Electric Vehicle Landscape: Majors Vs. Startups Part 1

Plug-in electric vehicles arena’t going to take over new vehicle sales anytime soon, but the market is having a surprising comeback given that Covid-19 and economic jitters continue. Consumers are looking well beyond the basics, including entertainment during the quarantine, for electric passenger cars, while electric trucks are seeing a bit of movement as well.

While major players are making the headway in sales, startups are coming out of the shadows and playing a role in the market dynamics as well. Electric trucks are getting a lot of interest from investors.

This week: the major automakers are doing well.

Top 10 global EV brands in sales
this year through May

Brand 2021 Units Sold

  1. Tesla 276,459
  2. SAIC-GM-Wuling  161,610
  3. Volkswagen 118,856
  4. BYD 110,427
  5. BMW 105,419
  6. Mercedes-Benz 88,186
  7. Volvo 75,763
  8. SAIC 73,086
  9. Audi 60,763
  10. Peugeot 49,315

Source: InsideEVs

Strong sales of plug-in electric vehicles marked June sales results, and the first six months of this year. US sales more than doubled in the first half compared to that time period in 2020, versus a 29 percent increase of the overall new vehicle sales market.

In China, about 235,000 plug-ins were sold in June, which translated to 15 percent market share for the overall new vehicle sales market in that country. June saw an all-time record for new energy vehicles. About 12 percent of the overall market is battery electric vehicles. The Wuling Hong Guang MINI EV continues to lead the China market.

Europe saw plug-in vehicles taking an even larger share of its overall new vehicle sales than China. At over 237,000 registrations in June, these vehicles made up 19 percent of the total market. Year over year, it was a 157 percent gain in sales for plug-in vehicles sold in the European market.

Tesla numbers looking very good. Much of Tesla’s numbers have been fueled by the new Model Y small crossover taking off. The Model 3’s sales has been dropping and the Model S and Model X have been nearly absent compared to previous strong sales. The Model Y really took in the California market, where crossover SUVs remain popular with drivers.

Tesla Inc. just crossed a threshold on Tuesday when for the first time ever it announced quarterly profits without without counting on the sale of emissions credits to other automakers. Those credits had run out, and in the first quarter, Tesla reported a $534 gain in selling federal credits to competitors. Another gain expressed by Tesla executives was that it’s been able to sidestep the effects of a global chip shortage that has held back production for global automakers. The company will have to continue that sidestep as it attempts to satisfy growing demand for electric vehicles, they said. On the downside, Tesla said it had to once again delay its semitrailer truck, aLready two years late, with deliveries expected in 2022.

Tesla reported about $12 billion in revenue during the second quarter, nearly double Q2 2020. A profit of $1.1 billion was reporting, the eight sequential quarter without a loss.

The biggest surprise in global EV sales has been seeing a Chinese joint venture shoot up in sales since last year. The Wuling HongGuang Mini EV that starts at $4,500 — a tiny, two-door hatchback that seats only four people — has done very well since its introduction a year ago. It debuted in China and has only sold there so far, with plans on shipping it overseas. Its manufactured under a JV between Wuling, SAIC Motor, and General Motors.

SAIC was already a strong player in the market, coming it at 8th place in global EV sales so far this year through its broad lineup. The company did particularly well last year. Sales of its new energy vehicles (NEVs) saw a year-on-year increase of 73.4 percent to 320,000 vehicles in 2020, representing the fastest growth rate and highest sales figures in China. The major Chinese automaker produces EVs under several brands, including joint ventures — Roewe, SAIC Wuling, MG, Maxus, and SAIC VW. The luxury brand Roewe has been particularly important, with its new “R” logo rolled out last year for the Marvel-R electric SUV.

Volkswagen has been pleased to see its ID concept take off. The ID 3 and ID 4 have made up 50,000 units of its total EV sales so far this year through the end of May; though the production process and sales have been slower than analysts had expected for the ID series.

Still, VW is not anywhere near where it had pledged to be by now with 2025 being the lofty benchmark. The German automaker says that over the next 5 years, it will spend about $55 billion electrifying all its brands. In 2025 the company expects 25 percent of its global sales to be battery electric vehicles (BEVs), growing up to 60 percent by the early 2030s. Europe will see an even higher goal to reach, with VW recently raising its sales target for BEVs plus plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) in Europe to 70% by 2030, up from 35%. All ICE production for VW brand will stop in Europe by 2035.

BYD Han EV was the Chinese automaker’s top seller with 32,865 units sold January through May. BYD continues to emphasize its fleet/commercial/transit vehicles with more units being sold abroad in the transport bus and commercial truck segments.

