities. (Next year’s AltCar Expo will be taking place Sept. 19-20, 2014.) AltCar Expo organizers are being contacted regularly by stakeholders in cities across the country that want to get their own AltCar conference going. It does seem to be the most realistic event model for bringing the technology and experience to a lot more people.

The latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and infrastructure

hydrogen fuel cell vehiclesTesla CEO Elon Musk got a lot more media coverage for calling fuel cell technologies “bullsh#t”  –except when used in a rocket. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles don’t come anywhere near the energy density of the lithium-ion battery pack located inside the Tesla Model S, he said.

So what’s the latest on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles?

  1. The infrastructure is very thin – the US Dept. of Energy says there are only 10 hydrogen stations in the US, most all of it in California. California did approve a funding plan that will be bringing 100 hydrogen stations to the state. Europe is ahead of the US on the infrastructure, especially in Italy, Germany, and Belgium.
  2. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles are being included in the zero emission vehicle policies adopted by California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon, and Vermont.
  3. Hyundai wants to beat competitors by bringing the first of its fuel cell models to US dealer showrooms in early 2014. The volume of these cars will be limited, with total worldwide sales to reach about 1,000 over the next three years, the company said.
  4. Toyota will be putting a fuel cell vehicle into limited production by 2015. Honda says it will be rolling out a replacement to its FCX Clarity fuel cell car. General Motors, which has been testing out its Chevrolet Equinox fuel cell SUV in Project Driveway, will begin production of its own hydrogen vehicle later in this decade. There’s no word yet on what Mercedes will be doing next with its F-Cell, which like the FCX Clarity, has met with very limited sales so far in California.
  5. Fuel cell vehicles are in the midst of ramping up to commercialization, according to Navigant Research. The challenge is reaching sufficient volume to bring down system and plant costs. This is where technology partnerships that we’re starting to see between automakers comes to play. Fuel cell bus deployments are gaining in volume, as are fuel cell scooters and forklifts, which are being carefully monitored by automakers who are rolling out hydrogen fuel cell cars.
  6. Home energy stations, such as one that can generate hydrogen from natural gas, are being tested out by Honda.
  7. The value of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are being recognized by automakers and advocacy/support groups for a few reasons: you can fill the tank in just a few minutes; they’re zero emission, clean vehicles; hydrogen can be extracted from a number of natural sources; the price for manufacturing these cars is coming down quite a bit; they’re fun to drive, as people participating in Project Driveway or driving a fuel cell vehicle at a car show will tell you.

Tesla-Mania: Eric Cartman cusses out Tesla Model S; Millennials can bring electric scooters to America

Cartman at gunpoint in Model SWhile it has taken awhile for the creative team at “South Park” to slap around the Model S, the plug-in car did get a few moments on screen. Tesla Motors joins the ranks of Scientology and the Toyota Prius in getting lampooned. In an episode inspired by a variation of the George Zimmerman court verdict (called “World War Zimmerman”), extremely angry young man Eric Cartman stops a Model S and its driver at gunpoint. He yells at her: “We’ve got about ten minutes before this entire country is up in flames! If you wanna live, you’d better step on the gas! Oh wait, is this a Tesla? Sh*t! Well press on the prissy pedal! We’re gonna die!”  
In more serious Tesla news….. Tesla was the top seller of zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits in California from Oct. 1 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013 (and Toyota led hybrid credit trades). Tesla transferred 1,311.52 ZEV credits during that time, according to a California Air Resources Board filing. The number two company was Suzuki and was far behind Tesla; Suzuki discontinued US auto sales in 2012 but was able to transfer credits accumulated in the past. Companies that acquired ZEV credits to meet their requirements included Chrysler, GM, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Subaru, and Volkswagen (though it’s not reported if they acquired their credits through Tesla or another automakers). California requires automakers to sell electric or other non-polluting vehicles in proportion to their market share in the state.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk spent $989,000 at a London auction on a Lotus Esprit used in The Spy Who Loved Me by the James Bond character. Bond drove the car off a pier in the movie as it transformed into a submarine by merely pressing a button. Musk had fun with it, telling the USA Today he loved watching it as a kid in South Africa. He was disappointed to find out you can’t press the button and make it happen, but plans to upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain so that it can transform for real.

