Monthly Archives: January 2016

This Week’s Top 10: DOE offering $58M in green vehicle advancements, Ethanol debate hot in Republican primaries

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. doe-logoDOE offering $58M in funding: U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz appeared at the Washington Auto Show to announce an additional $58 million in funding for vehicle technology advancements and released a report highlighting the successes of DOE’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program. Moniz announced a $55 million funding opportunity that will solicit projects across vehicle technologies like energy storage, electric drive systems, materials, fuels and lubricants, and advanced combustion. Moniz also said that two projects at CALSTART and the National Association of Regional Councils will receive $3 million to develop systems that help companies combine their purchasing of advanced vehicles, components, and infrastructure to reduce incremental cost and achieve economies of scale. The ATVM loan program was acknowledged for investing $8 billion in supporting the production of more than four million fuel-efficient cars and creating more than 35,000 direct jobs across eight states.
  2. Ethanol debate hot in Republican primaries: Presidential candidate Donald Trump says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should meet ethanol volumes that Congress set in 2007. Trump has been antagonizing one of his leading opponents for the White House, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been opposed to the federal biofuels mandate. Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) had previously told voters that they shouldn’t vote for Cruz because of his opposition to ethanol.
  3. President Barack Obama visited the Detroit Auto Show to champion his administration’s support for General Motors and Chrysler following their bankruptcies. Obama also reminded the public about his support for plug-in electric vehicles during his visit to the newly launched 2017 Chevrolet Bolt. Obama sat in the electric car during a wave of flashbulbs that reminded media about his 2010 visit to GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, when he sat in the soon-to-be-launched 2011 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.
  4. Apple’s EV chief leaving: Apple Inc.’s Steve Zadesky, who has been overseeing the company’s electric car project for the last two years, has said he is leaving the company. Zadesky and Apple declined to comment. Apple won’t comment on its electric or autonomous vehicle R&D projects, but most insiders say Apple is taking it very seriously. Apple CEO Tim Cook went to BMW’s headquarters in 2014, and senior Apple executives toured the German automaker’s Leipzig factory to learn how it manufactures the i3 electric car. In other news, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said that a recent trip to Silicon Valley revealed that Apple and Google have made more progress on automotive projects than he had assumed, especially in self-driving cars. Daimler’s luxury brand Mercedes-Benz has followed Google’s lead by developing an S-class sedan which drove about 64 miles without needing any driver input.
  5. Honda releases details on Clarity fuel-cell vehicle: American Honda has announced that the retail price for its upcoming Clarity fuel-cell car will be about $60,000, and that a lease will be offered for under $500 per month. That will start up later this year in select California markets. The Clarity was unveiled at the Tokyo Auto Show last year before being introduced to the U.S. market in November at the LA Auto Show. The company says that it will be shipped to a limited number of dealers in L.A., Orange County, the Bay Area, and Sacramento.
  6. New electric school bus: Motiv Power Systems and Creative Bus, Inc., announced they will partner on a new all-electric school bus. Called the Starcraft e-Quest XL, the zero-emission school bus will use the Motiv All-Electric Powertrain, a Ford F59 chassis and Starcraft body. Features of the e-Quest XL bus include passenger capacity of up to 48, a range of up to 85 miles, 50% charge within 2 hours, among others. “Developing more options for all-electric school buses offers more opportunities for school districts to reduce harmful pollutants near children who are especially vulnerable to health impacts from diesel emissions,” said Motiv founder and CEO Jim Castelaz.
  7. Uber more popular now with travelers: Ridesharing giant Uber is becoming a popular option with business travelers. Expense management system provider Certify found that Uber made up 41% of all ground transportation receipts among Certify clients, while car rentals constituted 39%, and the remaining 20% went to taxis. At the start of 2015, Uber had made up 29% of all ground transportation trips. In other news, Uber recently scored a victory in London. Regulatory agency Transport for London agreed to drop proposals to place restrictions on Uber serving that market. That decision followed a public consultation on a range of proposals, some of which might have imposed hardships on Uber, including a five-minute minimum wait time between booking a car and starting a journey.
  8. Amazon may be in legal battle over on-demand delivery: Amazon may be facing labor law challenges similar to what and other transportation services providing on-demand services with independent contractors. Amazon has been expanding use of independent contractors nationwide to meet a promise to deliver its Prime Now orders within two hours of the order being placed. So far, going this route has been more than worth it for Amazon as it contends with Google, Wal-Mart, and other retail competitors to meet the fast growing market of customers seeking nearly instant gratification for having their orders delivered instantly.
  9. Top 6 EV sales countries: China made up 34.2% of global plug-in electric vehicle sales last year with 176,627 sold and finished in first place. The U.S. was No. 2 with 115,262 EVs sold in 2015, making up was 22.3% of the total. The Netherlands came in at No. 3 with 43,971 units sold last year. Norway finished the year in 4th place, with 34,455 plug-ins sold. The United Kingdom came finished in 5th place with 28,188 EV sales last year. France finished in 6th place, with 27,701 units sold last year.
  10. More green car award winners announced: Green Car Journal has announced the winners of its prestigious 2016 Green Car Awards at a press conference held today during the Washington Auto Show’s Public Policy Day in Washington DC. Distinguished as 2016 Luxury Green Car of the Year™ is Volvo’s new XC90 T8. The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid tops the field as 2016 Connected Green Car of the Year™ and Honda’s HR-V earns Green Car Journal’s 2016 Green SUV of the Year. “Rising to the top as award winners means these three exceptional vehicles set a benchmark in the auto industry’s effort to create vehicles that are desirable and efficient, while also achieving environmental milestones so important for our driving future,” said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and CarsOfChange.com.