Three days ago, the company celebrated the production of the 100,000th Han model, which has been offered in China since Summer 2020 in two versions — all-electric and plug-in hybrid. Soon before that announcement, BYD reported that it sold in China 40,116 passengers plug-in cars, which is 207 percent more than a year ago, and a new monthly record. Plug-in electric vehicles made up about 81 percent of total BYD passenger vehicle sales in June, which matches the 81 percent record from December 2018, the company said.

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler recently said that it plans to invest more than 40 billion euros ($47 billion) by 2030 to be ready to take on Tesla in an all-electric car market, but warned the shift in technology would lead to job cuts. That will come through building eight battery plants with strategic partners as the German automaker ramps up EV production. By 2025, all new vehicle platforms will only make EVs, the German luxury automaker added.

Daimler is in a similar position as VW, Volvo, Audi, Peugeot, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, and other automakers: How do you take on Tesla? While EV sales has been gradually growing for these global automakers, none of them have crossed the tipping point they’d set in recent years to meet stringent government climate change and air quality regulations, and to meet growing demand for clean vehicles and sustainable products among consumer and corporate customers.

BEVs still dominate the global EV market. The top-selling plug-in hybrid in May was the Toyota Prius Prime at 5,850 sold worldwide that month with a similar pattern for the year and BEVs leading the way. There were only four plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the top 20 during that month.

And in other news………..

Ford announced that Romulus, Mich., will be the home of its new global battery center of excellence – Ford Ion Park – which is accelerating the company’s research and development of battery and battery cell technology – including future battery manufacturing. Ford Ion Park is aimed at driving high-volume battery cell delivery, better range, and lower costs for customers.It represents $100 million of Ford’s $185 million investment in developing, testing, and building vehicle battery cells and cell arrays.

“Ford already is delivering on our plan to lead the electric revolution with strong new vehicles including Mustang Mach-E, 2022 E-Transit available late 2021 and the 2022 F-150 Lightning available from spring next year,” said Anand Sankaran, Ford Ion Park director. “The new lab will help Ford speed up the battery development process to deliver even more capable, affordable batteries and is part of Ford’s renewed commitment to making Michigan a centerpiece of its focus on EVs.”

Amazon-backed electric truck startup Rivian raised $2.5B in its latest funding round amid reports of plans for an initial public offering. The funding round was led by Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, D1 Capital Partners, Ford Motor Co., and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price, according to a statement. Rivian has raised about $10.5 billion overall.

The market for hydrogen power generation technologies is transitioning toward maturity and wider adoption, buoyed by improving economics, growing government support, and demand for clean and reliable power, according to a new Guidehouse Insights report. Since around 2016, the hydrogen economy has gained significant momentum as countries, cities, organizations, and industries look to decarbonize. The emergence of commercially viable hydrogen vehicles and massive investments in electrolyzers for green hydrogen production have pushed hydrogen’s potential to new levels, the study says.

One company is set to tap into these growing market dynamics. Hyzon Motors Inc., a global supplier of hydrogen fuel-cell-powered commercial vehicles, has developed new onboard hydrogen storage system technology that it says is capable of reducing the weight and manufacturing cost of commercial vehicles powered by the company’s hydrogen fuel cells. The new patent-pending onboard hydrogen storage system technology has the potential to reduce the overall weight of the system by 43 percent, storage system costs by 52 percent, and the required manufacturing component count by 75 percent, according to the report.

Tesla expanding access to fast-charging network. CEO Elon Musk recently tweeted that by the end of the year, the electric vehicle maker will be opening up its network of Superchargers to other EVs. Tesla has had a competitive edge with it network of over 25,000 fast chargers at over 2,700 stations globally.

Germany’s transport minister had said he was trying to convince Tesla to go this route; and President Joe Biden’s plans to put in $1.2 trillion on infrastructure, with $7.5 billion going toward EV infrastructure, could also boost efforts to open up EV fast chargers. Charging companies such as Volkswagen’s Electrify America, and Blink Charging Co., EVgo Inc., and ChargePoint, are also building out charging networks across the US.

Green vehicle sales data tough to find these days, but there is good news out there

If you’re fascinated with green vehicle sales, where do you go to find that information?

Not long ago, you would have gone to InsideEV’s EV Sales Scorecard, HybridCar’s Hybrid Dashboard, Electric Drive Transportation Association’s monthly report, Green Auto Market’s Extended Edition (for paid subscribers); regular coverage in Green Car Congress. EV-volumes.com, and CleanTechnica; and special reports that might be released by EVAdoption, International Energy Agency, BloombergNEF, Statista.com, and occasionally, other sources.