Millennials can bring electric scooters to America
Check out this video interview Terry Duncan, chief of consumer engagement at Mahindra GenZe, a US startup that has backing from India’s Mahindra. GenZe is rolling out an electric scooter in early 2014 targeted toward Millennials in the US. The product and audience was chosen based on two premises – urbanization is happening in the world’s major cities and transportation is being heavily impacted; Millennials in their late teens to early 30s are the right market to start with, since they’re not buying cars as much as previous generations, are moving to cities, and want functional, practical transportation alternatives. In another video, you’ll hear him discuss the design decisions made on the bike; while these types of vehicles have huge sales numbers in countries like China, they need to be extremely pragmatic and, let’s say, cool, to make it in the US.

Top News of the Week:

  1. A group of Chinese investors based on Hong Kong and led by Richard Li are investing in Fisker Automotive for an unreported amount. This should finish the US Dept. of Energy’s loan to Fisker – most all of the $192 million loan needs to be paid back and the investor deal will probably only meet some of it, which the US government has been ready to accept. A small chunk of the payback will come through former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz. VL Automotive, a small Detroit company that has Lutz’ backing, will be converting 25 unsold Karmas from plug-in hybrid power to Corvette power. VL had to settle a dispute with an Asian investor that had prevented them from accessing codes operating the car’s infotainment system. Lutz says these converted Karmas will come out in 2014 for something close to $200,000.
  2. Clean­Fuel USA has installed 85 retail propane auto­gas fuel­ing sta­tions across 13 states. This was funded by a $12 mil­lion grant from the US Depart­ment of Energy’s Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act. Texas State Tech­ni­cal Col­lege – TSTC – served as the lead grantee. The major­ity of the 85 sta­tions are located near heav­ily traf­ficked road­ways, exist­ing fuel­ing sta­tions, major air­ports and home improve­ment stores, Clean­Fuel said.
  3. Don’t believe in climate change? What about lung cancer? The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, has released a study that formally declares air pollution is causing lung cancer. The research arm of the World Health Organization focused on diesel cars and trucks in operation around the world as a major source of the problem.
  4. ChargePoint is offering a lease-to-purchase program for businesses and cities to install its charging system. The systems usually cost between $6,000 to $12,000 to buy and can cost about $3 to $6 a day over five-to-seven years to pay off under the finance program.
  5. GM will be offering a bi-fuel version of the Chevrolet Impala that will be able to travel up to 500 miles on gasoline and natural gas.
  6. General Electric Co. is converting heavy-duty trucking fleets from diesel to natural gas. GE has partnered with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and truck fleet operators can apply for loans and leases through GE Capital to make the conversions.
  7. Plug-ins missed the Green Car of the Year award nominee list. The winner will be announced next month at the LA Auto Show form the following list: Audi A6 TDI, BMW 328d, Honda Accord (though the plug-in hybrid was included with the hybrid and ICE versions of the Accord), Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla.
  8. Experts speaking at the annual ITS World Congress in Tokyo expressed concerns over issues that do tend to come up with self-driving cars – technical challenges, lack of industry standards, vague and minimal regulations, implementation costs, and liability issues. Toyota is being a little more optimistic, expecting that elderly drivers could likely make up a strong market segment for self-driving cars.
  9. A study by UK-based Kantar Media says that the BMW i3 saw huge media gains in the third quarter after its debut last month at the Frankfurt auto show. It was No. 2 in online news coverage from No. 60 during the second quarter. It came in 8th place in both Tweets and blog mentions during the third quarter versus being in low 100s rankings for both segments in the previous quarter.

CTDI’s Mark Shasteen on how remanufacturing is playing a key role in automotive sustainability

Shasteen_Mark_CTDILMC Automotive’s 2013 forecast for total US light-duty vehicle sales is at 15.2 million units. The analyst firm’s estimate for global sales this year is 83.5 million light vehicles, up 2.8% from 81.2 million in 2012.  (Editor’s note: there’s somewhere around 200,000 new Class 4-7 commercial vehicles also sold annually in the US.) While eventually the massive Millennial generation (about 18 to 33 years old) is expected to buy less new cars, there are a lot of metals moving through vehicle production plants, along with plastic, fabric, glass, and other materials. Many people are concerned that the US and other markets with high-volume auto sales will be crossing a point of no return. What will happen to all the old light-duty passenger vehicles stored in landfills, junkyards, and your neighbor’s driveway?