Personal mobility and advanced vehicle technologies moving beyond theory into reality

There have been a few news breaks in recent weeks about automakers expanding technology offerings and acquiring new partners. They reinforce the idea that OEMs are moving beyond building and selling cars to offering a wide range of transportation services.

  • Faraday Future FFZERO1Faraday Future: This Chinese startup has been getting a lot of attention in the past few months, with that culminating at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company is backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting and plans to build a 900-acre, $1 billion factory in Nevada in the near future. Faraday Future unveiled the Batmobile-like FFZERO1 in Las Vegas, which has four electric motors (one at each wheel) combined that deliver more than 1,000 horsepower, enough to send the car from 0 to 60 mph in under three seconds and to a top speed of 200 mph. What’s been most interesting about Faraday is the platform architecture that it’s built on. It’s very flexible – Faraday can add or remove batteries, shorten or extend the chassis depending on the body that will be attached, or other applications. It’s a much faster process than what traditional OEMs go through – new vehicles can be production ready in 18 to 24 months, the company said. There’s talk about Faraday Future vehicles being deployed in Uber-like ridesharing services and as autonomous vehicles. Wherever this new startup is heading, it gained a wave of buzz and news coverage at CES and the Detroit Auto Show.
  • Maven: General Motors Co. has raised eyebrows in the auto industry since the beginning of this year with its $500 million investment in ridesharing company Lyft and acquisition of the assets of Sidecar, the third largest ridesharing company in the U.S. after Uber and Lyft. The story is getting even better. GM has just launched Maven, a carsharing service allowing users to access a Chevrolet vehicle on the new Maven mobile app for as little as $6 per hour, similar to what Zipcar offers. Services will start up in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will expand over to New York City, Chicago, and a peer-to-peer sharing program in Germany, serving residents of Frankfurt and Berlin. This will be in addition to ridesharing services (and eventually autonomous vehicles) through its relationships with Lyft and Sidecar. GM expects 25 million customers to use ride-sharing services globally by 2020, up from between five and six million today.
  • Ford: CEO Mark Fields described Ford’s continued commitment to urban mobility during a keynote speech at CES and at the Detroit Auto Show – and now there’s also FordPass. Fields thinks that transportation services are the biggest area of potential growth for automakers following a year of sales the industry may never surpass (and that will eventually shrink). Ford Motor Co. just launched a new app-based platform called FordPass. It lets users access a variety of transportation services including paying for downtown parking or sharing their vehicle. The app has four main service categories: a marketplace for mobility services; “FordGuides,” who are accessible through texts or phone calls for guidance and needed information; “FordHubs,” which are actual buildings across the globe where customers can experience Ford technology; and a loyalty program in which app users can earn points and rewards. These services are being carried out through partnerships with mobility companies and Silicon Valley-based startups. Last year, Ford tested a carsharing program in six U.S. cities; this may be one of the FordPass services announced in the future.
  • Daimler: In September 2014, Daimler acquired ridesharing apps RideScout and myTaxi. It was part of Daimler’s continued push beyond car manufacturing and into developing technology for urban mobility. Along with its major carsharing division, Car2go, Daimler has been looking into a wide spectrum of personal mobility services to offer in global markets. Complications have come up for Daimler with a German court ruling this month that heavily discounted fares offered to customers who paid electronically via the myTaxi app were illegal. The case was file by German taxi operator group Taxi Deutschland, which offers a competing app. MyTaxi operates in 40 European cities, including in Germany, Austria, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Switzerland. The app has more than 10 million registered users, the company says.
  • Tesla Motors has been tweaking safety features on its Autopilot connected car/autonomous vehicle service. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the car will now reduce its speed in anticipation of curves on the highway, but added he was not aware of any accidents caused by the earlier version of the software. The function will now be restricted on residential roads or roads without a center divider, so that the Model S or Model X can’t drive faster than the speed limit maximum plus five miles per hour. There have been several videos on YouTube in recent months showing near-misses on roads with Autopilot, which has pushed Tesla into addressing safety features. Musk said Autopilot was “probably better than human at this point in highway driving,” able to keep to its lane using cameras, radar, and mapping.