So, what have we got left these days?
After spending time researching that question, it looks like there are only three main sources available at this time:

US Dept. of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory. The agency offers cumulative figures, and some details on the latest market developments, on hybrid electric vehicle sales, plug-in vehicle sales, and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles. You can also view charts on US plug-in vehicle sales since 2010, and mostly sales data for electric vehicles. The problem here is that you have to magnify the chart and gaze at lines of color to estimate those volumes.

CleanTechnica’s news coverage and quarterly US electric vehicle sales charts. CleanTechnica is a very good publication to follow for those interested in the state of renewable energy, climate change policies, energy efficiency, sustainability campaigns, and the role that electric vehicles is playing in the market. That might include EV models doing well in Europe and other global markets.

Veloz.com: Veloz is a fairly new nonprofit organization dedicated to “leading the electric car revolution.” The NPO’s members come from key sector companies, agencies, and nonprofits. Its focus is on California, but its reporting does include national figures. The organization’s Sales Dashboard data comes from the California Energy Commission and includes the most current cumulative figures on zero emission vehicle (ZEV) sales in the state, including plug-in vehicle and fuel cell electric vehicle sales in California and in the US. You can also view cumulative data on California’s EV charger and hydrogen stations, and on California vehicle models available meeting the state’s ZEV guidelines.

What’s missing is monthly sales data on models. How is the Tesla Model 3 doing in US sales last month compared to a year ago? Two years ago? How many units have been sold since it was introduced in 2017? What are the closest plug-in models in sales from other automakers? These and other good questions can’t be answered now — unless you have a research firm that you’ve paid to do that project; or some of it may be provided to member organizations in NPOs and through alliances with government agencies. Even better yet, you get the automakers to provide their monthly sales data reports directly to you.

What happened to all that wonderful data?
In late 2019, and into the next year, announcements started being made that these sales reports would be coming to an end. As you can see on Argonne National Laboratory’s page: “As of November 2019, Argonne no longer reports the number of E-drive vehicles sold by make and model.”

Argonne offers details on where it’s data used to come from, but if you visit these sites, you’ll notice they’re missing — with or without announcements on the last of the detailed reports. I think the main reason for these changes was publications having less resources to spend the necessary time, and to tap into existing relationships, to get these reports done and published. Media sources were going through cutbacks in staff, mergers and acquisitions, and a perception that green vehicles were not the hot commodity for getting more active readers and advertisers. Maybe that would be going over to smartphone apps like Apple CarPlay, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, and the latest and coolest high-performance cars powered by fossil fuels.

Green Auto Market stopped publishing these charts around this time to subscribers as well — that came from having less of the data available; and changes in my own career path that included stopping regular editions out for about seven months.

That being said, what is going on in green vehicles sales?
Here’s a few market trends that I’ve noticed:

  1. Battery and electric vehicle sales are coming back gradually, but the long-term effect looks pretty good.
    A total of 53,779 light-duty plug-in vehicles — 37,967 battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and 15,812 plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) — were sold during May 2021 in the US, up 329 percent from sales in May 2020, says Argonne National Laboratory.

Cumulatively, 230,687 PHEVs and BEVs have been sold in 2021. US plug-in vehicle sales in 2020 totaled around 296,000 units, which was down significantly from the 331,000 in sales in 2019 due largely to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Platts Analytics Future Energy Outlooks’ report.

The chart featured above, from Argonne National Laboratory, supports the idea that plug-in vehicles are back on track for gradual growth and integration into new vehicle sales. That would go for North America, Europe, and China, according to this report and other sources.

  1. Light-duty trucks make up most of hybrid sales.
    Here’s a telling one…… light trucks (pickup trucks and SUVs) were on pace to account for 76.2 percent of all US new-vehicle retail sales in May 2021, according to J.D. Power and LMC Automotive. The ratio was down for light trucks versus cars in hybrids, but the same trend carried over.

About 64 percent of US new hybrid vehicle sales from January through May 2021 were led by light trucks. During that month, 75,025 hybrid electric vehicles sales (27,085 cars and 47,940 LTs) were sold in the US,. It was up 170.5 percent from the sales in May 2020. Toyota is doing very well here. The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has been No. 1 lately in US hybrid sales, with the Toyota Highlander Hybrid at No. 2.

  1. Northern Europe leads the way.
    Plug-in vehicles are still down as marginal share of total new vehicles sales in the US (about 2 percent last year), but that’s far from true in a few other countries. Northern Europe is leading the way here. The top five (percentage of 2020 total new vehicle sales) were Norway (74.8 percent), Iceland (52.4 percent), Sweden (32.3 percent), Netherlands (25.0 percent), and Finland (18.1 percent).

