What Rick Sikes and Joe Stergios say about managing green fleets

Rick Sikes and Joe Stergios webinarI would suggest that you take an hour and listen to the webinar from last week sponsored by 2014 ACT Expo and featuring Rick Sikes, feet superintendent for the City of Santa Monica, and Joe Stergios, area sales manager for Enterprise Fleet Management. Their experience and expertise is quite impressive, and it points toward what can be shared at ACT Expo in a few months. Sikes has been at it since the early 1990s and now has a 78% green vehicles in its 800 unit fleet, with natural gas vehicles making up about half of its fleet and electric vehicles (EVs), propane, hybrids, and hydrogen making up the rest of the green vehicles. Stergios works for Enterprise, which has the world’s largest private fleet with about 1.4 million vehicles on roads; the company serves about 9,000 commercial and government fleet accounts. Hybrids, EVs, and compressed natural gas vehicles are what Enterprise has been testing out on the rental and fleet sides. Enterprise’s alternative fuel vehicle experience increased four years ago when the company adopted an environmental stewardship initiative with the assistance of the CICS sustainability consulting agency.

Here are some of the more interesting points they made:

  • Sikes: Having a written policy on alternative fuels is important tied into strategic objectives like reducing fossil fuel consumption and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With that, keeping an accurate inventory of the vehicles and their fuel use is important. Where and how its fueled onsite and offsite; making better use of under-utilized assets can free up capital and make operations more efficient.
  • Stergios: Creating a total cost of ownership (TCO) model is an important part of managing the assets. There are five aspects that need to be analyzed – acquisition, funding, compliance, operation, and remarketing. Those go into the TCO model and show you where the best fleet decisions are being made for the vehicle’s lifecycle. Stergios showed a chart with an electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid, clean diesel, hybrid, and fuel efficient car for comparison – they came out very close to each other. Trucks are in the same realm lately – where gasoline, bi-fuel CNG, and diesel are very close to one another on a financial level.
  • Sikes: Grant funding is bringing down the lifecycle costs of these vehicles, so you need to do your research. When asked whether he’s seeing the 50 cent per gallon equivalent for natural gas affecting fuel prices, he’s not seeing that happen. His fleet doesn’t buy off local pumps; they may see it in the future but he doesn’t have a sense of how much they’re passing it on to customers lately.
  • Stergios: Enterprise managers turn about 700,000 vehicles a year and most all of them are at risk units; it’s still a bit early to get accurate readings on where green vehicles are going in resale values – if anyone has insight on that one, he’d like to hear from them. (Santa Monica keeps its vehicles 12 to 14 years, so Sikes doesn’t have much to share on this topic, though five-to-eight year turn-ins are common for other fleets, he says.)
  • Sikes: Santa Monica is looking at bringing in extended range trucks from Via Motors. He likes the low maintenance that EVs have to offer, but is concerned about the range anxiety, so the 40 miles on electric and then the extended range on Via pickups and vans are interesting to him.
  • Stergios: Complying with California regulations can be tricky especially when a green vehicle might lack CARB and EPA conformity. Certification with CARB is starting to get a bit easier with more engines passing the certification process.

It ain’t over till it’s over: Biofuels vs. Big Oil battle continues

E15The US Environmental Protection Agency’s open comment period on its proposed revisions for the Renewable Fuel Standard will close at the end of today. The public comment sessions have been heated and comprehensive, and have come from a long list of federal and state elected officials, industry association leaders, and advocacy groups. However, if I had to put money on it, I would bet that the EPA will stick to the proposal that it issued in mid-November; that’s the way it usually goes. Beyond that, the battle between the biofuels industry and “big oil” (oil companies and refineries) is likely to continue. Here’s the latest:

