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.”

Who will win electric vehicle race – the US or China?

BYD EV charging stationThe future of Fisker Automotive might be viewed as a symbolic tale of where economic alliances – and competition – now stand between the US and China. Two Chinese investors are vying to take over the troubled US maker of the luxury, extended range Fisker Karma. A courtroom showdown will take place on January 10 where US Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Gross will likely decide whether investor Richard Li and Hybrid Tech Holdings LLC can close the deal with its proposed $25 million; or whether Wanxiang Group, a major Chinese auto parts company and new owner of the A123 Systems lithium battery company, should win the deal with its recently filed $24.725 million bid with assumption of some of Fisker’s liabilities. Either bid from these Chinese investors is much less than what Fisker has owed the US Department of Energy (DOE) for its original loan; but the federal government would like to wash its hands of it.

This symbolic tale goes back a few years – nearly five – and the story is much bigger than what’s taking place with Fisker. Starting in 2009, the Obama administration made available $2 billion in direct stimulus grants through the DOE and an additional $400 million for its ARPA-E funding program. The Chinese government has been offering about $16 billion in vehicle subsidies, R&D, and infrastructure spending for clean automotive technology. Lithium ion batteries and electric vehicles have been at the heart of these government investments.

The Obama administration policies came out of the collapse of the auto industry in Detroit and devastation of financial markets; China’s motives comes from its goal of dealing with thick air pollution in rapidly expanding cities and reducing its dependence on foreign oil. President Obama’s lofty goal of putting one million electric vehicles (EVs) on American roads by 2015 set off a race; Chinese officials said their country would do the same (which the Chinese government calls “new energy vehicles”). Overall, its goal has been even loftier – the government would like to see five million alternative energy vehicles on its roads by 2020.

While the actual EV sales figures in either country are highly unlikely to meet the million unit EV mark within the next two years, the race is still being run. Cultivating EV sales through government incentives and federal fleet acquisitions – and through capital investors with mergers and acquisitions – continues to be of high importance in the US and China, even though some of the government investments have failed.

China has been extremely important for global automakers and investors to see growth, especially as the European auto market has been shrinking. EVs have been a big part of that strategy and China has been the top selling market for overall new vehicle sales for a few years.  The investments have been impressive:

  • An electric version of the Saab 9-3 is critical for Saab a year out of its bankruptcy proceedings; Saab’s new owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, is targeting its home market of China.
  • Tesla Motors has been working hard to get its website domain name back in China; for now, Tesla is using the “Tousule” name for its website since the “Tesla.cn” domain was registered to a Chinese company in 2006. The website is taking pre-orders and reservation fees for the Model S and the upcoming Model X electric crossover model. Tesla is planning on beginning deliveries to China of the Model S in the first quarter of 2014. That website follows the recent opening of a Tesla Motors showroom in Beijing.
  • Ford will pursue the production and sale of hybrids and EVs in China. The global automaker will build more factories and expand in that growing market. Ford CEO Alan Mulally made the announcement during a television interview in China.
  • Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway firm have made a sizable investment in Chinese automaker BYD – and EVs play a big part of the gamble. The company plans to introduce four models for its US debut by the end of 2015. Its new Qin plug-in hybrid model will likely be the flagship model introduced in the US.
  • Geely Holding Group took over Volvo Cars from Ford in 2010 and joint EV projects play a role in that alliance – such as the Volvo C30 Electric and Geely’s Kandi brand offerings.
  • Last month, actor Leonardo DiCaprio announced he’s forming a team to participate in a new EV racing circuit that will launch its inaugural season in Beijing next September. There’s a lot of hope that enthusiasm for owning EVs will come from it; in 2012, there were only 11,000 EVs sold in China.

China’s air pollution problem is an example of the market opportunities that clean transportation has to offer. Beijing will be replacing its petroleum-powered buses with new models powered by electricity or natural gas by 2017. The Chinese government is looking at other possible solutions for reducing tailpipe emissions from its fast-growing pool of vehicles on its crowded roads. Gaining these contracts is very appealing to US investors, and to companies all over the world.