That data from International Energy Agency, presented in a Pew Research Center study, shows the world average at 4.6 percent. Massive EV market China came in at 5.7 percent of new vehicle sales going to plug-ins last year.

  1. Tesla still dominates the market.
    While the Model 3 may not have total domination of the market anymore, it’s still doing very well. And it’s No. 2 behind the new Model Y. That new small crossover had 44,680 units sold in the US during the second quarter, while the Model 3 came in at 36,300. The Model S and Model X were down on the list of Q2 2021 US sales, but still in the top 10. Tesla had a slight decline in its share, but it still controls 71 percent of US plug-in vehicle sales this year.

Catalytic converters a hot topic for car thieves — and for a filmmaker who exposes ‘smog conspiracy’

How did catalytic converters become such a hot topic lately — whether that be about car thieves or an entertaining movie about its history and cover up by automakers? The technology has been around for years and was essential for automakers to meet state and federal rules on manufacturing vehicles producing less smog emissions, but there is something of high value to thieves beyond that purpose.

You may have noticed in local news coverage that catalytic converter units have been cut off and removed by thieves at an alarming rate over the past year. Many arrests are being made regularly, and recovery of stolen goods is being claimed by law enforcement around the country whenever possible.

The technology uses precious metals as catalysts that process raw exhaust gases and converts them over to less harmful gases in water, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen.

Why are thieves stealing a lot of them these days? They’re not reselling the converters; it’s that the precious metals used in manufacturing catalytic converters have quite a lot dollar value to buyers, according to Roadshow editor Brian Cooley. Platinum, palladium, and rhodium, though in small quantities, make the theft worthwhile for these precious metals.

Where did it all begin? A series of air pollution and air quality federal laws starting in 1970 eventually led to a 1975 federal mandate on emission standards that included the catalytic converter. The OPEC oil embargo of 1973 was another influential factor on the federal government adding the 1975 rules. States eventually enacted rules on aftermarket catalytic converters that would meet federal Environmental Protection Agency standards.

That eventually evolved into California requiring the use of California Air Resources Board-compliant catalytic converters on Jan. 1, 2009. Other states followed along including New York (6/1/2013) and Maine (6/1/2018) mandating the use of CARB-compliant converters for certain model year vehicles. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, Colorado became the latest state to call for the use of. CARB-compliant catalytic converters typically use an enhanced combination of washcoat technology and higher precious metal load to meet the state’s stricter emissions conversions standard.

What the new movie deals with
No Sudden Move, a 2021 film streaming on HBO Max and starring Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, was directed by Steven Soderbergh. It’s a crime thriller about a 1954 theft of the first catalytic converter system. As mentioned, that air pollution reduction system did become mandated by the federal government in 1975 — but had been floating around in the backdrop for over two decades. That plays into the classic conspiracy theory about major automakers buying patent rights, or conducting legal battles in court or through lobbying efforts, to suppress clean vehicle technology. One idea here is that America already has a vast network of gas stations. Switching over to alternative fuels and energy would be incredibly costly; and who would foot the bill?

Actor Matt Damon plays an anonymous auto industry executive in No Sudden Move who becomes similar to “Deep Throat” in All The President’s Men. He refers to moves being made by automakers to control the catalytic converter and how big bucks would be paid to get the technology returned from the thieves. At the end of the movie, text rolls across the screen explaining how, a few years after the film’s historic placement of its storyline, the federal government sued major carmakers for conspiring to hide evidence that vehicles were causing pollution; and the automakers were suppressing catalytic-converter technology that could help combat the problem.

Damon’s shadowy character also responds to questions about the “redlining” of neighborhoods in Detroit that would later bring down housing market value and encourage crime waves in America’s black community neighborhoods. Redlining segregation went far beyond Detroit, the auto executive said.

The catalytic converter reference at the end of the film goes to a 1969 lawsuit by the US Dept. of Justice against American Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors, who were charged with conspiring between 1953 to 1969 to delay both the manufacturing of pollution-control devices and their installation in cars. It took on the slang term, “smog conspiracy” in media coverage.

Soderbergh, best known for his Ocean’s 11 trilogy, has kept his hand in geopolitical battles and conspiracy theories over his career. Oscar-winning Erin Brockovich (2000), features Julia Roberts playing the title character on a crusade with her law firm employer to hold accountable Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) for its role in the Hinkley groundwater contamination incident. Traffic (2000) explored the drug trafficking industry and the futile attempts to suppress it by criminal law and enforcement; Contagion (2011) set the tone for Covid-19 when a business traveler having an affair in Hong Kong contracts a pandemic virus and brings it back to the US. Jude Law plays an anti-pharmaceutical industry activist — and conspiracy theory champion — who benefits financially from his own clandestine efforts to spread the story.

