Monthly Archives: September 2015

This Week’s Top 6: DOE awards $55M in clean vehicle projects, CARB re-adopts low carbon fuel standard

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. DOE EV programDOE $55M in Grants: General Motors won a nearly $4 million award from the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s funding of clean vehicle technologies. The GM project “will research, develop, and demonstrate a highly integrated wide bandgap power module for next generation plug-in vehicles.” It’s one of 24 projects awarded nearly $55 million in the DOE funding round designed to strengthen the U.S. clean energy economy, reduce petroleum consumption, and support the agency’s EV Everywhere Grand Challenge to make electric vehicles as cost competitive as traditional internal combustion engine vehicles by 2022. The biggest grant award went to Cummins Inc. – $4.5 million for its Cummins SuperTruck program. Through the Advanced Vehicle Power Technology Alliance with the DOE, the Department of the Army is contributing an additional $2.26 million in co-funding to support projects focused on battery modeling technologies and computational fluid dynamics.
  2. State reaffirms commitment to low carbon: The California Air Resources Board voted Friday to readopt its low-carbon fuel standard; the action was taken in the wake of the ambitious petroleum reduction mandate being cut from the state’s clean energy bill. It will require California to achieve at least a 10% cut in the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by 2020. CALSTART lauded CARB’s strong support for low carbon fuels. “The Low Carbon Fuel Standard requires fuel producers to innovate and invest in cleaner fuels. Because of strong policy direction, a number of California industries have been doing their part – now it’s time for the oil industry to do its fair share. Today’s action by the Air Resources Board will spur investment and encourage job growth in California, enabling the development of fuels we can truly live with for decades to come,” said John Boesel, President and CEO of CALSTART.
  3. Carsharing is taking off: Interested in reading more about ridesharing giant Uber? Don’t forget how much carsharing is expanding, says a new report. According to Navigant Research, global carsharing services revenue is expected to grow from $1.1 billion in 2015 to $6.5 billion in 2024. The success of one-way carsharing services is prompting more companies to consider offering this service model (which Daimler’s Car2Go is finding out). Carsharing members can use one-way carsharing for shorter, spur of the moment trips. Automakers have entered this market with good results, building substantial membership levels in only a few years, according to the Navigant report. In related news, Zipcar said it will be launching its car-sharing service on 100 additional colleges and universities nationwide by the end of 2015.
  4. Dealers sue VW: Independent, used car dealerships sued Volkswagen in California last week for the losses they expect to take with the “clean diesel” scandal. Dealers sued over losses they say they will incur following revelations that the company fitted some diesel models with software to cheat on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency vehicle emissions tests. The proposed class action was filed in California federal court on behalf of independent car dealers in the state and seeks damages likely to exceed $1 million.
  5. China and U.S. make carbon deal: The U.S. and China are moving forward on their 2014 agreement to reduce carbon emissions. During President Xi’s visit to Washington, D.C., the U.S and China released a U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change that will affect transportation, energy, and construction. The partners will develop collaborative Electric Vehicle (EV) Interoperability Centers with the goal of coordinating relative technical standards, promoting coordination, and providing technical support to the existing, successful electric vehicle work between the two countries. The U.S. and China are also committing to finalize respective next-stage fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty vehicles in 2016, and both countries are committing to implement them in 2019.
  6. Autonomous-capable vehicle forecast: Navigant Research has come up with a good tag name for self-driving vehicles – “autonomous-capable vehicles.” Advanced driver assistance features are bringing semi-autonomous driving features under specific circumstances to current vehicles and soon-to-be released models. Cars will soon have the ability to cruise on freeways and safely navigate traffic jams with minimal driver input. The research firm thinks that 85 million autonomous-capable vehicles are expected to be sold annually around the world by 2035. Improvements in traffic flow in a city are a key reason for continuing advancements in autonomous-capable vehicles, says Dave Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research.

Is Volkswagen the Darth Vader of the automotive space and will clean diesel survive?

VW as Darth VaderWas Greenpeace right about Volkswagen with its Darth Vader spoof in 2011? The environmental group lampooned VW’s TV commercial where a child plays Darth Vader. In the Greenpeace version, another group of kids dressed as Luke Skywalker and other “Star Wars” characters confront Darth junior. We find out that “Volkswagen is threatening our planet by opposing cuts to CO2 emissions. Join the rebellion.”

VW temporarily made right with the European Union after the social media buzz that came out of the Greenpeace campaign. Now VW and the entire auto industry faces much bigger questions: Is VW as evil as Darth Vader? Here are 15 points to consider for shaping your own opinion about it:

