Big Picture: Gobble, gobble….. A few clean transportation items before you leave for the holidays

turkeys driving a carAs you break for a long holiday weekend, here are a few happenings to read about…..

Things seem to be wrapping up for Fisker Automotive. Hybrid Technology Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investor group led by billionaire Richard Li, is buying the company’s assets for $25 million. That means the US Dept. of Energy will be losing about $139 on Fisker; the DOE will be overall be recovering about $53 million from its original $192 million disbursement.

Tesla Motors has lost it marketing leader – George Blankenship, who played a key role in setting up Apple’s retail stores and brought much of it over to Tesla, left the electric carmaker last month. As everyone knows by now, it’s a sensitive time for Tesla as NHTSA has decided to recall most of the Model S units for investigation and Tesla is working on overdrive to expand stores in North America, Europe, and Asia. Blankenship has been vague on his Linkedin page about why he’s leaving; he’s now 60 and is officially taking on the role of “Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family.”

But there is some good news for Tesla. The automaker won a near-perfect score for its Model S, as it displaced the Chevy Volt at the top of Consumer Report’s annual vehicle owner satisfaction survey. It’s the best score the magazine has seen in years – 99 out of 100 points.

The Nissan Leaf is paying off for the automaker, according to Jose Munoz, Nissan’s senior VP of sales and marketing for the Americas. The Leaf is not the top reason customers are referred to the Nissan brand, he said, and the vehicle is now profitable.

Green Truck Summit is getting some ink – it will be March 4-5 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show 2014 in Indianapolis. It will offer attendees more than 20 educational sessions and a chassis OEM forum moderated by Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard.

Luxury SUV buyers and non-luxury car shoppers are most likely to consider buying alternative fuel vehicles including EVs, hybrids, hydrogen-power, or CNG-powered vehicles. That comes from a Phoenix Marketing International study. About 50% of the survey respondents were neutral to alternative fuel vehicles, while the two aforementioned categories have the highest percentages of “very” or “extremely” to purchase an alt-fuel vehicle.

UPS was among the award winners at the NGV Achievement Award. United Parcel Service and Mike Scarpino, regional manager for DOE Clean Cities Coalition, were among the recipients of 2013 NGV Achievement Award held Nov. 20 in Atlanta. UPS was recognized for 25 years of exemplary NGV industry leadership. Eleven recipients were recognized during the gala and reception dinner at NGV America’s 2013 North American NGV Conference and Expo. Richard Kolodziej, president of NGVAmerica, was given a lifetime achievement award.

The cap and trade market is getting some play in California. California companies paid about $297 million for carbon allowances on the state’s carbon auction. On Nov. 19, California’s fifth auction took place, where companies such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical paid $11.48 per allowance to release one metric ton of carbon as early as this year. That was a lower price than a previous sale in August, when it sold for $12.22 per metric ton. All together, the five auction events have raised $1.4 billion.

For those interested in real-time traffic data being readily available….. INRIX, Inc. introduced INRIX XD™ Incidents, which correlates real-time traffic flow data with information from nearly 400 public and private sources including media partners, departments of transportation, emergency responders, and community reports via mobile, and in-vehicle applications, as well as social networks like Twitter. The service offer traffic intelligence that reports more accidents, road closures, and other incidents across significantly more roads in more countries and at much greater speed than ever before.

Honda green star at LA Auto Show; sneaking a ride in Via Motors plug-in hybrid

Honda Accord green car of year awardHonda enjoyed its presence at the LA Auto Show, gaining lots of media attention for its new hydrogen-powered concept car and for winning the Green Car of the Year award. The 2014 Honda Accord took the green award for its high fuel economy ratings and performance features. All three variations were honored – the gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. The Accord beat out four other finalists – the Audi A6 TDI, the BMW 328d, the Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla. Last year, another mid-sized US-based automaker car took the Green Car of the Year award for a model with gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid variants – the Ford Fusion.

Fuel cell vehicles grabbed much media attention at the LA Auto Show. Hyundai showed off a fuel cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle. Hyundai plans to sell 1,000 of these fuel cell vehicles next year in California for a monthly lease price of $499 with $2,999 down. Honda plans to roll out another fuel cell vehicle (in addition to its FCX Clarity) in the US in 2015. Honda unveiled its FCEV, its next-generation fuel cell vehicle.

During the same time that the LA Auto Show was launched, the Tokyo Motor Show was taking place. Toyota showed its FCV (fuel cell vehicle) concept sedan in Tokyo. Toyota said that it’s a “practical concept” of the fuel cell vehicle it plans to launch in 2015; the car will use hydrogen to generate electricity that can travel about 300 miles after a refueling. The concept car can hold four passengers and be refueled in minutes.

Those participating in the Green & Advanced Technology Ride & Drive at the LA Auto Show enjoyed driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its new 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 clean diesel engine. The award winning 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid was also on hand for a drive around the LA convention center. It’s a bit pricier ($30K to $35K) than arch-competitor Toyota Prius, but it does have a bit more interior space and comfort, and its new dashboard has been designed for simplicity and style.

