Monthly Archives: July 2016

This Week’s Top 10: Feds investing $4.5B in nationwide charging, Tesla and SolarCity closing merger deal

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

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

  1. EV salesSupport for nationwide network: The Obama administration is adding to its support for electric vehicle charging stations with $4.5 billion in U.S. Energy Department loan guarantees. The funds will support a commercial-scale roll out of charging stations, with federal, state and local governments partnering with automakers including Tesla, Ford, GM, and Nissan. The administration aims to complete a national network of fast-charging stations by 2020 to make “coast-to-coast, nationwide zero-emissions travel” easier for consumers. State, county and local governments will be encouraged to buy electric cars for their fleets, lowering procurement costs while expanding the market for the cars. Utilities supporting the infrastructure growth include Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Con Edison, Duke Energy, and Southern California Edison are also involved. Twelve utilities and charging companies have committed to increase their deployment of EVs and charging infrastructure. Supporting programs include DOE’s Workplace Charging Challenge and an EV “Hackathon” this fall to create new solutions for EV charging.
  2. Tesla and SolarCity merger: Tesla Motors and SolarCity negotiated into the weekend on merging the electric carmaker with the solar power company. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has recused himself from voting, serving as chair of SolarCity and working with his cousins SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive and SolarCity board member Peter Rive, who have also recused themselves from voting. The companies are in the final stages of carrying out due diligence on each other, and could agree on the terms of a deal in the coming days, though it is still possible that their negotiations end unsuccessfully, sources said. Investors and analysts have been concerned about Tesla taking on too much investment in the solar company.
  3. Debate over agency midterm report: The 60-day comment period on midterm report has flared up debate over how realistic the 54.5 mpg by 2025 really is, being heavily weighted by a surge in light-duty vehicle sales. The 1,217-page draft “Technical Assessment Report” was issued on July 15 by the Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California Air Resources Board to evaluate the status of hitting the Obama administration’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions goals. The inflated sales of pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers coming from cheap gas prices has changed the outlook for the 2025 target closer to 51 mpg than 54.5 mpg.
  4. Master Plan, Part Deux: In a Wednesday blog post on the Tesla website, CEO Elon Musk outlined a new horizon for electrified vehicles the company will be taking on – heavy-duty trucks, pickup trucks, a small SUV, a buy-type vehicle. Musk also says Tesla will be playing into the Silicon Valley mobility company identity through rolling out autonomous vehicles and a mobile app where Tesla owners could earn income by opening up their electric cars for shared rides. “Master Plan, Part Deux” calls for an electrified future merging solar power, on-site energy storage, carsharing, and electric autonomous cars. The announcement came out in the weeks following Tesla taking heat over a fatal crash involving its Autopilot system; more criticism from Wall Street has come from Tesla missing production and sales targets and being questioned over the merger with SolarCity.
  5. ZEV sales forecasts: Navigant Research has forecasted growth in zero emission vehicles in two separate reports. The research firm expects the North American plug-in electric vehicle market to grow by around 62% year-over-year in 2016, nearing 200,000 sales. Growth is anticipated to come from expanding sales of the Tesla Model X, the second-generation Volt, and introduction of the Chevrolet Bolt, Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV later in the year. The report projects that the introduction of the Tesla Model 3 in late 2017 will likely boost the North American PEV market by around 60% in 2017 and then nearly double the market in 2018 after the first full year of Model 3 sales. In a second report, Navigant forecasts that global sales of hydrogen fuel cell cars and buses are expected to total more than 580,000 from 2015 to 2024. “Overall, the driver for FCV activity continues to be the sentiment that a diverse drivetrain mix will be needed if the transportation sector is to shift away from petroleum dependence,”says Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst with Navigant Research.
  6. Autonomous Facebook flights and Slurpee delivery: Pilotless drone planes are gaining more support from big names like Mark Zuckerberg and 7-Eleven. A small Facebook team has been working on a secret project – sending a high-altitude solar-powered drone plan named Aquila on test flights. The mission statement is to launch of fleet of aircraft that will deliver internet access around the world. Zuckerburg says it’s part of the company’s plan to bring the internet to all 7+ billion people on Earth. Doing so will lift millions of people out of poverty, improving education and health globally along the way, Zuckerberg says. Convenience store king 7-Eleven Inc. and tech startup Flirtey have beaten Amazon to the punch in making the first drone delivery to a customer’s home in the U.S. During the 7-Eleven delivery on July 10 in Reno, Nev., Flirtey successfully transported: Slurpees, a chicken sandwich, donuts, hot coffee, and candy to the home of the family who placed the order. Flirtey is a privately held company based in Reno, which builds and operates drones to make deliveries that are needed in humanitarian and health work, retail and food industries.
  7. JLR, Ford, and BMW in battery plant talks: Jaguar Land Rover is in talks with Ford and BMW about building a battery plant with the capacity to power several hundred thousand electric vehicles. There’s been no word over whether this plant would be based in the U.K., the U.S., Germany, or another location. The plant would help Jaguar launch its first electric vehicle, and to join other luxury carmakers in a competitive battle with Tesla Motors. Ford has been working with LG and BMW with Samsung as lithium battery suppliers.
  8. Audi EV strategy: Audi says it will be rolling out three electric models by 2020, and that electric vehicles will make up 25% to 30% of its sales by 2025, CEO Rupert Stadler told a German newspaper. It will be tied into a larger corporate strategy to focus more on resources on electric cars, digital services, and autonomous driving. The rollout of electric cars will also include small vehicles in the A-(minicar) segment. The company will also set up a subsidiary, to be called SDS Co., to develop an autonomous car.
  9. Quantum has new ownership: Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide is emerging from its bankruptcy through acquisition by Douglas Acquisitions LLC, an affiliate of second-position secured creditors. Quantum, based in Lake Forest, Calif., had shifted its focus to selling natural gas fuel tanks in recent years. The company recently received a delisting notice from NASDAQ. Quantum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late March and sought a buyer through a “363” sale process, which is essentially an asset sale. The company will be renamed Quantum Fuel Systems LLC.
  10. EVs strong in used car sale days on the lot: Plug-in electric vehicles led the way in one-to-three year old used car sales during the first half of this year, according to iSeeCars.com. The fastest selling used car in the U.S. was the Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid, taking just 19.7 days to move. It was followed by the Nissan Leaf at 24.3 days and the Tesla Model S at 26.1 days. More than half of these cars were sold in California, where the diamond lane, HOV carpool lane stickers made them more attractive to used car buyers.