Automakers tend to stay out of these stories and accusations, choosing to focus more on winning high-performance racing competitions and growing sales and profit margins each quarter. In more recent years, they have tended to cooperating more with regulators and participate in discussions with California on zero emissions, fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen, and charging infrastructure. They also continue to ask for a national standard by the federal government on fuel economy and emissions.

Complying with catalytic converter rules is one of many that automakers must follow in safety, fuel economy, and reliability. Suppressing the technology is less likely these days, and after the 2015 Volkswagen diesel car debacle, they’re especially less likely to take on those types of risks.

The catalytic converter is likely one of several technologies that will eventually go away if the projected model of electric, autonomous, connected, and shared vehicles becomes the global industry’s norm. For now, state and federal laws require vehicles to be equipped with these transitional technologies, and for automakers to do their part in making sure it happens.

And in other news………
EA doubling infrastructure: Electrify America announced its “Boost Plan”  to more than double its current electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in the United States and Canada, with plans to have more than 1,800 fast charging stations and 10,000 individual chargers installed by the end of 2025. The expansion will increase the deployment of 150 and 350 kilowatt chargers – the fastest speed available today – and help pave the way for more electric vehicles in North America.

New Honda CEO on EV alliances: Honda Motor Co.’s new CEO Toshihiro Mibe said today that the automaker is willing to form new alliances to make electric vehicles profitable. One alliance partner is General Motors, and the two companies have said they will meet two objectives: introduce two jointly developed large-sized EV models in North America, using GM’s Ultium batteries, in 2024; and roll out several new models which feature a new EV platform they’re calling ‘e:Architecture.’

Mibe, who took this job in April, made points during a press conference on issues affecting all automotive executives — the economic and regulatory pressures to share technology and costs with competitors, meet stringent clean air and climate change mandates, and to transition over to autonomous driving.

New ride-hailing startup: Finally! Something positive and constructive related to the ride-hailing market: a driver-owned cooperative in New York City. How a union organizer, black car driver, and former Uber executive, took on a huge challenge: building a new ride-hailing platform that gives profit and control to drivers. Read all about it.

RNG brings carbon negativity: Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) and Coalition for Renewable Natural Gas (RNG Coalition) announced that California fleets fueled with bio-CNG achieved carbon-negativity for calendar year 2020. They also say that 92 percent of all on-road fuel used in natural gas vehicles in California last year was renewable natural gas (RNG). According to data from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) the annual average carbon intensity score of bio-CNG in that mix was -5.845 gCO2e/MJ. The carbon intensity of California’s bio-CNG continues to drop. -0.85 in Q2 and -17.95 in Q3.

BYD sales skyrocket: BYD sold 51,015 vehicles in June, with 49,765 units of passenger vehicles and 1,250 units of commercial vehicles respectively. In China, the company’s new energy vehicles shot up 207 percent year-over-year in June. During the second half of 2021, BYD will continue increasing its production capacity to meet market demand and use innovative technologies such as the DM-i hybrid system and the blade battery to create more sales in the future.

Autonomous vehicle testing ramps up, but deployment is still years away

While post-pandemic road testing has started up again for autonomous vehicles in the US and other countries, reaching the commercial level is still a long ways off — at least the fully autonomous vehicle part of it. Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) continue being included as standard equipment on new vehicles, and other pieces of the puzzle continue to fall into place — but all of the technology will remain under strict scrutiny for years. On the other hand, aerial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already commercialized and growing in production options. UAWs have always been years ahead of autonomous vehicles.

Nuro, Inc., has authorization for deployment of autonomous vehicles in California, which was granted on Dec. 23, 2020.

The potential is huge for fleets, transit agencies, transportation planners, ride-sharing companies, shuttles, technology giants, robotics manufacturers, vehicle makers, and more. The transformation into connected, electric, shared, and autonomous vehicles is on its way, but at a slower pace than many had hoped for.

“In recent years, private and government testing of autonomous vehicles has increased significantly, although it is likely that widespread use of fully autonomous vehicles — with no driver attention needed — lies many years in the future,” according to the April 2021 briefing by the Congressional Research Service.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) just issued orders for manufacturers to report any crash that happens while a vehicle is automating some driving tasks and an injury or property damage is reported. It covers all vehicles that can partially automate functions, such as steering, acceleration, or braking. Fully autonomous vehicles (AVs) will go on the list later on, once they become available for sale. More will be revealed by NHTSA on the safety issues that AVs and ADAS face.