  1. Bigger than GM recalls?: The scandal at Volkswagen started by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issuing a recall for inaccurate emissions reporting on its diesel cars, appears to be turning into the biggest story to hit the automotive sector since General Motor’s historic massive vehicle recall. This story will be dragging out and is likely to draw in other automakers and government regulatory agencies around the world (especially in Europe).
  2. New CEO in place: Matthias Mueller, president of Volkswagen’s Porsche brand, has been named CEO of VW. He’s replacing Martin Winterkorn, who previously had been expected to keep his job until the end of 2018. Winkerton is now the subject of a criminal probe being taken on by prosecutors in Germany. There’s been talk of an outsider coming in soon to take the reins – to address concerns over more VW executives being tainted by the scandal. Another option could be Mueller staying in place for now and overseeing an internal investigation and ouster of the management considered to be responsible for the diesel scandal. Porsche has done very well in recent years, earning close to three billion euros a year, and barely using any diesels for sales. It never used any of VW’s EA 189 engines that were said to have been manipulated to fool U.S. emissions tests.
  3. VW losing No. 1 title?: VW is now Number One in global auto sales, having taken the title from Toyota. A full 25% of the vehicles it has sold in the U.S. in recent years are diesel-powered and those diesel sales figures are much larger globally. For example, less than half a million diesel vehicles are being recalled in the U.S., while 11 million may be recalled globally. That number may grow with more Audi models being added to the recall list. The recall and controversy are likely to bring down VW sales figures. The impact has been staggering with the company’s stock price collapsing, government agencies around the world launching probes, and some potential buyers putting their purchases of VW products on hold for now.
  4. Critical importance of transparency and emissions reporting: The scandal highlights two major priorities in government policies around the world – transparency in reporting and reducing carbon emissions. It will take some time to determine how deep these problems run, but it’s already clear that VW has a major crisis to deal with. Some government officials are now calling for random roadside checks to avoid the possibility that VW and other automakers secretly developed software to play with the emissions testing process.
  5. What EPA thinks about it: With the recall order, the Obama administration claimed the German automaker covered up the truth about its “clean diesel” models sold in the U.S. The EPA issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen, and accused the company of installing software in its cars known as “defeat devices” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015. EPA says the device was set up to only turn on emissions control systems when the car is undergoing official emissions testing; the controls are turned off during normal driving, when vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the OEM, according to EPA. The U.S. Justice Department has launched a probe into allegations Volkswagen intentionally rigged emissions tests of a number of diesel-powered vehicles sold in the U.S. market. VW diesels can emit up to 40 times pollutants allowed by current regulations, which is outraging owners.
  6. What vehicles are included in recall: The recall, which won’t go into effect immediately and is awaiting detailed guidelines from EPA, affects 482,000 cars in the U.S., could eventually cost the company about $18 billion to repair, and could include a $37,500 fine per vehicle given to VW. Affected diesel models include the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009-15 Beetle, 2009-15 Golf, 2014-15 Passat, and 2009-15 Audi A3.
  7. The Woodward and Bernstein who uncovered the story: The scandal was discovered for the EPA through independent researchers from West Virginia University, working with the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). Peter Mock, Europe managing director of ICCT and John German, a senior fellow at ICCT, contacted West Virginia University’s Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions to test a few of the VW diesel cars. As for who may play the Haldeman and Ehrlichman of VW’s Watergate-type scandal, VW Group has suspended Audi development chief Ulrich Hackenberg, VW brand R&D boss Heinz-Jakob Neusser and Porsche development head Wolfgang Hatz, Reuters reported; and don’t forget their Nixon, as previously mentioned about the former CEO Martin Winterkorn who faces potential prosecution in Germany.
  8. This could be one piece of a larger puzzle: Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker believes that this scandal will drag in other major automakers – and not just for Vader-like cover-ups. Automakers face a long list of demands from government agencies, consumers, and technology leaders (Google, Apple, etc.) to make these vehicles as clean and technology intensive as possible – with airbags, connected car systems, safety standards, emissions, accurate mpg reporting, etc. Parker thinks they would be wise to be honest and accurate about their mileage and emissions claims, and everything else in their cars – rather than being buried in a mess they didn’t need to create.
  9. Death of “clean diesel?”: As for me, I would say that as this recall scandal gets dragged into next year, the future of “clean diesel” passenger vehicles will be shaken up. When you review diesel passenger vehicle sales in the U.S., you’ll see that the recalled models listed above make up a large share of diesel sales in the U.S. It’s likely this crisis will hurt clean diesel vehicle sales. BMW and Daimler immediately issued statements saying that their diesel cars are complying with EPA rules – implying that they’re being more trustworthy than their German competitor. VW’s turbodiesel direct inject diesel engines have been at the heart of its clean diesel lineup. The company was getting credit for its claims that the latest versions of the powertrain technology are boosting mileage, improving performance, and reducing emissions.
  10. All eyes are on EPA: EPA has renewed its commitment to improve its testing and reporting methods for emissions on new vehicles sold in the U.S. The agency is “upping its game” to catch cheaters, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters. It’s a similar situation to what EPA had been facing during 2013-14 on its mileage ratings. Ford has been forced to lower fuel-economy ratings twice, and Hyundai and Kia were also found to be overestimating gas mileage in EPA scandals. On Friday, the EPA sent a letter to vehicle manufacturers notifying them that the agency is adding to its testing additional evaluations designed to look for potential defeat devices.
  11. Sustainability image tarnished: During the past month, Volkswagen AG had been named best in class for automotive industry sustainability by the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices. The diesel emissions reporting scandal is likely to tarnish that rating. Billionaire environmentalist Richard Branson thinks that VW’s recall should be a wake-up call to invest in clean vehicle innovations instead of fossil-fuel derived technologies.
  12. True opportunity for other clean technologies: In light of Branson’s comments, I would think there is real opportunity for makers of hybrids, plug-ins, NGVs, propane-powered vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, infrastructure suppliers, and producers of innovative alternative fuels like DME, renewable diesel, and RNG, to make the business case for investing in these technologies and fuels.
  13. Wasted federal incentives: Taxpayers have given out $51 million in green car incentives to VW through tax credits. An article in the The Los Angeles Times claims the federal government gave out $51 million in green car subsidies directed at model year 2009 Volkswagen Jetta and Jetta SportWagen TDI diesel vehicles; they qualified for a $1,300 tax credit. An estimated 39,500 buyers took advantage of the credit, which added up to $51 million in subsidies.
  14. VW experienced in scandals: About 10 years ago, VW faced another scandal. VW management was found to systematically circumvent compliance in a sex and bribes scandal that resulted in a 33-month jail term for the former head of the company’s workers council, Klaus Volkert.
  15. Angry VW owners: VW owners have been expressing outrage for what the automaker has done. One of my colleagues forwarded me a voicemail that he’d left to his VW dealer (and to all of VW corporate) about his Jetta TDI that he’d bought from them. He wants to be compensated, along with a half million other Americans owning these VW models, for the “outrageous crime you have committed against us.”

