Monthly Archives: July 2015

This Week’s Top 10: NAFTC releases alternative fuel vehicle training schedule, Mcity gaining investments from automakers

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. NAFTC logoAFV training schedule: The National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) has released its fall alternative fuel vehicle training schedule ideal for professionals serving the clean transportation space – including service technicians, fleet managers, municipalities, and consumers interested in learning about alternative fuel vehicles The schedule includes courses for automotive technicians, including Light-Duty Natural Gas Vehicle Training, Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) Vehicle Fuel System Inspector Training, and Electric Drive Vehicle Automotive Technician Training. The schedule also includes the Hydrogen, Hydrogen Vehicle, and Hydrogen Fleet Awareness Workshop. All classes feature a combination of classroom and hands-on training and will be held at the NAFTC headquarters in Morgantown, WV. Continuing Education Units from West Virginia University are available for all training classes.
  2. Mcity seeing investors: Ford, General Motors, Honda, and Toyota are among the companies each investing $1 million over three years in the University of Michigan’s Mcity. This testing ground if considered to be the first controlled environment specifically designed to measure the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars. Thirty-three Affiliate Members are also contributing, and investing $150,000 over three years, to the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center. Current Leadership Circle companies are: Delphi Automotive, Denso, Econolite Group, Ford, GM, Honda, Iteris, Navistar, Nissan, Qualcomm Technologies, Robert Bosch, State Farm, Toyota, Verizon Communications, and Xerox.
  3. China following California: China has been learning lessons from government policies in California to encourage automakers and consumers to purchase plug-in electric and hybrid vehicles. China’s program will extend incentives for hybrids, which had been downplayed due to the strong presence of Japanese automakers like Toyota in that market segment. Chinese carmakers such as BYD Co and SAIC Motor Corp. will benefit, but so will global rivals on a more level playing field.
  4. GM investing $5B: General Motors will be spending $5 billion over the next decade on a new family of Chevrolet models aimed at emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico. Most will be small cars but may include crossovers. “This new vehicle family will feature advance technologies focused on connectivity, safety and fuel efficiency delivered at a compelling value,” said Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president.
  5. EPA certification: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has certified Blossman Services’ propane-autogas-powered Ford Transit van. Blossman upfits the Transit with a Prins bi-fuel VSI 2 system with Ford’s 3.7-liter V-6 engine.The bi-fuel system is designed to cut installation time in half and ensure consistent performance, says Alliance AutoGas, which is managed by Blossman Gas.
  6. Prius Plug-In range extension: Editors at Green Car Reports have recently heard from an industry source that the next Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid will have “30 to 35 miles” of rated battery range. The fourth-generation 2016 Prius hybrid is expected to launch within the next few months. The company has said that the plug-in hybrid version will lag the conventional hybrid model by about a year.
  7. EVs vs. hydrogen: A recent Green Car Reports article dealt with hydrogen fuel cell car drivers being frustrated with the unreliability of current hydrogen fueling stations in Southern California. That story has accumulated more comments than any other article published in Green Car Reports, with about 2,000 coming in by the end of the day. Opinions expressed by electric vehicle (EV) advocates were similar to public comments made by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk; they disdain hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and think there’s been way too much attention on that technology and fuel this year. Drivers of hydrogen-powered cars tend to be just as, or more, passionate about the topic as EV drivers – but their numbers are so far much smaller.
  8. NGV refueling stations: Navigant Research expects to see huge growth in global natural gas vehicle (NGV) refueling stations – from 23,001 this year to 38,890 in 20205. A large drivers of this trend will be fleets making NGV acquisitions. “As fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards become increasingly stringent in world markets—particularly for medium and heavy duty vehicles (MHDVs), where electrification is less practical— (natural gas) is becoming an attractive alternative to diesel,” the study says.
  9. Apple buying technology from BMW?: German business magazine Manager has reported that Apple proposed to BMW that the i3 – or parts of it – could form the basis of Apple’s own electric-car project. Apple had no comments to make, and has been staying in secrecy about its plans to enter the automotive industry as a manufacturer.
  10. Coal-powered plants: The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation will decline from 44% in 2011 to 32% in 2040. Most of these coal-powered plants are located in or near Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana, which are accounting for 8GW of the expected retirements. The rest of the 13-GW total will include plants in Alabama and the Midwest.

Aviation raises hopes for growth in advanced biofuels

United biofuelsTimes continue to be unstable – and very interesting – for biofuels as an alternative transportation fuel. Corn ethanol producers are not happy with what the US Environmental Protection Agency is recommending for the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) volume requirements, and battles continue over whether E15 (15% ethanol blended into gasoline) should be allowed – or even if any ethanol blends should be allowed to continue. Advanced biofuels have hopeful signs, including 36 U.S. senators petitioning to have its volume increased in RFS. Biodiesel, like other advanced biofuels, have gone through quite a lot of instability in the past year over investor support and market demand for the fuels. The Biofuels Digest Index, an index of publicly traded biofuels stocks, just dropped 2.13% to a 6-year low of 58.91 as advanced biofuels tumbled sharply.