EVs – and other alternative fuel vehicles and cleantech ventures – play a significant role in the future of the US economy, according to the Obama administration and several other entities. China will continue to be a focal point for the US economy. These market dynamics have been taking on the form of both competition and cooperation. Trade agreements between the US and China have been a sore spot, but business deals continue to be made. As several economists and visionaries have been saying for a few years, the future of global economics is leaning toward cooperation. There’s not one single nation that has all of the supplies, labor, intellectual property, investment capital, and management leadership to give an industry such as automotive all that it needs to thrive.

Major Middle East oil reserve now home to Masdar renewable energy experiment

Masdar CityAbu Dhabi is home to the world’s fifth largest proven oil reserves and the sixth largest natural gas reserves. It’s also the home of what many consider to be the most significant renewable energy experiment in the world with its Masdar project. The Abu Dhabi government is investing $15 billion in Masdar’s university and its role as a renewable energy developer, investment arm, and cleantech center. Later this month, it will be hosting the seventh annual World Future Energy Summit; the summit promotes innovation, global collaboration and investment opportunities in renewable energy and clean technology.

The United Arab Emirates (UAR) and its capital city, Abu Dhabi, sit on the Persian Gulf next to neighbors Oman and Saudi Arabia. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has enough hydrocarbon reserves to last beyond 100 years. Through Masdar (also called Masdar City), Abu Dhabi seeks to send the message that it’s a responsible oil producer that can help create a balance between hydrocarbons and renewable energy in addressing both climate change and energy security. While UAR is a member of OPEC, Masdar seems to be an attempt to break out of the assumptions made about the Middle East in other parts of the world; one of them being that oil completely dominates its politics and economics.

Masdar is a strategic government initiative – and a subsidiary of the UAR’s Mubadala Development Company – that was started up in 2006. Masdar will highlight its new solar and wind projects in the UAE, United Kingdom, Seychelles, and Mauritania at the World Future Energy Summit later this month. The company said it has installed more than 750 megawatts of renewable grid capacity in the past year. Along with other partners, Masdar has run the world’s largest off-shore wind farm, the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant, Africa’s largest solar PV plant, and has brought utility scale renewables to the Seychelles.

Masdar runs three integrated business units complemented by a graduate-level research university with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The MIT and Masdar Institute Cooperative Program is an ongoing collaborative program with Abu Dhabi to provide advice and guidance in the establishment of a graduate research university focused on alternative energy, sustainability, and advanced technology.

Transportation in Masdar takes place on foot or through electric vehicles (EVs). Personal Rapid Transit EVs are available at a parking station at the university. The four-passenger driverless pod vehicles are guided by a computer that charts direction tied into tiny magnets embedded in the road.

Masdar City is hosting the Middle East’s first fast charging EV station in collaboration with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. The pilot project uses the CHAdeMO-certified Rapid Charger and aims to assess how efficiently the rapid charger technology will function in the region’s harsh climatic conditions. It offers an 80% charge in 30 minutes.

An EV pilot project launched was launched in mid-January 2011 and runs a fleet of 12 Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars. The test project has worked on addressing users’ concerns on battery life and dealing with skepticism about the EVs’ inability to withstand desert heat. They’re the first battery electric vehicles deployed into the UAE.

Big Picture: So much for a quiet holiday, Class action settlement on inflated MPG

New Years Eve at Time SquareI was hoping to have more downtime during the holiday break with news – all quiet on the western front. Well, there was quite a lot worthy of attention. I will boil it down and keep it simple. You can also read the usual media year-end offerings in the next two articles – Top 10 stories from 2013 and predictions for the new year. As for this past week……

