Monthly Archives: April 2020

Musk complains of ‘fascist’ response to Covid-19 during earnings report, Ford and Rivian cancel Lincoln EV for now

Tesla Inc.’s profitable quarterly report was overshadowed yesterday by CEO Elon Musk’s angry comments, well represented by this one: “To say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom!”

Musk would like to see the company’s Fremont, Calif., factory opened again. A government-ordered shutdown kicked in on March 24 with Covid-19 quarantine orders in effect at least until May 31. Musk told shareholders he didn’t know when Tesla could resume production in California and called the state stay-at-home order a “serious risk” to the business.

It was the third quarterly profit in a row for Tesla, Inc. Gross margins in the first quarter jumped to 25.5 percent for the company. About 7 percent of its $5.1 billion first quarter revenue came from regulatory credits — funds paid by other automakers to buy the company’s carbon emissions credits. That revenue nearly tripled from the last quarter.

Tesla’s quarterly report came just a day after Ford Motor Co. reported a $2 billion first-quarter loss, and forecasted losing another $5 billion in the current quarter as the Covid-19 pandemic takes away its new vehicle sales. Ford, like other major competitors, has seen its stock price slide down in recent weeks.

Tesla has not seen that happen. Shares were coming in at $858.16 on Thursday morning, with the profitable quarterly report helping to strengthen that price. That trend has been upward since the beginning of April. Beginning production and deliveries in China is helping the company’s perceived value.

Musk may be able to benefit generously from the financials. He may soon be making $750 million or more through his pay structure agreement made with shareholders in 2018. The Tesla chief has the option to buy 1.69 million Tesla shares at $350.02 each. Taking Monday’s Tesla closing stock price of $798.75 as an example, Musk could sell those shares for a profit of $758 million — once it reaches the $100 million at six-months average mark. It reached $145 billion this week, and around $96 billion for the latest six-month count.

Ford and Rivian:  Ford Motor Co. has canceled its Lincoln-brand all-electric SUV that was going to be made in partnership with a powertrain provided by startup Rivian. The two companies are still talking about working closely together, and putting out a Lincoln vehicle that will also be based on Rivian’s EV “skateboard” platform. Rivian recently announced that it’s pushing back the release of its first two vehicles — an all-electric pickup truck and SUV — to early 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, Ford made a deal with Rivian to invest $500 million in the startup company just two months after Amazon led a $700 million investment in the Michigan-based startup. As part of Ford’s investment, it announced that it would develop an electric vehicle that used Rivian’s battery pack and electric motor setup. “Given the current environment, Lincoln and Rivian have decided not to pursue the development of a fully electric vehicle based on Rivian’s skateboard platform. Our strategic commitment to Lincoln, Rivian and electrification remains unchanged and Lincoln’s future plans will include an all-electric vehicle,” a spokesperson from Lincoln told The Verge in a statement.

Natural gas stability:  As petroleum prices continue to go through upheaval in the Covid-19 economic environmental, natural gas can once gain offer fleets certainty during during a period of instability. Ryan Forrest, Western United States Region Manager at Trillium, makes the case that fleets can get hit hard depending on gasoline and diesel when the prices inevitably go back up — as seen many times during pricing instability from 2008 to 2014. Being a domestic fuel has helped natural gas retain its $2 per gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) for several years. Fleets using renewable natural gas (RNG) in their CNG-powered vehicles are also enjoying making contributions to climate benefits and improved air quality. That point is reinforced by an April 20 announcement from Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) and Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) today that 39 percent of all on-road fuel used in natural gas vehicles in calendar year 2019 was RNG.