  • The oil industry would like to see gasoline avoid the E15 (15% ethanol) blend, along with seeing renewable identification number (RIN) credit prices dropping or going away entirely. More recently, a bigger issue seems to be the cellulosic biofuels mandate requiring oil refiners to blend a specific amount of advanced biofuels from grasses, trees, and crop waste into gasoline. The American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers petitioned the EPA to reduce its target, stating that advanced biofuels producers were failing to delivery on production schedules to meet the federal target. That was the case in 2013 when the cellulosic biofuel industry could only deliver one million of the six million mandated gallons. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that her agency will reconsider its 2013 cellulosic biofuel mandate after viewing the objections raised by the oil industry.
  • A large number of US senators have called on the EPA to revise its 2014 mandate proposal. McCarthy received a letter signed by 31 senators who called on the EPA to revise its proposal to stimulate growth in next-generation biofuels and infrastructure. The letter was led by Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Al Franken, (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and John Thune (R-S.D.). “Without a revised proposal, the EPA’s rule will bring severe economic consequences, and prevent the growth of the renewable fuel sector,” the letter said.
  • Speaking this month at the Biodiesel Conference & Expo, National Biodiesel Board CEO Joe Jobe called on President Obama to stand tall with his support for alternative energy industries. Jobe said that “big oil” has been misleading Americans about fuel policy, and gave his perspectives on misconceptions in how Americans think about energy.  “Strong government policy support along with a unique spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship, and risk-taking are the primary reasons that so many major modern industries had their start in America,” Jobe said.
  • Fuel stations are rolling out more E15, regardless of where the federal policy goes. MAPCO Express Inc. will be offering E15 at 100 of its mega stores in the Southeast.  American Freedom Energy has become the first retailer in Ohio to offer the E15 blend at its pumps. Seeing retailers like American Freedom Energy, MAPCO, Murphy Oil, and Minnoco offering E15 continues to make the case for the fuel blend, says Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis. “When given the choice, consumers will seek the fuel that costs less, improves the performance of their vehicles and is better for our environment,” Buis said.

Big Picture: Big Opportunity – Rick Sikes and Joe Stergios on ACT Expo webinar tomorrow

webinarFor those of you who enjoy good webinars, register immediately for an Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo session coming up tomorrow, January 22 at 11:00 am PT / 2:00 ET (though it’s possibly filled up by now). Two seasoned experts will share their experience and insight on “How to Integrate Alternative Fuels into Your Fleet Operations” – Rick Sikes of City of Santa Monica and Joe Stergios of Enterprise Fleet Management. Sikes has been in the trenches with alternative fuel vehicles for about 25 years and has played a leading role in organizing AltCar Expo in Santa Monica each year. Stergios has worked closely with fleet clients who want to integrate clean, efficient technologies into their fleets; he’s played a valuable role in the monthly stakeholder calls for Green Auto Market, shedding light on what’s actually happening out there. These two speakers will talk about evaluating economic and environmental benefits of AFVs in their fleet operations, selecting the right equipment and fuel options, securing funding and tax credits, and maintaining and operating equipment safely and cost-effectively. Click here to register.

AIRNow shows you five major pollutant categories in air you’re breathing

Interested in gauging the quality of the air you’ve been breathing lately? Visit the AIRNow website, which offers Air Quality Index (AQI) reporting on 300 major US cities with links to more detailed state and local air quality website. It’s been coordinated by the US Environmental Protection Agency and partner federal agencies (such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  Its maps are updated daily by the hour. The AQI focuses on health effects you may experience within a few hours or days after breathing polluted air. It measure five major pollutants listed under the Clean Air Act – ground-level ozone; particulate pollution (aka particulate matter); carbon monoxide; sulfur dioxide; and nitrogen dioxide.  The data is collected by federal, state, local, or tribal monitoring agencies to enforce the act.

And in other news……

Speaking of air pollution, Utah resident want to see tougher air pollution requirements on industry. They said they’re more concerned about air pollution today than they were five years ago, according to a survey conducted for The Salt Lake Tribune. Researchers found that residents favored stricter laws for industry emissions on a 3-to-1 basis.

Two Chinese companies will square off in bankruptcy court on February 12 to determine the fate of Fisker Automotive. An auction will take place that day and Wanxiang Group will be competing with investor Richard Li of Hong Kong and his Hybrid Tech Holdings partner. Hybrid has said its initial bid would be worth $55 million – so the numbers are more than doubling over the initial bid.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been getting into squabbles with NHTSA over how the Model S investigation should be conducted, what’s going to be investigated, and what it will be called. Musk has been upset that the word “recall” has been issued when customers as of yet don’t have to bring their cars in to a Tesla retail location. The garage fire caused by house wiring was another slap to Musk in having it defined as a recall. “What are they supposed to do about that, issue a recall for the house?” he asked.