While Via Motors did not open up its E-REV ride and drive to the media, I was able to sneak a ride in its plug-in hybrid, extended range variation of the Chevrolet Express van; and took a peak at its plug-in version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Both models – the VTRUX cargo van and VTRUX extended cab pickup – offer impressive plug-in ports with an AC inverter and power outlets for both 120 volt and 240 volt charges; the unit also offers a J1772 charging port.

During a press announcement, Via Motors company stakeholder Bob Lutz bragged about the VTRUX’ capabilities including being able to gain a few miles of extra range from solar panels now placed on the truck’s flatbed; and the ability to tap into the VTRUX’ battery pack for backup electricity during a power outage. Lutz was joined onstage by Via’s new CEO, John Weber, former president and CEO of Remy International, a key supplier to Via and to General Motors. Weber says that Via is meeting its fleet orders and will add consumer sales in 2014.

Connected Car Expo was held for the first time ever right before the LA Auto Show started up, and featured expert panelists on telematics, advanced technologies, and a growing alliance between automakers and technology giants. Autonomous cars were discussed by panelists that included Jeff Klei, North American president of major supplier Continental AG, and Ron Medford, Google’s director of safety for self-driving cars. Google has played a major role in testing out driverless cars, but doesn’t have a timetable for when it will release its own autonomous vehicles.

Out on the ground floor of the South Hall, you could see Hyundai’s “Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” While it may have been placed there for the LA Auto Show, it was right next to the Connected Car Expo display booths and sort of stole the show. Connected Car Expo had some interesting exhibits, but the zombie display did grab most of my attention. It showed altered versions of two of its popular models, with these being renamed the Hyundai Santa Fe ZSM and Veloster Turbo ZSM (ZSM stands for Zombie Survival Machine).  These anti-zombie packages are sure to be more expensive than the MSRP starting price versions – but you do get all kinds of perks to fight off the undead – such as knife-blade wheels, dual chainsaws, a doom whistle, and a machine gun.

Hyundai’s display was started by Robert Kirmman, creator of “The Walking Dead” comic series (that inspired the hit TV series), designing a Zombie Survival Machine around a Veloster earlier this year. The Santa Fe ZSM design was built by Galpin Auto Sports and was unveiled at the New York Comic Con last month.

Federal automaker bailouts and loans going through transitional phase

DOE green transportation loansFor those who’ve attacked federal funding for automakers and suppliers in the past five or so years, the controversy does appear to be winding down. It looks like the Great Recession post-bankruptcy era may be wrapping up soon for both General Motors Co. and the Chrysler Group. Tesla Motors has paid off its federal loans and the Fisker Automotive debacle appears to be wrapping up.

The US Treasury Dept. expects to sell its remaining 31.1 million of GM common shares by the end of this year, depending on market conditions. That would take the cap off salaries for top executives, which GM has said hampered recruiting. Chrysler Group may avoid an initial public offering with Fiat paying off the United Auto Worker’s health-care trust’s share of the US automaker.

Those watching the Chrysler negotiations are saying a valuation of $10 billion is being considered for market value, which would mean that the UAW’s health-care trust would own about $4.15 billion in share value with its 41.5% stake. It’s less than what analysts had expected Fiat would have to pay for Chrysler Group. The trust has been pushing for an IPO on its share of the US automaker, and Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne would like to avoid the stock offering and take the remaining stake in Chrysler.

General Motors investors are said to be focused on the possibility of stock buybacks or a dividend on common shares. This comes in the wake of the US Treasury outlining its plans to sell the rest of its GM stake by year end, analysts said.

Sales have been strong for GM and Chrysler this year, and both Detroit automakers had a significant presence at the LA Auto Show. GM unveiled its new Chevrolet Colorado compact pickup truck. Those participating in the Green & Advanced Technology Ride & Drive enjoyed driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its new 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 clean diesel engine. Chrysler is still behind its competitors in the alternative fuel vehicle arena, but that seems to be more a result of its being handed off from its Daimler owners, going through bankruptcy, and then having its new identity being structured by Fiat executives and Chrysler’s new leadership.

Big Picture: Tesla adds NHTSA recall and injured workers to its list of problems, Military not done yet with biofuels

Tesla factoryThings got even worse for Tesla Motors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is recalling the Model S after its third fire in six weeks; and on Wednesday of last week, three workers in its Fremont, Calif., plant were injured by hot metal on the production line. There was no fire or explosion at the plant, and the workers were injured by hot metals from a low pressure aluminum casting press, the company said. The workers suffered moderate to serious burns. They were taken to the Valley Medical Center in San Jose and treated for second-degree burns. CEO Elon Musk visited the injured workers on Wednesday night; he told reporters that one is expected to make a full recovery, but one worker had particularly bad burns to his hands. It’s not clear yet what will be needed for his treatment.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said his agency made an independent decision to investigate 13,100 Model S cars on U.S. roads. Tesla CEO Elon Musk wrote a long message that was posted this week on the company’s website and sent out in an email. He said Tesla will update the software on the Model S to increase their ride heights at highway speeds. He also welcomed a NHTSA investigation into the fires. As for media coverage beyond the recall and the Tesla factory incident, Musk is getting more media coverage on comments he’s made that the automaker may place an electric pickup on the market someday.