 

This Week’s Top 10: GM deepening urban mobility commitment with Sidecar acquisition, Southern California Edison installing 1,500 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. Sidecar logoGeneral Motors Co. confirmed its commitment to urban mobility yesterday by announcing it has acquired the technology and most of the assets of Sidecar Technologies Inc. Sidecar had been the third largest ridesharing firm after Uber and Lyft, and the acquisition follows closely behind GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft. GM is also bringing over about 20 employees from the Sidecar team, including co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jahan Khanna. It’s expected the deal price was somewhere around $39 million. Sidecar started up in San Francisco in 2012, which was the also the home base of Uber and Lyft; the company has been credited with playing an integral role in popularizing peer-to-peer rides where car owners transport customers through smartphone transactions; ridesharing also became common with Sidecar riders long before Uber got into that segment. Sidecar ceased operations at the end of December and said it would soon announce “the next big thing.” GM expects the Lyft and Sidecar acquisitions will place the automaker in a strong competitive position for ridesharing services and autonomous vehicles – and to compete with Uber and other automakers. Automakers are showing their seriousness about investing in urban mobility and advanced vehicle technologies through the GM deals; Ford CEO Mark Fields has said his company is working on its own ride-sharing service; and last year, Daimler acquired German ridesharing apps RideScout and mytaxi.
  2. Southern California Edison will be installing 1,500 electric car charging stations throughout Southern California. California Public Utilities Commission gave approval in December for a $22 million pilot program targeted at installing charging stations at locations where cars are parked for extended periods of time, such as at workplaces, campuses, recreational areas and apartment and condominium complexes. SCE will install and maintain the supporting electrical infrastructure, but participating property owners will own, operate and maintain the charging stations. CPUC issued a statement in December with modification to the San Diego Gas & Electric’s original proposal, and the utility must still decide whether or not to accept the CPUC’s modifications.
  3. Incentives for fleet deployment of EVs: ACT Expo is hosting a complimentary, one-hour webinar, which will highlight key incentives that help to substantially buy down the cost of electric vehicles, charging, and other costs of traditional vehicle ownership to maximize fleet deployment. Presenters include Nissan with information offered about significant fleet incentives; and GNA’s Funding 360° Program that helps companies, municipalities, and organization track, evaluate, and apply for funding programs throughout North America. Click here to register for the free webinar, “Making Cents of Electric Vehicles: Key Incentives for Fleet Deployment,” which takes place of Feb. 10, 2016, at 10:00-11:00 a.m. PT.
  4. Tesla’s Gigafactory: Panasonic has shed more light on the Gigafactory project in Nevada; the electronics giant will invest up to $1.6 billion in the $5 billion project, Panasonic president Kazuhiro Tsuga recently said at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Panasonic will also provide its expertise on battery development as its partner Tesla Motors develops the production plant for its more affordable battery packs in the upcoming Model 3 electric car.
  5. Propane-powered school buses: Roush CleanTech is working with Blue Bird to provide 11 propane-powered school buses to the  Metropolitan School District of Warren Township. That will be the largest deployment of propane autogas school buses in the state of Indiana. The Blue Bird Propane Vision buses, purchased through dealer MacAllister Transportation, include ten 78-passenger models, and one bus outfitted with a wheelchair lift. “Better cold weather starts, lower maintenance and fuel cost, quieter buses, as well as better air quality for students, the bus driver and our community were the reasons we chose propane autogas,” said Steve Smith, director of transportation for M.S.D. Warren Township.
  6. Green cars sold and made in China: Battery electric and hybrid vehicles are expected double to 700,000 vehicles sold in China, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said. Sales of “new energy vehicles” quadrupled in 2015, thanks to government subsidies and other preferential policies. General Motors plans to export the plug-in hybrid version of its Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan from China to the U.S. when the car goes on sale this year. The plug-in hybrid version will be built only in a plant in China, which is one of two factories assembling the CT6, the company said.
  7. Tesla and Apple: Tesla CEO Elon Musk did confirm that his company will be working on an electric car project with Apple. Known as “Project Titan,” the program is reported to involve hundreds of engineers, and some analysts say its goal is to produce a car as innovative as the iPod or iPhone. “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” Musk said in a recent interview with the BBC at Tesla’s California design studio. Tesla and Apple have also been filing for patents on similar technologies, another sign that an alliance was in the works, according to a Thomson Reuters report.
  8. VW investors suing: Along with over 450 lawsuits filed by owners of faulty Volkswagen diesel models, the German automaker just took another hit – dozens of the largest shareholders, and “thousands” of smaller investors, will be suing the company. They’ll be demanding compensation for the losses they’ve taken coming from the scandal. In other VW news, the California Air Resources Board on Tuesday of last week formally rejected VW’s plan to fix its polluting diesel engines. CARB said the recall plan was “incomplete, substantially deficient and falls far short of meeting the legal requirements” to be approved; and that VW was taking too long to devise a fix.
  9. RNG delivery trucks: UPS will be adding more renewable natural gas to its fleet with an estimated 15 million diesel gallon gas equivalents of RNG. It will be part of a multiple-year agreement with Memphis Light, Gas and Water and Atmos Energy Marketing, LLC, in the Memphis, Tenn. and Jackson, Miss., coverage areas for UPS deliveries. The RNG will fuel more than 140 heavy duty trucks in Memphis and Jackson, which is part of UPS’s natural gas fleet.
  10. General Motors and Honda may expand their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle joint venture, adding a new fuel cell plant. The new measure would take things toward a critical next step, helping put their research into production, the companies said. Honda is set to become the third major automaker to begin retailing a hydrogen-powered vehicle with the planned introduction, later this year, of its Clarity FCX.