BYD and Hino commercial EVs:  BYD and Hino Motors signed a strategic business alliance for collaborating on commercial battery electric vehicles development. The two companies will work together to develop the best-fit commercial BEVs for customers to achieve carbon reductions. Commercial fleet customers will be served, and BYD and Hino will cooperate in retail and other related business that will promote the adoption of BEVs. Hino’s director and senior managing officer Taketo Nakane said, “We are pleased with this collaboration aiming to realize commercial BEVs that are truly beneficial to customers both practically and economically. By bringing together BYD’s achievement in BEV development and Hino’s electrification technology and reliability built over years of experience in developing hybrid vehicles, we will develop the best-fit commercial BEV products for consumer in working towards swift market introduction.”

Deepwater Horizon oil spill 10-year anniversary sends out reminders on safety and avoiding eco-disasters

Two days before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. The explosion and subsequent fire on April 20, 2010, caused the sinking of BP’s oil rig, the deaths of 11 workers, injuries to 17 other workers, and the spilling of four million barrels of oil over an 87-day period. The catastrophe in the Guif of Mexico, approximately 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, led to British oil major BP, the Swiss drilling contractor Transocean, and oil field services company Halliburton, struggling to bring the damage under control.

The spill cost BP over $65 billion in criminal penalties, civil claims, and clean-up costs. More than 47,000 people worked on the response effort in the summer of 2010. It became the biggest oil disaster ever in the US. Scientists estimated 184 million gallons were spilled — 18 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Tourism was hit hard, along with the prime fishing grounds in Louisiana. For the oil industry, the Deepwater Horizon explosion represented the largest public relations crisis in its history. As the company said in a statement: “The accident and spill forever changed BP.”

What about the environmental and safety impact? Endangering marine wildlife and throwing local ecosystems out of balance came from it. For anyone viewing news coverage of the disaster, oil soaked birds and beaches slick with crude were typical to see.

PAH, or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, was found up to eight miles from the Deepwater Horizon and was later found to be causing cardiac arrest in fish. Pockets of methane led to oxygen-starved zones, which caused marine life to smother. Large numbers of fish kills in the area were reported; and utero infections, fetal issues, and late-term pregnancy failures in dolphins. The Audubon Society reported that more than one million birds died as a result of the disaster.

The oil spill’s most lasting effects have been in deep-water zones, wetlands, and in the the population of larger marine animals like turtles, whales, and dolphins with long lifespans, according to Donald Boesch, a professor of marine science at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Boesch was appointed to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling by President Barack Obama. Taking a look at a photo gallery from NPR will show you what it looked like and how the impact is still being felt.

The US is far from enacting fail-safes against a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon happening again; though the Obama administration did enforce rules coming from oversight agencies after the BP disaster. But it’s far from over. An even larger oil spill took place gradually over several years. The US Coast Guard was finally able to contain the Taylor Energy oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico last May that had gone on for more than 14 years. It started in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan triggered an underground mudslide that caused Taylor Energy’s oil platform to topple and sink. The leak is thought to have topped the 2010 BP disaster by more than 241 million gallons, potentially making it one of the largest – and slowest – oil disasters ever recorded.

The Trump administration has been supporting offshore oil drilling. The Department of the Interior will be allowing offshore exploratory drilling in about 90 percent of the outer continental shelf (OCS) acreage, under the National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2019-2024. The oil and gas sector in the region is expected to open up new opportunities to the market once challenges have been addressed and the program is belatedly approved and enacted.

Two other energy and environmental disasters had their share of impact over the past decade. Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on March 11, 2011; and the Volkswagen emissions scandal, also known as Dieselgate, that kicked off in September 2015, eventually overshadowed the Deepwater Horizon oil crisis. While Covid-19 has taken over this year, once its contained and vaccines become common, attention will inevitably go back to climate change, air pollution, and avoiding future energy disasters that bring heavy costs to human, marine, and animal life, the global economy, and clean transportation.

And in other news……….
Speaking of Earth Day, now it’s time for the 50th anniversary on April 22. An anniversary event started on Sunday, April 19 to kick off Earth Week with a virtual stage of high-profile speakers, including public officials, activists, scientists, and performers. Event participants include Al Gore, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Bill Nye (the Science Guy), NRDC president and CEO, and former EPA administrator, Gina McCarthy, and actors such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt. During April 22-24, millions of people around the world are going online for a three-day mobilization to stop the climate emergency.