Semi-legal parking: What drivers must deal with in congested urban environments

Looking for parking in crowded cityIn the not-too distant future, parking cars in crowded cities is expected to improve drastically. Self-driving cars will drop off riders and take care of the parking. Automated parking systems (APS) are starting to provide parking for cars on multiple levels stacked vertically to maximize the number of parking spaces while minimizing land usage.

The problem in large cities for local residents, workers, and those attending events, is that parking is going to remain an ever-increasing problem for several years. For those ridesharing drivers picking up riders or delivering meals, parking is taking a lot of perseverance and patience, laser-focused vision, and the risk of getting a parking ticket. It can mean pulling into a red zone, blocking a driveway, or using payment cards and dropping in coins at meters. The stress level can be high, and it can be quite a relief to find out you’ve dodged another parking ticket.

Part of the problem is that the cost of parking is going way up. Not that many years ago, it was shocking to find out you’d be paying $20 to park for a business meeting or social event in a big city. As for now, the average daily parking rate in midtown New York is $41, according to Bankrate. Honolulu is No. 2 at $38, followed by Boston at $34, Chicago at $32, with Los Angeles and downtown New York tied at $30 as the most expensive U.S. cities for parking costs. Metered parking cost has been shooting up, with drivers complaining about getting hijacked by a city trying to bring in more revenue through meters and parking tickets. Parking costs are on the rise in major U.S. cities as officials grapple with reduced revenue and political difficulties in raising taxes. Demand is part of it – drivers will pay more for parking when there’s absolutely nothing else available in crowded, congested cities.

As I’ve discovered driving for Uber, Lyft, and Postmates (a food delivery service), finding short-term parking can be quite stressful and sometimes costly. You might pull up for the passenger pickup and there’s no place to park, and you’ll be blocking traffic on a narrow street. What are your options? Park in a red zone or driveway? Circle the block looking for a decent place to park? Another scenario is that you’ve parked on a narrow street waiting for the rider to come out, and there are cars creeping up behind you. One of the drivers honks his horn, and others join the fray. You may have to leave that spot and circle around again, or call the rider.

Some riders seem perfectly comfortable making the Uber or Lyft driver wait five-to-10 minutes until they come out. Taxi drivers have been known for arriving at a home or office early and calling the rider to come out to their cab. Uber and Lyft riders are much more comfortable having the driver wait in an environment that might be tough to park and deal with the delay. It may be a generational difference for passengers – most of whom are Millennials riding with Uber and Lyft and who utilize food delivery services. The social rules of order appear to be transforming.

Food delivery drivers have to include short-term parking into their cost of doing business. Mobile-app food delivery services are taking off in cities now with UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, and other services taking off. Drivers are independent contractors and have to build the cost into the trip. Suburban shopping malls are full of parking for drivers willing to take a long walk, but picking up meals at restaurants and stores in cities usually means looking for open metered parking spaces, or paying for parking garage fees. Some garages will allow drivers to leave the building for free if they’ve only been there less than 15 minutes. Other garages will require a payment of $2 to $5 for drivers to see that gate come up and freedom given from the parking garage – even if they’ve been there just a few minutes.

The future of mobility technologies is being carefully tracked by urban planners and developers, employers, owners of residential properties, university administrators, and event managers. Here are a few trends to watch for:

  • Green Parking Council is supporting development of sustainable, efficient parking garages. Examples include Propark America’s green parking Canopy facility at Denver International Airport. BMW Group’s DesignWorks USA and Green Parking Council worked with Propark on setting up the Canopy garage with LED lighting, EV charging, and alternative energy applications, including geothermal. Automation Parking Systems installed an automated facility in New York City in 2007 and has been working on improvements ever since. Robotic parking pallets are able to stack cars for efficiently using parking garage space.
  • More recently, the city of West Hollywood, Calif., opened up an automated parking garage attached to City Hall on Santa Monica Boulevard. The mission has been to remove the nuisance of driving around looking for parking. Drivers can just pull their cars into one of the small garages and the automated system does the rest. The city’s three-story automated parking garage with the capacity to house 200 cars was unveiled in May, and it marks the first municipal robot parking garage built on the West Coast.
  • Tony Seba, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, and a two-time keynoter at AltCar Expo, had a few radical statements to make about the future of parking. Autonomous vehicles, along with carsharing services like Zipcar and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, will be game changers. Annual sales of new vehicles will shrink, highways will open up, and many of the parking spaces we have in our cities will go away. Highway capacity can be increased four times when autonomous vehicles show up on our roads; there will be no need for 80% of our parking spaces as autonomous vehicles show up exactly when and where they’re needed by the owner, Seba said.
  • Mobile apps for parking are offering some short-term solutions. Parkmobile, ParkWhiz, ParkMe, PayByPhone, and FordPass, are among the services available in select U.S. cities. Drivers are able to rent spaces from their smartphones, and will be directed to finding the space. It takes away the hassle and frustration of trying to find a parking space on multi-story parking structure with unexpected costs appearing. Riders using Uber and Lyft will typically bring up the problem of finding and paying for parking spaces when deciding to go take the ridesharing option instead of driving. They’re also interested in having more accessible and affordable parking options for those times they will be driving and parking their own car.

Parking and dealing with the stress of driving for ridesharing and food delivery services is part of my new book, Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders. You can also read about some of the trends in the marketplace and new technology innovations in the book’s blog.