Military biofuels lambasted but not disappearing
While Republicans in Congress and a few independent energy experts have been howling that the Pentagon is spending way too much on biofuels (such as $26 per gallon for fuel made from algae and cooking grease), the military probably won’t be backing off. The Navy is sticking with its intent of purchasing 170 million gallons of biofuel a year to meet its goal of getting half its energy from renewable resources by 2020. The Obama administration is staying with plans to spend $510 million to help construct advanced biofuel plants. For now, the cost is steep, but many are hoping the investment advances development and support for the fuels.

Green Car Reports’ Best Car to Buy winner announced
As covered recently, Green Car Reports joined colleagues in nominating finalists for its greenest car of the year award. The 2014 finalists were the BMW i3, Chevrolet Cruze Diesel, Chevrolet Spark EV, Honda Accord Hybrid, and the Mazda 3. For the fourth annual Best Car to Buy award, the winner was the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid. The fact that it’s comfortable, quiet, and stylish played into the decision, plus its fuel economy being in the 40 mpg to 52 image range.

And in other clean transportation news…..

  • Chrysler Group has developed a storage tank for compressed natural gas that’s quite similar to human lungs; it will also allow for natural gas to be more easily used in vehicles. Details on when this will be coming out aren’t available yet; the company says that its design uses smaller compartments inside a larger tank to increase fuel capacity and storage. That can be compared to the alveoli within the human lung.
  • DHL has added 63 new liquefied natural gas (LNG) powered delivery vehicles in Europe, replacing diesel powered vehicles. That makes for 101 LNG vehicles in its fleet, with another 51 on order.
  • Hyundai will be the third automaker (along with Honda and Toyota) to release a hydrogen-powered concept car at the LA Auto Show.
  • Zero Waste Energy is working on producing 100,000 diesel equivalent gallons of compressed natural gas fuel and compost. This comes from an anaerobic digestion facility in the San Francisco bay area; it will convert 112,000 tons per year of food and waste into alternative fuel.
  • Alliance AutoGas just received new EPA certifications for propane covering more than 50 vehicle platforms. Four additional certification are finished and waiting for final EPA authorization, and five more are in process and should be completed by the fourth quarter of 2013, says Stuart Weidie, president of Alliance AutoGas.
  • Ford is going to test a tiny concept car in Brazil. The Ka concept microcar is smaller than the Fiesta and is the second recent model developed by Ford’s Brazilian studio. Its new EcoSport is going out to showrooms around the world.
  • Intelligent Energy has launched a new product called Upp, offering portable power for connected devices. It’s built on fuel cell technology, and it’s a personal energy device for charging portable electronic devices.
  • A new MarketsandMarkets study on the Smart Transportation Market forecasts that the market will reach more than $102.31 billion in annual sales by 2018. What makes up smart transportation? The report identifies the market as covering ticketing management, parking management, passenger information, traffic management, and ancillary services.

EPA backs off pushing for E15 through Renewable Fuel Standard

Up to E10 gasoline onlyYou may have noticed that a number of new cars have a graphic image placed right on the gas cap that states: “E15—E85 – Up to E10 Gasoline Only.” The “E15—E85” text is placed inside an oval and has a slash mark cutting through it. That means the automaker is recommending you don’t use E15 gasoline (or anything higher up to E85, which is the amount used in flex-fuel vehicles) in your tank, and stick with the blend wall that’s in nearly all US gas stations – up to 10% ethanol in the gasoline, or E10. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had been pushing for E15 with the support of ethanol producers and against the lobbying efforts of oil companies and refineries. Automakers haven’t been fighting ethanol producers in Washington like oil company have been, but they have been warning about the potentially corrosive damaging effects of E15 on engines. The new EPA ruling, released on Friday, doesn’t explicitly speak to the E10 versus E15 debate; the agency appears to be accepting that E10 is as good as it gets for now.

The new EPA ruling caps renewable fuel targets for 2014 at 15.21 billion gallons – instead of the 18.15 billion gallon target that Congress had originally set in 2007 with its Renewable Fuel Standard. The EPA says its accepting the E10 blend wall for now because advances in fuel economy and other economic factors have pushed gasoline consumption to a much lower level than expected when the standard was passed in 2007. “As a result, we are now at the E10 blend wall,” EPA said in a statement.

The 15.21 billion gallon ceiling is also below the 16.55 billion gallon requirement for this year. Corn-based ethanol makes up the lion’s share of that total – it’s limited to 13 billion of next year’s total and 13.8 billion for this year. The limitations on corn ethanol have also been influenced by the amount of corn grown in the US that will end up in gas tanks versus food. Ethanol is expected to use up 38% of the corn crop this year. Cellulosic ethanol is also seeing cuts in volume for next year with the EPA’s revised ruling. Cellulosic and other next-generation biofuels, made from agricultural waste such as wood chips and corncobs, have not taken off as quickly as Congress had built into the 2007 act.

Oil companies and refineries weren’t thrilled with the EPA decision and may still continue to fight the Renewable Fuel Standard, but the groups were pretty much satisfied with the EPA’s decision on the E10 blend wall. Farmers and corn ethanol producers were angry about it, arguing that mixing higher blends of ethanol will not harm vehicles. The EPA has given in to “big oil.” The EPA’s revised targets will hurt farmers and violate the spirit of the Renewable Fuel Standard, according to Bob Dineen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association. “They’re capitulating to the oil companies,” Dineen said to The Washington Post.