How will clean car rules be affected by the Covid-19?  Climatewire’s feature (subscription required) doesn’t offer any real surprises. Global auto sales are gone for now, including electric vehicles. Tesla stock is doing alright with its China plant now open and running, and the Model Y coming out soon. Another interesting fact is that zero emission vehicles now make up 10 percent of new vehicle sales in Los Angeles County. Mayor Eric Garcetti wants to see that go up to 30 percent by 2028, by the the summer Olympics come back to the city. Overall, one quote in the article says it all on the state’s ZEV program: “California is aiming for 100 percent electrification of light-duty vehicles and most heavy-duty vehicles,” said Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis. “So this current lapse in the market is of great concern.”

Making improvements to EV battery supply chain:  Questions always come up about where electric vehicles are getting their batteries — and the environmental and economic costs of making it happen. UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) and the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) are conducting a stakeholder-led research initiative focused on identifying strategies to improve sustainability and governance across the EV battery supply chain. The massive global EV deployment has been raising concerns over the sustainability of the battery supply chain, from mining impacts to vehicle carbon emissions. CLEE and NRGI have prepared a background brief to address key questions.

Market analyst gives auto industry forecast during crisis:  Trucks.com conducted an interview with Adam Jonas, the transportation industry analyst at Morgan Stanley Research, on the state of the auto industry and transportation since the Covid-19 pandemic became a global crisis. A few of the interesting findings include:

  • The “work from home” mindset that several employers have been attempting to develop for years is starting to work. The duration and global scale is having an impact that could push auto sales down, as private vehicle ownership accounts for an 86 percent market share of commutes to work.
  • A scrappage plan similar to the “cash-for-clunkers” program a decade ago could stimulate auto sales and bring in newer, cleaner and safer vehicles cars and trucks in operation on our roads.
  • Car rental may see a permanent change with air travel being hit heavily, and the likelihood of travel patterns changing going forward.
  • Heavy-duty truck manufacturing looks like it will fall by more than half this year. Low oil and gasoline prices will continue to make trucks and vans more appealing for buyers.
  • Americans are now becoming more dependent on online retailers, digital logistics operations, and e-commerce players such as Amazon, Instacart, and Fresh Direct for food and household goods. It could a massive shift sparking the need for even more regional, local, and last-mile services. Drone delivery may have to be pushed forward, Jonas said.
  • Vehicle maker consolidation will continue, and economic uncertainly will keep the pressure on that trend.
  • Jonas thinks that Tesla’s retailing model will have to be used by more dealers. Leading dealer chain AutoNation has been showing signs of the chaos facing dealers, with 7,000 of its workers laid off this month due to sales dropping 50 percent.

Tesla doing just fine in China during pandemic, Doing the math when buying your EV

Tesla Inc. is clearing hurdles in the China auto market during the Coronavirus pandemic. The company had 12,709 vehicle registrations in China in March, versus 2,314 in February, marking its highest-ever monthly sales in the world’s largest auto market, according to data from LMC Automotive. Overall new passenger car sales in March were down 40.8 percent from a year earlier in that market. On Friday, the company said it has started selling two more Model 3 variants built at its Shanghai plant. That means all the Model 3s sold in China are locally made and free of import tax.
Tesla plans to start delivering Long Range Model 3s starting in June, priced at 339,050 yuan after subsidies. The rear-wheel drive version, with a driving range of about 373 miles before needing to be recharged, will be priced at 439,900 yuan. The locally made Performance Model 3, for which deliveries are scheduled to begin in Q1 2021, will be priced 419,800 yuan, the California-based automaker said without specifying the price after subsidies.