This Week’s Top 10: Volkswagen facing huge vehicle recall after EPA finds diesel cars weren’t so clean, Highlights from the Frankfurt Motor Show

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. Volkswagen diesel recallVW recall: Volkswagen was hit hard Friday by a recall order from the Obama administration, claiming the German automaker covered up the truth about its “clean diesel” models sold in the U.S. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation to Volkswagen, and accused the company of installing software in its cars known as “defeat devices” in 4-cylinder Volkswagen and Audi diesel cars from model years 2009-2015. EPA says the device was set up to only turn on emissions control systems when the car is undergoing official emissions testing; the controls are turned off during normal driving, when the vehicles pollute far more heavily than reported by the OEM, according to EPA. The recall, which won’t go into effect immediately and is awaiting detailed guidelines from EPA, affects about 482,000 cars in the U.S., will eventually cost the company about $18 billion to repair, and could include a $37,500 fine per vehicle. Affected diesel models include the 2009-15 Volkswagen Jetta, 2009-15 Beetle, 2009-15 Golf, 2014-15 Passat and 2009-15 Audi A3. When you review diesel passenger vehicle sales in the U.S., you’ll see that the recalled models make up a large share of sales; it’s likely this crisis will hurt clean diesel vehicle sales. BMW and Daimler have issued statements saying that their diesel cars are complying with EPA rules. Near the end of the business day yesterday, The Detroit Bureau reported that the U.S. Justice Department has launched a probe into allegations Volkswagen intentionally rigged emissions tests of a number of diesel-powered vehicles sold in the U.S. market.
  2. Frankfurt Motor Show highlights: Long before the “clean diesel” crisis started, Volkswagen decided to focus on “electrified” versions of its Volkswagen and Audi vehicles at the benchmark annual Frankfurt car show. “Every car will be electrified,” said Ulrich Hackenberg, the board member overseeing technical development at Audi, and this would include hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery-electric variations replacing a few conventional gasoline and diesel models. The Porsche and Bentley brands will also be rolling out battery-powered models……. BMW gained a lot of attention with comments about its i Series lineup soon seeing big announcements from the automaker. Until then, the BMW 330e will fill that space; this new model uses the eDrive plug-in technology from its i3 and i8 models. The plug-in hybrid gets 252 hp and 310 pound-feet torque from its electric motor and 2.0L four-cylinder engine. Rolls-Royce Motor Cars is looking into bringing an electric vehicle to market as tighter emissions regulations on automakers are being enforced in Europe and the U.S. Finding ranges acceptable to customers will be necessary to go forward, said Torsten Muller-Otvos, head of the BMW AG unit……. Tesla Motors is finding Germany a tough market to go beyond looking cool into turning over strong sales – only 958 of the Tesla Model S units had been sold in that country since the beginning of the year. To make its upcoming Model X more appealing in Germany and other markets, Tesla recently changed the available range up from 240 to a maximum of 250 miles per charge using the optional 90-kilowatt-hour battery pack.
  3. Drive Electric: More than 100,000 people attended events last week at the fifth annual National Drive Electric Week. More than 170 events in 165 cities in the U.S., Canada, and Hong Kong took place from Sept. 12-20. “Plug-ins are not a partisan issue any more,” said Plug In America’s executive director Joel Levin. “People just love these vehicles and the volunteers putting on these events are keen to educate people about EVs and share their excitement.” Organized by Plug In America, Sierra Club, and the Electric Auto Association, the mission has been to provide a learning experience for interested people from talking to EV owners and participating in ride and drives.
  4. Underwood wins lifetime achievement award: Energy Vision President Joanna Underwood was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by NGVAmerica during the NGV Achievement Awards last week in Denver. Underwood’s contribution to the clean fuel go back to the 1980s as she became a convincing advocate for the role natural gas can play in displacing diesel in heavy-duty buses and trucks; more recently, Underwood has been a champion for development of renewable natural gas as the lowest carbon commercially viable transportation fuel available today. It was one of 16 awards presented by NGVAmerica honoring outstanding leadership, vision and innovation in advancing natural gas as a transportation fuel.
  5. The next phase in DME: Ford Motor Co., Oberon Fuels, FVV (Forschungsvereinigung Verbrennungskraftmaschinen e. V.), and other FVV member companies, have partnered on a three-year project to research, analyze, and test the potential of dimethyl ether (DME) and oligomethyl ether (OME) fuels in passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. One of the project’s goals will be also build the world’s first production passenger car powered by DME for on-road testing. Oberon Fuels will make its pilot plant available for the study. Two years ago, this plant produced the first fuel-grade DME in North America. The Volvo Group used that fuel in commercial demonstrations of DME-powered, heavy trucks.
  6. Apple moving on driverless and electric: An Apple Inc. executive met with California Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV) officials to discuss autonomous vehicle regulations, according documents viewed by the Guardian Code-named Project Titan, the hour-long meeting took place on August 17. In other news, Apple has chosen 2019 as the target for finalizing its electric car. The company will be tripling its 600-person team made up of dozens of experts on electric cars and autonomous driving systems; there’s no word yet on whether Apple will be manufacturing its own cars or providing technologies to at least one automaker partner to build the vehicles.
  7. The role of digital cockpits: During a conference on autonomous vehicles and connected cars, Automotive Digest did video interviews with a series of technology suppliers, including this one with Dave Anderson of NVIDIA. Driving all the displays found in tomorrow’s cars requires a powerful computer, and automakers need a solution to get to market fast with the low costs. Anderson talks about the company’s platform, NVIDIA DRIVE CX, a digital cockpit that harmonizes safety, comfort, and user experience in one platform.
  8. Extended alt-fuel range for paratransit: ROUSH CleanTech has developed an extended range fuel tank for the Ford E-450 chassis with the advantage of less fuel stops to smooth out trips for riders. With 64 usable gallons of propane autogas, the new tank holds 56% more fuel than the standard 41-usable gallon tank option. “We listened to our paratransit customers who wanted the Ford E-450 chassis, yet also needed more autogas fuel capacity,” said Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing. “With this extended range fuel tank, we offer the longest driving range for this model — plus an extended warranty for those customers.” The new tank is built on Ford’s 6.8L V10 engine, the Ford E-450 with extended range fuel system comes with an extended 5-year, 100,000-mile warranty exclusively for the transit industry.
  9. How autonomous tech in EVs can lower battery costs: Plug-in electric vehicles can save up to $1,800 in battery costs, or extend driving range by 24 miles with the addition of autonomous features like self-parking, according to a new report from Lux Research. Autonomous features – including self-parking – may boost fuel efficiency by as much as 10%, when compared with human drivers. “Many buyers of electric cars, such as those who buy the expensive Tesla Model S, are willing adopters of more autonomous driving technology,” said Maryanna Saenko, Lux Research Analyst and lead author of the report titled, “Electric Car, Drive Thyself: How Autonomous Systems and Plug-in Vehicles Will Converge.”
  10. Mazda SkyActiv expects big fuel economy gain: While its claim will be carefully tested in light of the recent Volkswagen debacle, Mazda is making a bold claim. The next generation of its SkyActiv engines will increase by 30% in fuel efficiency, company president Masamichi Kogai said during an interview with UK publication Auto Express at the Frankfurt Motor Show. This should start by 2018 and will probably be the main focus of Mazda’s fuel-efficient compliance strategy. Its current SkyActiv models (including the Mazda3) have so far come out pretty well in reports.