There is a management discipline in automotive manufacturing and aftermarket designed upon “remanufacturing” vehicle parts and components – to reduce costs, reuse parts and components, and to assist OEMs and Tier One suppliers meet their sustainability targets. Some of this practice comes from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Procurement Guideline and its 2004 update adding Rebuilt Vehicular Parts. A few years ago, the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) launched an affiliate, the Motor & Equipment Remanufacturers Association (MERA). The EPA guidelines played a part in defining what goes into remanufactured vehicle parts and components – which can include repair, refurbishing, and recycling.

Mark Shasteen served as an inaugural board member on MERA; he brings his 30 years of experience in the auto industry, including Delphi Corp., the Packard Electric Division of GM, and just recently, he became vice president of CTDI’s automotive business segment. CTDI, based in West Chester, Penn., is focused on vehicle electronics remanufacturing and logistics, and recently launched Reman 8.0, a one-stop solution for vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. Customers leverage CTDI’s 38 years of technical expertise in microelectronics and mechatronics, test engineering, and industry leading remanufacturing capabilities that comes from industries beyond automotive.

For anyone who’s bought a new car in recent years, it’s nearly astonishing to read the owner’s manual and find out about all of the electronics systems built into the dashboard and under the hood. CTDI works with automakers, dealer networks, service departments, and retail service chains to streamline the repair process and contain costs. A Tier One supplier might have a 15 year service agreement with an OEM for a car that stopped being manufactured 10 years ago. CTDI and other remanufacturing companies play a crucial role in keeping these vehicle operational; that’s getting trickier in the US market where the average age of vehicles on the streets is now 11 years old.

There are 20-to-30 electronics control modules built into new vehicles and the complexity is getting deeper with each new model year, Shasteen said. Connectivity with devices, telematics and navigation, lighting, cruise control, temperature control, radio systems, and a long list of autonomous features that will soon become integrated into driverless cars – the list gets very long.

Reman 8.0 is offering turnkey solutions including engineering, testing, logistics, and IT systems. When working with its clients, CTDI is able to salvage and remanufacture more than 90% of the vehicle’s electronics parts and components, Shasteen said. Commercial vehicle manufacturers and suppliers are also showing interest in remanufacturing, and may become CTDI clients, too. “It’s cost effective, green, and viable,” he said.

40 years after OPEC oil embargo – and the problem hasn’t been solved yet

OPEC oil embargoOctober 17th saw the 40th anniversary of the oil embargo by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) – a six month embargo that cut the supply of oil to the US and skyrocketed gasoline prices. The days of 25 cents per gallon gasoline were over and the coming years would see desperate attempts to solve the problem. The 1973 embargo started right after the Yom Kippur war was launched, and was spurred by US support for Israel; the second gasoline crisis in 1979, again driving up pump prices and forcing drivers to wait in long lines to fill their tanks, was triggered by another Middle East crisis – the takeover of the US embassy in Iran.

For Keith Crain, editor-in-chief of Automotive News, it was the end of innocence – when automakers had been competing to provide the biggest and best cars to drivers and mileage didn’t really matter at all. The OPEC oil embargo changed all of that; General Motors president Ed Cole vowed to raise the automakers corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) by 50% from 12 mpg to 18 mpg within a decade. The US Congress thought it was very good idea and raised the bar even higher – CAFE was to be 27.5 mpg by the 1985 model year, though that did not happen. For Peter Ward, then with the California Energy Commission, the 1973 oil embargo was the watershed, defining moment illustrating the power of the oil cartel on global economics and clarifying the necessity for alternative fuels.

There were other watershed moments taking place after the initial OPEC embargo….

  • “Non-OPEC” oil field drilling started to break dependence on OPEC supply, led by drilling in the North Sea and Alaska.
  • The Keystone XL pipeline fight had a predecessor with Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay oil field. It had been stopped by environmentalists in the late 1960s, but Congress approved the pipeline that would eventually add up two million barrels a day to the US supply.
  • Alternatives to oil took off – nuclear power and coal became important in electric power stations. Solar energy saw a startup phase that didn’t take hold until very recently.
  • Import cars stated being taken seriously in the Detroit 3-dominated US market. Japanese small cars provided the fuel economy, and owners started expecting their cars to be more reliable and long lasting from their experience with these cars.
  • In 2008, the US (and the rest of the world) once again experienced the power of oil on the economy. Oil and transportation fuel prices skyrocketed in August 2008; within a month, the Lehman Brothers debacle spurred the Great Recession, and the dramatic oil price increase from the previous month was thought to be instrumental in the recession’s tipping point being passed in September.