With all being considered, aviation biofuel is raising hopes for more adoption of the alternative fuel in transportation sectors. Colorado-based Red Rock Biofuels has brought in another major client, this time FedEx Express, a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. That company will produce about three million gallons of renewable jet fuel per year from 2017 through 2014 for FedEx Express. The announcement comes less than a year after Red Rock made an agreement with Southwest Airlines. That airline will procure another three million gallons of woody biomass-based fuel annually.

Many people were inspired earlier this year by Solar Impulse successfully completing a five-day crossing of the Pacific from Japan to Hawaii. That was the first phase of its historic attempt to be the first solar-powered airplane to fly around the world. So far, biofuels is the alternative fuel that holds the most promise for commercial aviation.

Other major airlines – including United Airlines, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic – are testing out their own biojet blends to hit financial and environmental targets. United Airlines recently announced buying a $30 million stake in Fulcrum Bioenergy, the biggest investment yet by a U.S. airline in alternative fuels. Fulcrum plans to build facilities that turn household trash into diesel and jet fuel.

Volume is growing fast enough for Red Rock Biofuels to open its first commercial plant, which is scheduled to break ground this fall in Lakeview, Ore. That plant is expected to produce 15 million gallons of fuel per year of woody biomass converted into renewable jet, diesel, and naphtha fuels.

Aviation executives are carefully watching a few trends in the market scalability of biofuel supply chains, regional variation in available feedstocks, and cost concerns. “We as an industry need to increase the supply, and we need to bring down the cost. It needs to be more affordable and available,” Jessica Kowal, Boeing’s head of environmental policy communications, told GreenBiz.

Red Rock Biofuels Co-Founder and President Terry Kulesa, sees two major forces driving growth in aviation biofuels – volatility in oil prices and more nations tightening up their carbon regulations. Industry observers are seeing renewed interest in biofuels from Boeing, U.S. Dept. of Defense, FedEx, Southwest, and other airplane manufacturers and commercial airlines.

This Week’s Top 10: Nissan Leaf class-action suit settled, Tesla unveils “Ludicrous” mode offerings in Model S

