Classic Tale Returns: Lack of Corporate Commitment to EVs

This image, created by Bosch, depicts a landscape that automakers like BMW were promoting heavily over the past decade, but which is nowhere near becoming a reality.

So the merry go round goes round and round, and the electric vehicle story continues.

General Motors is discontinuing the Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV at the end of 2023. It will be missed, according to Plug In America and according to a lot of other Bolt owners. Like Ford and other makers, GM will be focusing on more expensive premium models, even though the Chevy Bolt was doing well in sales and brand identity.

Have you ever tried to rent an EV? Saahil Desai, a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, explored the question after a bad experience with Hertz. After booking the “Manager’s Special” to get the most economical gasoline-engine rental car, she was given the last available car, an EV. A vacation rental driving from the Brooklyn store to upstate New York became a nightmare. With no guidance or support from Hertz, she and friends had to search for “public chargers in desolate parking lots, the top floors of garages, and hotels with plugs marked for guests only.”

Hertz wants to go up to 25% of its fleet in EVs starting by end of next year. Avis and Enterprise are bringing in EVs as well, but the same questions remain for how trustworthy it will be. How available will these EVs be for those who prefer them? Will car rental staff help customers on the need-to-knows for renting an EV — and driving one for possibly the first time?

BMW had 7,107 EVs sold in the US during Q1 2023, or 2.76% of that EV market, through the i4 sedan, iX SUV, and the i7 sedan. Compare that to Tesla selling 6,545 of the Model X in the US market during that time period, and Volkswagen selling 10,053 of its ID4 electric SUVs. BMW has invested a lot into bringing EVs to the US market and promoting them. BMW’s high-performance brand image isn’t enough. BMW has put a lot into building that image along with creatively marketing its role as a leader in the future of urban mobility/electromobility.

GM, Hertz, and BMW, aren’t the only major corporations in automotive and transportation sloughing off their commitment to hitting government targets and rising up to their corporate sustainability commitments.

Why might all of this be?

  1. EVs are not profitable, but pickups, SUVS, and luxury vehicles are money makers.
    Major global automakers have stayed with the argument that manufacturing and selling trucks, SUVs, and luxury sedans and SUVs, has been a more profitable route to go. That applies mostly to pickup trucks and SUVs, with luxury models being more costly for R&D, production, and marketing. Major competitors like BMW and Mercedes-Benz build and sell their luxury lines at a lower production volume than a company like GM or Ford will do in pickups. But they can be very profitable and dealer networks love to sell and maintain their luxury vehicles; along with dealers selling and maintaining trucks and SUVs for GM, Ford, Toyota, and other makers.

Tesla has a different story to tell, being the only sizable EV-only maker out there. Stock prices and profits may fluctuate, along with the public image of CEO Elon Musk, but the company continues to do well. As for switching over to more affordable models than the previous market leaders, the Model S and Model X, Tesla says that it’s made more sense to produce and market a lot more Tesla Model Ys and Model 3s than the higher-end offerings; and to lower the price points on all of them. Customers continue buying them, and demand is growing for the Model Y and Model 3. There are, of course, lower-priced compacts and midsize EVs on the market than the Model Y and Model 3, but Tesla still dominates the space; and, as for now, that automaker is still going to leave all four models on the market and will be bringing out the Cybertruck this year.

  1. Battery packs are still expensive.
    High battery costs make EVs more costly for automakers. Demand far exceeds available lithium supply from mines that are in good operational order to supply the global market. Federal tax incentives and a few states with rebates help increase EV sales, but the core problem that’s been there from the beginning persists. Automakers around the world are getting ready to balance out the necessary supply chain relationships and manufacturing plants needed to reach aggressive goals by 2035.

Car rental companies and other fleets have to weigh and balance their investment in EVs and the needed charging infrastructure from this angle. How much will consumers pay to rent these vehicles, and what will it take to maintain them? Would it be worth it for the fleet to bring in a fairly high number of them to take advantage of the savings fleet buyers usually experience? They’re still inexperienced working with them, unless their fleet operations staff had worked with EVs elsewhere. They have to gain the valuable experience of acquiring EVs, operating and maintaining them, and seeing how they do on the used vehicle market. It will take a few years to adapt to having EVs in their fleets.

  1. Over promise, under deliver.
    By promising its investors that its next-generation EVs, built on a new architecture known as Ultium, would be profitable, GM is delving into the recurring theme that global automakers have been stuck in for years. Federal mandates and California’s zero-emission vehicle target — not to mention regulatory requirements put in place throughout Europe and Asia — have set a new playing field for global automakers over the past dozen years. GM and major global competitors have made very big commitments to meet the mandates that will spike up in the next decade.