Safety has to be resolved
NHTSA’s move addresses the major roadblock for AVs to move forward to mass-market production: safety. The pace was slowed down after the 2018 death in Arizona of a pedestrian struck by an autonomous vehicle operated by ride-hailing firm Uber. The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the fatality was caused by an “inadequate safety culture” at Uber. Two April 2021 fatalities in a Tesla vehicle that was operating with no one in the driver’s seat raised further questions about the safety of AVs.

The federal government has put in place an overview on AV laws, and for the states to carry out the specifics. That will come in the form of national safety standards and requirements. The feds would like like states to lead the way dialogue with tech innovators, industry, and government.

The majority of testing has been taking place in a handful of states: Arizona, California, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Washington. California remains the busiest hub for AV testing.

In California, there are 55 permit holders for testing a self-driving car with a driver onboard. Eight of them are also permit holders for driverless testing. One of them, Nuro, Inc., also has authorization for deployment of autonomous vehicle that was granted on Dec. 23, 2020.

Nuro is an American robotics company based in Mountain View, Calif. The company develops autonomous delivery vehicles, and was the first company to receive an autonomous exemption from NHTSA since its vehicles are designed to carry goods instead of humans.

It joins up with Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet, which opened up its fully driverless vehicles to all customers of its ride-hailing service in the Phoenix area back in October. Nuro and Waymo are operating and overseeing a fairly small number of AVs in the two states.

The other companies on the California permit holders list have been very visible in testing out AVs for nearly a decade. The list includes Apple, Argo AI, Baidu USA, BMW, Continental, Cruise, Delphi, DiDi, Honda, Intel, Lyft, Mercedes-Benz, Nio, Nissan, Nvidia, Pony.AI, Qualcomm, Ridecell, Telenav, Tesla, Toyota Research Institute, Volkswagen, and Waymo. Exploring some of the AV technology that these companies are developing, many times with partners, can be eye opening. The investment has been sizable, and thousands of employees have devoted their workdays to exploring and testing the technology.

Uber and Lyft go on to other things
Another clear sign that AV is a market segment that’s still years in the making is that companies are leaving after having invested substantially into it. Lyft recently sold its AV unit to a Toyota subsidiary, Woven Planet, for $550 million. Uber sold its business to Aurora, a startup headed by Chris Urmson, who played a key role in Google’s self-driving car division before it was named Waymo.

For the companies still in the business — automakers, Waymo, and a few startups, they’re likely to spend an additional $6 billion to $10 billion before the technology makes it to the commercial level.

“This is a transformation that is going to happen over 30 years and possibly longer,” Urmson said.

There may have been too much hype during 2014-15 after Google rolled out its self-driving test cars and every automaker, tech giant, and startup, claimed it would change the world within a brief time period.

Self-driving trucks is a segment that may see success before driverless passenger cars. Both Ways and Aurora are developing autonomous trucks along cars. The routes are simpler and less drivers involved. Daimler and Volvo are expected to do well in commercial autonomous trucks. Tesla has that opportunity, too.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk is known for making bold, sometimes outlandish, statements about Tesla rolling out breakthrough technology way ahead of competitors. That’s certainly been the case with fully autonomous vehicles, but Tesla owners have had enough of it. Musk’s bold claims go back to 2018, and then again in 2019 when his first promise didn’t come through. His wording changed over to a “feature-complete” system that would still rely on the driver’s attention, which most recently rolled over to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta. As usual, that test program is taking much longer than he’d hoped for. Musk had promised that an update should be coming “no later than June.” But Tesla owners went after him on Twitter as the month ended, and Musk had to back down.

Nearly all states considering laws or have them in place
States are taking it very seriously, with many of the rules governing testing of the vehicles. Forty-eight states have laws or regulations — or those that are under consideration — related to autonomous vehicles. Twenty-nine states have enacted legislation related to AVs, according to National Conference of State Legislatures.

These 29 states are Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin (and Washington D.C.). Governors in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to autonomous vehicles.

Drones have been leading the way
Look up drones on Google, and you’ll be scanning through hundreds of Amazon listings on small drone aircraft used by teenagers and adults as a hobby. Some of the drones, aka UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), are being used for commercial purposes — weather and traffic reports, deliveries, and many other functions. For those working in the industry, aerial and water drones are far ahead of driverless cars; and reconnaissance aircraft, which have been used by the US military for over 40 years, lead the way.

One company, DroneDeploy, offers aerial inspections with UAVs. DroneDeploy works with clients such as construction companies, building inspectors, planning agencies, and designers, to keep upgrading its products for effective scrutiny of construction projects.