Telling Your Story: Doing the math on buying your EV
Editor:  So we have our first response to my request on sharing your stories on how you got absorbed into the topics of clean transportation, electric vehicles, alternative fuels, renewable energy, and the like. Thanks to Emile Rocher, a professional in efficient and sustainable buildings — and also an electric vehicle owner — for sharing her experiences with a Ford Focus electric and a Mitsubishi Outlander plug-in hybrid. For those of you interested in sharing your thoughts on sustainable transportation, you can send your comments to jlesage378@gmail.com; or you can leave it in the Comment box at the end of the newsletter.

After spending some 40 years building efficient buildings, when affordable grid tied PV came along some 7 years ago, we invested about $10,000 (Canadian dollars) in system equipment and installed it on a long weekend with the help of a couple friends. Ended up with a surplus of capacity becoming a net exporter which is contrary to the rules in oily Alberta, and were being paid half of retail cost in any case, which inspired us to purchase our first EV — a 2 year old deeply discounted Ford Focus with no km (range). Added another 1.5 KW to the system a few years ago and still had a surplus even while driving about 10,000 km/yr. So we parked our ancient oil burning Jetta and bought a plug-in Mitsubishi Outlander. The great AWD rig which will get 7 L/100 km (33.6 mpg) after the 50 km battery range is exceeded. Collectively these investments make the equity markets pale in comparison regarding risk and return. Our total electricity bill for one full year was $185 (Canadian dollars), electric driving included.

What really needs to be driven home in this oil vs renewable debate is economics. Oil for personal transportation at this time, disregarding the global risk of climate change, just can’t compete evenly with the multiple massive subsidies that industry enjoys. Even Exxon and Shell are buying solar electricity (2 cents/kw hr recently for Exxon) and using it as one of the many other energy inputs in producing liquid fuel.

Do the math — starting with the 30 miles in which a first-gen EV can travel on 7 KW hr of electricity. Remember that the oil industry used that much electricity in the refining process alone to produce one gallon of gasoline (source: Nissan). This business model makes as much sense as turning gold into lead at a huge cost. We need a comprehensive study on all the other collective inputs that go into turning the various sources of hydrocarbons into liquid fuel, and to publicize it as aggressively as the fossil industry lobbies politicians to keep the oil flowing.

—Emile Rocher

And in other news………..
Responding to Covid19:  BYD Motors will pledge a donation of $1 million in medical supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPEs) and hand sanitizer to transit agencies and first responders in the US and Canada. The supplies include FDA-approved adult surgical masks and KN-95 respiratory protective devices, as well as hand sanitizer that is 99.999 percent effective. Several thousand PPEs have already been delivered to agencies that include the City of Los Angeles, the Valley Medical Center in San Jose, Calif., the Toronto Transit Commission, and the LA County Sheriff’s Department………… Hyundai Motor America has donated $100,000 and 10,000 coronavirus test kits to support drive-up testing in Detroit, part of a larger effort by the company to support 21 US drive-up sites. About 65,000 tests have also been donated to hard-hit areas like New Orleans, Chicago, and Detroit, the company said.

Supporting solar in USAF:  Pvilion, a leading solar powered fabric provider, announced it has been awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract by the United State Air Force (USAF) to continue its development of rapidly deployable, solar powered structures. SBIR enables small businesses to explore their technological potential and provides the incentive to profit from its commercialization. The USAF has favorably evaluated the products Pvilion presented for cost, complexity, sustainability, required manual labor, as well as for energy independence all with the goal of maximizing mission-objective readiness. The company says that its solar technology is significantly lighter and more adaptable than traditional solar options. It is integrated entirely into a system already being installed, such as for a tent, shade canopy, or hangar. With fully integrated photovoltaic fabric panels, Pvilion’s structures allow for the multi-capability use by providing power, shelter, lighting, and climate control. Pvilion’s commercial customers use its solar fabric technology in structures used for events such as music festivals, in temporary industrial worksites, and in structures found in parks, municipalities, universities, and corporate campuses. Military operations are a good fit, too. “We’re now working hard to quickly delivery solar structures to Airmen who need them most. In this challenging time, instant access shelter, power, and climate control is key. This project is very important to Pvilion and, I believe, the nation as whole,” said Colin Touhey, engineer and Pvilion CEO.