This Week’s Top 10: Midterm report doubts 2025 target will be met, Tesla Motors working with suppliers to refine Autopilot

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. Federal fuel economy standardsMidterm mpg report: Hitting the 54.5 mpg target by the 2025 model year is not looking good, according to a long-awaited government report. Automakers are doing an excellent job of rolling out clean technologies, but buyer preferences have been leaning toward SUVs and trucks as gas prices stay down. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and California Air Resources Board released their draft Technical Assessment Report analyzing costs, technology, and other issues involved in the industry’s drive toward lowering greenhouse gas emissions. Administration officials told reporters on a conference call Monday that the 54.5 mpg goal was never a mandate but more of an estimate of where the industry could be by the 2025 model year. The report also says that automakers will be able to meet standards with improvements in standard gasoline engines, and won’t need to rely heavily on sales of hybrids or electric cars. In related news, automakers will be finding out that next month, NHTSA will more than double the fine it assesses automakers that fall short of their annual corporate average fuel economy standards. Penalties paid by automakers over the 2010-14 model years for missing fuel economy targets will be: $46.2 million by Jaguar Land Rover; $28.2 million by Daimler; $17.4 million by Volvo Cars; $4.8 million by Porsche; and $3.6 million by Fiat. On the other end of the scale, Mazda became the first non-electric automaker to hit 100% compliance with the 2016 CAFE standards, which called for a fleet average of 34.1 mpg. Before that, Tesla was the only automaker to meet the regulations, but its fleet is all-electric. Mazda’s entire lineup in the U.S. is powered by gasoline engines and includes no hybrids. Mazda says that its Skyactiv engine technologies has improved its fleet fuel economy.
  2. Refining Autopilot technology: Tesla Motors is working with suppliers Bosch and Mobileye to refine its Autopilot technology since the fatal crash in Florida. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, in a series of Tweets on Sunday, promised “moderate and maybe big advances” in Autopilot. The improvements would augment features such as the vehicles’ front-facing camera and radar, as well as 360-degree sensors. Musk said Tesla had a “promising call” with supplier Bosch, which provides the forward-looking radar on the Models S and X, and that “significant improvements” to the system likely will be forthcoming. As for the Tesla “Masterplan,” Musk is expected to outline future product and business plans that would go beyond the Model 3 the company is planning to launch during the second half of 2017. Consumer Reports urged Tesla to disable the automatic steering function in its Autopilot system. The magazine wants Tesla to disable the current system, require drivers to keep their hands on the wheel as part of an updated driver assist system, and stop referring to the product as Autopilot.
  3. States filing suit against VW: Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a statement that his state and others plan to sue Volkswagen over the environmental damage done by the carmaker’s so-called defeat devices. Frosh said Maryland is acting in coordination with the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts, among others, and that a press conference will be held today. In related news, the California Air Resources Board said on Wednesday that the plan to fix the 2009-2016 model year VW and Audi vehicles equipped with devices designed to cheat emissions tests was insufficient. The state has rejected VW’s proposed recall plan to fix 16,000 3.0-liter diesel Volkswagens, Audis, and Porsches.
  4. Big Oil losing power: The oil industry is headed for change that will gradually reduce its power in the transportation fuel market, according to a Lux Research report. Alternative fuels and battery technologies are bringing serious threats to oil company profits, along with the impact of the Paris climate change agreement made at the end of 2015.
  5. Accord Hybrid just the beginning: Honda says that the refreshed 2017 Accord Hybrid is just the beginning of a comprehensive lineup of green cars. Subtle changes to the Accord Hybrid’s 2.0L gasoline engine and the smaller, lighter hybrid system put the Accord Hybrid at the top of the midsize hybrid sedan segment for fuel economy, at 50 mpg city and 47 mpg highway, based on 2016 rating criteria. “It’s the first step in our plan to create a true volume sales pillar for electrified vehicles of all kinds: hybrids, plug-ins, battery electrics and fuel cells,” says Jeff Conrad, general manager of the Honda brand.
  6. Concerns over watering down LCFS: John Boesel, president and chief executive of Calstart, has written a guest column coming from a joint letter submitted recently to state legislative leaders. Nearly 60 producers and providers of clean fuels, ranging from electricity to renewable diesel, have signed a joint letter urging state policymakers to sustain the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard. The successful LCFS policy may be in danger, Boesel says, and the coalition would like to see California continue supporting the low carbon fuel policy. California Gov. Jerry Brown is negotiating with the oil industry to preserve the state’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program. The governor wants to put together a legislative coalition that will provide a two-thirds majority vote to extend California’s climate program to 2030 and beyond. “Part of that involves freeing the cap-and-trade program from potential legal challenges. The governor may be willing to compromise on the LCFS to get the oil industry’s support,” Boesel wrote.
  7. Ford Fusion Energi: Ford has added another plug-in hybrid to its product line. The Fusion Energi joins Ford’s C-Max and Focus family of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Ford thinks it will take the leading edge of a fleet of 13 new electrics the company says it will put on the road by 2020. The automaker says the Energi can travel 21 miles on battery electric power before the gasoline engine kicks in.
  8. LA port sustainable advisory board: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week announced the appointment of an advisory panel tasked with reducing air pollution from the Port of Los Angeles by expanding the use of zero-emissions technology. The 10-member Sustainable Freight Advisory Board is made up of representatives from industry, environmental groups, labor, and air quality agencies. The new board will advise the port on how to work with manufacturers to develop and deploy cleaner trucks, trains, ships, and cargo-handling equipment. Both the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports are working on reducing emissions from the single largest source of air pollution in Southern California.
  9. Uber passes 2B mark: Uber passed the two billion ride mark on June 18, CEO Travis Kalanick said in a Facebook post, six months after marking its first billion rides. That surge in rides was due in part to its heavy spending to recruit drivers and passengers, which is made possible by more than $13 billion in funding from investors. Uber is offering rides in 450 cities globally, up from 311 a year ago.
  10. Protean finds more funding: Protean Electric just announced an additional $70 million in funding to support development of its in-wheel electric drive systems. New funding has comes from GO Scale Capital, Zhejiang VIE Science & Technology Co. Ltd., and Tianjin THSG Corporation. Existing investors Oak Investment Partners and GSR Ventures co-invested in Protean’s equity financing round. The new funding will be used to ramp up production in China of Protean’s PD18 product line, and for new product development and formation of a manufacturing joint venture with VIE.