Strong fuel economy was a key them at the Detroit Auto Show especially for Ford Motor Co. and its new F-150 pickup with an all-aluminum body that weighs 700 pounds less. Chrysler emphasized its Ram 1500 pickup with an eight-speed transmission and a 2015 Chrysler 200 with a nine-speed gearbox, which gives it 35 mpg on the highway. Toyota will be rolling out even more hybrids and will bring its hydrogen powered car to market a year earlier than previously announced – now it will be 2015. During the Automotive News World Congress, Brian Kesseler, president of Johnson Control’s battery division made a strong statement. He thinks it’s entirely possible for the auto industry to reach the lofty 54.5 mpg by 2025 directive from the federal government. He thinks it will come from a mix of stop-start systems, turbochargers, direct injection and other cutting-edge technologies.

Overall sales slowed down last for Toyota Motor Corp, but hybrid electric vehicles continued to see strong numbers. Toyota sold over one million units for the second year – this time reaching 1.279 million units sold. That’s up over 1.219 million hybrids sold in 2012, which was the first year Toyota passed the one million annual mark for hybrids. There were several new hybrid models introduced in late 2012 and through 2013 in different global markets – the Crown Hybrid, Avalon Hybrid, Lexus IS 300h, Corolla Axio Hybrid, Corolla Fielder Hybrid, Crown Majesta Hybrid, and the Lexus GS 300h. It’s an impressive lineup – 24 hybrid models and one plug-in hybrid in about 80 countries. The automaker says it will roll out 15 more hybrid models in the next two years.

LeSage Consulting Starts Up to Offer Services to Stakeholders in Alternative Fuel Vehicles and Clean Transportation

LeSage Consulting image - mediumJanuary 21, 2014 – Alternative fuel vehicles are playing an increasingly vital role in environmental issues, government policies, and economics. LeSage Consulting now offers services to support stakeholders in alternative fuel vehicles and clean transportation – education and public awareness, informative content, and market research services designed to assist clients in accomplishing their missions.

“Electric vehicles, hybrids, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles – and natural gas, propane autogas, and advanced biofuels – are starting to see real numbers in vehicle offerings, sales figures, and infrastructure,” said consultant Jon LeSage. “Consumers, fleets, automakers, charging and fueling companies, governments, and other stakeholders, are making the necessary investments and commitment to meet what I would call the E Benchmarks – emissions, energy, economics, and efficiency.”

Stakeholders in this emerging field have been calling out for years on helping consumers better understand and make informed decisions. Education and public awareness services provided by LeSage Consulting – including online and onsite seminars, ride and drives, and educational materials – are vital for answering frequently asked questions and breaking through range anxiety and other concerns. LeSage Consulting will provide education resources to three audiences:  automakers and dealer networks informing car shoppers and customers; stakeholder alliances deploying fuels and infrastructures; and conferences and events presenting educational seminars and hands-on experience with the vehicles.

LeSage Consulting also provides informative content ideal for websites and blogs, articles and newsletters, webinar presentations, and public information campaigns. The firm’s market research services will support education, awareness, and analysis of what’s happening in this industry; these services include industry metrics, surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, and analytical reports on emerging trends impacting stakeholders in the field.

Jon LeSage is known in the industry as a writer/editor covering alternative fuel vehicles for Green Auto Market, AutoblogGreen, and Automotive Digest. In addition to media, LeSage worked in market research serving clients in automotive, transportation, and consumer products. LeSage Consulting is a logical continuation of his professional experience and skillset – and his passion for clean transportation – in an engaging, insightful format.

“There’s so much to follow these days with breakthroughs in vehicle technologies, alternative fuels, and renewables, along with new ways of thinking about transportation such as carsharing and autonomous, driverless cars,” LeSage said. “Every one of the alternative fuels and vehicles has a series of challenges to break through to see real growth. LeSage Consulting works with clients to turn these challenges into opportunities that will help clean transportation move forward.”