As then-president George W. Bush said a few years ago during his State of the Union address, “We’re addicted to oil.” Recovery from oil addiction is being played out now in the federal fuel economy standards; growth in plug-in, hybrid and alternative fuel vehicle launches; development of the alternative fuel and charging infrastructure; California’s (and states following California’s guidelines) zero emission vehicle targets; and demand for green, alternative fuel vehicles from consumers, fleets, municipalities and government agencies, and transportation companies. There’s a still a long ways to go, but oil supply disruption and skyrocketing pump prices continue to be a very motivating force.

EPA Appears to be changing its mind on biofuels and E15 mandate

E15It looks like E10 could very well remain the blended ethanol-to-gasoline ratio instead of 15%, or E15, according to a leaked proposal last week from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If that’s the case, courts are likely to see more case filings coming from biofuels industry associations focused on the EPA backing away from 2014 targets. The oil industry had already filed two suits over 2013 targets. The EPA document referred to the E10 blend wall as an “important reality” and comes from more acceptance that the federal 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard biofuels mandate appears to be unreachable. If it gets approved, the EPA proposal would cut the biofuel mandate in 2014 to 15.21 billion gallons from 18.15 billion gallons. The EPA only has a draft proposal and has not made a final decision on it, according to administrator Gina McCarthy. EPA also considered a corn-based ethanol rate of 12.36 billion gallons and 13.18 billion gallons.
Days prior to the leak, two US oil industry groups had sued the EPA over its 2013 biofuels target. Ethanol groups were ready to sue over any changes to the 2014 rule. The Renewable Fuels Association said it would sue over any attempts to roll back the targets – if the EPA does issue its revised 2014 target, biofuels groups appear ready to file lawsuits.
The clash comes down to industries fighting over falling profits – biofuels companies are depending on increasing output and delivering ethanol to gas stations, and oil companies and refineries are fighting the increased cost of adding more ethanol to gasoline. The oil industry is also upset with the soaring cost of ethanol credits built into the Renewable Fuel Standard. While the EPA has ruled that gasoline blended with E15 is safe to use in vehicles made after the 2001 model year, many automakers are refusing to allow their vehicle warranties to cover the use of fuel over E10. Gas station owners don’t want to invest in another storage tank and pumps to provide E15.

Why I disagree with Forbes article on Pickens and Clean Energy pulling a scam
Forbes staff writer Christopher Helman says the launch of Clean Energy Fuel’s “Redeem” renewable natural gas is a bit of a scam. Read his article “The Clever Gimmicks Behind T. Boone Pickens’ New ‘Green’ Fuel” for details. The commentary states that while the company is gathering landfill gas from dump operators across the country and two of its own, it’s just a marketing gimmick that comes out of selling carbon credits like the one being implemented by the California Air Resources Board. Helman wrote that the natural gas is,” simply injected into the nation’s natural gas pipeline grid, where it’s intermingled with all the other conventional gas flowing down the pipes to plants that turn it into CNG…. The ultra-green nature of Redeem is really just an accounting gimmick. The more gas that Clean Energy’s traders can procure from landfills (as well as methane-rich wastewater plants and dairies) across the country, the more CNG it can slap with the Redeem label. But on the molecular level, it’s exactly the same stuff.”
Well here’s my take on it:  For anyone interested in buying Redeem, such as a fleet with stringent sustainability targets, there would probably be interest. It costs the same as natural gas. It would have the same GHG/carbon reduction benefit as natural gas – around 20% to 25% less than diesel. Natural gas has another benefit in air pollution reduction – 90% less NOx in natural gas compared to gasoline/diesel. There would also be the part about tapping into landfill for the natural gas. If you were a corporate or government fleet, you could say you’re contributing to reducing our landfill problem and using clean fuel.  Plus, you get credits from California Air Resources Board. Helman also makes a comment about it costing 50 cents less than gasoline and diesel. If that’s per gallon equivalent, he was way off – natural gas is sold for only about one third the cost, or around $1.25 or more per gallon – much more than 50 cents in savings.
Another interesting point was seeing a statement by Energy Vision, an energy advocacy group in Washington that tends to hold the natural gas vehicle industry accountable….By capturing and refining the biogases generated from a number of large landfills across the country, one of which is the Sauk Trail Hills landfill in Michigan, which is owned and operated by Republic Services, Clean Energy will provide approximately 15 million gallons of ultra-low-carbon “Redeem” (RNG) this year alone, a volume far greater than most (including the EPA) estimated was possible nationally, let alone in California. Energy Vision commends the pioneering efforts of Clean Energy/Clean Energy Renewable Fuels in making the path to fully-sustainable renewable natural gas a reality.