Urban Mobility: Automakers join consortium for connected and autonomous vehicles, Crossing hurdles for autonomous vehicles

  • V2V technologyConsortium and funding for connected and autonomous vehicles: The federal government announced a consortium of global automakers and budgetary funding to better support advancements in connected and autonomous cars, V2V, vehicle safety, and protection from hackers. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made the announcement last week surrounded by senior executives from 18 automakers joining the consortium. The first project will focus on cyber security, which is considered a critical issue for putting autonomous vehicles on roads. Foxx also discussed, during his visit last week to the Detroit Auto Show, the Obama administration making $3.9 billion in funding available for development of connected car technology and automated vehicles. That would fund a 10-year pilot program to test what is expected to become a nationwide vehicle-to-infrastructure network and to press forward with vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology, known in the industry as V2V and V2I. “We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” Foxx said.
  • Continental AG’s president Jeff Klei believes strongly in autonomous vehicles coming to our roads, but a few hurdles must be crossed first. Continental is playing a large role in autonomous vehicle testing. Klei predicts there will be 54 million autonomous vehicles will be on roads by 2035. Data sharing between municipalities and automakers will be necessary. He said that for his forecast to be met, autonomous vehicles will need an accurate road map and reliable data from the infrastructure – such as stop lights, speed limits, lane closing, and road work – along with live traffic updates from other vehicles. Automakers will need the cooperation of municipalities, which may or may not have a centralized traffic control system.
  • Uber fine and Chinese investment: The California Public Utilities Commission followed a judge’s recommendation last week to fine Uber $7.6 million for failing to meet data reporting requirements in 2014. The PUC says driver data is necessary to determine whether or not Uber is serving all manner of passengers in any neighborhood. Taxis must also comply with those rules. Uber’s main ridesharing competitor, Lyft, has complied with regulators. In a separate story, Uber Technologies said that its Chinese division will receive an undisclosed amount of investment from Chinese firm and aviation and shipping conglomerate HNA Group. It’s part of Uber‘s strategy to break into China’s huge tourism industry. Services will include an array of transportation services to and from airports and for HNA flights, as well as online financing for the automotive sector.
  • Where consumers think cars are going: Check out, “Consumers, cars and the Internet of Things.” In this second IBM report from its Auto 2025 series is analysis of what more than 16,000 consumers worldwide said about the industry – particularly, how they personally expect to use automobiles in the next ten years.
  • Hybrid jet: NASA is experimenting with a hybrid airplane engine at its Glenn Research Center in Ohio to contribute to emissions reducing technologies for commercial aviation. The aircraft hybrid system would use electric motors working in concert with a jet turbine, like the ones used in today’s commercial airliners. Researchers think this hybrid propulsion system could reduce fuel consumption by up to 30% compared to traditional aircraft.
  • Toyota is trying out a data transfer system for connected cars that could go way beyond 5G technologies in mobile phones. Toyota is working with Kymeta Corp., a Washington State-based technology company that is developing a new type of satellite antenna that could deliver massive amounts to data to vehicles. The challenge will be mounting large satellite antennas on a car. Kymeta has designed a six-inch wide plate-like antenna that might fit. One test run has two Kymeta antennas in the roof of the Toyota Mirai fuel cell car.

This Week’s Top 10: ACT Expo agenda released, VW hopes electric vehicles can help restore its image

This Week’s Top 10: ACT Expo agenda released, VW hopes electric vehicles can help restore its image