Stakeholders served by LeSage Consulting will include:

  • OEMs, automotive suppliers, and dealerships
  • Fleet managers, fleet management companies, and transportation companies
  • Charging and fueling infrastructure providers
  • Government agencies and research centers
  • Industry associations and environmental groups
  • Marketing agencies
  • Energy companies
  • Carsharing and ridesharing providers
  • Telematics and connected car providers

More information on LeSage Consulting products and services is accessible on LeSage’s website including current and back issues of Green Auto Market; subscribers can choose the Extended Edition with industry metrics including hybrid and EV sales, alternative fuel prices, stock market performance for companies in the field, and US charging and fueling stations. In the next few months, LeSage Consulting will release the Green Vehicle Database with specifications, pricing, and incentive data on passenger and commercial vehicle offerings for the 2014 and 2015 model years. Jon LeSage can be contacted at (562) 505-6380 and jlesage@jonlesage.com.

Green Auto Market – Extended Edition

Green Auto Market – December 2013 Extended Edition

Education & Public Awareness Services – LeSage Consulting

Education & Public Awareness Services – LeSage Consulting

Big Picture: The latest on the Fisker bankruptcy settlement, Lithia Motors gains silver LEED certification

Fisker plant in DelawareSettlement of the Fisker Automotive bankruptcy and bidding for new ownership continues to be dragged out – but the Delaware plant may survive. Hybrid Technology, led by billionaire Richard Li, has put in $55 million for Fisker’s assets. Hybrid’s bid had been rejected days ago by bankruptcy court judge Kevin Gross. Hybrid is offering $30 million in cash and is willing to cancel $25 million in debt that Fisker owed the Chinese company. Hybrid also is offering $5.5 million to unsecured creditors if they would agree to back Hybrid Technology instead of its rival, Wanxiang Group.

Hybrid Technology has also changed its tune on what will happen with the Boxwood Road plant near Newport, Del. Hybrid changed course after gleaning that many people in the court building were very upset about the shutdown of the factory. Hybrid is now willing to use the shuttered plant if market conditions demand it. On Friday, bankruptcy judge Gross said he would put Fisker’s assets up for auction to try to maximize the automaker’s market value. Wanxiang had told the judge that if it can acquire Fisker at auction and cultivate a market for the cars, they would have them made at the Boxwood Road plant. Wanxiang had been non-supportive of the Delaware plant before that court day, as well.

And in other clean transportation news…..

  • Lithia Motors, Inc., the Medford, Ore.-based and ninth largest US automotive retailer, has been awarded Silver LEED certification by the US Green Building Council. Building construction completed in August 2012 in downtown Medford used environmentally-sustainable building products, furniture, and furnishings; many contain a significant amount of recycled-content materials. The new building has solar panels on its roof to offset energy usage.
  • VIA Motors signed an agreement with Recargo, Inc., at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to include Recargo’s PlugShare charging infrastructure information in VIA’s in-dash electric vehicle application. VIA thinks the comprehensive charging station information will help its customers find a charge whenever and wherever they need one.
  • At the Consumer Electronics Show, Toyota said that its Toyota FCV (fuel cell vehicle) will go on sale in the US in 2015, one year earlier than the company had previously announced. The fuel cell vehicle will have a range of 300 miles and take three-to-five minutes to refuel.
  • Chrysler Group is going to start building its 2014 Ram 1500 EcoDiesel pickups this month; that’s several months after it had been originally scheduled to start up. These 3.0L diesels are expected to be distributed to dealers in February.
  • The CBS series “60 Minutes” has been getting heavily criticized for its January 5th segment called “The Cleantech Crash.” The segment presented a laundry list of government-backed failures starting with the infamous Solyndra bankruptcy, failing to mention the large number of successful ventures.

Dark clouds on the used green car front – and what could be done about it

Used geen carsElectric vehicles, hybrids, and small, fuel efficient vehicles are having a tough time on the used vehicle market lately. Black Book’s Ricky Beggs and Kelley Blue Book forecast downward pricing. Wearing my hat as editor of Used Car Market Reports, I would say it’s not something to be alarmed over, but it is important to stay current and study the options.