Algae biofuels at a critical juncture point as a viable clean transportation fuel

Algae PriusA few years ago, algae biofuels and oils looked like ideal options for the future of clean transportation. For those objecting to corn-based ethanol, or concerned about traditional biodiesel, algae fuel was showing a lot promise for passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Appealing factors have included emission reductions and the ability to tap into the renewable fuels and oils through plants.

Algae are photosynthetic organisms related to plants that grow in water and produce energy from carbon dioxide and sunlight. For transportation fuels, they’re primarily used as biodiesel, but have other applications for cars, jets, and military vehicles. Algae can be grown rapidly and produce large amounts of fuel relative to the resources used to grow them – but it does need significant investment and supporters who will continue to back it over several years.

Lately, the future of algae biofuels has become open to debate and may stand a better chance of succeeding in other markets beyond automotive and transportation. However, algae fuel still has several deep-pocket investors and industry groups supporting it as a clean fuel option.

One of the surprises happened earlier this year with Solazyme renaming itself TerraVia, which will no longer focus on its fuels and industrial businesses. The new corporate identity means that it will supply its algae oil to the food and personal care industries for use in products like cooking oil, protein powders, and face lotion. Based in South San Francisco, Solazyme had been a staunch advocate of algae biodiesel for years. The company did split off a separate unit called Solazyme Industrials, offering its Soladiesel product, Solajet, and military-grade fuel; but the original company’s focus appears to be weighted on TerraVia.

Last year, Volkswagen of America had successful completion of its Renewable Diesel Evaluation Program in collaboration with Solazyme and Amyris, Inc., another algae fuel supplier. Beginning in 2012, Volkswagen measured the environmental impacts from the use of pre-commercial renewable diesel formulas in a 2012 Passat TDI, and found that it was producing significantly less in emissions than traditional diesel. VW displayed this car, fueled with Solzyme’s Soladiesel product, at ride and drive events around the country. VW still shows support for algae fuels as part of its clean fuels strategy in the post-diesel emissions fraud reporting scandal, along with its ambitious plug-in electric vehicle launch lineup.

Soladiesel was impressive enough to earn a fuel pump and marketing campaign with Propel Fuels. In California during 2013, Propel Fuels and Solazyme announced that sales grew by 35% at Propel stations, offering SoladieselBD in a B20 blend during a 30-day retail pilot program, compared to non-test sites.

Amyris, one of the two biofuels supporters of VW’s test project, applies its bioscience solutions to convert plant sugars into hydrocarbon molecules, specialty ingredients, and consumer products. On the transportation fuel side, the company is currently selling renewable diesel in metropolitan areas in Brazil and renewable jet fuel with its partner Total in markets around the world.

Another major biofuels company that still supports algae as a transportation fuel is Algenol Biotech. Last year, Algenol entered an agreement with Protec Fuel Management 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 this year and in 2017.

Algenol has been developing its Direct to Ethanol technology, which uses sunlight, algae, non-arable land and carbon dioxide to economically produce ethanol. Of particular interest to the company are those chemicals traditionally derived from petroleum-based propylene. As with ethanol, production of these chemicals using Algenol’s proprietary technologies could displace more expensive petroleum based chemicals in an environmentally friendly way, the company says.

Denso Corp., a major supplier of fuel injectors, air conditioners and electronics to Toyota and other OEMs, announced last fall that it’s getting into the algae biofuels space. The company was scheduled to open a cultivation and testing center in April 2016 in Japan that will have three oval ponds for growing algae. The company has been working on microalgae test projects since 2008, and sees the biofuel as an excellent option to reduce dependence on petroleum products and carbon emissions.

Algae biofuel falls under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard requirements, and had three backers on the list of supporters released last week – Algae Biomass Association, Advanced Biofuels Association, and Global Algae Innovations. Based in San Diego, Global Algae Innovations is considered to be a leading supplier of low-cost algae production technologies. These three entities were among 57 fuel producers and trade associations who wrote to California Senate President Pro Tem De León and Speaker Rendon, urging support for the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

On the federal front, algae is still receiving support. On July 14, the U.S. Department of Energy announced funding for up to $15 million for three projects aimed at reducing the production costs of algae-based biofuels and bioproducts through improvements in algal biomass yields. The goal of the funding is to advance the research and development of advanced biofuel technologies to speed the commercialization of renewable, domestically produced, and affordable fossil-fuel replacements.

Algae fuel has been included in the revised and finalized volumes for the federal Renewable Fuel Standard. One change made to the revised RFS was to clarify that only biofuels produced from oil from algae grown photosynthetically qualify for the RFS program under the algal oil pathways. Two companies have been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as completing pathways assessments: previously mentioned Algenol Biofuels and Bedford-Mass.-based Joule Unlimited Technologies, Inc. The companies are being allowed to generate D5 advanced biofuels renewable identification numbers (RINs) for their algae-based ethanol under the RFS.

As far as the pro and con debate on the future of algae fuels, here are a few of the arguments:

  • Microalgae is less land-intensive than corn production and less thirsty than corn ethanol; as revealed in a pro-corn ethanol study showing corn ethanol uses 2.8 gallons of water for every gallon of fuel refined, and is outclassed in efficiency by algae-based fuels. For example, Algenol converts saltwater into biofuel with yields nearly 17 times higher than those of corn, while producing 1.4 gallons of fresh water per every gallon of fuel produced.
  • Dual-fuel vehicles and plug-in hybrids using algae fuel could be a good way to go for consumers and fleets. For example, what if you were to drive a bi-fuel CNG Chevrolet Impala that was also built on the Voltec plug-in hybrid drivetrain (if GM were to roll out that vehicle in the future)? That would offer the driver an opportunity to power the car on natural gas (which emits about 25% less greenhouse gas than a gasoline-engine vehicle), battery power (zero percent emissions). That might be ideal for fleets that worry about having drivers stuck out on roads. In the next few years, there will be a lot more clean fuels out there, including algae biofuel, along with cellulosic ethanol, dimethyl ether (DME), biogas (renewable natural gas), biodiesel, and renewable diesel.
  • University of California San Diego professor Stephen Mayfield believes enough in the fuel to start up a company to bring it to market. The UCSD biology professor, who has spent the past 25 years experimenting with algae, now focuses on extracting crude oil from green algae to create biofuel. The research completed at Mayfield’s lab has helped his company, Sapphire Energy, convert algae into biofuel. Sapphire Energy is getting more attention in media and industry conferences as a leader in algae fuels. “Petroleum is from algae, so when we make gasoline from that and when we take oil from algae, it’s kind of the same,” Mayfield said. “We make what is called a fungible, or a drop-in fuel from algae.”
  • In the past decade, vast amounts of money have been invested in the development of algae for biofuel production. Shell and ExxonMobil were investors, seeing algae biofuel as a pipeline for moving forward in a non-petroleum product. But these oil giants and several other major companies have been abandoning their investments lately. Algae biofuels producers, in many cases, haven’t provided good return on investment for corporate backers. Producers struggled to retain their high productivity at a larger scale and found predators often contaminated their farms. They also found that building the ponds in which to grow the algae and providing enough light and nutrients for them to grow proved too expensive.
  • Another cause of the algae downturn has been plummeting oil prices.
  • As mentioned about the Solazyme corporate identity changeover, algae can be used to make a diverse range of products. For example, algae can produce large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, an important dietary supplement. This means it could be a sustainable, vegetarian source of omega-3, which is otherwise only available from fish. Algae is being used more as a sources of vitamins, minerals and proteins. Species found in algae, such as Chlorella and Spirulina, are commonly being consumed for their health benefits.
  • In February, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported a breakthrough system that ramps up the efficiency of the algae-to-ethanol process to a significant degree. The new algae biofuel process builds on NREL’s previous work with two algae strains, Chlorella and Scenedesmus. The challenge has been getting it up to commercially competitive scale. The conventional approach leans heavily on increasing the lipids content of algae. NREL has been focusing on a whole-body system that extracts lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins for further processing into marketable products.

This Week’s Top 10: Top EV sales month ever in June, VW looking for electric car battery supplier

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. EVs on dealer lotsTop sales month ever: June saw the largest-ever total sales figure for U.S. plug-in electric vehicle sales. There were 13,772 PEVs were sold, made up of 7,678 battery electric vehicles and 6,094 plug-in hybrids. The previous record was in December 2015, when 13,274 were sold. That was nearly half the hybrid sales number, which came in at 27,679 new vehicles sold in June. The Tesla Model S came back as the number one seller at 2,800 units sold and the Model X came in at number two with 2,000 units sold (based on estimates). The Chevrolet Volt continues to do well at 1,937 units sold, up 58.1% over June 2015. The Ford Fusion Energi and Chevrolet Spark EV also had substantial increases over last year, while the Nissan Leaf was down 47.2% in sales from June 2015. Hybrid sales were down almost 10% from May, and almost 15% from June 2016. The Toyota Prius line is seeing decline, with the Prius c and Prius v both down significantly.
  2. Volkswagen is considering teaming up with an electric car battery supplier such as LG Chem or Panasonic Corp. as it emerges from the diesel-emissions scandal, according to people familiar with the matter. VW’s supervisory board also discussed investing around $1.89 billion per factory at several sites around the world. The German automaker confirmed that it’s examining options and considering multiple locations to make batteries for a sales volume of between two and three million purely electric-powered cars by 2025.
  3. Autopilot investigation: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating a July 1 crash in Pennsylvania of a Tesla Model X to determine whether Tesla’s Autopilot function, a semi-autonomous technology that helps drivers steer and stay in lanes, was at play. NHTSA is currently probing a May 7 fatality of a Tesla Model S driver using Autopilot. Tesla said it received an automated alert from the car indicating airbags had been deployed, but never received logs containing details about the state of vehicle controls — which would indicate whether Autopilot was on or off. NHTSA said it was collecting information from state police, Tesla and the driver, Albert Scaglione of Farmington Hills, Mich. In a separate news story, the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Tesla should have disclosed the fatal May 7 accident to its investors.
  4. Automakers frustrated with ZEV credits: California is contemplating new zero emission vehicle (ZEV) requirements, making automakers frustrated with the cost and whether electric vehicle sales figures will reach the mark. ZEV credits have been flooding the system and automakers may now be able to fulfill their requirements with as little as 6% of their fleets consisting of all-electric or fuel-cell vehicles, said Dan Sperling, founding director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis. To bring those figures back in line, the state may increase its ZEV requirement, said Sperling, who serves on the ARB board. Automakers earn credits to reach those goals. Companies that exceed the standards, like Tesla Motors, can sell their extra credits to Honda and other carmakers that don’t. The rapid sales growth by Tesla and the increasing range of other EVs have the state contemplating new requirements.
  5. Read all about “10 States That Charge Extra Fees On Plug-in Cars” in HybridCars.com. The articles features details on programs offered in Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
  6. LCFS support letter: A letter has been sent to California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon by 57 producers and related business associations stating that California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard policy is working and generating jobs. The LCFS has already helped to reduce 16.6 million tons of harmful carbon pollution, grow clean fuel use by 36%, and avoid the need for 6.6 billion gallons of petroleum, according to the group. “The more than 50 fuel producers and providers that signed this letter strongly back this policy because they know it is driving innovation and investment, and will lead California to a better transportation future,” said CALSTART President and CEO, John Boesel.
  7. Navigant report on NGVs: A new report from Navigant Research examines the global market for the deployment of natural gas (NG) refueling infrastructure, including an analysis of key deployment factors, with forecasts segmented by compressed NG (CNG) and liquefied NG (LNG), through 2026. “Despite the decline in oil prices, stricter emissions and fuel economy regulations mean that NG remains a very attractive alternative to gasoline and diesel in many regions and vehicle applications where electrification is not a practical alternative,” says Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “While slowing growth in China is having an impact on vehicle sales, the number of NG refueling stations globally is still projected to swell at a 4.4 percent compound annual growth rate during the next decade.”
  8. Lyft may work with chauffeured service: Carey International is pursuing a partnership with Lyft that would become the first and largest alliance between a major chauffeured vehicle service and a transportation network company (TNC), according to LCT Magazine. It’s been a stunning revelation for the chauffeured transportation industry, which has been fighting Lyft and Uber in the regulatory arena over passenger safety, insurance, and duty-of-care issues.
  9. UberGreen comes to South Africa: Uber has set up a new agreement with BMW and Nissan in Johannesburg, South Africa. Called UberGreen, environmentally conscious users are able to assure that their transport car is a Nissan Leaf or BMW i3. It also provides better pay to the driver, and for now is a six week pilot project.
  10. Express Drive: General Motors and Lyft will expand their Express Drive short-term rental program to California and Colorado, building on an effort that GM President Dan Ammann said has “dramatically exceeded expectations.” It will open up first in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Denver. It started up in Boston, and GM says that location has maxed out its available seats for drivers in under four days, suggesting there’s been strong demand wherever the partnership opens shop.