“Today you have to count on a superintendent walking by the right thing at the right time and taking a picture. Capturing everything with a drone will help you catch issues that you’re not catching now,” according to Austin Lay, Visualization Coordinator/sUAS Flight Specialist, Layton Construction.

On April 21, 2021, the Federal Aviation Administration passed final rules for remotely identifying drones and allowing operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. The Remote Identification (Remote ID) rule provides for identifying drones in flight and the location of their control stations, reducing the risk of them interfering with other aircraft or posing a risk to people and property on the ground.

“Drones can provide virtually limitless benefits, and these new rules will ensure these important operations can grow safely and securely,” said FAA Administrator Steve Dickson. “The FAA will continue to work closely with other Department of Transportation offices and stakeholders from across the drone community to take meaningful steps to integrate emerging technologies that safely support increased opportunities for more complex drone use.”

Major aerospace and defense companies have been making moves in this space for several years and have been working with government officials to comply with rules. Amazon Prime Air — a future delivery system from Amazon — is being designed to safely get packages to customers in 30 minutes or less using drones.

Boeing builds the MQ-35 Stingray aerial-refueling drone for the Navy. The company is also working on the Airpower Teaming System or “Loyal Wingman” military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). 

Northrop Grumman has played a leading role in the deployment of pilotless aircraft for the military. Its RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone grabbed attention in 2019 after it was shot down by Iran while operating in international airspace over the Strait of Hormuz. Its MQ-4C Triton, based on its Global Hawk drone, is playing a part in marine environments; Fire Scout, a rotary-wing drone, is being used in Navy ships.

Lockheed Martin builds the Stalker XE for special forces units, Desert Hawk III for UK forces, and the avionics for small quadcopter drones used by police. The company has also invested in artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Its AI team was a semi-finalist in Darpa’s dogfight challenge. In May 2020, the company announced a partnership between the Air Force Test Pilot School and the company’s Skunk Works division to strengthen the Air Force’s drone technology with AI.

Workhorse Group and AeroVironment have a presence
Electric truck builder Workhorse Group is best known for building battery-powered trucks and vans that have been winning a lot of fleet purchase deals. While recently suing over not winning the the U.S. Postal Service’s contract for electric trucks, Ohio-based Workhorse Group is up there with Rivian for gaining a significant presence in the commercial electric truck market.

The company’s Horsefly UAV product is expected to do well in the package delivery space. Horsefly Is a custom built, high-efficiency delivery UAV that is fully integrated with Workhorse’s line of electric delivery trucks. The Horsefly system is designed to conform to the FAA guidelines for UAV operation in the US, the company said. Most notably, being fully integrated with delivery trucks, the system is designed such that a driver or driver’s assistant can maintain line-of-sight operation of the UAV delivery process.

Not long ago, California-based AeroVironment had a significant role to play in the U.S. electric vehicle charging infrastructure. But in June 2018, the company sold its charging and test systems business to Webasto Group. AeroVironment employees in this division were carried over to their new employer.

AeroVironment has been strengthening its role as the Pentagon’s top provider of drones, but that’s not the end of it. The company said its Raven drone “is the most widely used unmanned aircraft system in the world today.”

The company built the Mars helicopter Ingenuity for NASA which performed the first controlled flight on another planet in April. It gained quite a lot of attention for the company and a lot more customers. Other achievements include bringing in oil giant BP (BP), the National Park Service, and law enforcement agencies have been drone customers.

And in other news…………

Infrastructure funding moves to Senate: The US House of Representatives approved a $715 billion surface transportation and water infrastructure bill Thursday in what Democrats say is the first step in sweeping infrastructure legislation that Congress hopes to finish by September. The vote passed 221-201 and goes to the Senate.

It includes provisions from the Biden administration’s $2.3 billion infrastructure proposal authorizing electric vehicle charging stations; spending on safety for roads, bridges, and highways; and rail, transit, and drinking and wastewater infrastructure. One major project could be $11.6 billion directed to connect New Jersey and New York’s Penn Station in Manhattan via four modern transportation tubes beneath the Hudson River.

Called the “INVEST in America Act,” the $715 billion contains more than $44 billion added during the amendment process to make greater investments in infrastructure.

President Joe Biden faces a set of political challenges getting through this funding round with more bills approaching asking for up to $6 trillion when all the numbers are totaled. Compromises and negotiations will continue with moderate Democrats clashing with the party’s left wing, and from Republican legislators.

The Senate just passed another transportation infrastructure bill last month. Many elements will have to be working out with Congress, which has its own set of priorities lad out in the INVEST in America Act.