  • Hyundai and Kia are settling a huge number of complaints about posting incorrect, inflated mileage ratings on some of their cars such as the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Soul. Hyundai originally offered to reimburse owners for the higher fuel costs plus a 15% “we’re sorry” bonus. Through settlement of a class-action lawsuit, owners can accept a one-time lump sum payout. That dollar figure still has to be worked out.
  • Daimler isn’t pulling away from its ownership stake in Tesla Motors even though its share values over the new three years are harder to predict. Tesla stock prices plummeted after battery fires in its Model S. The electric carmaker is supply motors and batteries to Daimler for its Smart Fortwo electric vehicle and the new Mercedes-Benz B-Class (this goes on sale next year). Daimler holds a 4.3% stake in Tesla and wants to expand its role with the company.
  • Speaking of Tesla, the state of California’s treasurer is giving the company a $34.7 million tax break in a bid to help the company ramp up production. Tesla won’t have to pay sales and use tax on new manufacturing equipment up to $415 million.
  • Natural gas vehicles had a growth spurt in sales in late 2013 driven by lower fuel costs and the environmental benefits over diesel, according to a Navigant Research study. That trend is expected to continue with a compound annual growth rate of 12.6% for natural gas trucks and 6.4% for natural gas buses between 2013 and 2022. New engines and vehicles are being introduced including a 12-liter engine form Cummins Westport next year. That will be targeted at the day cab market.
  • The 2014 Lincoln MKX will be lighter and more eco-friendly using tree-harvested natural fibers in place of traditional glass-based fibers. The tree-based, renewable alternative to fiberglass for use in auto parts comes from a collaboration between Lincoln, Weyerhaeuser, and Johnson Controls. Using cellulose reinforced polypropylene instead of fiberglass materials makes those materials about 6% lighter and decreases reliance on less-environmentally friendly fiberglass parts.
  • Saab is a year out of bankruptcy and is depending on an electric version of its Saab 9-3. Saab’s new owner, National Electric Vehicle Sweden, is targeting its home market of China, where the government is promoting clean automotive technology with up $16 billion in vehicle subsidies, R&D, and infrastructure spending.
  • Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation allowing driverless cars to be tested on the state’s roadways. Michigan just joined Nevada, California, and Florida as the only states allowing such on-road testing.
  • Ever hear of Zenn Motor Co.? The Canada-based neighborhood EV company now has an agreement to buy a majority stake in energy-storage company and distribution partner EEStor. This is reminiscent of Coda Automotive leaving the EV business and moving into the rapidly expanding power storage market.

Top 10 alternative fuel vehicle/clean transportation occurrences of 2013

Tesla Model S1. Tesla-Mania (and why I called it that):
The list could go on and on about Tesla Motors during 2013 – state battles with auto dealership associations; battery fires and the NHTSA recall; stock price roller coaster; CEO Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept; and Supercharger fast charging stations come to mind. It’s rare to go more than a week without reading a Tesla article in the industry’s bible, Automotive News – along with several other major news sources. Automotive News is centered around its auto dealer readership, who generally would like to see Tesla go away. The news has got to be big and attention worthy to get as much ink/gigabyte as it has in Automotive News in the past year. That’s where my “Tesla-Mania” headline buzzword came from. There’s been a bit of media frenzy. Another fascinating element while following Tesla is that the company does not utilize the traditional media strategy – a large media/PR department or outsourcing it to one of the majors. They do it themselves and keep it low budget – but are using everything that needs to be done these days – Twitter postings and emails from Musk; strong press releases; attractive showrooms, and well-promoted events like ride and drives or Supercharger rollouts. Making a very impressive car like the Model S (have you ever driven it?) really helps with the storytelling, as well.

2. Volvo and Mack Trucks bringing DME to America:
Ever hear of dimethyl ether (DME), a non-toxic, clean-burning alternative fuel? It comes from a variety of domestic, sustainable sources such as biogas from food and animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities, and landfills. Back in June, Volvo Trucks introduced this option with fuel supplier Oberon Fuels in Sacramento, Calif., for rollout in 2015. Mack Trucks announced soon after that it’s following corporate parent Volvo and will be rolling out big trucks with a 13-liter MP8 engine that can be powered by DME in that same year. DME has been on the market for years as an aerosol propellant in cosmetics and other household products. Its potential is huge – it has the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel but can lower CO2 emissions by 95% compared to diesel. It produces no soot, and the fuel is stored in lighter, simpler fuel tanks and lower psi systems than what’s needed for LNG and CNG systems. Volvo Trucks is still committed to CNG and LNG offerings as well – its lineup already includes CNG-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs. The company is also producing its own proprietary LNG engine in VNL daycabs and sleepers next year.