Plug-in Electric Vehicle Sales Growth – from U.S. to China

BYD logo and carsThere continues to be a symbiotic relationship between the U.S. and China in plug-in electric vehicle manufacturing, sales, and technology development. Government subsidies are helping bring sales up, as are introductions of new models that are gaining more interest from consumers in both China and the U.S. More EVs are coming in the near future, and in more type classes, including a minivan and crossover SUVs in the U.S. market and diverse offerings in China. The Beijing Motor Show in April and May showed off an intriguing lineup of new EVs rolling out from BYD, Changjiang, Dongfeng, Brilliance, Beijing Auto, Changfeng, JAC, and others. The symbiotic relationship comes from alliances between global automakers and Chinese companies for EVs to be sold in China and eventually in other markets; and between the Chinese and American governments pushing for clean technologies and emissions reductions. There’s also a list of manufacturers and suppliers based in the U.S. that are building electric cars and technologies that will be shipped overseas and sold in China.

EV sales in China and the U.S.: China is number one in global EV sales, with the U.S. following and Europe seeing growth as a region. Deliveries of “new-energy vehicles” surged in China by 126% to 86,374 units in the five months through May, according to China Passenger Car Association. BYD Co.’s Tang SUV was the best seller in the plug-in hybrid category, while BAIC Motor Corp.’s BAIC E series was top-selling electric vehicle in the January-May period. The Chinese auto market had more than 26,000 new EVs sold in May, a 119% increase over the same month last year, The U.S. saw a very strong EV sales month in June with 7,678 battery electric vehicles and 6,094 plug-in hybrids for a total of 13,772 EVs sold. The previous U.S. record was in December 2015, when 13,274 were sold.

BYD leads the way in China: Altogether, BYD sold a total of 61,722 plug-in electric vehicles last year, with nearly all of them being sold in China. That was more EVs than Tesla, Nissan, or General Motors sold last year individually. BYD only sells plug-in electric vehicles, both battery electric and plug-in hybrid. Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway owns about a 10% stake in the Chinese company. According to year-end figures released by the company, it delivered 31,898 of the newer Qin plug-in hybrids and 18,375 Tang PHEVs, along with 7,029 of the older all-electric e6 battery electric models, during 2015. For the first five months of 2016 (as illustrated in the chart below), the BYD Tang has been the top seller in China at 15,615 units sold. The company also sold 2,888 Denza compact hatchback plug-ins last year, which were built by its joint venture with Daimler.

Top Selling Plug-in Electric Vehicles in China – May 2016

                                                    May 2016        YTD 2016

BYD Tang                                        3,249                 15,615

BYD Qin                                           2,912               7,334

Kandi K11 Panda EV                     2,598               3,127

SAIC Rowe 550 PHEV / e550     2,198               6,382

BAIC E-Series EV                           1,714                8,712

BYD e6                                             1,683               7,579

JMC E100                                       1,300               4,527

Chery EQ                                          1,269              4,384

BYD e5                                              1,172              2,676

JAC i EV 4/5                                    1,076              6,513

Role major Chinese automakers are playing: As mentioned, joint ventures such as Denza are playing a role in EV sales in China. Major Chinese automakers have their share of JVs with global automakers from the U.S., Europe, Japan, and South Korea. They’re contributing to EV sales through these partnerships and are backed by generous government incentives. If you view the Top 10 sales ranking above, you’ll notice that some of the top 10 Chinese automakers in overall vehicles sales are making inroads to EV sales. SAIC was number one in Chinese new vehicle sales last year; BAIC was number five; Chery was number nine, and the company includes the JAC brands in its lineup.

Electric-only brands: Kandi is another electric-only brand in China, along with BYD, seeing strong results in the top selling EVs. The Kandi K11 Panda EV is being manufactured through a joint venture with Chinese automaker Geely. Geely International Corp. was the number 10 selling automaker in Chinese new vehicle sales last year.

Tesla just starting in China: Tesla Motors sold 300 Model S units in May 2016, and 1,811 overall in 2016 through the end of May. It was number 19 on the top 20 plug-in electric vehicles sold in May 2016 in China – compared to No. 1 in U.S. plug-in sales during June 2016. Tesla has been investing heavily in major cities in China with retail stores and Supercharger installations.

U.S.-Based OEMs and Suppliers with Electric Drive Technologies and Chinese Investors: One of the more fascinating trends in the China-U.S. alliance in EV development has been the role that Chinese investors have played in sometimes saving U.S.-based companies. The former Fisker Automotive (now Karma Automotive) is now owned, along with lithium battery maker A123 systems, by major auto parts supplier Wanxiang Group. Here’s a list of these U.S.-based companies in EV technologies that will be interesting to watch in coming years:

  • Faraday Future
  • Karma Automotive
  • A123 Systems
  • Wheego Electric Cars
  • Smith Electric Vehicles
  • Protean Electric
  • GreenTech Automotive
  • BYD (U.S. office) offering electric buses in North America.
  • Zap Jonway

SAIC partners with Disney: Chinese automaker SAIC is providing EVs for hourly rentals to Shanghai Disney Resort customers. SAIC will also provide a fleet of electric vans for shuttle service to the amusement park. SAIC currently operates a car-sharing service with 100 electric cars, as well as 100 electric buses that ferry tourists from nearby train stations, subway stations, and airports to the Disney resort.