Fuel cells for marine vessels:  ABB has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Hydrogène de France to jointly manufacture megawatt-scale fuel cell systems capable of powering ocean-going vessels. The agreement will establish a close collaboration on the assembly and production of the fuel cell power plant for marine applications. Building on an existing collaboration announced in 2018 with Ballard Power Systems, ABB and HDF intend to optimize fuel cell manufacturing capabilities to produce a megawatt-scale power plant for marine vessels. The new system will be based on the megawatt-scale fuel cell power plant jointly developed by ABB and Ballard, and will be manufactured at HDF’s new facility in Bordeaux, France.

DC charging for Kia Niro:  Electrify America has made an agreement with Kia Motors America to offer ‘Kia Select,’ a new charging program with optimized pricing for the Kia Niro electric vehicle (EV) model on Electrify America’s direct current (DC) fast charging network. The program offers a flat rate of 35 cents per-minute charging for current Kia Niro EV drivers, designed specifically for the unique DC charging characteristics of the model. The program also waives session fees and has no subscription fees for participants. To participate in the program, drivers can simply download the Electrify America charging app and complete a brief enrollment process. Drivers can also use the app to locate Electrify America charging stations, start a charging session, and remit payment using their credit or debit card entered during the registration process.

Telling your story on how you got here, Trump admin rolls back clean car standards

For those of us homebound during the Covid-19 outbreak, what’s the best way to avoid cabin fever and bleak news saturation?

A few good ones I’ve heard or experienced have been: catching up on a good TV show like Westworld, finally getting around to using an exercise machine, cooking healthy meals at home, playing board games with co-residents, chatting with friends and family on Zoom, and writing (or attempting to write) the Great American Novel.

And there’s always telling a good story. One of the best work experiences I’ve had in recent years has been asking stakeholders in advanced, clean transportation how they got here in the first place. How did they get so passionate about the subject matter?

That might have happened during a video interview for Automotive Digest; or a phone interview for an article; or during a luncheon at ACT Expo; or by exchanging emails after connecting on LinkedIn; or watching them give a presentation on the vehicle, fuel, or technology they’ve been championing for years; or talking with them during monthly calls of Green Auto Market’s editorial advisory board.

I’ve had a few more good questions to ask them, or that I got asked. These might include:

 

  • What do you really think it will take for clean vehicles to reach 10 percent (or 25 percent, 50 percent, etc.) of US new vehicle sales?
  • What are the most compelling points to make about switching over from gasoline and diesel to electric vehicles; or hybrids; or hydrogen; or natural gas; or propane autogas; or biogas; or renewable fuel?
  • What comes first — the chicken or the egg? The vehicle or the charging/fueling infrastructure? Or, are they equally important?
  • How did you pick this field of endeavor over something more established and safe?

Readers of Green Auto Market have told me quite a few fascinating stories. Their passion for the subject matter and staying informed might have started years ago when they took over fleet acquisitions for a city directed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; or they’ve been obsessed with electric vehicles ever since they made their first do-it-yourself low speed, short range EV from a kit — and years later bought a Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, or Tesla Model S; or they’ve worked for a government agency promoting adoption of alternative fuel vehicles; or they’ve worked in one or more startups breaking into the world of EVs and charging; or for a major automaker setting up a division in EVs, autonomous vehicles, or mobility services; or they just love to read and talk about the latest in cars, fuels, and vehicle tech.

For those of you interested in sharing your stories about getting hooked on clean transportation — and about what you’d like to see happen in the near future — in Green Auto Market, please email at jlesage378@gmail.com. It would be best to include your name and affiliation (employer, organization, area of interest, etc.); or you can remain confidential about your name and affiliation, if need be.