Green transportation news roundup:

  • Another Tesla Model S competitive model releases details…. The 2014 Cadillac ELR is priced at $75,995 including destination charges. It’s more than twice the price of the Chevrolet Volt and uses the same powertrain, but GM is expected to produce it in smaller numbers and hopes that increases its value to buyers.
  • As Ecotality leaves the charging infrastructure following its bankruptcy filing, competitor and fellow DOE-grant recipient ChargePoint is offering owners of Ecotality Blink charging stations a trade-in credit for switching over – for those switching to a dual-port CT4000 station ($2,200 credit) or a single-port station ($1,200).
  • The U.S. Department of Energy on Friday started an auction on its loan to Fisker Automotive that was made back in 2010. The DOE is still owed $168 million from the $192 million loan, though any sale is expected to be at a discount.
  • Intertek, which certifies electric vehicle supply equipment, has acquired ETEC Labs, a leader in advanced transportation testing, including alternative energy vehicle analysis, research, and demonstration projects.
  • Honda is going after Toyota’s domination of the hybrid market by rolling out a hybrid version of the Fit (joining its ICE and EV versions). The automaker began selling the hybrid Fit last month in Japan where it’s competing directly with the Toyota Aqua, which is known as the Prius C in the US market.
  • Toyota is dropping the base prices of the 2014 Prius Plug-In to $29,990, a $2,010 reduction from the current price.
  • Ford Motor Co. and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, are opening up an $8 million battery research lab. Researchers will be developing and testing new chemistries for automotive applications, and making breakthroughs for electric vehicles and hybrids that will go to market as quickly as possible.
  • Toyota thinks it can cut hydrogen fuel cell vehicle costs in half by 2020 – closer to the production cost of a plug-in hybrid and cheaper than the MSRP for an electric vehicle. It’s still going to be expensive when it launches its first fuel cell vehicle in 2015 – somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 as its sales price. That came down from Toyota’s cost of $1 million per unit in 2007 to build 100 Highlander fuel cell demonstration vehicles.
    1. Los Angeles-based MPG Car Rental is now offering the Toyota Model S to renters for $499.99 per day. MPG Car Rental prominently displays other vehicles in its green-only lineup including the BMW i3, Volkswagen Jetta TDI, Chevy Volt, Honda Insight, Toyota Camry Hybrid, Toyota Prius, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Chevy Tahoe Hybrid.

    New book follows the money trail shaping renewable energy – Plus, a very surprising prediction of stance Obama will take on Keystone XL pipeline
    “Do you get the feeling that the energy industry and the Congress that it owns are deliberately lying to you? If so, you are 100% correct,” according to an announcement that Editor Craig Shields just had his third book published, Renewable Energy: Following the Money. The book features another set of interviews; the effects that economics and financial power have on the course of the energy industry are explored by high-ranking officers in the US military, lobbyists, scientists, economists, environmentalists, journalists, and heads of NGOs. I applaud Shields’ hard work and wide ranging perspectives on renewable energy and clean transportation. I admire how much he’s kept his word on staying in the trenches on where all of this is going as a business – whether that be through attending key conferences or interviewing experts of all genres for his books and blog. This new book digs into what I would describe as what “Deep Throat” ex-FBI official W. Mark Felt kept telling reporter Bob Woodward about the Watergate scandal: “Follow the money trail.”
    Shields also wrote a surprising blog post on the Keystone XL pipeline and President Obama’s decision on whether to back or reject supporting the pipeline from Alberta to Texas. Here’s a few reasons why he thinks it’s going in that direction….