Why autonomous vehicles was central theme at AltCar Expo – and why John Krafcik is leaving TrueCar for Google’s self-driving car project

John Krafcik at GoogleAutonomous vehicles was a central theme at AltCar Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., on Friday, during its 10th anniversary conference. USA Today’s Chris Woodyard moderated a panel called “Automated Vehicles, Uber Autonomous Driving Now.” The lunchtime keynote speaker was Tony Seba, a lecturer at Stanford University and author of a book on disruption in clean energy and transportation; Seba was the keynoter last year and was popular and controversial enough to be invited back. One of his revolutionary forecasts is that all new vehicle sales in U.S. will be electrified and autonomous by 2030.

Right after Seba, an impressive group of panelists discussed deploying autonomous vehicles. The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation’s (LAEDC’s) e4Mobility Alliance organized the panel, “From Research to Reality: Deploying Autonomous Vehicles.” The panel was moderated by Tom Paige of Urban Systems Laboratories and also featured comments from state Senator Ben Allen, who serves on the state’s Transportation and Housing committee, and the Select Committee on Ports and Goods Movement. Speakers included Geoff Wardle, Director of Advanced Mobility Research, Art Center College of Design; Naveen Berry, Technology Demonstration Manager, South Coast Air Quality Management District; Alan Clelland, Sr. VP & General Manager at Iteris Transportation System Division; and Aravind Kaillas, ITS Research Engineer at The Volvo Group, who commented on the commercial truck side of the topic. The e4Mobility Alliance has taken quite a lot of interest in autonomous vehicles this year, including passenger vehicles, cargo transport, neighborhood electric vehicles, and targeted applications (which could be utilized at airports, universities, corporate campuses, living facilities, etc.)

Earlier that week, TrueCar President John Krafcik shocked a few people announcing his new position heading up Google Inc.’s self-driving car project. While TrueCar’s future is in question with founder Scott Painter leaving soon, why would Krafcik choose Google over another automaker? He’d been praised for leading Hyundai to record U.S. sales, and would surely be offered an executive position with an OEM or tier 1 supplier. What’s behind the Google move?

Then there were comments made last week by Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche to Reuters that Mercedes-Benz is thinking about starting up a business unit that would provide on-demand limousine service without a chauffeur; the company may create an extensive fleet of autonomous vehicles to reach consumers who want on-demand transportation services much more than owning a car. What’s behind this thinking?

Automotive engineers don’t think autonomous vehicles will make it to our roads in any real numbers until the 2030-to-2035 timeframe – according to a study last year by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). That’s at least 15 years from now. Here are a few points to consider on why autonomous, driverless cars have become the disruptive technology of the year.