It goes hand-in-hand with commitments to hit targets in connectivity, and eventually, autonomous vehicles. It also ties into their ability to adapt to crowded urban environments and to meet the demands of younger buyers who want mobility options — as illustrated by the previous BMW reference. But will BMW and competitors really get into small electric city cars, e-scooters, and autonomous electric shuttles?

Volkswagen has had to recover from the “Dieselgate” scandal that exploded in September 2015. It has taken VW and competitors several years to ramp up production of EVs and bring them to market – something that Tesla has been able to take advantage of over the years. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Jaguar, Audi, Cadillac, and Volvo, have impressed customers over the years with their distinct performance capabilities in sedans and SUVs — and they’ve paid attention to their commitments to roll out impressive offerings in the EV space.

But they’ve yet to become leaders in the EV market overall, or to even have much of a strong presence there. At the end of the day, automakers will talk about the pressures they’re under to perform. Government mandates, globalization and competition in the industry, and the higher cost of engineering and producing EVs, will usually come up.

  1. Market share is the golden key
    Some analysts are concerned that Tesla has fallen victim to this reality in the auto market — corporate value is heavily tied to marketshare. You have to do anything to be No. 1 in the world — or at least No. 1 in a few countries and market segments. Gaining market share usually means that profits grow thinner, and production must be ramped up to hit those high marks. But what if one of the segments, such as EVs, doesn’t sell enough, or its profit margin forecast wasn’t realistic? Most automakers and transportation companies would rather stay out of really taking on that risk.

And in other news…………

Rivian follows Ford and GM: Rivian drivers will be able to have access to 12,000 Supercharger connectors next year. The electric SUV and truck maker will incorporate Tesla’s North American standard charge port into its vehicles starting in 2025. They’l follow Ford and General Motors, who’ve made similar deals with Tesla.

Gas stations still a problem: Going to the gas station can be dangerous for your health. The owners still haven’t taken care of that storage tank changeover and leakage problem. Gas stations caused a $20 billion toxic mess — and it’s not going away anytime soon, according to the report. Leaks can come from the storage tanks, gas pumps, and in the pipes that connect all of them. From that hazardous chemicals can be leaked out and spread through soil, groundwater, and into lakes and rivers.

The Green Transportation Summit & Expo (GTSE) is set for Aug. 22–24, 2023.
CALSTART is offering a 20% discount rate for those using the code today: CALSTART-20! This year, GTSE will take its focus to a new level–investigating clean vehicle technology and taking advantage of funding opportunities at the local, state, and national levels. Technology providers in the electrification, hydrogen and alternative fuel industries will bring their knowledge to discuss with fleet practitioners how to move forward.   

Plug In America and the Bolt: As mentioned, Plug In America has been advocating for GM to stay with the much-loved Chevy Bolt. The organization is encouraging EV owners to send GM a letter with a format that is set up for users to create a personalized message that tells them their story; and to tell GM that their leadership in offering affordable electric models has been needed and appreciated.

Reading into the Fast Charger Partnerships Between Tesla, GM and Ford

It’s been over a decade since direct current (DC) electric vehicle fast-charger ports started showing up at public charging stations, and it’s now taking another pivotal turn. With CHAdeMO and the Combined Charging System (CCS1), at different times it had seemed that one of them would likely become the universal, open-source fast-charging platform. Now it looks like Tesla’s North American Charging Standard (NACS) will take that position — or at least the leader, with adapters that can make room for the other two platforms.

In an agreement very close to the recent deal set with Ford, General Motors and Tesla announced during a Twitter event last week that Tesla’s Supercharger network will be open to GM electric vehicle drivers starting next year. That will at first require an NACS to CCS1 adapter. In 2025, GM will adopt Tesla’s connector design into its EVs, and the adapter won’t be needed. GM EV drivers will also have the Supercharger network placed into their dashboard and mobile apps so that they can locate, pay for, and access charging at available Supercharger ports.

By reading over EV-focused news sources and social media, you’ll find debate on the subject — with a lot of concern expressed over whether the Tesla agreements with GM and Ford is the best way to go. Most of it supports the alliances, but not all of them do, including CharIN, the largest global association focused on the electrification of all forms of transportation enabled by CCS and the Megawatt Charging System (MCS).

However, the association released a second statement today supporting standardization of Tesla’s NACS…….

“CharIN is pleased that NACS is using DIN 70121 and ISO 15118 protocols based on power line communication (PLC) enabling CCS functionality. These protocols were created for CCS but are versatile communication standards that could help build bridges across all charging standards in North America. These standards are also deeply rooted in CharIN membership and activities. Like the process for the Megawatt Charging System, CharIN will work to convene an open task force to align requirements with the goal of submitting NACS to the standardization process. An open standardization process ensures proper peer review of the technology and the ability of all interested parties to contribute to the development of this standard.”