Ethanol producers had disputed an Associated Press investigation released earlier last week that linked corn-based fuel production to environmental hazards. Ethanol groups attacked the accuracy of the AP findings for using dubious tactics while conducting the investigation for its report. The AP investigation report stated that the surge to find new areas to plant corn for the needed ethanol had eliminated five million acres of conservation land, destroyed natural habitat, and polluted water supplies.

The oil versus biofuels industry battle highlights the struggle nearly every alternative fuel faces. The arguments speak to environmental, safety, reliability, and economic issues. It’s very difficult to sift through all the lobbying messages, studies, and media reports to determine accuracy. For people buying the vehicles and fuels, it’s tough to make an informed decision and trust that it’s accurate. As an example, an argument comes up occasionally about the logic of buying an electric vehicle when the source of the energy (especially coal-powered electric power plants) takes away the gains offered by the zero emissions vehicle. All of the clean transportation vehicles, fuels, and technologies are in a transitional phase – none of them are perfect and their advocates usually support a pragmatic approach that is likely to lead to a better option years from now. A number of biofuels advocates, including the EPA, say that using corn-based ethanol in E15 is a step forward away from gasoline consumption and is necessary to transition over to advanced biofuels. For now, the EPA is stepping back from its earlier mandate.

What will it take? The latest on getting car shoppers to take green cars seriously

car shoppersIf you’ve spent time with advocates pushing for mass adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, the question always comes up: What will it take? Here’s a few new studies and media reports to consider…….

  1. Three out of five (62%) consumers want to see more hybrid models offered over the next decade; two in five (43%) want to see more electric vehicles; 34% want to see more fuel cell electric vehicles; 31% want more natural gas vehicles to show up; and 31% want more flex-fuel vehicles. This comes from a study by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC. Consumers are more motivated by economic incentives than environmental issues. Economic factors such as increased fuel efficiency or tax breaks are more important than environmental factors. The point:  Emphasize economic benefits as much as environmental.
  2. BMW is making its i3 electric car from carbon fiber that’s very light and tougher than steel. BMW knew that the car needed to be lighter to extend the range, reduce the size and cost of the power pack, and improve handling. The point: Lithium batteries will be much more lightweight, small, and efficient in 10 years, but for now, lightening the car’s body and components is the best option.
  3. BMW continues to be quite creative in marketing its i3 through test projects and marketing alliances (think megacity mobility). SolarCity and BMW have partnered to offer owners of BMW i vehicles exclusive access to SolarCity’s most affordable solar service option. The partnership will make it possible for many BMW i owners in SolarCity’s territories to power their cars with clean electricity for less than it would cost with electricity provided by their utility company. The point: Tell the story through the entire lifecycle process of the car – what goes into making it and how it’s going to be powered.
  4. As Schneider Electric’s Mike Calise recently told Green Auto Market, this charging supplier company is participating in a collaborative effort in Silicon Valley. It’s bringing together stakeholders such as employers, a carshare service, and Toyota to set up train stations with EV charging, carsharing, and bike stands allowing for full integration of transportation needs and concerns. The point: Work with community stakeholders to share the cost and carry the message to groups such as commuters, EV owners, bike riders, transportation providers, and employers.
  5. A new study by Navigant Research found that interest among consumers in battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles still remains below the 50% mark. The study concluded that consumers are interested in EVs but want to be won over by the features and price points. The point:  Forget about high-end electric vehicles being marketing by Tesla, BMW, and Cadillac. Consumers want more affordable prices and attractive features like charging station driving directions paired to their smartphones and a plentiful and easily accessible charging infrastructure.
  6. Indiana University researchers surveyed more than 2,000 drivers in 21 of the US’s largest cities about electric vehicles. They discovered that 95% of respondents didn’t know about state and local subsidies, rebates, and other incentives. The point: Simplified education methods are needed.

Big Picture: Hydrogen FCEVs facing rite of passage; Dates announced on two alt-fuel vehicle conferences

Toyota FCVTo paraphrase the Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles continue to struggle with “chicken or the egg” quandary. There’s only a slim hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the US, and the questions of how much fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be priced for and how serious car shoppers will take the products and pricing are far from being answered. Plug-in electric vehicle loyalists like Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tend to scoff at FCEVs. Yet, other automakers seem to be taking these vehicles seriously.

Hyundai is preparing to launch a fuel cell crossover in the US next year. Hyundai’s president of research and development Kwon Moon-sik thinks cost factors are pointing the company in the direction of FCEVs instead of batteries. Several of his auto industry colleagues share that perspective. Kwon says that advanced lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles remain expensive, and he sees few opportunities for cost reductions coming soon. He thinks hydrogen fuel cells offer more hope for volume savings. The zero emissions part of FCEVs also offers appeal to automakers. Executives at Toyota, Honda, Daimler, General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are mapping out FCEV launches between 2015 and 2020; some of them share Kwon’s perspectives about the cost of FCEVs falling. It’s all part of the partnership alliance formed earlier this year on fuel cell systems between GM and Honda; and another, similar alliance between Nissan, Daimler, and Ford.