  • Race to Be Leading Auto Tech Company: Google is competing with Apple and Microsoft to be the leading automotive technology partner. While Google has been testing a small fleet of its own self-driving cars in the past year, company executives have stated they don’t want to become an auto manufacturer. That same question has come up for Apple lately as the technology giant tests out autonomous and electrified vehicles. Google, Apple, and Microsoft have been investing heavily in becoming the leading supplier of mobile applications and devices, and software connecting cars to smart phones, telematics, and infotainment features. Google through Android Auto, Apple through CarPlay, and Microsoft with its Windows Embedded Automotive 7, are the latest offerings built around becoming the leading connected car technology systems company.
  • Marriage of Detroit and Silicon Valley: Krafcik will take the helm from Chris Urmson, the former head of the Google self-driving car technology. Krafcik combines engineering and marketing, which is one of the secret formulas behind success in the automotive market. He worked as a mechanical engineer at Ford Motor Co. from 1990 to 2004, where he served as chief engineer for the Expedition and Navigator SUVs. He spent 10 years with Hyundai Motor Co., with five years as the president and CEO of its U.S. division. He led the charge in boosting the automaker’s U.S. sales and market share. Google’s job offer indicates the company wants to be taken seriously by automakers as the leading technology supplier in driverless cars. Other major suppliers like Continental Automotive and Delphi are deeply engaged in testing out driverless car technologies; Google clearly wants to be seen as the leading voice out there in the marriage of Detroit and Silicon Valley.
  • Morphing Automakers: Daimler’s announcement has led to comparison to ubiquitous ridesharing startup Uber – but Daimler has already played a sizable role in the sharing economy. Its carsharing division, Car2Go, is considered by some to be even more substantial than Zipcar in leading the carsharing space. Carsharing is taking off with users and revenues at a fast pace in the past couple of years – just like Uber is seeing dramatic growth in rides. Daimler executives like Zetsche have been talking about the changing role of global automakers in recent years. Daimler, along with BMW, Ford, Toyota, Honda, GM, and Nissan, have been investing heavily in new technologies, research centers in Silicon Valley, and new business models like Car2Go. Some of that has to do with ambitious fuel economy and emissions reductions mandated in the U.S. and Europe, which is a key reason that automakers continue announcing electric vehicle new vehicle launches. There may be something even larger on the horizon. Futurists say that the identity of automakers will change dramatically in the next 15 years – from vehicle manufacturers to mobility companies. Along with environmental concerns, there’s also safety and mobility issues surrounding the “urbanization” trend – where young people are moving into cities and have less interest in owning cars.
  • Leading Advanced Technology OEM: Tesla Motors is emphasizing its leading role in self-driving car technologies through its Autopilot features available as an option with its Model S and upcoming Model X. Tesla’s Autopilot software helps the car maintain its place within a lane and its following distance, as well as manage its acceleration and braking. You can change lanes by switching on the turn indicator and the car will do the rest – moving you automatically to that lane when it’s safe to do so. Autopilot is expected to feature a 360-degree ultrasonic sonar that will monitor everything within a radius to make sure the car stays safely on the road. Every major automaker has connected car features that have been rolling out in recent years – with safety, fuel efficiency, connectivity, and convenience being emphasized. Why would an electric vehicle manufacturer jump into the self-driving car race? The future of the auto industry doesn’t boil down to one leading technology like hybrid or electric powertrains. All of the bases need to be covered for building brand identity and selling more cars. These days, OEMs are racing to be No. 1 in global sales along with being sustainable, efficient, safe, profitable, and the leader in advanced vehicle technologies.
  • “Semi-Autonomous” Vehicles: Autonomous vehicles may never become 100% driverless in the future, and “semi-autonomous” may be more accurate; the main issue being instantaneous highway disasters like a car crash where the driver needs to take over to save lives. Automakers are well on their way to offering the safest and best technologies – some of them being classic like GM rolling out cruise control features in its product lineup. Audi is testing out self-parking car systems, which should be a big hit with car shoppers. “Connected cars” is probably a more accurate search term for where automakers will be investing heavily in finances, intellectual property, and talented staff over the next 10 years – and it could be the same thing as semi-autonomous. The connected car concept is built around tapping into available data to maximize a vehicle’s performance, safety, and convenience. Some experts (including Automotive Digest Publisher Chuck Parker) expect to see limited test applications for connected, semi-autonomous systems in the next few years – such as industrial vehicles or controlled environments like universities or corporate campuses.
  • Why Uber Says it Will Go Driverless: In May 2014, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick made comments about Uber going driverless. It was a day after Google unveiled the prototype for its own driverless vehicle. That would bring down the largest cost of an Uber ride and increase profits dramatically for the company, but that lofty goal is very far away. As for today, Uber spends a lot of money on advertising to bring in more drivers and their cars. Why would Uber emphasize driverless cars? For one thing, Google Ventures is one of the largest investors in Uber (which may go public on the stock market). Perhaps Uber will play a role in Google’s heavy investment in self-driving car technologies? It could be an excellent client for Google to work with, and a technology testing platform with great potential. Kalanick has also made comments about wanting its fleet to be made up of Tesla vehicles with the Autopilot systems in place. Uber has also been participating in the Carnegie Mellon driverless car test program in the past year. The ride-sharing company’s self-driving prototype was spotted in Pittsburgh with “Uber Advanced Technologies Center” appearing on the test car. “This vehicle is part of our early research efforts regarding mapping, safety, and autonomy systems,” a company spokesperson said. Uber’s executives, based in San Francisco, seem to enjoy being part of the Silicon Valley clique with Google and Tesla. The company also hopes to one day not have to pay its drivers; as for now Uber has been enjoying having its name quoted all over the media and being the epicenter of one of the coolest, cutting edge technologies out there. They’d be foolish to ignore the viral buzz around self-driving cars.

This Week’s Top 10: California 50% petroleum reduction removed from legislative deal, Funding for EV charging stations