Here’s the latest:

  • I interviewed Ricky Beggs last week on Black Book’s 2014 used vehicle market forecast. He said that entry-level cars, hybrids, and EVs will continue to soften in used vehicle prices this year. The 54.5 mpg by 2025 federal fuel economy standard is playing into it – there’s a lot more automakers competing in these segments now and the market is still sorting it out.
  • Gasoline prices are the main drag on their resale values, Beggs said.  While gas prices have gone up a bit lately, he thinks it will be much like the past two years. We’ve been see­ing an increase in gas prices since mid-December and that should con­tinue through mid-February; but gas prices will likely drop beyond that point. Beggs expects to see a high in the national aver­age some­where in the $3.75 to $3.85 range; it aver­aged $3.49 overall last year. It would need to go up quite a bit for that to be felt in strong used prices for fuel efficient, green cars.
  • As for this year, three leading energy agencies have reported that oil production outside of OPEC countries should be increasing this year – with much of that coming from US shale fields. That’s one of the reasons gasoline and diesel prices are expected to stay about where they are now by energy analysts.
  • Kelley Blue Book (KBB) thinks electric vehicles are going to see big drops in used vehicle values after five years of ownership. The Ford Focus Electric could take a nosedive – dropping down to $7,200 from a starting price at nearly $36,000. The new Chevy Spark EV is also expected to get hit hard – retaining only 28% of its value and coming in at under $8,000 after selling for $28,305. The Nissan Leaf could be the loss leader after five years, seeing only 15% retained value at just under $5,355.
  • Keep in mind that these value forecasts don’t factor in federal tax credits, usually at $7,500 for these models being analyzed. Regional and state incentives also come into the equations. Buyers saving around $10,000 off the sticker price would soften the value retention’s downward spiral, but the price drop is still there.

My thoughts on the situation:

  • Watch what the OEMs are doing. The used vehicle remarketing process has changed quite a bit in recent years. During the past four years, there’s been a lot more discipline in the market with OEMs, captive finance divisions, and dealer networks reducing incentive offerings and avoiding dumping low-sales volume vehicles into fleets. It will be very interesting to watch what Toyota, GM, Ford, Nissan, Honda, and BMW do to respond to EV and hybrid resale value loss.
  • Plug-hybrids are doing better in the KBB forecast. They have a much better chance of retaining more of their value. The Tesla Model S is also looking good since Tesla is building its leasing deals on high forecasted prices. That makes them more affordable for consumers and Tesla is taking more of the risk of absorbing any losses.
  • OEMs, dealers, and remarketers should emphasize the lifecycle costs of these vehicles. A lot of fleets are acquiring more of these vehicles because of their total cost of ownership – the fuel cost per mile is much lower and there’s less to spend on maintenance for an EV, and many times for a hybrid, than for an internal combustion engine vehicle. The soft resale value forecasts will hurt, but the other cost saving factors could salve the wound a bit.
  • Some of the tried and true marketing methods could help. When you think of TV commercials and other marketing methods in the past few years (such as for Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt ads), there’s always been messaging around a few themes – air pollution, carbon emissions, fuel prices, and freedom from oil addiction and the power of foreign oil markets. Gasoline prices made for the most convincing argument after the staggering price spike of 2008; but that was nearly six years ago and gasoline prices look like they’ll be staying under $4 a gallon for a while longer. Resale values will take a while to improve. Focusing on other themes besides gas prices and resale values would be a good idea for now.
  • There’s also the fascination a lot of people have with cool new technologies on the market and how they work. That’s always part of the EV marketing campaigns out there from Nissan, Tesla, BMW, Toyota, GM, and Ford. The autonomous, driverless car projects make for a good example. Google chose the Toyota Prius for its initial driverless test car and Nissan has gone with its all-electric Leaf. Focusing on the cool technology theme could help offset declining used vehicle values.
  • Improving the brand image might not bring the resale values back right away. Emphasizing the green benefits and the fun of driving these new technologies won’t stop a price plunge for used vehicles in the short term. Some of that will have to be addressed through bringing the production costs and lithium battery costs down in scale to be more cost competitive on the market; and eventually creating accurate alignment with supply and demand. It’s still very early in the lifecycle process of these vehicles – especially EVs – on the market to gain a realistic analysis of precisely how many should be built and delivered to dealers.

‘Corporate social responsibility’ mission statements: What do they mean for you?