The process does require patience. Hyundai already started production of a hydrogen-powered version of its Tucson crossover; the company plans to produce only 1,000 units for sale globally by 2015. Toyota just offered a sneak peak at its FCV concept hydrogen-powered vehicle that it plans to roll out in 2015 (see photo above); the company is hoping to use it to popularize FCEVs as the Prius did for hybrids. “We think it could be the best zero emissions solution that hits the market,” said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota’s US sale division.

Honda has helped car show attendees gain enthusiasm for FCEVs after driving its limited production FCX Clarity. Another FCEV will be joining the Honda lineup; the automaker just put out a sketch that hints at what will be shown at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says the new FCEV Concept expresses a “potential styling direction” for a next-generation FCEV due in 2015. Honda appears to be preparing for competition from Toyota’s FCEV being launched that same year.

As for the limited number of hydrogen refueling stations, California plans to open 68 more of them by 2015. There are only nine open in the state now; 19 are in development and another 12 private or demonstration stations are operational. The governor recently signed a bill offering funding for 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state. California is also thinking about changing its tax credit system so that it would stop favoring plug-in electric vehicles over FCEVs. The US Dept. of Energy continues to make amends with the hydrogen and fuel cell communities through its H2USA program launched in May. It’s a public-private partnership with Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota to promote development of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The Obama administration just announced a $4 million grant for research into hydrogen fuel storage systems. Then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might have aided the skeptics with his campaign nearly 10 years ago for the “hydrogen highway” to come soon; but steps are being taken forward these days.

Northern California AltCar Expo and ACT Expo release dates
Two significant alt-fuel vehicle conferences have been scheduled. AltCar Expo is seeing its partnership with Bay Area Air Quality Management District come together. The Northern California AltCar Conference & Expo will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, 2014, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. Check out the event’s website to stay current on the schedule.

The Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is looking forward to seeing its record attendance numbers go up yet again. Next year’s conference has been scheduled May 5-8, 2014, back at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. It will be co-located with the 14th biennial NGV Global Conference and Exposition. “Merging North America’s largest clean fleet expo with the world’s leading natural gas vehicle conference will result in the largest gathering of clean transportation stakeholders that North America has ever seen,” Erik Neandross, CEO of event manager Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, said in the press release.

Clean Cities offers AFLEET tools and mobile app for stations
Argonne National Laboratory has developed the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool for Clean Cities stakeholders to estimate petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions, and cost of ownership of light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles using simple spreadsheet inputs. The US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities Program enlisted the expertise of Argonne to develop a tool to examine both the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles. You can download the AFLEET tool in Excel and user guide in PDF free of charge at this website.

The tool provides three calculation methods depending on the user’s goals. The Simple Payback Calculator examines acquisition and annual operating costs to calculate a simple payback for purchasing a new alternative fuel vehicle as compared to a similar conventional vehicle, as well as average annual petroleum use, greenhouse gases (GHGs), and air pollutant emissions. The Total Cost of Ownership Calculator evaluates the net present value of operating and fixed costs over the years of planned ownership of a new vehicle, as well as lifetime petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions. The Fleet Energy and Emissions Footprint Calculator estimates the annual petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions of existing and new vehicles; it takes into consideration that older vehicles typically have higher air pollutant emission rates than newer ones.

For those seeking information on more than 15,000 charging and alternative fuel stations within the US, Clean Cities and National Renewable Energy Laboratory now have a mobile app for iPhone or iPad users. You can quickly find out where EV public charging stations, and fueling pumps for B20 biodiesel, compress and liquefied natural gas, E85 ethanol, hydrogen, and propane, can be found.

But wait, there’s more!……..

  • Brett Hauser, a founding member of the Open Charge Alliance (OCA), a global consortium of public and private electric vehicle infrastructure leaders, and president of Greenlots, had a few things to say about the solutions offered by open standards for electric vehicle charging stations instead of proprietary networks. Here’s a little bit of what he wrote in Greentechmedia….. Charging networks based on open communications standards are an excellent alternative to proprietary networks and have been future-proofing Europe’s EV networks for close to four years now. The open model provides site hosts the freedom to switch network management providers without having to purchase new charging stations. It also stimulates technical innovation by allowing free market competition to push down the costs of both charging station hardware and back-end software, while dramatically derisking the hardware purchase for site hosts.
  • Pricing is coming out on Cadillac’s extended-range ELR$75,995 as a starting price and there’s a marketing deal with the famous department store. For $89,500, you can buy the 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue ELR. You get a White Diamond exterior finish, a Jet Black or Light Cashmere interior shade, a 240-volt charger thrown in the deal, and a relationship with an “ELR Concierge Representative.” These are only available to 100 people, and General Motors only expects to sell a limited number of ELRs anyways.
  • Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn is backing off big numbers for electric vehicle sales targets. The global automaker was going to sell 1.5 million EVs by 2016. So far, it’s only been about 120,000 units, primarily Nissan Leafs. At the current speed, it’s going to take about five years longer than initially anticipated, he said.
  • Energy Vision is now offering a new publication, “Turning Waste into Vehicle Fuel.” Funded in part by Clean Cities, it’s a first-of-its-kind roadmap for cities, communities, farms, and other generators of organic waste to develop renewable natural gas.
  • Kia is planning on producing an electric version of its Soul crossover subcompact to arrive next year in the US. It will be Kia’s first EV sold outside South Korea and is expected to travel 120 miles on a single charge.