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. Lithium battery in Nissan LeafNissan Leaf class-action suit settled: Nissan has reached a settlement agreement over the class-action lawsuit filed in 2012 claiming Nissan was not accurately reporting the real-world range of its Leaf lithium-ion batteries in its advertising. That class-action suit had started up in 2012 on behalf of all Leaf owners in Arizona and California; previous settlements had not closed the case, but now it appears all parties have agreed to the final settlement. Under the new terms, Nissan will have to replace battery packs with updated versions identical to those used in the 2015 Leaf, which use a newer and more heat-tolerant cell chemistry. The automaker will no longer have the option to repair a battery pack that shows less than nine “bars” of indicated capacity on the dashboard gauge. Nissan will also provide 90 days offree access to DC fast-charging through its EZ Charge card program, where users can access stations within the NRG eVgo, AeroVironment, and Car Charging Group networks.
  2. From Insane to Ludicrous: Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled the “Ludicrous” mode offerings in the Tesla Model S P85D and P90D variants; and it will be faster than the “Insane” mode introduced last fall – from the current 3.1 second zero to 60 mph down to 2.8 seconds. Maximum acceleration with be 1.1g, which Musk described as “faster than falling.” Tesla also upgraded the main battery contacts from steel to a more advanced metal; that increased maximum power delivery from 1300 amps to 1500 amps. In other news, Tesla Motors said that it expects to start selling its new Model X in China during the first half of next year, after being introduced in the U.S. in Q3. The company is also opening five to six new showrooms by the end of this year, bringing the total number in China to about 15. Tesla hopes the SUV model will increase interest and sales in a country where interest has been weak,
  3. Renewable natural gas (RNG) continues to see more acceptance and adoption as a viable clean transportation option. The City of Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus (BBB) announced that it has become one of the country’s first municipal transit authorities to convert its fleet to renewable natural gas (RNG), rated 90% cleaner than diesel and is considered the cleanest transportation fuel available. The transit agency is transitioning its buses using liquefied natural gas (LNG) over to RNG through Clean Energy Fuel Corp.’s Redeem renewable LNG, which is non-fracked methane harvested from organic waste in landfills. With that decision, BBB unveiled a new ad campaign called “Bigger, Bluer, Skies” to emphasize the lower emissions and sustainability of this type of fuel. The city council supported using a more sustainable product at an equal cost, said BBB’s Transit Director, Ed King.
  4. Incentives not Fees: Automakers would prefer to see federal and state governments offer more incentives for electric vehicle (EV) purchases rather than higher vehicle registration fees. In a letter last month to Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said lawmakers should be offering incentives instead raising fees, since incentives encourage purchases and fees tend to discourage them. The alliance represents a dozen global automakers, including the Detroit 3. The alliance is lobbying against efforts to have extra fees, which go up to $100 for EVs, going toward a $1.5 billon road funding plan.
  5. Argonne study on dual-fuel vehicles: Ford Motor Co. and FCA US have partnered up with the US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to study the benefits of dual-fuel vehicles such as natural gas and gasoline. The study aims to understand potential benefits and demonstrate targeted blending of gasoline and natural gas in an engine that uses half as much gasoline and shows a 10% increase in overall efficiency and a 10% improvement in power density.
  6. Sierra Club site shows EV incentives: Interested in finding out about all the incentives available in your state to purchase electric vehicles (EVs) and chargers? Then visit the Go Electric campaign site operated by Sierra Club. The Sierra Club has launched the national campaign to promote EVs as a way to slash pollution, reduce our dependence on oil, create American jobs, and improve national security. “Pick a Plug-In” helps consumers look at EVs available on the market that will fit best with their specific driving needs.
  7. Good news for used Leafs: While the Nissan Leaf has looked pretty bad in used car market studies, including ones released by NADA Used Car Guide, Consumer Reports offered a bright spot. The testing team has been impressed with how well it has held up since its launch in late 2010; staffers have been impressed by its quietness, smooth acceleration, and interior space. The Leaf received a “better than average” rating in the Consumer Reports testing – the second-highest ranking a car can attain. The 2011 Leaf gets a “much better than average rating,” 2012 and 2014 models get “better than average,” and 2013 models are rated just “average.”
  8. Much better roads: A small company in the Netherlands offers PlasticRoad, which replaces conventional asphalt and concrete with prefabricated roads made out of recycled plastic. The city of Rotterdam has been impressed enough to consider using the material in a pilot “street lab” project to see whether it can hold up to daily urban driving. The PlasticRoad materials could last as much as three times longer than conventional pavement and withstand temperatures ranging from -40 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit.
  9. Biofuels Bonanza: More news and reports came out…… China and India could play increasingly important roles in the development of the biofuels market going forward, according to a Wall Street Journal DuPont will license its biofuel technology to China’s largest cellulosic ethanol manufacturing plant. The licensing agreement will provide DuPont’s cellulosic ethanol technology and use DuPont Accellerase enzymes to produce renewable biofuel from the leftover biomass for the Chinese company. As for the U.S., only seven states–Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington – have mandates that require ethanol to be blended in their state fuel supply. But new research appears to show that pure gasoline – known as G100 or E0 – is more corrosive to various engine parts than is E10.
  10. Boston works with Waze: Real-time traffic data company Waze has partnered with the city of Boston to learn more about an annoying source of traffic slowdowns – double-parked cars. A team from the city’s Transportation Dept., the Dept. of Information Technology and Boston’s New Urban Mechanics group analyzed three months’ worth of citizen-reported data from Waze to find streets most likely to have double-parked and illegally standing cars. When the worst parts of the city were identified, additional bike-riding parking enforcement officers were deployed to those areas to get the double-parked cars to move.

Snapshot of clean, smart transportation: We’re living in a very interesting time

Urban mobilityAre clean, advanced technology vehicles going away because of low gasoline prices and car shoppers turning their attention elsewhere? Do transportation alternatives like ridesharing, carsharing, and self-driving cars stand a chance of surviving and thriving? Read on for interesting market trends……….

Navigant Research expects global light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales growth to continue over the next 20 years – from 88.8 million vehicles this year to 122.6 million sold in 2035. Navigant Research sees changes driven primarily by the adoption of vehicles with various levels of drivetrain electrification and vehicles that run entirely on alternative fuels. New transportation business models for LDVs such as carsharing programs alongside increased urbanization is likely to put downward pressure on vehicle sales in the long term, Navigant Research says. As for the 20-year forecast, change is being driven by government-led initiatives to improve fuel economy and market demand for alternative transportation options and alternative fuel vehicles. “LDVs primarily fueled by gasoline are expected to fall as a percentage of the overall global fleet from 82% in 2015 to less than 71% in 2035, particularly as diesel, electricity, and other alternative fuels become more price competitive and their respective infrastructure becomes more available,” says Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research.

While gasoline prices have been hurting hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) sales in the U.S., other countries are seeing growth in EV sales. The U.S. share of the market is expected to drop as sales stall out here but grow in other countries. Global EV sales in 2015 through May came in at more than 160,000 units, of which the U.S. saw only 39,000 deliveries. In Norway, a third of its new vehicle sales were EVs in the first quarter of this year, and the Netherlands saw it become 5.7% of its share during that time (compared to about 0.8% of new vehicles sales in the U.S.). For this year, U.S. sales are expected to stay flat, but are likely surge next year and in 2017 with higher production and new entries from several high-volume makers. The 2016 Chevrolet Volt and an all-new Nissan Leaf released in 2017 or 2018 are expected to make a difference. The Tesla Model X, which is expected to double Tesla’s annual sales, is slated to show up in China in the first half of next year after being introduced in the U.S. sometime this quarter.