CHAdeMo was at first adopted by Japanese automakers as the standard, until the the Combined Charging System (CCS), which was a DC fast charging protocol certified by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), was introduced in 2011 and adopted by seven US and European automakers as the standard. CHAdeMO and CCS could both be accessed at the same charging stations, while Tesla’s Supercharger networks at first stayed on their own proprietary stations. Tesla more recently developed an adapter called the “Magic Dock,” which incorporates the popular CCS charging standard into the existing Tesla plug.

At this time, the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV are the only vehicles still using CHAdeMo for fast charging, with CCS having become the norm for non-Tesla EVs. In November, Tesla announced it would open up its proprietary network for non-Tesla EVs, assuming it would spread to become the North American charging standard for AC and DC charging. That standard, NACS, has not been officially endorsed by SAE or any other entities. It looks like its called the North American Charging Standard because Tesla deemed it be so.

Superchargers have a connector to supply electrical power at maximums of 72 kW, 150 kW or 250 kW. Tesla’s V4 Supercharging station is capable of providing up to 350 kW of power starting next year. The first V4 Supercharging station is located in the Netherlands; it was launched in March and was opened up to non-Tesla electric vehicles in April. V4 will eventually spread around the world to Supercharger stations. CCS does already have a maximum power delivery of 350 kW.

Tesla, GM and Ford together have about 70% of current U.S. EV sales. Tesla Superchargers account for a little bit more than 60% of the total fast chargers in the US and Canada, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

The Dept. of Energy reports that there are 34,184 DC fast charger ports in the U.S. at 8,965 locations, as of June 9, 2023. Of these, 9,118 are CHAdeMO, 12,798 are CCS
and 21,217 are Tesla ports, which also includes some Level 2 ports. However, in January, S&P Global Mobility estimated that there are presently around 16,822 Tesla Superchargers and Tesla destination chargers in the US.

The White House recently announced that EV charging stations using Tesla standard plugs would be eligible to tap into the pool of $7.5 billion in federal funding as long as they included the U.S. charging standard connection, CCS, as well.

Another interesting point about these recent forged agreements — there’s one more EV maker that endorses NACS. Aptera, a maker of three-wheeled solar electric cars that’s in the process of gaining funding for production, has been an advocate of making NACS the new standard. Last year, Steve Fambro and Chris Anthony, co-CEOs of Aptera, started a petition to ask Congress to require by law that Tesla’s connector and chargers become the standard for new EVs in the US. The petition received over 42,000 signatures, the company said.

And in other news………..

ICCT names EV leaders and laggards: A new report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) evaluated how well the world’s 20 largest auto manufacturers are transitioning to zero emission vehicles. A set of measures were used to make the assessment: technology performance and strategic vision for future decarbonization. Six markets were included in the study: China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, and the US. Tesla took the lead followed by a company that’s catching up, BYD. BYD and Volkswagen did well. six automakers are lagging behind their competitors out of the list of 20. Of those, five are headquartered in Japan.

Clean Energy Fuels Corp. has signed a number of new deals with several well-known consumer brands and some of the nation’s largest and most environmentally-conscious transit agencies who are using renewable natural gas (RNG) to power fleet vehicles. Liberty Coca-Cola, one of the country’s largest bottlers and distributors of Coke and other brands and serving the Northeast U.S., will power trucks in New York and Philadelphia with RNG. Electrolux North America, a leading global home appliance company, has signed a fueling agreement with Clean Energy for an estimated 200,000 gallons of RNG to be used by new trucks from a contracted carrier that will fuel at Clean Energy’s station in Ontario, Calif. Several other RNG contracts have been signed including with Recology, a waste management company, and the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, Calif.

Mitsubishi’s Outlander Plug-in Hybrid seven-passenger flagship plug-in hybrid electric SUV earned high marks in IIHS safety testing. Priced from $39,9951, Outlander Plug-in Hybrid offers up to 420 miles of total range and 38 miles of all-electric range. The Outlander has been named a Top Safety Pick by IIHS. The award applies to vehicles built after May 2023.

Self-driving Uber rides: For those interested in getting an Uber ride in an autonomous vehicle while in Phoenix, there is good news. Beginning later this year, visitors will be able to hail Waymo taxis through Uber. This comes from a new “multi-year” partnership between the two companies. Waymo also separately announced that it’s doubled its Phoenix service area to 180 square miles.

GNA acquisition: California-based consulting firm, Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA), has been acquired by major consulting and engineering firm TRC. GNA’s business model as a leading consulting firm in advanced, clean transportation, fuels, and technologies, and its industry conferences, will stay in place with support coming from TRC’s team of more than 7,000 employees. TRC provides environmental, consultative, engineering and applied technology experience to clients in power and utilities, transportation, real estate, water, and government. The entire GNA team, including its eight partners – Erik Neandross, Sean Turner, Karen Mann, Patrick Couch, Tony Quist, Sarah Gallagher, Joe Annotti, and JoAnne Golden – will remain at the company to lead its continued growth.