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. California legislature50% petroleum reduction bill dies: California did take a giant step forward in Gov. Jerry Brown’s climate change legislation on Friday, but motor vehicles were unfortunately cut out of the negotiated deal. SB 350, the Clean Energy and Reduction Act, was notable for increasing mandates on renewable energy used to power electricity; efforts to cut petroleum consumption in the state 50% by 2030 were cut out of the settlement. The bill, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León and Senator Mark Leno, called not only for a 50% reduction in petroleum use in cars and trucks but it also called for a 50% increase in energy efficiency in buildings and half of the state’s utility power coming from renewable energy. The Western States Petroleum Association led the charge to defeat the petroleum provision with a major campaign to block the legislation. The oil industry’s campaign showed advertisements charging the bill could lead to fuel rationing and bans on sport-utility vehicles. Automakers had expressed concern that the state already had its aggressive mandate in place for hitting zero emission vehicle (ZEV) targets and that jumping that target up to 50% petroleum reduction was far from what could be accomplished in conjunction with the federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions targets.
  2. Funding available for EV charging stations: You can view presentations and hear the entire recording on “Funding & Financing Electric Vehicle Charging Stations for your Business.” Panelists talked about reducing the cost of buying and installing the equipment for workplaces and multi-unit dwellings. Speakers included Rick Teebay, of LA County Office of Sustainability and co-chair of the event sponsor, LAEDC’s e4Mobility Alliance. NRG’s Kevin Kelleher talked about the utility’s Ready for Electric Vehicle (REV) Program. NRG eVgo can provide funding up to $30,000 in electrical infrastructure upgrades for qualified California workplaces and multi-family properties; other funding programs were detailed during the presentation. Click here to fill out the form and download the webinar.
  3. Audi, Porsche, Jaguar, and Land Rover plan to roll out new plug-in models to meet demand from luxury and sports car enthusiasts – and to maybe take some business away from Tesla Motors. Audi is getting ready to roll out a battery-powered SUV that could be faster and deliver better performance than the Tesla Model X. It could come to market by early 2018. Porsche is rolling out the high-performance Mission E, a concept car the German automaker is unveiling at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The 600-horsepower Mission E will make it to 62.5 mph in under 3.5 seconds. Drivers of the Mission E will be able to go more than 310 miles per charge if they’re being a little more gentle on the throttle. Jaguar Land Rover Automotive PLC will be adding advanced, battery-based powertrain systems to its high-performance offerings such as the Jaguar F-Type and Range Rover. The British automaker is exploring several green car options to meet government mandates – including the electric models, a couple of hybrids, diesels, and lightweighting the vehicle bodies.
  4. Algenol Biotech and Protec Fuel Management have entered into an agreement to market and distribute a new type of ethanol from Algenol’s Fort Myers, Fla., commercial demonstration module. The companies say it’s the first time that ethanol made from algae will be available commercially. Protec Fuel will distribute and market the fuel for E15 and E85 applications for both retail stations and general public consumption, as well as fleet applications. The partner companies will also offer Algenol’s future 18 million gallons per year from its commercial plant, which is planned for development in Central Florida in 2016 and 2017.
  5. UPS has purchased 125 E-GEN range-extended electric delivery trucks that were produced by Workhorse Group. The trucks are scheduled to be deployed in Arizona, Texas, Nevada, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida during the first half of 2016. “This investment will help create and grow the market for ground-breaking alternative propulsion systems that reduce environmental impact, reduce operating costs and save fuel,” said UPS senior vice president global engineering and sustainability Mark Wallace in a release. UPS expects to see significant fuel economy equivalency gains on the trucks designed for urban routes traveling 50-to-60 miles per day.
  6. Warning issued about hacking driverless cars being too easy: A security firm is concerned that hackers will be able to play with the complex LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) systems that are integral for driverless cars, to fool the onboard system into a crash with merely $60 in parts. It’s happening through a small, low-power laser and a pulse generator, said Jonathan Petit of Security Innovation. It could even be replaced by a Raspberry Pi, a small computer board used in DIY projects, he said. The attacker can trick the car into thinking there are objects where there actually isn’t – potentially forcing the car to slow down, stop, or swerve. “I can take echoes of a fake car and put them at any location I want,” Petit said. “And I can do the same with a pedestrian or a wall.”
  7. Elio Motors and its three-wheeled personal transportation vehicles was named one of the “Top 10 Automotive Startups,” by the LA Auto Show’s Connected Car Expo. Elio Motors was recognized for offering a fun-to-drive, super-economical, environmentally friendly personal transportation alternative. The Elio is designed to achieve up to 84 MPG with a targeted $6,800 base price.
  8. Toyota building flying cars?: Toyota Motor Corp. has filed for a patent with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a “stackable wing for an aerocar.” The wing can change shape and guide the car during flights. One configuration from Toyota shows the wings as if they were stacked atop the car roof, and another image shows a more aerodynamic shape for when it’s deployed for flight.
  9. Bosch leading CNG fuel system: A consortium of automotive suppliers and vehicle manufacturers in Germany are being led by Robert Bosch GmbH to develop a new fuel system for compressed natural gas (CNG). The concept is based on direct injection, which would make natural gas vehicles even more economical and environmentally friendly. Bosch says the new technology could deliver as much as 60% more torque at low rpm, and offer the prospect of an even more dynamic driving experience in CNG vehicles.
  10. EV sales in China jump: Electric and plug-in hybrid car sales leaped 270% to 108,654 cars in January through August of this year, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) said. With incentives and targets, the Chinese government is pushing automakers to develop battery electric cars. Electric powertrains are simpler to develop, and driving a push to green cars fits President Xi Jinping’s policy goal of reducing pollution through manufacturing “new energy” vehicles, according to a Reuters article.

Three refreshed 2016 model year classic green car models will get extended range

2016 Toyota PriusWhile the Tesla Model X crossover is gaining a lot of interest as it rolls out later this month, there are three current models that might be more significant to watch for potential sales increases in both the hybrid and plug-in electric channels. There’s been a lot of hope for these three models, along with the new product launches like the Model X, to help bring green new vehicle sales and resale values up again.

Here’s what to watch for in the 2016 model year Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf……

The fourth-generation model – the 2016 Toyota Prius – will be gaining a 10% fuel economy improvement for the standard hatchback model, going from 50 mpg combined to 55 mpg combined. Most interesting is that the Prius is getting its most substantial exterior and interior changes since its inception in 1997 in the Japanese market. The new exterior design is longer, wider, lower and its interior is a bit roomier. The Prius’ nose is lower, its tail is higher and the roof’s peak has been moved forward. Standard LED headlamps make the front light units smaller.

To gain more energy efficiency, the 2016 Prius had its Hybrid Synergy Drive consolidated to smaller and lighter, with great energy density in the battery pack. The internal-combustion engine is capable of having more than 40% thermal efficiency under certain conditions.

The company says that it will soon be unveiling an “Eco” model that may be able to reach the 60-mpg mark. Toyota says that this new, redesigned version of the Prius will appeal to broader range of buyers.

The upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Volt will get extended range – 53 miles battery only and a total driving range of 430 miles – up from the original 400 miles. The new Volt will have a range 40% farther than its original version. But it will only have a short model year with the 2016 version.

General Motors will only be releasing the new Volt in its initial phase in the 11 states that have adopted California Air Resources Board’s (CARB’s) zero emission vehicle mandates. An improved version of the Volt will be released early in the spring of 2016. The company says that the 2017 model will still have the same engine and range as the 2016, but will have “convenience features” in the 2017 model; and adaptive cruise control is expected to be on the new Volt features.