3. Natural gas as a vital domestic power source:
Natural gas had a very good year in the US – fueling more electricity power stations than before, moving coal farther down the supply chain. There’s been modest growth in CNG and LNG vehicle sales – some of it through vehicle conversions and more OEM offerings like the Ford F-150 CNG option introduced this year. Fueling stations have seen a good deal of growth this year as Clean Energy and a few other infrastructure builders announce more openings, and fleets add in more onsite refueling stations. The vehicle conversion cost is a factor, but the payoff is happening within two-to-three years; fleets acquiring NGVs make an effective business case with upper management that fuel cost savings, emissions reductions, and supporting a domestic industry is a win-win-win.

4. Warfare over the Renewable Fuel Standard and E15:
When the Renewable Fuel Standard was adopted in Washington in 2005 (and expanded in 2007), it made a whole lot of sense. The Bush administration was concerned about our reliance on foreign oil as we waged war in the Middle East, and legislators on both sides of the aisles could agree. Corn-based ethanol was the mainstay and was supported as a clean, domestic fuel that could pave the way toward advanced biofuels like cellulosic and algae. The “Detroit 3” automakers began rolling out flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on E85. That movement faded in the midst of the “food versus fuel” debate which started up in 2008, and was followed by attacks on the prospect of E15 becoming standard at US gas stations. Some of that fight came from “big oil” companies and some from automakers concerned about the long-term reliability of engines that might not handle E15 very well. The EPA’s decision to scale back its ethanol blending mandate in late 2013 was harsh for the biofuel community to hear.

5. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles aren’t going away:
The running joke in the car biz about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is that they’re a great idea but they’re still a long ways away. And we’ve been hearing that for years. Well, this year witnessed a few impressive developments. Early this year, Ford and Daimler added Nissan to its fuel-cell alliance to share costs and brainpower on the development of a common fuel-cell stack and other systems by 2017. General Motors and Honda announced a partnership to make a common hydrogen powertrain by 2020. In other news, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota joined up with the US Dept. of Energy’s H2USA project. The formation of the public-private partnership is centered on building a hydrogen fueling infrastructure. As for auto conventions, this year’s LA Auto Show gave fuel cell vehicles a lot of attention. Hyundai showed off a fuel cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle. Honda unveiled its FCEV, its next-generation fuel cell vehicle. During that same time Toyota showed its FCV (fuel cell vehicle) concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota said that it’s a “practical concept” of the fuel cell vehicle it plans to launch in 2015;

And then there’s 6-10:

6.    Ford and Hyundai-Kia MPG claims: Hyundai and Kia have taken a different approach than Ford on its hybrids, as was covered in the Big Picture article this week.

7.    Plug-in EV sales: Take a look at the impressive chart showcased by Electric Drive Transportation Association. It was a big year for battery electric and plug-in hybrid sales.

8.    Fisker and other auto greentech failures – Fisker, Envia, A123, Coda, and ECOtality –these plug-in EV, battery, and charging station makers looked so promising a few years ago, but 2013 was a year of bankruptcies and bad news.

9.    Propane autogas moves forward – The fueling station unveilings and vehicle offerings have been very good in 2013. School buses converting over to propane were a part of that trend.

10. Renewable natural gas –There’s been a lot more going on in the background than Clean Energy’s Redeem announcement. If you want to be very impressed with how much is also being done on this front, check out the webinar, “Securing California’s Clean Energy Future with Renewable Natural Gas.”

Big Picture: Update on the latest Tesla fire, Prius is best deal out there says Consumer Reports

Tesla Model SThe fourth fire involving a Tesla Model S that happened during the fall – on November 15 in Irvine, Calif. – wasn’t another battery fire. “Our inspection of the car and the battery made clear that neither were the source” of the fire, Tesla said in a statement that cited the report by the Orange County Fire Authority. The OFCA is done with its investigation and is leaving it up to Tesla and insurance companies to figure out what caused it.

Outgoing GM CEO Dan Akerson had some critical things to say at a media conference last week about what Tesla’s going through with its battery fires; he compared it to be battery fire in the test lab incident with the Volt that happened in late 2011 and basically boasted about all the proactive responses that GM carried out instead of standing off to the sidelines.