Third Tesla Model S fire was pretty bad, but just how bad?

Tesla Model S Tennessee fireTesla Motors had its third Model S fire in six weeks on Wednesday, Nov. 6, near Smyrna, Tenn. It was at first a stunning blow to the upstart luxury, high-performance electric carmaker; it illustrated the difficulties of bringing a new technology to market and of succeeding in the auto industry. Since then, it may have quieted down. The driver of the third Model S fire has been defending Tesla, and the incidents’ stats are much better than the overall vehicle marketplace on the safety front.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said that the 2013 Model S ran over a tow hitch on Interstate 24 that hit the undercarriage of the vehicle, causing an electric fire. Tesla doesn’t know yet whether the fire involved the electric car’s battery.

The driver, Dr. Juris Shibayama, was impressed with how it all turned out and plans to buy another one of Tesla’s electric vehicles.  “I am thankful to God that I was totally uninjured in any way from this impact. Had I not been in a Tesla, that object could have punched through the floor and caused me serious harm,” Shibayama wrote in a letter that was sent out in an email by Tesla.

The first of the three fires took place on October 1 in Kent, Wash, near Seattle. The Model S is said to have run over a piece of road debris described as a “curved section that fell off a semi-trailer.” Tesla said that it punched a three-inch hole through the quarter-inch-thick armor plate protecting the pack and had a force of 25 tons. The Model S alerted the driver, and he pulled over and safely exited the car. The second fire took place on October 18 in Mérida, a city in Mexico’s Yucatán region. A drunk driver jumped a curb in the Model S, took out part of a concrete wall and hit a tree. This driver was also satisfied with the safety of the car and wants to have his replacement Model S delivered promptly.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is in talks with Tesla on the Tennessee crash, and will decide soon if a full investigation is needed. Tesla did receive a top NHTSA safety rating for the Model S this year, and accolades also came in from Consumer Reports and car review publications. Thousands of cars crash and burn every year in the US – fires in Tesla’s electric cars are much less common than in those powered by gasoline and diesel; but timing does play a huge part in the stock price of a company and perceived value of a product. There have been over 19,000 units sold so far for the Model S; while it’s probably not a ratio that should raise red flags over the electric car’s safety, having these incidents happen so close together does create quite a perceptual challenge for the automaker.

Tesla Motors is now under a spotlight similar to what the Chevrolet Volt and Fisker Karma and its A123 lithium ion battery pack have been through. Li-ion batteries are commonplace in smartphones and laptops, but are still fairly new to cars. While Toyota and Daimler are impressed enough with Tesla’s battery-powered electric motor to place them in their own EVs, the new technology is quite vulnerable to safety and reliability issues.

This year has been a wild ride for the luxury electric carmaker. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has become a media icon, much to the chagrin of auto dealer trade groups, which have locked horns with Tesla in Texas and other states through lawsuits and lobbying efforts. Tesla has opened retail stores in states where franchise laws dictate car sales. Dealers are concerned that if Tesla wins this fight, automakers may bypass at least some of their dealer networks and go direct to consumers.

Musk has gained much attention through his SpaceX commercial space travel company, and the Hyperloop 800-mile per hour train system that he conceived with SpaceX engineers. Investors have also been quite enamored with Musk and Tesla shares, which have peaked and plummeted this year. In May, Tesla stock (TSLA) was at about $76 per share; it reached a peak of $193.37 in late September and closed on Monday, Nov. 11, at $144.70. So far, Tesla has been very shrewd about how it’s responded to the crashes, but the company is at a pivotal juncture for its future.

Are advanced biofuels really just fading away?

advanced biofuel plantThe battle over the amount of ethanol that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is targeting for production this year and next is still being fought out in Washington; then there’s always the question of whether advanced biofuels have any shot at being produced at scale and selling enough volume to make the investments profitable. Initially, the Renewable Fuel Standard had ambitious goals for next-generation biofuels made from corn stalks, switch grass, wood chips, municipal waste, and other biomass to produce cellulosic, algae, and other advanced biofuels. The EPA has cut down the production volume numbers for advanced biofuels including cellulosic.

For now, the US is focused on corn ethanol and biodiesel, and Brazil on sugarcane ethanol. Biofuels have a much broader future than ethanol, according to Thomas Foust, director of biofuels development at the National Bioenergy Center, which is part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. He thinks that new methods of making fuels directly from biomass “look promising from an economic perspective.”

The appeal of advanced biofuels has been very strong to many people – it’s considered greener and more efficient than ethanol. It’s much cleaner and more domestic than gasoline and diesel, and could play a sizable role in reducing transportation’s carbon footprint. There are lots of companies out there gaining investors and building facilities in the US, Europe, and Brazil, with the benefits of job creation and producing fascinating, advanced, clean fuels. Still, the challenges are great with many of these companies failing financially, and others taking a long time to build commercial production plants and find the right client base to purchase the fuel.