The Nissan Leaf will have a 27% range improvement for the battery electric vehicle. The 2016 model will now be able to travel an estimated 107 miles per charge. That extra power will come from a 30-kilowatt hour battery in the 2016 model. Earlier versions of the Leaf had a 24 kWh pack. The cost of the Leaf’s lithium-ion battery pack is getting better all the time – originally about $1000 per kWh down to $400 today; with the goal of reaching the $200 mark by the end of the decade.

Nissan is proud to see the Leaf beat out competitors like the Ford Focus EV, which has been getting a little bit less than 100 miles per charge. The Leaf will be lagging way behind the Tesla Model S and the upcoming 200-mile 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.

This Week’s Top 10: How August sales performed, Tesla Model X deliveries starting Sept. 29

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. Green car salesAugust sales up from July, down from last year: Electric vehicles were up slightly in August over the previous month, and hybrids saw a 5.5% gain. Compared to the previous year, all segments were significantly down – hybrids by nearly 22%, battery electric by 23.4% and plug-in hybrids by 36%. Diesel passenger cars were down 7.4% from July and 9.4% from August 2014. Experts say that the launch of new versions within the next four-to-six weeks of the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius Plug-in, along with the 2016 Nissan Leaf with longer per charge driving range, was the main reason August sales were down so far from the previous year; gasoline prices staying down also explains why hybrid and diesel vehicles were down from last year.
  2. Tesla delivering Model X starting Sept. 29: The Tesla Model X – first announced in early 2012 – will start being delivered to customers who reserved the luxury electric SUV starting on Sept. 29. Customers have been willing to pay a lot for it. The special edition Signature series rolls out first with a price tag somewhere between $132,000 and $144,000 (before federal, state, and local incentives). Lower priced standard models will be coming out in the near future. Customers have access to an online configurator where they get to choose from a list of options including the exterior color and whether or not they want to pay more for the super-fast Ludicrous mode. The Model X Signature edition will have a 90 kilowatt-hour battery and an estimated range of 240 miles per charge. The Model X is built with “falcon wing” rear doors and access to free charging at Tesla’s Supercharger network. The Signature series comes with Autopilot features including self-parking.
  3. Westport and Fuel Systems Solutions merging: Westport Fuel Systems is the new name of a merger between Westport Innovations and Fuel Systems Solutions, Inc., two leading makers of alternative fuel vehicle engine and fuel system technologies. Westport is known for its work in heavy-duty and high horsepower natural gas vehicles. Fuel Systems Solutions comes from the light- and medium-duty vehicle space which includes its Impco Technologies division; Impco systems are used by fleets for conversion of internal combustion engines over to propane autogas and natural gas. Westport Fuel Systems had an equity value of $351 million based on recent closing share prices for the publicly traded companies; combined annual revenues for 2015 is expected to be $380 million to $405 million.
  4. California may raise bar on petroleum reduction: The bill, the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015, seeks in part to cut petroleum use by motor vehicles in half by 2030 from 1990 levels. That would be up from the current 20% reduction target by 2030 that are in alignment with the federal fuel economy regulations. The new bill is part of Gov. Jerry Brown’s broad plan to ward off climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. It would not require zero emission vehicle sales volumes, but it directs the California Air Resources Board to issue a plan by 2027 to achieve the 2030 targets. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington trade group, opposes the pending California bill as it stands. The trade group says enactment of the bill would disrupt the alignment of state and federal standards.
  5. EV carsharing in Indianapolis: Residents of the Indianapolis area will have access to an electric carsharing service called BlueIndy. Fifty of the eventual 500 electric vehicles (EVs) were put into service last week; the program is based on providing convenient, cleaner transportation with the swipe of a membership card. This will be operated by Bolloré Group of France, which already operates carsharing services in several other cities, including the world’s largest EV sharing service: Autolib’, in Paris. Indianapolis is the first U.S. electric carsharing service provided by Bolloré Group. The Bluecars used in the program run on Lithium Metal Polymer (LMP) batteries developed by Bolloré, and have a range of 120 miles between charges. So far, 125 parking spaces in the Indianapolis area are equipped with charge points.   Eventually there will be 1,000 parking spaces in 200 BlueIndy stations outfitted with charging infrastructure and easy-to-use customer kiosks.
  6. More details on MB and BMW EVs: Mercedes-Benz is working on an electric vehicle that will go 311 miles on a charge and will be coming out “soon,” according to development chief Tomas Weber. The electric drive concept would fit into Mercedes’s flexible architecture, allowing it to be employed in more than one car; it will compete directly with the Tesla Model S, Weber said. BMW will be launching two new plug-in hybrids at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show. The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid model of the 3 Series. The second new plug-in hybrid–which is not expected to come to North America–is the 225xe; it’s a variant of the 2 Series Active Tourer that is only sold in Europe at this time. BMW is also said to be in the planning stage with an i5 electric car based on the 5 series.
  7. New green bus deployments: Bus operators are bringing in more alternative fuels. Many Detroit Public Schools students will ride to and from schools in 35 propane autogas-powered school buses. That will make it the third largest fleet of propane autogas school buses in the state of Michigan. The Blue Bird Vision Propane buses will lower costs while improving the environment by reducing Detroit’s carbon footprint. Chinese vehicle manufacturer BYD Motors, through its U.S. division, has been awarded what it calls America’s largest electric bus order. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has made an agreement allowing up to 800 heavy-duty buses from all different propulsion types, including 12 different categories. BYD Motors is the only electric bus maker globally that manufactures seven different all-electric buses, BYD says; the company was awarded wins in 10 of the 12 available vehicle categories and has the ability to deliver any of their buses within six months.
  8. More propane offerings from ICOM: After winning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approvals for its JTG liquid-injection bi-fuel and dedicated propane autogas systems, ICOM North America will be extending its fleet offerings. ICOM won several EPA approvals for the Ford 3.7-liter V6 engine lineup on vehicles used in the police, government and livery markets. The company says it expects to shortly announce additional EPA certifications for key fleet platforms and technologies.
  9. Car Charging Group enters energy storage: Car Charging Group has finalized an agreement with Technology with Spirit (“TWS”), a global energy storage and rechargeable battery solutions company. Through this relationship, Car Charging can now offer TWS’ energy storage and rechargeable battery project solutions to its current charging site hosts as well as to future property partners in conjunction with or independent of EV charging services. Car Charging Group can now offer its property management clients a comprehensive solution to reduce energy costs.
  10. Honda fueling NGVs: Honda may have left the natural gas vehicle market with its decision to stop producing CNG Civics, the automaker is not giving up on the alternative fuel. Honda recently opened up a CNG fueling station at its Marysville, Ohio, campus. It’s one of the largest vehicle manufacturing plants in North America, receiving hundreds of deliveries per day. Honda had Trillium CNG install the first CNG refueling station at an of Honda’s North American facilities. According to a Navigant Research report, the total number of CNG refueling stations in North America is projected to grow to a little more than 1,800 over the next 10 years from 1,560 today. That number easily could be much larger.