U.S. PIRG sees that the INVEST in America Act would devote a record $547 billion to public transit, walking and biking infrastructure, and wildlife crossings, while emphasizing a fix-it-first, climate-friendly approach to transportation. It would improve water infrastructure, protect drinking water, and repair and expand the nation’s transportation system, the organization said.

Last November, Environment America and U.S. PIRG released Blueprint for America, an infrastructure plan to make American families and communities safer, healthier, and more resilient by focusing specifically on the areas of energy, transportation, water, solid waste, and natural infrastructure.

“No one wants dirty air, polluted water or unsafe roads. Adopting common-sense solutions to these problems is in the interest of all Americans and we applaud members of the House for coming together to do so today with the passage of the INVEST in America Act, said U.S. PIRG President Faye Park. “This bill shows a healthier, safer future is possible and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to address all our infrastructure needs.”

Virgin Hyperloop is hoping that federal funding will include funding for some of its high-speed transportation projects. On June 16, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee passed S. 2016, the Surface Transportation Investment Act, which includes multiple provisions that will allow the continued development of hyperloop in the US, with bipartisan support.

“We applaud Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), and all the Members of the Committee for their inclusion of provisions that will further the advancement and growth of the hyperloop industry,” said Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group. “This is an important step to bringing hyperloop travel to Americans across the country.”

ACT Expo live investor summit: The Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo’s inaugural live Investor Summit will offer attendees a full picture of the current state of the industry, as well as key trends and projections for the coming year. The summit, taking place at the Long Beach Convention Center in Southern California, will be held on Monday, Aug. 30, kicking off the event. The conference and expo will be running Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. While it’s been a very tough time over the past year, clean transportation has seen a few gains being made. Investment in advanced clean commercial vehicle technologies and fuels are at an all-time high, with special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, investments in the industry grabbing headlines throughout this past year. Investment is expected to grow this year and into 2022. ACT Expo of this opening panel will offer attendees a good look at funding opportunities and significant projects taking shape.

AltWheels Fleet Day coming up in October: On Monday, Oct. 4, AltWheels Fleet Day will continue virtually and offers speakers, panels, and presentations on critical issues facing fleets and other stakeholders in alternative fuels and vehicles. Fleet managers will learn more about funding programs and emerging trends. More details will be coming out soon on speakers and subject matter. Last year, the conference went virtual for the first time and featured an impressive line-up of 19 expert speakers along with several sponsor videos.  The event drew 378 registrants to hear keynote talks from Anirban Basu, Chairman & CEO, Sage Policy Group, and Bill Van Amburg, Executive Vice President, CALSTART; as well as a series of panels and interviews of industry leaders from organizations such as Ford, Toyota, UPS, National Grid, US Environmental Protection Agency, Verizon Connect, and Blackburn Energy to name a few.

Past Co-Hosts of this event have included: NAFA Fleet Management Association Chapters in New England, NY, and NJ; MA Motor Transportation Association; ME Motor Transportation Association; MA Highway; Massport; MA Executive Office of Transportation; ME Dept. of Transportation; Clean Cities Coalitions (CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI); American Public Works Association of New England; and many more.
As a Co-Host, you will receive several benefits including free admission for all members; listing of your organization as a Co-Host on the Fleet Day website, with link, logo, and brief description; and other promotional activities provided by the Co-Hosts. For those interested, contact Meg Rivett, Event Director, at 508-498-8020 or by email at meg@classic-communications.com.

New vehicle emissions comparison study: Reuters has released analysis of data from a model that calculates the lifetime emissions of vehicles, a hot topic for debate in advancing electric vehicles and charging infrastructure to meeting climate targets. That comes through comparison of several electric vehicle (EV) models with traditional internal combustion engine choices that car buyers make. For example, if you own a Test Model 3, you’ll have to drive about 13,500 miles before you’re doing less harm to the environment than a gas-guzzling vehicle. The model was developed by the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago. The detailed methodology includes thousands of parameters from the type metals in an EV battery to the amount of aluminum or plastic in a car. The study was conducted with Argonne’s Greenhouse Gases, Regulated Emissions and Energy Use in Technologies, which provided its GREET model for the study. GREET is now being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board.

Ford makes leap in electrified sales: Ford sales of electrified vehicles jumped 117 percent in June, capping off a new first-half sales record on sales of 56,570 vehicles, hitting a record level. Mustang Mach-E sales totaled 12,975 vehicles, while F-150 PowerBoost Hybrid added an additional 17,039 vehicles to the total. Escape Hybrid and Escape Plug-in Hybrid sales totaled 15,642 – up 45.9 percent over last year. Ford’s Mach-E grew its sales 26.7 percent compared to May.