Advanced biofuel companies have ramped up production to the development stage and have had large financial backers from brand-name equity partners; some have gone public in the past three years. They’re being taken a lot more seriously now for transportation, including jet fuel. The advanced fuels do have their share of skeptics and critics who have watched several companies fail financially in recent years. Biofuel advocates have their own skepticism and arguments over what methods make the most sense; for example, cellulosic ethanol  is thought by some analysts to be far too expensive, but other cellulosic fuels make a lot more sense.

Here’s the latest on companies worth following and on a trade association that you should know about……

KiOR: As mentioned recently, this company that produces and sells cellulosic gasoline and diesel from non-food biomass has been getting financial backing from one of the leading venture capitalists out there, Vinod Khosla. The company is doing much better now facing challenges including a class-action lawsuit by investors unhappy with the company. The company operators one of the nation’s first cellulosic facilities in Mississippi, and just had its best production quarter ever – 324,000 gallons of fuel from woody biomass that’s identical to gasoline and diesel and is called drop-in fuel. KiOR shipped 245,000 gallons to customers in the oil industry during that quarter. The company just received $100 million in committed equity commitment for its Columbus, Miss., production plant. About $85 million of it came from Khosla Ventures and other Khosla entities.

Novozymes: is in partnership with Italian biofuels company Beta Renewables and will be opening in northern Italy what could be the world’s largest biofuels facility. Made from agricultural residues and energy crops at a commercial scale, the facility is expected to product over 20 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year. Novozymes’ role is providing the industrial enzymes needed to break down materials that the Italian plant will be using.

Solazyme: The company’s proprietary technology produces renewable oil and bioproducts from a range of plant-based sugars. The company has provided algae diesel with Propel Fuels, other ground transportation clients, and for air travel. The company is set to reach commercial-scale production in the US and Brazil in the first quarter of 2014. California-based Solazyme has custom-made algae tanks to develop better biofuels, and it has sold thousands of gallons to the Navy for use in its ships. Solazyme has also branched into making oils for higher profit products like cosmetics, food, and petrochemicals. The company will provide about three million gallons of algal oil for Unilever’s consumer products.

Gevo: A lot of the company’s business comes from providing isobutanol for the specialty chemicals market and converting it into bio-based jet fuel for the US military including the US Air Force and US Army. In September, Gevo signed an agreement with the US Navy to supply them with 20,000 gallons of Gevo’s alcohol-to-jet-5 fuel. The company previously supplied AT J-8 jet fuel – 56,000 gallons to the US Air Force and 16,150 gallons to the US Army. Gevo will supply the US Coast Guard with up to 18,600 gallons of finished 16% renewable isobutanol-blended gasoline. Gevo has also signed a contract to supply fuel to The Coca-Cola Co.

Amyris: has produced products such as squalene for the cosmetic industry and renewable diesel for Brazilian transportation authorities. Brazilian airline GOL will be using Amyris’ renewable jet fuel in 2014. GOL and Amyris will work together to establish a framework for bringing Amyris renewable jet fuel produced from Brazilian sugarcane to GOL’s flights following regulatory approvals by standard-setting bodies.

Advanced Biofuels Association (ABFA): Nearly every one of these companies listed above are members of ABFA. The organization helps members meet the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for advanced biofuel consumption in the US. Members have built or purchased commercial-scale plants as advanced and/or cellulosic under the RFS; many of the members will be bringing commercial plants in operation by 2015. It’s membership is impressive; along with leading companies listed above, the list includes Intertek, which provides testing, inspection, and certification for advanced biofuels – and also plays a leading role in testing electric vehicles and charging stations; Oberon Fuels, which has the big dimethyl ether (DME) contract with Volvo and Mack trucks; Sapphire Energy and its algae and replacement transportation fuels; and Cool Planet, which converts non-food biomass into gasoline.

Big Picture: Green car award winners to be named soon, plus a review of five significant award contests and what it all seems to mean

Green car of the year awardGreen cars – fuel efficient, plug-in, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles – now have enough sales volume and interest to garner annual awards.  I’ve counted five significant award contests being in place, with winners of two significant awards approaching. Here’s a review of finalists and winners so far for this year, and a few thoughts on what it all means…..

Green Car Reports just released five finalists for its Best Car to Buy award, all of them being 2014 models:

  • BMW i3
  • Chevrolet Cruze Diesel
  • Chevrolet Spark EV
  • Honda Accord Hybrid
  • Mazda 3

There have been other nominees and winners named this year, including the influential Green Car of the Year award that will be given out at the LA Auto Show this month. Here is Green Car Journal’s top five:

  • Audi A6 TDI
  • BMW 328d
  • Honda Accord (in four-cylinder, V-6, hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions)
  • Mazda3
  • Toyota Corolla

In April, Kelley Blue Book named its 10 Best Green Cars of 2013, all of them 2013 models and some coming in various versions including battery electric vehicles, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, diesel, and gasoline:

1. Nissan Leaf
2. Tesla Model S
3. Ford Focus
4. Chevrolet Volt
5. Toyota Prius Plug-in
6. Ford C-Max Energi
7. Volkswagen Jetta
8. Honda Fit
9. Toyota Avalon
10. Lincoln MKZ

As for the 2013 World Green Car finalists named earlier this year, the Tesla Model S, Renault Zoe, and Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid made the list that was announced at the New York International Auto Show; the Model S won the award. This award is presented by Bridgestone Corp. and looks at tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and use of major advanced power plant technology aimed at increasing the vehicle’s environmental responsibility.