Speaking of which, here’s my story………

I started following the subject matter in the 1990s while serving as an editor at Automotive Fleet. I spent time talking to fleet managers who were testing out vehicle conversions to natural gas and propane autogas; they started receiving funding grants from Air Quality Management Districts in California (and other agencies around the country) to convert vehicles over to compressed natural gas fueling systems and to have a fueling dispenser placed at their base location.

During that time, I might also have been interviewing someone involved in testing out other alternative fuels such as ethanol and methanol. Support for methanol didn’t last very long after engine corrosion became a major concern. I’d also heard about limited test projects being done — electric vehicles (one of them later becoming General Motors’ EV1), a self-driving truck by the military, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that picked up more support from automakers and government agencies by the early 2000s.

For the most part, interest in clean transportation faded away by the second half of the 1990s. Cheap gasoline and diesel prices; attractive fleet incentives for full-size cars, trucks, and vans; and domestic manufacturer truck and van models that could be customized and equipped for utility fleets, construction, and maintenance operations, took away much of the interest in alternative fuel vehicles by the late 1990s.

The turning point for me was in 2007. As I’ve shared with some of you, on Aug. 12 of that year, I was struck with encephalitis — an inflammation of the brain caused by a previous infection activated again. That one had been herpes simplex that started when I was a child with chicken pox. It was reactivated in 2007 primarily by stress; though it was largely unknown at the time, and it wasn’t diagnosed correctly at first. On that day, my heart stopped twice and I had to be revived — or I wouldn’t have lived through it.

I was hospitalized for about two months, with the encephalitis swell blocking my memory (front, left cortex of the brain) for most of that time period. I wasn’t able to return to my office for work until after the first of the year. During that time after getting out of the hospital and staying home, I found myself going on the internet to research and read about subject matter I’d been digging into earlier — such as while attending the Alternative Fuels & Vehicles Conference in Anaheim earlier that year. Topics that grabbed my interest included concern over global warming; cleantech startups being a hot commodity, with capital available for EV startups and solar and wind power companies; and reading about corporate sustainability policies.

My interest transitioned over to fascination during 2008 — from the gasoline and diesel price spike and volatility, and doing features for LCT Magazine on chauffeured transportation fleets starting to try out alternative fuels. During that year, I profiled the Econation startup company— which was bringing in Priuses, hybrid SUVs, and CNG-powered Lincoln Town Cars to its fleet for corporate trips in Los Angeles.

I was blessed with support for my interest and fascination in these cars, fuels, and technologies while working with Automotive Digest and its team (led by Publisher Chuck Parker). Green Automotive Digest started up in 2010, which gave me an excellent channel for meeting and interviewing several stakeholders in the field.

During all of this time period, I became most fascinated with two key themes — clean transportation offering pragmatic solutions; and the absolute necessity of transportation in our economy and lifestyles. I would end up talking about, and writing about, these topics quite a few times — at least as a backstory to a news item or feature I was digging into.

Here’s a question for you to consider. What if you could help clean the air, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs, and support technology innovation? Would you consider that intelligent, practical, and inspiring? That’s been a key piece of the formula when a new vehicle technology is introduced to the public. A piece of the press release might state something like: “This fuel will reduce carbon emissions by 1.2 million tons this year compared to diesel fuel.”

As for the role of transportation in our cultural and economic development, I think it’s been as important as power, communications, lighting, medical care, and distributing water. The essential value and role that ground transportation has played in human history for 200 years started with rail, and later with internal combustion engines and crank-up starters, the first electric vehicles, and bringing steam-engines over from trains to cars. With it came the eventual domination of petroleum and serious threats to air quality and sustainability of the world we live in.

I have to admit that I do love fast cars that can guzzle a lot of gasoline — with the 1968 Pontiac GTO being my favorite. That wasn’t the second car in the legendary car chase scene in the 1968 movie Bullitt — that was another of my favorites, the Dodge Charger, taking on the classic Ford Mustang. I believe we have the right to own and retain these cars, but they’re certainly not practical for daily commuting.