Hyundai competing in Chinese market: As part of its initiative to roll out several hybrid, plug-in, and hydrogen fuel cell models, Hyundai Motor Co. says it will be going full-speed ahead in its electrified vehicle rollout to increase range and compete with upstart Chinese rivals. Hyundai has found out how extensive the EV market is becoming in China with foreign OEM alliances and small Chinese startups. Several global automakers are selling EVs in China, and must use electrical drivetrain components developed with a local Chinese supplier. The national rule has made Chinese suppliers more technologically savvy in key items such as motors and electrical control units, according to Hyundai.

 

 

This Week’s Top 10: Automakers speak to tough question at EVS29, Daimler may roll out a new electric car brand

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. 2016 Chevrolet VoltIncreasing EV sales: How will U.S. new vehicle sales go from less than 1% to more than 10% plug-in electric vehicle sales? Automaker speaker panelists at EVS29 in Montreal addressed the issues. Robert Langford, American Honda Motor Co. manager of electric vehicle sales, is enthusiastic about the new products coming out of the pipeline but warns that charging stations need to be increase at multi-unit residential complexes; and that charging stations need to become more compatible. Britta Gross, director of advanced vehicle commercialization policy at General Motors thinks that automakers need to spend more on marketing to communicate the benefits of PEV ownership, whether that be by helping the planet or spending less on gasoline. If you don’t accompany in infrastructure of vehicle incentive program with an outreach campaign, you lose the battle, she said. Aaron Cohen, Audi of America’s general manager of electric vehicle strategy, thinks there needs to be coordination by key players – carmakers, electric utilities, charging companies, and federal, state and local governments. Brendan Jones, previously with Nissan and now with EVgo, talked about how challenging it can be get auto dealers and their sales consultants to spend more of their time selling EVs.
  2. Mercedes e-brand: Daimler AG is considering creating a new brand for the upcoming Mercedes electric vehicles. The report comes from German publication Handelsblatt, and coincides with what Ola Kallenius, Mercedes’ sales and marketing director in Britain, told Autocar – that the company is considering creating an eco-focused sub-brand to rival the likes of BMW’s i electric vehicle division. “The launch of the electric car brand is planned for September in Paris, where Mercedes-Benz wants to present a SUV model which is based on the current GLC model,” sources told Handelsblatt, and that it should go on sale next year.
  3. Notice on email address change for Green Auto Market: Please change your email setting to accept this newsletter from my email address jon@jonlesageconsulting.com. The previous Gmail address used in the “From” section, jlesage378@gmail.com, had to be changed over to another address on Constant Contact. That comes from a new Google policy on its Gmail service for email authentication protocol to prevent spam.
  4. North American EV sales: Navigant Research predicts a large increase in North American plug-in electric vehicle sales – 62% this year over last year, nearing 200,000 units sold. Next year will likely boost the market by around 60%, and then nearly double the market in 2018. Navigant expects it to be driven by the Tesla Model X, the second-generation Volt, Chevrolet Bolt, Prius Prime, and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The boost in 2017-2018 sales is expected to come from introduction of the Tesla Model 3.
  5. Dragon Racing team: Faraday Future announced it is now the title sponsor and core technical partner to the Dragon Racing team. Under the new team name Faraday Future Dragon Racing, the partners will compete in the third season of the Formula E championship running from 2016 to 2017. After competing in Season 3, the team will start using Faraday components, which could include motors, gearboxes, and the FF Echelon Inverter, the same inverter that will be installed on every Faraday Future vehicle that comes to market in the future.
  6. Tesla chargers at gas stations: Tesla Motors will be installing charging stations at gas stations through a partnership with Sheetz gasoline. Sheetz operates hundreds of retail outlets across six states, mostly in the mid-Atlantic region. These may be Supercharger or Level 2 chargers, or a combination of both. That announcement followed a previous, recent news item about Tesla setting up a retail outlet with Nordstrom starting at a test site in Los Angeles. Following the Sheetz gas station announcement, Ruby Tuesday restaurants announced that it has begun installing a series of Tesla Supercharges at its locations along important routes across the country. The first one opened up at the Ruby Tuesday location in Miner, Miss.
  7. Vision Next 100: BMW is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year with futuristic concept cars for its BMW brand and its Rolls-Royce and Mini brands as well. All three wear the “Vision Next 100” name, referencing BMW’s intent to predict the direction car design will take over the next century. The Rolls-Royce Vision Next 100 concept is expected to combine an electric powertrain and autonomous driving with some of the British luxury carmaker’s more traditional design elements.
  8. Carbon rules for biodiesel and renewable diesel: California Air Resources Board released a set of carbon intensity pathways June 30 for biodiesel and renewable diesel pathways. It’s being certified under the readopted low carbon fuel standard (LCFS) regulation using the CA-GREET 2.0 model. These pathways include both new applications and requests to have legacy pathways, or pathways adopted under the earlier LCFS rule, recertified, according to CARB.
  9. Why ExxonMobil may be supporting carbon taxes: ExxonMobil is lobbying for a revenue-neutral carbon tax in Congress. Some of it may be coming from its transformation in recent years to being the leading producer of natural gas in the U.S.; the oil giant is in a strong position to supply more natural gas to electric utilities to help them reduce their coal consumption. It may also be related to a scandal in the past year about ExxonMobil having known about the dangers of climate change from burning fossil fuels decades ago and conspiring to keep that information from the public.
  10. BMW deal with Mobileye and Intel: BMW Group is forming a development partnership for autonomous vehicle technology with Mobileye and Intel. Mobileye is known for providing cameras, software, and other components that allow vehicles to see the world around them to a few automakers. Intel still holds the lead on the global computer-processor market, but is fairly new to automotive. Going this route will make it more competitive with Silicon Valley competitors Google and Apple.