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. ACT Expo 2016 logoACT Expo: The agenda was released and the early bird registration opened last week for the sixth annual 2016 Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, taking place May 2–5 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California. Co-hosted with the Electric Drive Transportation Association, the Propane Education & Research Council, and the California Hydrogen Business Council, ACT Expo has become North America’s largest advanced clean vehicle event. The conference’s name was changed from Alternative Clean Transportation Expo to Advanced Clean Transportation Expo, emphasizing the emerging importance of urban mobility, and connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, in the clean transportation sector. Electrified transportation will also play a significant role in the event, as reflected in a complimentary, one-hour webinar this morning at 10:00 a.m. PST, which explains what we can expect from the electric vehicle charging infrastructure industry. Attendees at ACT Expo will gain hands-on access to the wide range of clean transportation solutions available, which includes electric, hybrid, hydrogen, natural gas, propane autogas, renewable fuels, and advanced efficiency, telematics, and connected vehicle technologies.
  2. Latest on VW: Volkswagen is hoping its commitment to advanced electric vehicles will help restore its corporate responsibility image in the wake of the diesel car scandal. The VW Tiguan GTE Active Concept is making its North American International Auto Show debut, as an “extreme off-road version” of the current VW SUV with a plug-in hybrid system that can get up to 20 miles on battery power. The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was also a showcase for VW’s cleantech mission. The VW BUDD-e concept offers a new modular platform toolkit designed for electric vehicles that the automaker intends to deploy across its brands. (Read more in the CES feature). As for the diesel cars, Volkswagen Group assumes it will have to buy back about 115,000 cars in the U.S. to deal with the scandal. The German automaker expects it will have to either refund the purchase price or offer a new car at a significant discount. The automaker expects that the rest of the vehicles will need major fix-its. In other news, a former FBI director has been named by a federal judge to help settle cases. U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer said he would name Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI, as “settlement master” in the VW lawsuits. Breyer is overseeing more than 500 lawsuits filed against Volkswagen AG over its excess diesel emissions.
  3. Chrysler is entering the plug-in market with the very first electrified minivan. Displayed at Detroit Auto Show, the all-new Pacifica is the first minivan with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. Chrysler has used the name Pacifica for a crossover utility vehicle sold in the mid-2000s. It replaces Chrysler’s Town & Country, which rolled out in 1989 and became iconic in the emerging minivan market along with the Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan. Its official names is the Pacifica Hybrid, uses the latest Pentastar V-6 from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.
  4. CALSTART opens clean transportation center: CALSTART yesterday announced it has opened the San Joaquin Valley Clean Transportation Center, the goal of which is to accelerate the use of clean vehicles and fuels and help the region more quickly meet its air quality targets. With funding from the California Energy Commission, the Center will provide technical assistance, project development expertise, and support with acquiring funding for vehicles for fleet owners, local governments, businesses, and residents. Based in Fresno, Calif., the Center’s work will expand the use of zero-emission vehicles, clean trucks, and high-efficiency non-road equipment.
  5. EPA certifications: Three companies and an industry trade group have earned U.S. Environmental Protection Agency certifications for alternative fuel vehicle technologies. Greenkraft Inc. has received EPA and California Air Resources Board certifications for compressed natural gas and propane autogas conversions of the model-year 2016 General Motors 6.0L V8 engine. Cummins has received certification for its lineup of on-highway diesel and natural gas engines from the EPA. IMPCO Automotive has received EPA certification for its 2016 Ford F150 (half ton). The truck features the 5.0-Liter TI-VCT V8 engine converted for bi-fuel operation. Alliance AutoGas has secured EPA certifications for bi-fuel propane autogas conversions of two heavy-duty spark-ignited engine platforms: the 6.8-liter V10 from Ford and the 6.0-liter V8 from General Motors. Depending on the engine certification, model year coverage ranges from 2010 up to 2016.
  6. Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide has received an additional development contract from Karma Automotive for software control and system development of the Karma vehicle platform. Quantum received a payment of $2 million in October from Karma Automotive which will also allow Karma Automotive to use the Quantum software on future vehicle line platforms, as well as the Karma vehicle to be introduced in 2016. In November, Karma Automotive exercised its option to acquire joint ownership of Quantum’s control software for $1 million.
  7. MPG down: The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute reported that average fuel economy of light vehicles purchased last year fell below 25 mpg for the first time in nearly two years. Light vehicles sold in December averaged 24.9 mpg, down from November’s revised 25.1 mpg. Fuel economy is down 0.9 mpg from August 2014’s peak of 25.8 mpg; it’s still up 4.8 mpg since October 2007, when the institute began recording the data.
  8. Elio Motors may have a serious challenge to face with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal to change its regulations for three-wheeled vehicles. Elio wants to classify three-wheelers as motorcycles to avoid the stricter safety and efficiency regulations that govern cars; but if the rule is changed, that classification would only be assigned to traditional motorcycles.
  9. Micro-hybrids and 54.5 mpg: Lux Research’s analysis has found that micro-hybrids will provide the most economical route to meeting 2025 targets. Micro-hybrids stand a better chance of meeting the federal 54.5 mpg by 2025 standard than will alternative technologies like all-electric vehicles, super-light carbon fiber composites, and hydrogen fuel cells. Lux Research says that a micro-hybrid car can automatically stop its engine when it would otherwise be idling, using an improved or an additional battery (or another type of energy storage) to quickly restart it when it’s time to move; with some even capture braking energy and do propulsion assist. Improved batteries, lighter structural materials, and improved fuels will support micro-hybrids in meeting the federal targets, Lux Research says.
  10. NGV forecast: While drops in oil prices since the second half of 2014 and gains in battery cost reduction and capacity are hindering some of the advantages of natural gas vehicles, the market is still expected to experience growth. Navigant Research does predict growth in the NGV market through 2025, though at a slower pace than was assumed a few years ago. Other factors will be affecting regional markets – including ongoing political tensions, the availability of refueling infrastructure, tightening tailpipe emissions requirements, and total cost of ownership, says Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst with Navigant Research.

Autonomous and electric vehicles steal the thunder at CES

CES 2016 logoSelf-driving cars and electrified vehicles were key themes at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week in Las Vegas. CES has become the leading showcase arena in the U.S. for the coolest, cutting-edge devices for cars and other consumer products. It seems to be evolving into the leading event of the year for the auto industry, slightly surpassing the North American International Auto Show right before it starts up this coming week in Detroit.

Analysts say we’re 15-to-20 years from seeing hundreds of thousands of fully autonomous vehicles on our roads. In the meantime, the concept of self-driving cars appears to be an ideal platform for automakers and technology partners to be rolling out, and testing out, new bells and whistles that will eventually become standard features. Electric vehicle technologies were also shown off by OEMs during CES.