I would gladly ride to work in a shared, automated, electric SUV or bus. Why stay stuck in traffic, resenting other drivers and feeling bored and restless when you could be chatting with ridemates, playing a video game, watching something really good on a screen, reading your favorite humor columnist, texting comments to friends and family, and more?

I have appreciated researching and writing about the subject matter for previously mentioned publications. I’ve also appreciated my freelance writing with Autoblog Green, Hybridcars.com, and Oilprice.com. I had some good years conducting market intelligence studies on car rental, business travel, and travel management for Abrams Travel Data Services. I’ve also valued participating in speaker panels at AltCar Expo. I do look forward to what’s next, and expect that Covid-19 will be overcome and we’ll get back the business of green cars, fuels, and technologies.

And in other news:

White House finalizes clean car rules:  Last week, the Trump administration announced its rollback of Obama-era fuel-economy regulations from 2012, which aimed to require automakers to up the average fuel economy in their fleets to 54.5 mpg within the next few years. The administration finalized the second part of the rollback, which is formally known as the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles rule. The second part of the SAFE rule would require automakers to increase the fuel economy of passenger cars by 1.5 percent each year. That’s far less stringent than the standards set by the Obama administration, which mandated a 5 percent annual increase in fuel economy. But it’s less dramatic than the Trump administration’s original plan, which was to freeze the standards at 2020 levels through model year 2026. Court challenges are expected to be filed once again. President Trump posted tweets similar to comments he’d made last year: ”My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3500, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer,” he tweeted. “Engines would run smoother. Positive impact on the environment! Foolish executives!”

Automakers close plants, making ventilators:  Here’s a list of US auto factory shutdowns and scheduled dates of reopening in 14 states across the US. Several of the plants will be opening up again this month, between April 13 to 20. Ford and General Motors announced in late March that they’ll be building thousands of ventilators to fight Covid-19. These are taking place in plants that had been shut down from car production. Tesla is showing a new video posted on the company’s YouTube channel, where its engineers show off two versions of a ventilator, a prototype model with its components laid out across a desk, as well as a packaged model that shows how it might look when used by a hospital. CEO Elon Musk made a commitment to build the ventilators last month after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio asked for the company’s help.

BYD wants to improve EV battery safety:  BYD last week unveiled its Blade Battery, designed to resolve concerns about battery safety in electric vehicles. At an online launch event, Wang Chuanfu, BYD’s chairman and president, said that the Blade Battery reflects BYD’s determination to resolve issues in battery safety while also redefining safety standards for the entire industry. The Blade Battery has been developed by BYD over the past several years. Due to its optimized battery pack structure, the space utilization of the battery pack is increased by over 50 percent compared to conventional lithium iron phosphate block batteries. While undergoing nail penetration tests, the Blade Battery emitted neither smoke nor fire after being penetrated, and its surface temperature only reached 30 C (86 F) to 60 C (140 F). It would be far less susceptible to catching fire – even when they are severely damaged — than other batteries on the market.

China extending EV sales incentives:  China agreed to extend tax breaks and subsidies on electric-vehicle purchases for two years to provide relief for the struggling industry in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will keep waiving the 10 percent sales tax on EVs, a benefit that began in 2014 and was due to expire at the end of this year, through 2022, according to a media report. The state council overseeing the program also agreed to prolong subsidies for EV purchases for two years. The sales tax waiver and subsidies apply to battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

Emissions drop during pandemic:  The coronavirus pandemic is offering one advantage: shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows according to Wired. Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year. Nitrogen dioxide produced from car engines, power plants, and other industrial processes, is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
(Editor’s Note: Look for the April issue of Wired to read a special section on climate change, entitled, “We Have One Earth — And The Technology To Save It. Go!”)