 

Details coming out on Autopilot fatality in Tesla Model S

Tesla AutopilotThe fatality of a driver in a Tesla Model S with Autopilot is being described as the very first casualty from an autonomous vehicle technology. Here are details from the incident and where this may lead in the near future..……..

  • The crash took place on May 7 in Williston, Fla., but wasn’t in the public spotlight until June 30 when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said preliminary reports indicated that the crash occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the Tesla, and the car failed to apply the brakes.
  • The 2015 Tesla Model S sedan crashed in northern Florida into a truck that was turning left in front of it on a double-lane highway. The Tesla didn’t stop, hitting the trailer and traveling under it. The Tesla then ran off the road, hitting a fence and a power pole before coming to a stop.
  • It is the first known fatal accident involving a vehicle being driven by itself by means of sophisticated computer software, sensors, cameras and radar. Federal regulators, who are in the early stages of setting guidelines for autonomous vehicles, have opened a formal investigation into the incident.
  • The Florida Highway Patrol identified the Tesla driver who was killed as Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. He was a former Navy SEAL known for dismantling bombs for the Navy during the Iraq war, then coming home to start his own company to extend internet service into rural America. He loved his Model S so much he nicknamed it “Tessy.” He celebrated the Autopilot feature that made it possible for him to cruise the highways, making YouTube videos of himself driving hands-free. In the first nine months he owned it, Brown put more than 45,000 miles on the car. In a YouTube video that Brown posted a month before the fatal crash showing the technology saving him from another collision and wrote that he was “very impressed. “Tessy did great. I have done a lot of testing with the sensors in the car and the software capabilities,” Brown wrote on April 5 in comments posted with the 41-second video.
  • Tesla Motors issued a statement on the incident and investigation on June 30 that said it’s the first known fatality in over 130 million miles where Autopilot was activated. In “A Tragic Loss,” posted in the company’s blog, Tesla said that neither Autopilot nor the driver “noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.”
  • A digital video disc player was found in the Model S after the crash, the Florida Highway Patrol officials said on Friday. Whether the portable DVD player was operating at the time of the crash has not been determined. Witnesses who came upon the wreckage gave differing accounts on Friday about whether the player was showing a movie.
  • The 62-year-old driver of the tractor trailer, Frank Baressi, told the Associated Press that the Tesla was driving so quickly that it “went so fast through my trailer I didn’t see him.” Combined with the alleged high rate of speed the Model S was traveling, Baressi told the AP that he witnessed the Tesla “playing Harry Potter on the TV screen” though he acknowledged that he only heard the movie and couldn’t see it. “It was still playing when he died and snapped a telephone pole a quarter mile down the road,” Baressi said to AP.
  • One driver on the Florida highway said that right before the crash, the Model S was driving well over the speed limit, according to a local resident interviewed during a TV news report who had spoken to the witness.
  • Evidence from the crash will take NHTSA several weeks to issue a statement. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation will examine the design and performance of the automated driving systems in use at the time of the crash. During the preliminary investigation, NHTSA will gather additional data regarding this incident and other information regarding the automated driving systems. “The opening of the Preliminary Evaluation should not be construed as a finding that the Office of Defects Investigation believes there is either a presence or absence of a defect in the subject vehicles,” NHTSA said in a statement.
  • The federal government is expected to release its national guidelines for autonomous vehicles this month, and will likely acknowledge the NHTSA investigation of the Tesla crash. Speaking last month at a telematics conference in Novi, Mich., Mark Rosekind, head of NHTSA, expressed concern over how much is really known about the safety of autonomous vehicle technology. “We need new safety metrics,” Rosekind said. “We also are going to have to broaden our view on the data sources for what those metrics might be. We have laboratory work. We have simulations and real world data.” The industry and regulators don’t know everything they don’t know about the safety of the most advanced autonomous technologies, he said.
  • Google has collected a lot of data from its self-driving car test runs in recent years. Its self-driving test cars have been in several minor collisions, but on the receiving end. Earlier this year, Google filed a California DMV accident report confirming that one of its autonomous vehicles (a Lexus RX450h) collided with a bus in Mountain View, Calif. The vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus approaching from behind would slow or stop to let the car through. The Lexus smacked into the side of the bus at low speed, damaging its front fender, wheel and sensor in the process. It was a minor incident with no injuries.
  • Google test cars primarily use a laser system known as Lidar (light detection and ranging), a spinning range-finding unit on top of the car that creates a detailed map of the car’s surroundings as it moves. Lidar is also used now on many of the experimental autonomous vehicles being developed by Nissan, BMW, Apple and others, but not by Tesla. The Tesla uses a computer vision-based vehicle detection system, but according to the company, it is not intended to be used hands-free and parts of the system are unfinished. Some experts speculate that a Lidar-driven car might have avoided this fatal crash.
  • Safety of vehicle drivers and passengers, and pedestrians and bicyclists, have been the core issue behind allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested, and eventually to roll out, on U.S. roads. The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles made that very clear when the state adopted the nation’s first permission and guidelines for testing self-driving cars on its roads. Google and other companies have emphasized that issue more than any other reasons for investing in the technology. The Tesla fatality will heighten the debates – over whether cars should be fully autonomous as Google advocates, or they should have allowances for humans to take over in emergencies as the California DMV and others have expressed.
  • NHTSA just released a statistical projection of traffic fatalities for 2015, which estimates that 35,200 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. That’s an increase of about 7.7% as compared to the 32,675 fatalities reported in 2014. It would will mark the highest level of fatalities since 2008, which saw 37,423 fatalities. This data will likely affect the debate even more.
  • Tesla just announced it will be releasing this month its Autopilot software version 8.0. That was in the works long before reporting of the investigation of the fatal crash, but the company says the update is the most important to its touchscreen since the launch of the Model S in 2012 and features significant improvements to the Autopilot. It will allow for improvements in the general Autopilot experience in traffic, but more significantly, it will introduce automatic off-ramp in exits on the highway, Tesla says.