  • Ford CEO Mark Fields was a keynote speaker at CES, where he announced a deal with Amazon to incorporate the cloud-based voice assistant, Alexa into its vehicles. Using Alexa will allow a driver to not just open a garage door but turn on lights and adjust the thermostat by voice command, among other features. Fields talked about Ford’s commitment to personal mobility through supporting ridesharing and carsharing programs. However, he didn’t mention the alliance with Google on self-driving car technologies that had been announced shortly before CES. Fields did talk about a new light and radar sensor (LiDAR) that can be mounted in the mirrors of a car. Developed by Silicon Valley-based company Velodyne, Inc., this third-generation sensor can extend the LiDAR range by 200 meters, which is essential for the safety of autonomous vehicles. It’s called the “Ultra Puck,” and will enable a driverless vehicle to create a real-time, 3D map of its surroundings, Fields said.
  • General Motors chairman and CEO Mary Barra, during her keynote Wednesday, confirmed that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt electric car would be in production this year and would sell, after government rebates, for $30,000. While it will be competing with the Nissan Leaf, it will get about double the range at 200 miles. Barra’s unveiling of the Bolt at CES came just days after GM announced an alliance with ridesharing service Lyft that includes the creation of a fleet of shared GM vehicles available for Lyft drivers to rent. The Bolt will be a key display feature for GM this week at the Detroit Auto Show.
  • As Volkswagen continues to battle the diesel emissions violations scandal, CES was a platform for showing off its electric people-mover concept. VW’s BUDD-e minivan concept has been designed to show what connected, electric transportation could look like a few years from now. The BUDD-e concept, revealed at CES on Tuesday, offers a new modular platform toolkit designed for electric vehicles that the automaker intends to deploy across its brands. BUDD-e packs a 101-kilowatt-hour battery providing up to 373 miles of range in the New European Driving Cycle, a test cycle designed to assess emissions. It can be recharged to 80% in 15 minutes, the company said.
  • Automakers and leading automotive suppliers have been taking self-driving car technologies very seriously in recent years – according to a study released during CES by Thomson Reuters. According to the new report from the Intellectual Property and Science business of Thomson Reuters, there were more than 22,000 new inventions related to self­driving automobiles between 2010 and 2015. Companies such as Toyota, Bosch, Denso, Hyundai, GM and Nissan, have been the global leaders in self­driving vehicle innovation. Toyota alone has patented over 2,000 new driverless tech inventions in the last five years, double the number two player Bosch, according to the report. LG, Samsung, Google, Boeing, IBM, Amazon, Carnegie Mellon, and MIT also have contributed significant new intellectual property in the category over the last five years.
  • While Apple is new to the autonomous vehicle game, Thomson Reuters IP & Science analysts predict that Apple will soon make a collaboration announcement with Tesla Motors; while Apple is not a leading innovator in this field like Google has become, a partnership with Tesla would be a predictable move for both companies, based on a thorough review of both companies’ patent portfolios, according to Thomson Reuters.
  • Nvidia has introduced a new computer for vehicles that includes artificial-intelligence features to make them more autonomous. Volvo will use the new product in its public trials of autonomous vehicles in 2017, the company said. Nvidia designs graphics processing units, as well as system on a chip units for the mobile computing market, and is working on playing a role in the automotive technology market.
  • Self-driving cars was the topic of several surveys and studies released last week. New data from an Autotrader study reveals 70% of consumers are more likely to consider vehicles with autonomous features such as parking assist, collision avoidance, and automatic braking.
  • Self-driving cars are involved in fewer crashes on average than vehicles with a driver behind the wheel, according to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute commissioned by Alphabet Inc’s Google unit. It looked only at Google’s fleet of more than 50 self-driving cars, which has logged 1.3 million miles in Texas and California in self-driving mode. The test fleet has reported 17 crashes over the last six years, although none were the fault of the self-driving cars, Google said. After adjusting for severity and accounting for crashes not reported to police, the study estimated cars with drivers behind the wheel are involved in 4.2 crashes per million miles, versus 3.2 crashes per million miles for self-driving cars in autonomous mode.
  • A survey conducted by Volvo found that 92% of respondents believe that people should be able to take control of self-driving cars at any moment while 81% of the people agree that automakers, not car owners, should take responsibility if an accident occurs while a vehicle is driving autonomously.
  • While self-driving cars grabbed most of the media attention at CES, Panasonic Corp.’s President Kazuhiro Tsuga says it will be years before autonomous systems contribute meaningfully to the company’s bottom line. Panasonic, which has partnerships with Ford, Toyota, Tesla, forecasts sales in the automotive segment will climb to $17.8 billion in the year ending March 2019. Most of that will come from cockpit infotainment systems and car batteries, Tsuga said.
  • Kia executives said that said the Korean automaker will offer their first “partially autonomous” vehicle by 2020, with “highly autonomous” technology to follow five years later. The company will invest up to $2 billion in autonomous vehicle technologies, the company said.

This Week’s Top 10: GM and Lyft will offer ridesharing and autonomous vehicles, Justice department files civil suit against VW