Automotive media and market analysts have decided that green vehicle sales are being trashed by low gasoline prices and affordable fuel efficient cars. That being said, they can’t stop dwelling on (obsessing over?) the topic. LA Times’ veteran automotive reporter Jerry Hirsch wrote two features about it, published within a day of each other last week. Hirsch is up there with USA Today’s Chris Woodyard as an expert reporter on green vehicles for a major media source. In “Setting the record straight on five common green car misconceptions,” Hirsch educates readers on topics such as range anxiety, hybrid battery cost, and the myth that EVs cause just as much pollution as gasoline-engine vehicles. In “What kind of car is the most green, fuel efficient and budget friendly?”, Hirsch worked with the Union of Concerned Scientists to examine seven powertrain options, analyzing their greenhouse gas emissions — including the power plant pollution required to produce electricity — along with their relative fuel efficiency and cost of operation. They found that battery electric vehicles are the cleanest and least expensive to operate. Richard Truett of Automotive News cares enough about the topic to have written a detailed report on gas prices and automaker product planning last week. For the federal mandate on fuel efficient vehicles, Truett thinks that, “If automakers can’t make money or at least break even on electrified and fuel-efficient vehicles, all bets are off. There are already rumblings around Detroit of asking the government to push the 54.5 mpg requirement out past 2025.”

One of the largest airports in the U.S. has allowed ridesharing leaders Uber and Lyft to begin picking up passengers. Despite protests by taxi drivers, Los Angeles (LAX) airport officials agreed Thursday to permit ridesharing/ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to pick up, and not just drop off, their passengers. That could begin as early as late August, subject to final approvals by airport officials and the city attorney. For the 2,361 licensed taxis serving that airport, many of them see LAX as their last remaining stronghold as ride-hailing eats away at their fares. Orange County’s John Wayne Airport began allowing ride-hailing services to pick up at the airport earlier this year. Uber revenue is expected to skyrocket this year – from $400 million to $2 billion, as consumers (primarily members of the 18-35 year old Millennial generation) choose Uber over taxis and other transportation sources.

Google continues to test its self-driving cars, and has seen injuries from one of the collisions for the first time. During the 14th accident from one of these test vehicles, a Google autonomous vehicle was rear-ended on July 1 near the company’s corporate campus in Mountain View, Calif. Three Google employees were taken to a hospital to receive treatment for “minor” whiplash. The driver of the other vehicle who hit the Google test car also suffered some minor injuries. Google’s test program generated headlines earlier in 2015 when it was revealed that more than a dozen crashes have occurred and the other drivers have been blamed. With the latest crash, the Google vehicles have been rear-ended in 11 of the 14 incidents. The test program has been using Google’s own driverless cars, and initially used modified Toyota and Lexus vehicles; the test project so far has driven over 1.9 million miles.

U.S. consumers are still concerned about losing control of their vehicles to self-driving cars, according to a recent survey by University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the Transportation Research Institute. The survey polled 505 people and found that 43.8% didn’t want any form of autonomous technology in their vehicles while 40.6% were comfortable with some level of self-driving tech. There was a nearly unanimous response to one question that doesn’t bode well for Google and its vehicles: 96.2% of respondents want a steering wheel, brake and gas pedal in their vehicle no matter the level of autonomy. Perhaps they will need to remain semi-autonomous vehicles? Along with Transportation Research Institute’s study, the university announced last week that it will be opening a new testing site for connected and driverless cars. The 32-acre testing grounds, called Mcity, are designed to simulate urban and suburban roads with a network of controlled intersections, traffic signals, streetlights, sidewalks, construction obstacles, and more. The test track is operated by the university’s Mobility Transformation Center and is an extension of a federally funded pilot program to study connected vehicle technologies at the university. Three years ago, the Transportation Research Institute launched a safety pilot program; that test program includes the deployment of about 9,000 vehicles – cars, commercial vans, buses, and motorcycles equipped with transmitters and data-logging devices to track position, acceleration, and velocity of vehicles and infrastructure.

Carsharing continues to see much interest as a transportation alternative in cities like Paris, San Francisco and Boston. Automakers and car rental companies continue to acquire or partner with carsharing startups like Zipcar, Car2Go, Getaround, and City CarShare. More than 1.5 million people are already using these services in the Americas, according to new research from UC Berkeley. As automakers and car rental companies expand their offerings, the business model is based on efficiency and easing congestion in crowded urban environments where carsharing makes a lot of sense. “This allows flexibility for the operator to serve more people with a single car,” said Susan Shaheen, director of Innovative Mobility Research at the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center.