Corporate social responsibilityIf you’re ever looking at annual corporate reports or high-ranking executive surveys, a few recurring themes tend to appear. While the global economy and fast-changing technologies are usually mentioned, another category is starting to stand out – corporate social responsibility.

Back in October, John Krafcik, then-president and CEO of Hyundai Motor America, spoke clearly about where most automakers and other Top 500 companies are headed. “We’re committed to being a leader in CSR (corporate social responsibility), and to being a leader for the environment. As an automaker, Hyundai has a strong position in CO2-reduction and personal safety systems in all the global markets in which we compete. Yet we see ourselves as more than a carmaker. We are committed to finding sustainable personal mobility solutions that ensure this great privilege is maintained for future generations. We’re absolutely committed to our philanthropic causes and corporate social responsibility.” 

Krafcik also shared details on the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell, and charitable organizations that the company is making donations to. If you read through annual reports issued by other automakers – and by tier-one suppliers – you’ll see similar messages. Many corporate executives say it’s understood these days that they be responsible citizens in their local and global communities (or at least that they’re being perceived this way). OEMs are also expecting these goals to be fulfilled by their supply chain partners, a good example being Johnson Controls just announcing recognition received from its Volvo Cars client.

Corporate ethics, community service, and sustainability are the themes typically being articulated and committed to in corporate mission statements. So what does that mean for alternative fuel vehicles and clean transportation? There are a few opportunities…….

  • Fleets and executive management are being told by their board of directors to take green issues more seriously – that comes through energy efficiency, vehicle emissions, and corporate sustainability campaigns.
  • Supply-chain relationships are being affected much more by expectations in carbon/GHG emissions reduction, using recyclable materials, and staying compliant to regulatory structures. Those relationships can take different forms – automakers, suppliers, and dealer networks; and transportation companies and their clients’ corporate policies, are two visible trends these days.
  • Sustainability tends to come from a sense of corporate responsibility and leaving the planet to future generations. As the giant GenY demographic youth group comes of age – and makes for an even larger number of people than Baby Boomers – that’s a message that’s given a lot more weight than 10 years ago.
  • Consumer surveys are showing a lot more interest in environmental responsibility in what they’re willing to purchase. This market trend has expanded beyond the niches that used to define it. Not long ago, upper income bi-coastal urban residents were buying hybrids and electric vehicles; but that’s started to change in the past couple of years.

As you’re putting together marketing and education campaigns for this year, these are important realities to keep in mind. When you view advertising for green vehicles, you’ll nearly always find messages related to reduced carbon emissions, clean air, and freedom from foreign oil imports. That fits well into corporate social responsibility themes.

Big Picture: 2013 was a good year for green machines, Ford powering C-Max Energi concept with solar

Tesla Model S fast chargerGreen vehicles saw strong sales numbers in 2013, led mainly by electric vehicles seeing an 84% leap at 96,000 units sold. Plug-in hybrids had slightly higher numbers (49,000) over battery electric (47,600) – but it was a giant leap for pure electrics – 241% over 2012 versus 27% for plug-in hybrid/extended range. Much of that came from the Tesla Model S rolling into 2013 at higher production and sales volumes than the year before – closing the year at 18,800 units sold. The Nissan Leaf also did very well with its price reduction. Leaf sales jumped 130% to 22,610 in 2013 and were up 70% in December. Dropping the base price 18% to $28,800 was smart, as was adding extra cargo room and an on-board charger that’s been cutting charging times in half.

The Chevy Volt did not have its top selling year – 23,094 sold, declining 9.2% in December and 1.6% down for 2013. However, it was the top selling EV for 2013. The Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid just launched and sold only six units in December. The Chevrolet Spark EV sold 589 units for the year.

The Toyota Prius plug-in was down 5.2% for the year at 12,088 units sold.

Hybrids hit their own sales record – 489,413 units sold last year, a 15.3% increase over 2012. Diesel vehicles are right up there – climbing 10% to 450,000 sold in 2013. Toyota saw 60% of all hybrid sales. Ford said its hybrid sales topped 80,000 this year, nearly triple the 2012 total.

And in other clean transportation news…..