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. GM and LyftGM and Lyft forge alliance: General Motors is making its largest single investment ever in another company – $500 million will go to Lyft, Inc. to support advancement of autonomous vehicles and ridesharing. GM has been working on autonomous vehicle technology for several years, and plans to start testing autonomous Chevy Volts in 2016. The deal with Lyft, which is No. 2 in ridesharing services in the U.S. behind Uber, will leverage GM’s experience in autonomous technology and Lyft’s ridesharing service offerings. This deal was made not long after Ford Motor Co. and Google announced an alliance to develop autonomous vehicles. Google Ventures is a major investor in Uber, and that ridesharing company has been testing out driverless cars over the past year with the Carnegie Mellon University research center. Uber may be a channel for Ford vehicles and autonomous vehicle testing, as Lyft will be for GM. As part of the arrangement announced yesterday, GM will become a preferred provider of short-term use rental vehicles to Lyft drivers through rental hubs in various cities in the U.S. Lyft drivers and customers will have access to GM’s wide portfolio of cars and OnStar services, as well.
  2. DOJ files VW suit: The Department of Justice filed a civil complaint yesterday against Volkswagen claiming that nearly 600,000 cars with diesel engines in the U.S. violate emissions laws – and that many were imported in violation of the Clean Air Act. The DOJ and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may be putting pressure on VW to reach a deal on how to resolve recall issues. Talks haven’t been going very well so far, according to EPA Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles. The suit was filed in Detroit on behalf of the EPA. VW says it is “working with EPA on developing remedies to bring the TDI vehicles into full compliance with regulations as soon as possible” and with government agencies investigating these matters.
  3. Faraday Future EV supercar: The FFZero1 concept car has been unveiled at Consumer Electronics Show 2016. The Zero1 is a single-seat electric race car. The design is wild – sort of like the Batmobile meets Grand Prix racer. It’s called the “UFO Line” and will become a defining feature of all Faraday Future’s next supercars, the company says. Another news story coming from Las Vegas has been the company losing its chief battery architect ahead of introducing its concept vehicle at CES. Porter Harris lists his current employer as Lotus Research and Development LLC on his LinkedIn page. Harris was responsible for engineering and designing Faraday’s battery packs.
  4. Ford investing in battery technology: Ford Motor Co. may be competing with another automaker, Tesla Motors, as a developer of its own hybrid and electric vehicle battery technologies. Ford will be investing $4.5 billion into electrification R&D, and is adding 13 new EV vehicle nameplates while expanding its electrified offerings into Taiwan, South Korea, and China. When Ford recently announced a range increase for its 2017 Focus Electric, company executives also shared information on battery chemistry research and developing its own battery cells for its future EVs.
  5. Hyundai Ioniq competing with Prius: Hyundai Motor Co. will be rolling out its Ioniq model in U.S. this month, which comes in three electrified versions – a traditional hybrid, a plug-in hybrid, and an all-electric version. The company says that the Ioniq hybrid will deliver better highway fuel economy than the Toyota Prius.
  6. Suggestion to CARB on VW scandal: A collaborative of 15 environmental, conservation, and health organizations issued a rebuttal to a letter submitted to the California Air Resources Board on the Volkswagen diesel scandal. The original letter, signed by Tesla CEO and others last month, requested CARB work to have VW bring zero emission vehicles to the state as a higher priority than fixing non-compliant diesels. That proposal doesn’t deal with the real health impacts, and offers no remedy to purchases of defective VW diesel cars, the letter said. This group is calling for a full investigation and prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
  7. California ending green stickers: If you’re thinking of buying a plug-in hybrid in California, keep in mind that the green carpool lane stickers for solo drivers will no longer be available. The state has issued all of the 85,000 green HOV lane stickers for plug-in hybrids, unless the state legislature authorizes more of them. They may be going away like the yellow stickers for hybrids went away a few years ago. There are still an unlimited number of “white stickers” for available for battery-electric cars, hydrogen fuel-cell cars, and compressed natural gas vehicles.
  8. New Clean Cities site: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities has just launched an all-new website designed around easier navigation and a fresh new look. According to the Clean Cities blog, there are five new features to explore that were designed around offering a bold new look and enhanced user experience.
  9. Top sales mark for Tesla: Tesla Motors passed the 50,000 sales mark for 2015, its best-ever effort and slightly more than the maker had signaled it would deliver for the year. During the fourth quarter, Tesla delivered 17,400 of its cars, including a small number of the new Model X SUVs. That was 75% more than the same quarter in 2014, and a 48% increase over Tesla’s previous quarterly record. In other news, Tesla officials are investigating another Model S fire incident. A mysterious fire destroyed a Model S sedan Friday at one of the company’s Supercharger stations in Kristiansand, Norway, about 200 miles southwest of Oslo, the capital.
  10. Home charger incentive: The South Coast Air Quality Management District is offering a residential electric vehicle charging incentive pilot program to offset Level 2 (240 volt) EV charger hardware costs. This program will be available to residents within the SCAQMD’s four-county jurisdiction on a first come, first served basis. The program provides up to $250 for the cost of hardware for Level 2 residential chargers; and an additional incentive of up to $250 will be available for low-income residents.