This Week’s Top 10: China ramping up new energy vehicle production, EV charging had a strong week

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. China new energyChina ramps up EV production: As part of the Chinese government’s “new energy vehicles” mandate to reduce air pollution, automakers are ramping up production of plug-in electric vehicles. According to statistics published by the Ministry of Industry, vehicle manufacturers produced 25,000 new-energy vehicles in June. The growth rate is exceeding what’s being produced in Japan and the U.S. In June,10,500 battery-electric and 6,663 plug-in hybrid passenger cars were manufactured, along with 6,218 battery-electric and 1,645 plug-in hybrid commercial vehicles. That production figure has shot up in recent months, with June seeing about one-third of the total 78,500 plug-in EVs built in China for the first half of 2015. The Chinese government’s data also includes low-speed, neighborhood electric vehicles. The question becomes: Will consumers and fleets buy them? Incentives have been strong in China, but purchasing new energy vehicles has not yet made it to the level the Chinese government and auto industry has hoped for.
  2. EV charging had an interesting week with three announcements: One was from Hyundai-Kia’s U.S. technical center, which is teaming up with Mojo Mobility Inc. to develop a high-speed wireless charging system. That is being supported by a $6 million grant from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to complete the project, which will be tested on the 2015 Kia Soul EV. On the open standards side of charging, Greenlots is working with Kia Motors to expand public-access DC fast chargers in California, Texas, Georgia, Oregon, and Washington. This second rollout brings over 30 additional DC charging stations to 21 Soul EV-certified Kia dealers, Greenlots said. And being open sourced, the site host can choose the hardware that’s perfectly suited to his or her application. For those interested in studying pricing on chargers, ChargePoint Home is rolling out a new home charger that will be available later this summer via Amazon for prices ranging from $499 to $749.
  3. Westport adding propane to F-150s: Westport Innovations announced that it has added a dedicated propane autogas system for the 2016 Ford F-150 powered by the 5.0L V-8 engine. The propane-powered pickup joins the compressed natural gas package as part of the Westport Wing Power System. The company expects both systems to receive certification by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.
  4. LAcarGUY selling Toyota Mirai: For anyone who’s been to Los Angeles-area green car events like AltCar Expo, you’ve probably met Mike Sullivan, president of the LAcarGUY dealer network in Santa Monica. Sullivan was championing the Fisker Karma and Toyota Prius for several years, and now the dealership has been chosen by Toyota to sell its Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car. Sullivan says he isn’t making any extra efforts to sell that car. His dealership will be one of only eight stores in California chosen by Toyota to sell the hydrogen-powered car with its 312-mile range. Toyota is taking a slow and careful approach, expecting to only sell 3,000 of them nationally by the end of 2017. Having access to dealers like LAcarGUY gives Toyota an opportunity to reach consumers who have interest but little experience with the technology. “These are trailblazers, early-adopter-type customers,” Ed LaRocque, Toyota’s national marketing manager for the Mirai, told Automotive News. “They’re going to come in educated, and the customer experience for this product is very important to the dealers and Toyota. We have to get it right the first time.”
  5. BorgWarner buying Remy: Tier One automotive supplier BorWarner Inc. is investing nearly a billion dollars to acquire another supplier, Remy International Inc. The $951 million in cash acquisition highlights the increasing importance of the electrification of the powertrain, which has not been a strength for BorgWarner, CEO James Verrier said. Remy is well known in the industry as a maker of electric hybrid motors, turbochargers, and transmission parts. While hybrid sales are down this year, not all of the major automakers and suppliers are pulling out of that market.
  6. Navy leasing EVs: The U.S. Department of the Navy will be leasing somewhere between 300 to 600 passenger electric vehicles (EVs), with an initial focus on its sedan fleet; these will be used at various Navy and Marine Corps installations within California. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command is holding a forum for discussion with industry partners. The event will be held on July 21 from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the California Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters building in Sacramento. Topics to be discussed will include EV leasing, warranties, maintenance, liabilities, charging infrastructure support and other issues.
  7. Waze offering carpooling mobile app: Waze, a popular driving direction mobile application owned by Google, has launched a new mobile app called RideWith for those interested in carpooling. It’s getting a trial run in Israel near Tel Aviv. RideWith pairs commuters looking for a ride from home to work, or vice versa, with drivers using Waze going in the same direction. This new product brings up the topic of ridesharing, where riders using Uber and Lyft can save money sharing that technology, and that ride, with another passenger.
  8. EVs and the Grid Summit: 2GreenEnergy Editor Craig Shields attended the EVs and the Grid Summit in Los Angeles last week. The symposium on V2G (vehicle to grid) analyzes what electric vehicle (EV) charging means for a grid within a certain region during peak periods and all that goes with it – such as potentially discharging EVs that have extra charge to spare. Shields says that these questions have been coming up since he first started attending similar events in the 2008-timeframe – but there’s no clear answer yet. He does make a good point on the benefits of having a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle as a backup power source for five-to-six days in the event of a power outage.
  9. Golf TDI gets high mileage: For those interested in considering an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle instead of an alternative powertrain to reduce fuel consumption, you might want to consider the 2015 Volkswagen Golf TDI clean-diesel car. It got 81.17 mpg during a road test across 48 states that set a Guinness World Records achievement for non-hybrid fuel economy. Drivers traveled 8,233.5 miles in 16 days during the trip. The previous record in this test program for a clean diesel was 77.99 mpg, and the hybrid record is 74.34 mpg.
  10. Eco-benefits of driverless electric taxis: Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in California see real environmental benefits coming from driverless cars. If a fleet of autonomous electric taxis were to replace everyone’s gas-powered, personal cars, we could see more than a 90% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and almost 100% decrease in oil consumption from cars. Given that highly lofty goal won’t be happening anytime soon, what about more realistic transportation alternatives? A fleet of driverless electric vehicles (EVs) about 15% of the size of all private cars could service the same population, if scheduled correctly, estimated Jeff Greenblatt, co-author of the study. The cost savings would be there – even if an EV were to cost $150,000 up front, the study researchers say that an autonomous EV that could drive 24/7, not require a salary, and uses no gasoline would pay for itself in less than five years.
  11. Plus in this week’s Green Auto Market Extended Edition: Three companies have been added to the list of Clean Transportation Publicly Traded Companies that’s featured monthly in the Extended Edition…… Plug Power: Best known for manufacturing hydrogen fuel-cell forklifts, Plug Power is prominent in the fuel cell market with its strategic alliances. Indoor forklifts was the company’s first viable market with customers such as BMW, Mercedes, WalMart, Kroger, and Whole Foods. Renewable Energy Group: A leading North American producer, REG converts natural fats, oils, and greases into advanced biofuels (primarily biomass-based diesel) and converts diverse feedstocks into renewable chemicals. Vivint Solar: Part of the Vivint holding company best known for home security and smart control panels, Vivint Solar went public in 2014 and is No. 2 in the US solar energy market behind SolarCity. For those interested in subscribing to Extended Edition, read all about it.