  • Ford Motor Co. is displaying its C-Max Solar Energi Concept at the 2014 International CES in Las Vegas on January 7-10. It harnesses the power of the sun by using a special concentrator that acts like a magnifying glass, directing intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle roof; a day’s worth of sunlight can deliver as much power as the conventional C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid, which powers its electric motor through its battery. Using solar power in a C-Max Energi could reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions generated by typical drivers by four metric tons.
  • Feedback from early adopters has been utilized by BMW and other electric vehicle makers more than other product lines typically do. Tom Moloughney, an owner of an Italian restaurant in Montclair, N.J., has participated in BMW’s test program, first driving the Mini E and then the BMW ActiveE more than 130,000 miles altogether.  Moloughney and other EV drivers have earned the title “electronauts” from BMW. One of his suggestions was adding an optional eco mode to the BMW i3; it now has the Eco and Eco-Plus modes, which minimize electrical use except for the drivetrain. He also emphasized offering a more robust quicker charging system with high wattage.
  • CleanFUEL USA has gained a top safety standard listing for publicly accessible and payment card compliant propane autogas refueling stations. The company has taken additional steps to meet the most rigorous standards for propane autogas refueling by gaining Underwriters Laboratories (UL) listing for the Gilbarco Encore S liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) retail fuel dispenser. The dispenser also holds National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) approval. It’s typically installed at retail settings with public access and controlled clientele, and features full retail capabilities for Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance. The fueling dispenser is also available as a single or dual-sided unit. While the dispenser is typically used in retail settings, it can be designed for a wide variety of fleets.
  • If Chinese investor Hybrid Technology LLC completes its acquisition offer on Fisker Automotive in US bankruptcy court, the Fisker factory could be shut down. Court papers indicated that it plans on buying and then reselling the shuttered Wilmington factory. It could be the same thing if Wanxiang closes its deal – that company has indicated it’s not interested in starting up production again at the plant. (See the next article on US and Chinese competition for more on the Fisker acquisition.)
  • Speaking of electric vehicle factories – Tesla Motors’ Fremont, Calif.-plant could become unionized. The United Auto Workers (UAW) has been in talks with Tesla CEO Elon Musk and other company executives. The union has set up an organizing committee at the Fremont, Calif., plant, which used to be the NUMMI plant that was run by Toyota and GM. There are about 2,000 workers at the Tesla plant in Silicon Valley. While Detroit area workers are unionized, it’s been very hard for the union to reach foreign “transplant” factories in the south; and the UAW has been viewing the Tesla possibility for nearly four years.
  • Mitsubishi has delayed the US launch of its Outlander plug-in hybrid until 2015 because of bottlenecks in battery production. The electrified crossover utility vehicle won’t be able to be launched this year as planned. The problem has been tight capacity at its main battery supplier, Lithium Energy Japan; that company is a joint venture between Mitsubishi Motors, battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. and trading house Mitsubishi Corp.
  • EVs sold in Europe are undergoing the noise factor scrutiny similar to what’s happening in the US. Regulators have safety concerns about pedestrians, especially those with limited vision, who may not hear the silent EV approaching. Daimler is adding artificial sound to its Mercedes-Benz EVs as the European Union fine tunes regulations.
  • Along with its readers, Consumer Reports’ editors are still in love with the Tesla Model S. After a year’s worth and 11,380 miles of driving, the magazine gave kudos to the Model S for several pluses, including its “rocket-like launch feel” and well-appointed interior.
  • As the biofuel and ethanol/E15 battle continues, more outrage has been sparked by the Corn Ethanol Mandate Elimination Act of 2013. The bill, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK), has been introduced to curb corn ethanol use and production. It would eliminate the corn ethanol mandate within the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), which would be even more severe than the US Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed revision on implementing the RFS and cutting back on the mandated use of ethanol as a gasoline blend.
  • Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, Inc. just received approval from the United Nations to sell its product to UN countries around the world. The UN, as part of its ECE Regulation No. 110, has allowed for Quantum’s Type-IV Q-Lite CNG tank technology to be sold. The company says this will allow it to bring its “highly successful large diameter CNG tank technology to Europe and Asia and will enable European and Asian trucking firms to realize substantial operating cost reductions that many US fleets have demonstrated through the use of CNG as a transportation fuel.”