Green Auto Market’s guesstimate on what to expect in 2016

  • Volkswagen diesel recallWhat’s next for VW: The first part of this new year will see details released on the Volkswagen recall by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board on a proposed fix for its diesel-engine cars. EPA and CARB will be making an announcement this month regarding solutions proposed by Volkswagen for about 482,000 cars equipped with EA 189 engines; some models will likely require hardware and software updates, while other may require only a software solution. The recall might be tied into the lawsuit the U.S. Justice Department filed in a civil complaint yesterday on behalf of the EPA (see news coverage above). Electric vehicle launches may be a channel for VW to tap into to restore its image as a responsible global corporation. On January 5 at the Consumer Electronics Show, Volkswagen’s new chairman, Herbert Diess, will make a keynote speech announcing VW’s “new era in electric mobility” that will broaden its pre-existing commitment to electrification along with a new all-electric concept car. It’s still unknown whether that new vehicle will be an electric version of its flagship next-generation Phaeton sedan, an electric Microbus, or something else.
  • Presidential election: The Obama administration has been supportive of U.S. Department of Energy grants for clean vehicles and tax incentives for electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles, among other supportive measures. As that president leaves office in a year, questions are coming up on what leading candidates think about environmental issues, clean energy, and alternative fuel vehicles. On the Republican party side, in the latest voter polls, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, have been the leading candidates. On the Democratic party side, Hilary Clinton is the obvious choice now that Bernie Sanders has stepped out of the race. Alternative fuel vehicles hasn’t been a topic of discussion at presidential debates, but the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, released in November, and the issue of climate change, have been. Cruz and Rubio strongly oppose CPP and all three Republican candidates think there’s no real proof climate change and global warming are really happening. Free market economics is a philosophy all three embrace. Cruz opposes the Renewable Fuel Standard as he doesn’t support subsidies and the federal government picking “winners and losers.” As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio opposed executive orders limiting greenhouse-gas emissions and setting stricter limits for cars sold in Florida; he thought the state should instead embrace the free-market approach. Trump strongly supports the Keystone XL pipeline and hydraulic fracking. Clinton supports a goal of having at least 33% of the nation’s power generated by clean energy sources by 2027; believes climate change is an urgent challenge; and has been unclear on positions on Keystone XL or offshore oil drilling.
  • Clean transportation events: Calstart’s Clean Low-Carbon Fuels Summit will be in Sacramento, Calif., on February 23; Green Truck Summit will take place March 1-3 in Indianapolis; NAFA I&E with its Sustainable Fleet Accreditation Program will be April 19-22 in Austin, Texas; ACT Expo will be going back to Long Beach, Calif., on May 2-5; AltCarExpo will take place on September 16-17 in Santa Monica, Calif; and Automotive Fleet’s Fleet Technology Expo will be held October 17-19 in Schaumburg, Ill. And don’t forget Clean Cities coalition events throughout the year.
  • Fuel prices: Low gasoline and diesel prices have been deal breakers in the past year and a half for fleets investing in CNG and propane conversions and consumers backing away from hybrids and electric vehicles. The global oil supply is expected to eventually feel the effects of growing demand from developing nations; as for now the supply is high enough to keep fuel prices down into 2016.
  • Autonomous vehicles: Testing programs will continue to put miles on the road in states that have adopted autonomous vehicle road testing (with most of it still in California). Austin, Texas, is working on a test program with Google on its roads, and hopes to see the state of Texas get on board. Watch for automakers to continue rolling out connected car and semi-autonomous features this year. A good example of this trend is Toyota designing a system to improve and accelerate the mapping of U.S. roads needed to put autonomous vehicles on the roads. It will be debuted at CES 2016 for rollout in 2020.
  • Hydrogen infrastructure: Hydrogen fueling stations are slowly rolling out in California, with construction underway within a few states in the northeast. Check out the federal H2USA collaborative projects for updates on Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and California.
  • Crowdfunding capital: As described in Green Auto Market about a year ago, crowdfunding has gone way beyond a funding source for student film projects and startup rock bands. The Securities and Exchange Commission has released rules on the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012 (JOBS Act) that will take effect in May 2016. That’s expected to bring in more investors who will provide more funding than has been the norm in cleantech crowdfunding projects in recent years.
  • Hybrid Terrafugia TF-X: For those of you fascinated with futuristic vehicles, check out the Terrafugia TF-X, which just received Federal Aviation Administration approval for test flights. This mid-size car has twin helicopter-style rotors at the tips of its wings that fold out of the car and lift the TF-X into the sky. Once it’s up in the air, electric engines teamed with a 300-horsepower engine provide power. The rotors fold back, and a ducted fan pushes the TF-X along. It has a cruising speed of about 200 mph, with a range of about 500 miles.
  • Infrastructure growth: During 2015, compressed natural gas fueling, electric vehicle charging, and E85 stations had the largest growth curve. CNG went up 98 stations in the U.S., EV charging went up 2,811 stations, and ethanol (E85) increased at 173 more gas stations.
  • Biofuels: Lux Research predicts that waste oils will dominate next-generation biofuels in upcoming year. Biodiesel made from novel feedstock, specifically waste oils, will lead novel fuels capacity in 2018. Cellulosic ethanol and renewable diesel follow with 19% and 18%, respectively.
  • The future of Uber: While ridesharing giant Uber is expected to add more investors and will consider going public on the stock market, a big legal question will have even more impact on its future. The question of whether it will be a transportation network linking car owners to riders or a company with employee drivers will be carefully watched by Lyft, Airbnb, and other “shared economy” startups. Boston-based attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan is representing Uber drivers in California who want to be considered employees (or at least have some of those financial benefits). Liss-Riordan thinks it’s a much bigger question with the on-demand, shared economy encouraging misclassification and mistreatment of its workers – and that includes food delivery startups. Liss-Riordan currently has a lawsuit against Postmates pending in federal court in California; and in California state court, she’s filed class-action complaints against DoorDash and GrubHub. The Uber class-action lawsuit, and these other suits, will take much longer than 2016 to see final court rulings, but analysts are paying a lot of attention to these cases. Uber management certainly cares about it as its business model is based entirely on independent contractors – and eventually with driverless cars being in its fleet.