Flagship green car Toyota Prius approaching redesign and diminishing influence in market

Toyota Prius family salesThe Toyota Prius has been a flagship for Toyota Motor Co. for about 15 years – and the automaker is counting on the redesigned 2016 model to restore its image as the leading green car on the market. Spy shots show that its body style is changing and will be more in-line with the revamped 2016 Chevrolet Volt; and the mileage will be getting better – sources say the standard Prius hatchback (sometimes called the “Liftback”) will go from a 50 mpg rating to 54 mpg on the window sticker. Toyota faces steep challenges in getting Prius sales back toward upward trending with gasoline prices being where they are; and stiff competition coming from small, fuel-efficient cars and competing alternative technologies.

If you study the chart above with the entire Prius model lineup, you’ll see sales dropping for all the variations – with the big one being the Prius Plug-in Hybrid dropping about 70% from a year ago and the mothership model down about 15%. Nationwide, Prius sales fell 12% last year to 207,372 units sold. The Prius had been the No. 1 new vehicle model sold in California during 2012 and 2013, but that model was beaten last year by the Honda Accord.

 

Toyota seems to have lost its commitment to assembling and delivering its Prius Plug-in Hybrid to its dealer network. Pricing is higher than the Prius and Prius C, even with the $2,500 federal tax credit and state incentives on the plug-in version, which makes it more challenging to sell; but a few years ago, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid was doing very well in new vehicle sales, sometimes selling more than the Chevrolet Volt. Less than 500 units (464) were sold in June; for comparison, in March 2015, 473 units were sold and in June 2014, 1,571 units were sold in the U.S. Toyota decided to cease production of the Plug-In Hybrid in June; the company said it was working hard at developing the next generation of the Prius Plug-in Hybrid and will be sharing details on the launch date. The recent decision to extend the launch of the Prius Liftback, C, and V, could push off the next generation Plug-in Hybrid as far as the second half of 2016 as a 2017 model.

 

It’s very typical to see fleet applications of the standard Prius model these days in taxis and in company cars. Toyota hasn’t released data on its fleet sales, but it does offer fleet incentives – for 2016 models, there will be a $500 incentive for the hybrid lineup (Prius, Prius C, and Prius V) versus a $1,000 incentive for the popular Toyota Camry sedan. The Prius Liftback comes in five levels with Two through Five being priced at a bit over $25,000 to just over $30,100. The level One is priced $1,000 less than the Two trim level and is reserved for fleet customers.

 

For Toyota Motor Sales, Toyota’s US division, seeing a lot of Prius taxis being used in markets like New York and Los Angeles isn’t very appealing. “I hate to see Toyotas in taxi fleets but (it) does create an image for us,” said CEO Jim Lentz in 2013. Taxi operators and drivers like the fuel efficiency and ample passenger room in the backseat and trunk area. The Prius is a very good car to drive on crowded city streets, being small and nimble with enough torque to cut through traffic openings.