Zero Pollution Motors and its compressed air car lose investor in classic tale for the auto industry

AIRPod unveiled on Shark TankThings were looking good for startup automaker Zero Pollution Motors and its compressed-air powered car, AIRPod. Legendary pop music star Pat Boone and entrepreneur Ethan Tucker were able to impress investor Robert Herjavec enough on the ABC hit series “Shark Tank” to invest $5 million for a 50% share. Herjavec sweetened the deal by committing to get involved with creating an effective sales network in the U.S. Zero Pollution Motors needed the $5 million to set up an assembly plant in Hawaii to produce the city car capable of traveling up to 50 mph with an 80 mile range. They said it takes four minutes to fill up the air tank, and would only cost car buyers $10,000 for driving the cleanest car on U.S. roads.

That story has changed. On Friday, the company posted this on its Facebook page: “Robert (Herjavec) backed out of the deal made last year after waiting 9 months. Now we are free to have other investors! Are you in?”

That episode of “Shark Tank” first aired in May 2015 and then was repeated on Friday evening. It seemed to be originally filmed in late 2014 or early 2015. So far, there haven’t been any media comments from Herjavec or the automaker beyond the Facebook posting.

This is a classic tale of what tends to happen in advanced vehicle technologies, especially by startup companies trying to make it as a vehicle manufacturer. Investors do pull away if they become concerned about what’s happening internally with management; they can also lose confidence visiting the production facility and looking at the financials. It’s an incredibly capital intensive business to make it in, and skilled, experienced personnel is a must.

Here are a few of my thoughts on what stands out with the Zero Pollution Motors experience:

  • The potential of the car, and the presentation made on “Shark Tank,” were enough to impress Herjavec, who’s made some very sizable investments in new technologies. Herjavec has a lot of interest in cars; two years ago, he led Connected Car Expo’s FASTPITCH competition right before the start of the LA Auto Show. The fact that he walked away indicates there are some serious internal issues for the company and its owners to deal with.
  • The company is making what I consider to be a big mistake: competing with other alternative technologies to take out Big Oil. Ethan Tucker made comments about compressed-air car AIRPod being superior to electric vehicles on “Shark Tank,” such as not needing the expensive lithium ion battery. The company’s Facebook page makes statements about the need to find freedom from fossil fuel addiction, the power of Big Oil, and the threat of environmental devastation. The real issue is that the company wants to brag that it has the best-of-the-best in alternative technologies. That’s been debated for years, with the latest hotspot coming from the electric vehicle vs. hydrogen fuel cell vehicle debate. The real challenge is getting consumers and fleets to overcome their concerns about owning a new technology, so that they will make that investment and spread the good word to their peers.
  • Compressed-air cars are getting a lot of interest in global markets. Luxembourg-based Motor Development International (MDI), and its founder Guy Negre, have been behind AIRPod from its origination. MDI has been working with Tata Motors to build the car through Zero Pollution Motors in Hawaii, and then ship some of them back for sale in India.
  • If you view the image in this article and on the website and Facebook page, you’ll see another significant development in transportation: supporting urban mobility. It’s a small, lightweight car with limited size and range. It’s targeted at consumers concerned about overdeveloped cities and air pollution. There’s hope that young consumers (Millennials) will embrace mobility options as they put off owning a car and move into cities.
  • Advanced vehicle technologies inspire a lot of enthusiasm and interest out there, which is well represented by celebrity investor Pat Boone. He thinks it’s an answer for crowded cities with air pollution. One of the big challenges that I’ve noticed is getting them to stay interested and committed to supporting the technology. I’ve had many conversations with people fascinated with the potential, thinking about getting involved with the business or buying one of the cars. Most of them become interested in something else and forget about clean vehicles.
  • What about the infrastructure? Compressors will need to be available at fueling stations. That will take a lot of investment and partnerships with fuel station owners.
  • One of the big stumbling blocks for the company is getting through the NHTSA and EPA testing procedures. It’s been accepted in Europe but still has to clear with the federal agencies, which is not easy to do.
  • Compressed air equipment is currently being used in various applications. Caterpillar and equipment rental companies like United Rentals have been using compressed air systems for years.

The odds are stacked against the round and futuristic AIRPod making it to roads, and compressed air-powered vehicles as a passenger vehicle. It’s a fascinating technology where the tanks with compressed air are heated and the air is sent into cylinders of a piston engine. The fueling will be fast and cheap, and the emissions might be as clean as the water coming out of fuel cell cars. The AIRPod may drop down to costing only $3,700 to build before it sells for $10,000. I hope AIRPod makes it, but it’s been sad to watch several companies with admirable technologies having to close their shutters.