    Smart transportation explored in market report and Toronto conference
    Navigant Research issued a report on “smart transportation” covering global smart city projects around the world. This came out soon after the annual Meeting of the Minds took place in Toronto last month. Meeting of the Minds has been bringing together urban sustainability and connected technology stakeholders since 2007. Navigant Research thinks the global smart city technology market will grow from $6.1 billion in revenue last year to $20.2 billion by 2020. New projects include investment in smart grid, urban mobility, water management, and government service applications for smart cities. Forecasters see urbanization as a major trend around the world impacting transportation in significant ways.

    More skepticism about alternative technology vehicles from industry bible
    What an Automotive News video had to say about tough sales challenge cars like Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius have on market…. Stop start, micro-hybrids, and regenerative braking are taking away the strength of plug-ins and hybrids.

    Solazyme just took top spot for the third year in a row on Biofuels Digest’ “50 Hottest Companies in Bioenergy” for 2013-14. Propel Fuels (provider of biofuels and other alternative fuels refueling stations) made the list for the first time at No. 29. Solazyme produces renewable oil and bioproducts from a range of plant-based sugars. The company is providing algae diesel with Propel Fuels. Cellulosic biofuel producer KiOR made No. 3 on the top 50 list. The annual rankings recognize innovation and achievement in biobased chemicals and materials development; it’s based 50% on votes from an invited panel and the other 50% from readers – more than 100,000 individual company ratings were received from panelists and voters.

    Ethical dilemma Part 2: Clean transportation has its own hills to climb

    Volt driving up mountain
    “Monsanto is the whipping board for every person that has limited agricultural knowledge and is fearful of what they don’t understand. They are probably credited with saving more lives than any corporation. Without their technology there would be many more deaths because of starvation. I know I will not change anyone’s mind about the company because it takes a lot of time to understand how GMOs and their efforts are good for populations.”
    Reader comment posted last week.

    “There’s certainly a lot we don’t know. I had very mixed feelings about voting for the GMO labeling in November. We’ve been eating these genetically modified foods for many years and I’ve yet to find out about any real negative consequences. The main reason I wrote this post is that it symbolizes our tendency to find Darth Vader, and what it might mean for other companies out there.” Editor’s response to blog post, “Monsanto beats BP as ‘Most Evil Corporation’ and adds Climate Change to its list along with GMOs.”

    So, let’s take this further…..

    • Mother Jones’ Josh Harkinson analyzed Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company taking the US Dept. of Energy grant to help bring the Model S electric car to market – how hypocritical it is for Musk and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to espouse libertarian politics and then take federal funding. The link to my post in Autoblog Green isn’t working now, but if you go there, scroll down about four articles to find and read my take on it.
    • A biographical PBS documentary on Henry Ford details his accomplished life as the father of the modern automotive manufacturing plant with the Model T, but also digs into his moral quandaries including his antisemitism and how he treated his son Edsel Ford, the second Ford Motor Co. chief executive.
    • Or Thomas Edison, developer of the phonograph and the long-lasting light bulb, for staging and filming electrocution of and elephant to demonstrate the danger of alternating current (AC) and why direct current (DC) should have been adopted by electric utilities. Edison was at war with AC leaders such as Nikola Tesla (sound familiar?), Westinghouse and General Electric. He didn’t win that fight, but DC is still around (DC faster chargers, for example).

    These moral quandaries permeate the business world, not to mention politics, albeit in much more sublime and tedious methods than chosen by the legendary Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Corporate ethics has become a mainstream topic in recent years and is the subject of conferences and professional networks. Along with adopting a sustainability policy, many corporations are investing heavily in improving their image in community service and donations and endorsing organizations dedicated to human health and other worthy causes. Yet there’s no getting away from taking on aggressive, and occasionally manipulative and questionable, tactics for companies to surpass their competitors and to navigate through the regulatory environment.

    Public image and facing condemnation by activists skilled at tarnishing that image is one thing, and pragmatic reality is another. Alternative fuel vehicles and technologies each have their own walls to climb to reach widespread adoption. Many of these issues have shades of ethical debate behind them, along with huge challenges to overcome. For example…..