 

A Toyota dealer in Texas thinks the Prius makes a lot of sense for Uber drivers to save money on their passenger trips. Toyota of Plano is offering hefty discounts and targeted online advertising to Uber drivers – and now is selling about 200 cars per year to these drivers, or 6% if its 3,200 cars sold per year.

 

The dealership likes it very much as a rolling advertisement for the Prius – as drivers pick up passengers and tell them how much they love their Prius. The dealership doesn’t mind offering great rebate incentives to Uber drivers. “If I lose $1,000 to sell a car and [an Uber driver] sends me three customers,” general manager Rusty Gentry said, “I still come out ahead.”

 

The future of hybrids has been called into question with moderate gas prices and fuel efficient cars and crossovers becoming more popular. Nissan has killed the hybrid version of its Pathfinder crossover as consumers look increasingly to other Nissan products. Hybrid sales numbers have been declining as a share of nationwide new vehicle sales, especially after gasoline prices started dropping in the summer of 2014. Toyota continues to try out a broad spectrum of technologies and vehicle categories to secure its spot as the No. 1 automaker in global sales – and as an innovator embracing new technologies. Lately, the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle has become Toyota’s favorite alternative technology vehicle to show off.

This Week’s Top 10: Hybrid and EV sales not following seasonal patterns, BP oil spill finally sees completion

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

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

  1. EV salesHybrid and EV sales: Both hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) sales are off the path of typical seasonal patterns – down from May but also down from the previous year. Hybrid sales were down 17.6% from June 2014 and EV sales were down 9.6% from that time period. That’s taking place while the overall new vehicle sales market is down from May (a normal seasonal pattern) but up nearly 4% from the previous year. Gasoline prices have come up, but not enough to spur more interest in these vehicles, along with small and fuel-efficient cars. Some models are seeing high growth rates despite the market conditions. The Tesla Model S more than doubled in sales from June 2014, while the BMW i3 saw more than 50% in sales volume increase during that time. The Hyundai Sonata hybrid is seeing very strong sales numbers. Other models have seen large drops since last year, including the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, and Toyota Prius Plug-in. With new versions coming out in the 2016 model year, the Volt and Prius Plug-in are expected to stay down through this year. As for the overall average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the U.S. in June, it came to 25.4 mpg – down 0.1 mpg from May. This decline likely reflects the increased sales of light trucks and SUVs in June, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute.
  2. BP oil spill: More than five years after its massive Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP Plc has finally settled its agreement on federal and state claims – for a record $18.7 billion. Three anonymous people close to the matter said that BP’s campaign to fight these claims in court following the collapse of negotiations in 2013 finally ended with the settlement. Sources said that both falling oil prices and a federal judge’s recent rulings putting a potential $13.7 billion penalty on Clean Water Act violations helped motivate BP to change its tactics. BP has time to pay it off – once the agreement becomes finalized, payments could be spaced out over an 18-year span.
  3. CARB approves funding: The California Air Resources Board approved a $373 million funding plan for advanced technologies in fiscal year 2015-16, from zero-emission heavy-duty trucks and buses to rebates for low- and zero-emission passenger vehicles. That total is up by $150 million over last year’s budget. $350 million of the total comes from the funds in the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund dedicated to low-carbon transportation investments. An additional $23 million comes from the Air Quality Improvement Program under AB 8. $200 million will be dedicated to light-duty vehicles, including the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, which offers incentives for the purchase of zero-emission vehicles.  $167.5 million will be dedicated to heavy-duty vehicle and freight-equipment projects, including vouchers to help support the purchase of hybrid and zero-emission trucks and buses. The remaining $5.5 million is held for administrative overhead and a reserve.
  4. Connecticut EV rebates: The state of Connecticut has paid out or committed to pay more than $131,250 in state rebates to consumers who’ve purchased or leased electric vehicles (EVs) since May 19. The $1 million program was created by Gov. Dannel Malloy’s administration. Rebates are offered at three levels, from $750 to $3,000 depending on the type of vehicle. Under the Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Vehicle Purchase rebate, consumers can receive cash rebates of up to $3,000 for purchasing or leasing eligible battery electric, fuel cell, and plug-in hybrid vehicles; there are 67 eligible vehicles included in the program.
  5. Tesla Q2 earnings: Tesla Motors’ second quarter earnings increased 52%, which gives the company momentum prior to the launch of its Model X crossover model in September. Tesla sold 11,507 Model S electric sedans for the quarter that ended June 30, which set a company sales record. Dan Galves, an equity analyst with Credit Suisse, had correctly forecasted the higher-than-expected sales. He raised his price target on Tesla stock from $290 to $325.
  6. CALSTART has welcomed two new board members: Donna DeMartino, General Manager/CEO at San Joaquin Regional Transit District (RTD), and Dr. Jeffrey Reed, Director Business Strategy and Technology Advancement for Southern California Gas Company. DeMartino helped champion the first deployment of zero emission transit buses in the San Joaquin Valley.  DeMartino was appointed RTD’s General Manager/CEO in 2001 and currently serves as the Chair of the California Transit Association’s Executive Committee. Reed leads development of business strategies and initiatives aimed at supporting the development and deployment of sustainable energy solutions and leads the natural gas RD&D, energy efficiency technology, and venture investment programs. He has also led numerous company initiatives related to renewable and low-carbon energy technologies and policy.
  7. United Airlines investing in sustainable fuels: United Airlines has made a $30 million equity investment in US-based alternative fuels developer Fulcrum BioEnergy, which turns municipal solid waste into low-cost sustainable aviation biofuel. United also has a long-term supply agreement with Fulcrum with the opportunity to purchase at least 90 million gallons of the fuel for a minimum of 10 years at a cost competitive with conventional jet fuel. In addition to the equity investment, United and Fulcrum have entered into an agreement that contemplates the joint development of up to five projects with the potential to produce up to 180 million gallons of fuel per year.
  8. BMW going for it with plug-in hybrids: BMW is expected to roll out four more plug-in hybrids that follow its recently launched BMW i8. Plug-in hybrid versions of the BMW X5, 2 Series Active Tourer, 3 Series, and 7 Series are on the list. This falls in line with meeting stringent emissions targets in Europe and the US, and committing to the company sustainability targets. Performance will also continue: BMW’s plug-in hybrid drive line offers xDrive all-wheel drive, which is automatically activated when the system recognizes certain road conditions. The combined output is 220-horsepower with 284 pound-feet of torque, allowing the car to accelerate from 0-62 mph in about 6.5 seconds.
  9. Toyota Mirai gets EPA ratings: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has rated the 2016 Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at 67 mpg gas gallon equivalent (GGE) and 312 miles range. “Mirai is the only zero emission electric vehicle on the market that tops the 300 mile range milestone,” according to Toyota. The 2014 Honda FCX Clarity is rated 59 mpg GGE combined, 58 city, 60 highway. The 2016 Hyundai Tucson is rated 50 mpg GGE combined, 49 city, 51 highway.
  10. Uber wants driverless Teslas: Uber not only wants to bring ridesharing to cities around the world to reduce traffic and smog – now the company also wants to bring in driverless Teslas. Steve Jurvetson, an early Tesla investor and board member, heard Uber CEO Travis Kalanick make comments on it at the recent Top 10 Tech Trends dinner hosted by the Churchill Club in San Jose, Calif. If Tesla can build a fully-autonomous car by 2020, Kalanick says his company would buy every one Tesla builds. That probably won’t go over too well with Uber drivers who transport customers around in their own cars, and which Uber is very dependent upon to generate revenue.