Classic car buff magazine, Motor Trend, just named its top five hybrid and diesel cars in its analysis of fuel efficient vehicles:

  1. Volkswagen Jetta TDI
  2. Toyota Prius
  3. Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
  4. Honda Civic Hybrid
  5. Chevrolet Cruze

Here’s what I get from studying the rankings:

  1. There’s still a wide split over the pragmatic present realities versus the long-term goals of clean transportation. Plug-in electric vehicles are embraced by many, but its influence is still quite marginal. The Chevy Volt took the Green Car of the Year award three years ago, but for all of the cars on the ranking this year for the most influential annual award, plug-ins have very little to do with it. Ron Cogan and the Green Car Journal team, along with its panelists, seem more supportive of highly fuel efficient gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine models.
  2. There are surprises, as well – especially Kelley Blue Book naming the plug-in Nissan Leaf as its No. 1 green car of the year. Battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles dominated its list, which is very interesting coming from a company focused on resale values.
  3. Diesel engine passenger cars, especially with turbocharged direct injection engines (TDI), are really taking off in the US. It doesn’t seem to matter that diesel is usually about 50 cents a gallon more expensive than regular gasoline these days. The fuel efficiency is great and driver experience and positive reviews are helping. German automakers have been selling a lot of diesel cars in Europe for many years, and the US market is now starting to open up (which Volkswagen seems to be counting on to earn its No. 1 sales spot in global auto sales). US automakers have started getting into the game, such as General Motors with the Chevrolet Cruze diesel version.
  4. Clean transportation shoppers have a lot of options today – whether you’re talking about fleet managers and purchase agents, government agencies and policy wonks, consumer organizations, environmental groups, or tire-kicking automotive journalists who go to all of the media days at car shows. Every green vehicle category has its hardcore advocates, but once all of the top five widely accepted industry standards are accepted – reduced emissions, fuel efficiency, safety, reliability, and performance – there’s a lot of competition in the market these days.

Aside from the awards, let’s take a look at top stories of the past week….

  • Plug-in vehicle sales were stronger in October than September, but not near the record level seen in August. The Chevy Volt saw 2,022 deliveries, up 14% from September; the Nissan Leaf was right behind it with 2,002 units sold, up 2.5% from September’s 1,953. Ford was thrilled to have its C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids collectively beat the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid in sales numbers for the first time.
  • Tesla-Mania!:  The automaker saw its biggest drop in stock value during October – down 17% from its peak of $23.5 billion to $19.4 billion at the end of the month…. Daimler AG would like to do more with Tesla beyond receiving electric motors for is Smart ForTwo EV and the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV….. Panasonic Corp. has a contract now with Tesla to supply lithium ion cells for the Model S and Model X battery packs, and that could mean $7 billion in revenue for Panasonic…. Elon Musk’s associates have formed Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a company seeking investors for the high speed rail network that will get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 30 minutes….. reported that the Tesla Model S is now the most-registered new car in eight of 25 wealthiest US neighborhoods tracked by zip code.
  • GreenLots is bringing its Sky open access network to the Vancouver area as part of the west coast’s DC fast charger corridor that so far extends through Oregon and Washington and will soon go up into British Columbia and down to California.
  • BYD Co. defended itself in a California court yesterday on charges that it didn’t comply with minimum wage laws for engineers working at its Lancaster, Calif., plant and its Los Angeles office. The Chinese company has a contract to make electric buses for the Los Angeles Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
  • Respected junior college training center Rio Honda Community College in California is offering a campus tour on Nov. 14 from 11:00 am until around 1:00 pm PST. Click here to learn more and register for the facility tour at what’s one of the most significant training grounds for future engineers and service technicians in: CNG; LNG; hydrogen fuel systems; hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric technologies; high-voltage storage and generation technology; and solar and wind energy technology.
  • Via Motors’ plug-in hybrid cargo van, built on the Chevrolet Express platform, passed its crash tests needed to be met before it can go on sale, according to the company. The van gets 35 miles on battery only, with a total range of 400 miles.
  • Ford recalled 2,618 Focus Electric cars due to potential loss of power to its wheels while in motion that’s related to software anomalies. Nearly all of these 2012 to 2014 models were sold in the US, and the automaker says there was one crash and no injuries related to the recall question.
  • Biofuel and oil industry lobbyists are quite busy in Washington as the White House and US Environmental Protection Agency prepare to issue a ruling on ethanol blending rules implementing the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
  • While this TV ad campaign has been around since the summer, you may have noticed General Motors advertising that the GMC Sierra pickup is in league with the Hoover Dam’s smart grid hydropower. Fuel efficiency and performance are promoted as GM competes for truck sales head-to-head with the Ford F-Series pickups and its EcoBoost-powered engines.