    • Plug-in electric vehicles and the “dirty coal,” nuclear, and fossil fuel natural gas powering electricity plants – plus not enough renewable energy like solar producing electricity; range anxiety and the time it takes to charge EVs can be troubling questions, too.
    • Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other shale and methane field extraction dilemmas; plus the higher cost of converted vehicles compared to gasoline and diesel-engine vehicles – and the need for more natural gas fueling stations.
    • Hybrids being more costly and competing with cheaper fuel efficient models, which gets trickier if gasoline prices soften.
    • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offering zero emissions but being too expensive and having hardly any fueling stations; plus the question of where the hydrogen is extracted from and the safety of the vehicles; pins and needles can still be raised for some people by mention of the infamous explosion of the Hindenburg hydrogen-powered aircraft.
    • Propane autogas is many times not taken as seriously as natural gas – including federal lobbying by T. Boone Pickens and colleagues for NGV commercial vehicle incentives. There’s resentment that propane is being treated as sort of a step cousin to natural gas while its fuel stations are all over the country and it offers clean fuel much cheaper than gasoline and diesel.
    • Biofuels:  The corn ethanol E15 battle and Renewable Fuel Standard clash (see lead story for this week). Not long ago, the Detroit 3 had been pushing flex-fuel vehicles and building a bunch with few people finding stations to put E85 into the tank or even trying to; and then there’s the food versus fuel battle – and the struggle of advanced biofuels ever scaling up and being consumed at that same level.
    • Fascinating alternative fuels like Volvo Truck’s DME, Rentech’s synthetic fuels, methanol coming back, renewable natural gas (see coverage of Clean Energy’s Redeem), and algae fuel – but they’re in very early stages and need a ton more backing to go anywhere and deliver their true offerings and benefits. It sure sounds good, but……..

    The point being:  It’s a very big topic, but here are a few things to start thinking about…. Tell a great story and stick to it; tap into every funding source and incentive you can find; partner with stakeholders to build the infrastructure; get butts in seats at ride-and-drives and get fleet managers to test them out; and stick to it – that’s what Musk, Ford, and Edison would probably agree upon when offering advice about succeeding.

    Schneider Electric’s Mike Calise on what EVs and charging need to succeed

    Calise_Mike_Schneider ElectricFor Mike Calise, director of electric vehicles at Schneider Electric, mainstream adoption of plug-in electric vehicles boils down to widespread deployment of the charging infrastructure everywhere – homes, workplaces, retail stores, carsharing, car rental, and public sites. When asked about California’s recently enacted Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act, Calise says he and his company support the open system for charging station access and payment. Calise says there are two larger issues to address than roaming – electric vehicle battery capacity and the number of charging stations out there.

    The company would also like to see European Union countries adopt a consistent charge and plug standard, as it varies by which country you’re charging in now. Schneider Electric, a global company specializing in energy management, has been very involved in charging station installations across the US and Europe. Prominent recent installations have included Caesars Entertainment Corp. at its northern Nevada Casino properties, Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter, and the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton, Calif.

    Hacienda Business Park serves Oracle, Kaiser, and Schneider Electric and offers an interesting example of a new business model using an electric vehicle car-sharing service. This collaboration between Schneider Electric, Toyota, City Carshare, and other business park tenants, allows employees at this location to commute to work by train and bike and have a rental car available for errands, lunch, and other short trips, through City CarShare, with the EVlink charging infrastructure from Schneider Electric.

    Fleets that are bringing in plug-in electric vehicles and on-site charging stations are discovering a few key benefits of making the investment – one of them being strengthening employee retention, says Calise. “Drivers understand the benefits of EVs, including the dollar-cost benefits – and it gets replicated (among their peers),” he said.

    Workplace charging is definitely an amenity – an employee perk – and has been part of several companies strengthening their images in the community, he said. “Installing a $10,000 charger, and having HOV lanes in certain states, has employees bragging about it and the company they work for,” he said.

    EVlink is a complete electric vehicle charging solution that delivers flexible, safe, reliable, and compatible charging of electric vehicles. Schneider Electric’s EVlink charging stations are used in public and private locations such as residential, retail stores, restaurants, resorts/hotels, hospitals, office buildings, universities, apartment complexes, and destination centers.

    In late September, Schneider Electric announced its “Charge the World Change the World” initiative, a philanthropic program to give EV drivers an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on global sustainability when purchasing an EV charger. For every EVlink home charging station sold in North America, Schneider Electric will donate a solar powered, battery operated LED lamp to a family without access to electricity. Here’s a video to share with others – for every 100 views of the video, Schneider Electric will donate another light to a family.