Electric vs. CNG Buses – which will lead in next 10 years?

Bus fueling station CNGPublic transit buses operating in the U.S. are showing some impressive numbers for alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technologies. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA)’s annual Earth Day report in April said that 41.3% of public transportation buses use alternative fuels or hybrid technologies (as of the start of 2014); that’s broken down into 16.9% hybrid, 16.7% natural gas, 7.4% biodiesel, and 0.3% other alternative fuels including propane and hydrogen. Electric buses are starting to take off with transit agencies, as well.

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) will be investing in hybrid and natural gas vehicles. MassDOT’s board of directors approved a $222.2 million contract for 325 new replacement buses for the MBTA fleet – 40 of these will be 40-foot low floor hybrid and compressed natural gas (CNG) buses to begin in July 2016. The buses are coming from New Flyer, Inc., and are being funded with 80% Federal Formula funds and 20% Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Revenue Bond funds.

 

MassDOT’s alternative fuel strategy has been similar to one adopted 15 years ago in California, where several cities are now operating hybrid and CNG buses. About 60% of California buses now run on CNG, compared with 17% nationwide.

 

California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has mandated a switch to “zero-emission” buses by 2040, creating a challenge for suppliers of hybrid and CNG buses to find a market in the state. As of March, there were 22 battery-powered electric buses and seven fuel-cell powered buses in California transit fleets, according to CARB. One challenge with electric buses is range – about 155 miles typically on a charge versus about 300 miles on a fueling for diesel- or natural gas-powered buses. Fuel cell buses have a much longer range than electric buses, but the lack of hydrogen fueling infrastructure limits range.

 

In response, the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition has proposed expanding the definition of “zero-emission vehicles” to include buses powered by renewable natural gas, which comes from cow manure or decomposing organic matter in landfills. The payoff is enormous, according the coalition. While traditional natural gas offers a reduction in greenhouse gases of about 15% to 20% over diesel, renewable natural gas offers a reduction of about 90% over diesel, the coalition says.

 

The charging/fueling cost is different, too – with a natural gas bus costing an average of $27,000 to fuel annually and an electric bus costing about $10,500 for charging. Fuel cost savings is helping to make CNG, hybrid, and electric buses more attractive when compared to diesel-powered buses.