Ohio dealers have sued to block Tesla from selling cars in the state. Tesla had been looking good recently when a proposed amendment to an unrelated bill was dropped. Dealers were hoping to block Tesla from selling in the state. The new lawsuits wants the state to revoke Tesla’s license to sell cars, stating that the automaker hasn’t met all its necessary legal requirements.

Here’s more of the latest news in clean transportation….

The Toyota Prius Liftback topped Consumer Reports’ annual value list for the second straight year. The attractive base price ($24,025), mileage (44 mpg but can be higher depending on how you drive), and resale value gave it the thumbs up. The Honda Fit subcompact, starting at $15,425, scored in second place for the compact/subcompact class.

The CALSTART clean transportation consortium has announced changes to its board of directors. Paul Rivera of consulting firm Ricardo has been appointed to the board of directors. Rivera serves as global director of hybrid and electrical systems for Ricardo. Ricardo recently expanded its business practice in California and is well-positioned to help grow the industry, fulfilling CALSTART’s mission. Puon Penn, senior VP and head of the National Clean Tech & Emerging Tech Markets at Wells Fargo, has become vice chair of CALSTART’s board. Penn is stepping in for the former vice chair, Jane Warner of American Lung Association in California, who passed away in September. Mike Britt, Director of Maintenance and Engineering for UPS, is now secretary of the board.

Hyundai pitching its fuel cell car

“Today, right here, the hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is making the shift from a research project to a real consumer choice,” says Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Krafcik. See how the automaker is promoting its new Tucson Fuel Cell model in this new video, which it calls “The Next Generation Electric Vehicle.”

SAE adopting natural gas vehicle standards

At the Society of Automotive Engineers 2013 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress, held in October in Rosemont, Ill., industry participants in a Blue Ribbon Panel on natural gas were unanimous that standards will help the industry to quicker embrace the natural gas based technologies. In response to the heavy-duty trucking industry need, SAE International Truck and Bus Council launched an effort to establish relevant SAE standards.  “The use of natural gas as a transportation fuel is extremely important,” said Ron Eickelman, President, Agility Fuel Systems. “All indicators point to increase in the number of vehicles fueled by natural gas. To achieve universal levels of safety, reliability, and performance, there is no question that codes and improved standards are needed now!”

Hydrogen stocks have been up quite a lot this year – an average of 131% for the market. Hydrogen fuel cell and hydrogen system company stocks have performed well. Plug Power, which makes hydrogen fuel cell systems for off-road vehicles is up 122% this year. Ballard Power Systems, a maker of hydrogen fuel cell systems for a number of industries, is up 133% this year. Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide, a maker of fuel systems and drivetrain components for NGVs, EVs, and hydrogen FCVs, has gone up 146% and 261% from its low in April. Small investors have been the main buyers of hydrogen stock. Institutional owners have keep their stake fairly small.

Navigant Research forecasts that Japan and the US will be the largest markets for hybrids, with sales reaching just over one million and 1.1 million in 2022, respectively.  The US will remain the largest market for plug-in electric vehicles with more than 467,000 sales in 2022.  A significant majority of the EV sales will be plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Green vehicle technologies recognized in award nominations

green car technologyWhile alternative fuel and fuel efficient vehicles have been honored with plenty of awards lately, the technologies that drive them are now being recognized. Green Car Journal released its nominees for the 2014 Green Car Technology Award, which will be handed out January 22 at the Washington DC Auto Show. WardsAuto released its 2014 Ten Best Engines with one being electric and three clean diesel. Here’s some of the interesting findings:

  • For the Green Car Technology Award, there’s a three-motor, all-wheel-drive hybrid –the Acura Sport Hybrid and the turbocharged direct-injection engine in the Audi 3-liter TDI diesel engine.
  • The BMW i3 electric car is acknowledged for its carbon-fiber body.
  • The Cadillac ELR extended range/plug-in hybrid will start being delivered to dealers next month. Its regenerative braking and declaration charging system have been acknowledged in the award nomination.
  • The tiny 1-liter EcoBoost turbocharged engine for the 2014 Ford Fiesta is on the list.
  • The Honda Accord’s plug-in charging system is getting attention with its 115 MPGe.
  • The new Hyundai Tucson’s fuel cell system is on the list.
  • The Ram pickup’s new diesel engine, Porsche’s plug-in hybrid system, and Mazda’s i-ELOOP Brake Energy Regeneration System are also in the competition.
  • WardsAuto did recognize one electrified drive – that of the Fiat 500e. Those testing the cars were impressed with its 147 lb-ft of torque with its power boost, and how it outperformed the official 85 mile range given by the EPA.
  • Clean diesels were honored – the Chevrolet Cruze Diesel’s 2.0L inline four, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel’s new 3.0L V6 engine, and BMW’s 3.0L inline six cylinder placed in the BMW 535d and X5 SUV made the list.
  • Another interesting engine to make the list is Ford’s 1.0L EcoBoost three-cylinder found in the Fiesta – and which also made the Green Car Journal nomination list. The idea behind it was to deliver the power of a 1.6L engine from the efficient 1.0L engine.

Mexico’s decision to open oil and gas fields to foreign investors could be historic

PemexThere’s been a huge shift in energy policy that will impact oil and gas in North America – the Mexican government just passed a sweeping energy reform bill that will very likely allow foreign investors into the market. New legislation ends state-sponsored energy companies’ 75-year monopoly, allowing private oil firms, including major US conglomerates, to enter into “production-sharing” agreements with Mexico. International producers will have access to production-sharing contracts or licenses where they would get to own the oil they pump out of Mexico’s reserves. The North American Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 1994, has facilitated major economic developments like automakers opening up production plants in Mexico and trucking companies moving cargo across the borders. Mexico’s energy reform bill could be in the same league.

There are huge unexplored crude oil reserves in Mexico, and it’s no longer entirely controlled by Pemex, that state-owned oil producer. Pemex has been known for being full of corruption and failing to tap into the vast supply which it says sits at about 13.87 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. There’s probably a lot more, as this is just the proven supply.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will likely be used to tap into a huge supply of oil and natural gas, and can transform Mexico as well, according to Energy & Capital’s Christian DeHaemer. Fracking is playing a large part of oil and natural gas being plentifully accessed in the US and is likely to play a big part in Mexico’s energy market. That means natural gas prices are likely to stay down for an even longer period of time than was initially expected for North America – and could support growth in natural gas vehicles and infrastructure.

Implementation of the policy and its regulatory decisions will take a while to be finalized in Mexico. There is a political fight going on and the leftist party, PRD, may be call for a popular referendum. The public is less supportive of opening up Pemex, so the process could be dragged out and Mexico’s oil reserves could fail to open up to foreign investment. Energy analysts will be carefully watching Mexico to see where all of it ends up.

If the oil and gas reserves open up to foreign investors, it’s expected that petroleum prices will soften along with natural gas. Crude oil will likely drop in price and that would likely mean that gasoline and diesel prices in the US could continue to stay close to where they are now. The national average has hovered at a little under $3.25 per gallon and diesel a bit under $3.85 per gallon. Skyrocketing fuel prices during 2008 helped push support for electric vehicles and other alternative fuel vehicles – so the potential for oil prices softening will likely deflate some of that argument.

Big Picture: GM’s new CEO Mary Barra gets classic Bob Lutz comments

Mary Barra GMChanging of the guard is starting to happen in Motor City. Right after General Motors paid off the federal government for its post-bankruptcy bailout loan, CEO Dan Akerson announced he’s leaving his job and that GM is getting its first female CEO, Mary Barra. She’s previously served as senior vice president of global product development and has championed GM’s leadership role in electrified and fuel efficient vehicles. Ford Motor Co. is also flooded with gossip about its shining star CEO Allan Mulally leaving and going back to Washington to captain the Microsoft ship. As for Barra, ex-Chevy Volt guru and former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz had his usual bit of banter to share. On a Detroit radio talk show last week, Lutz praised Barra for leading GM’s product development and had something very Lutz-like to say: “I don’t know if you know what she looks like, but she is medium height with an attractive, athletic build, nice face — she’s not a little old lady with glasses; she is very athletic looking, very active and it’s easy to imagine her behind the wheel of a car.” So, she may not be a car guy, but she’s alright with Bob Lutz.

And in other clean transportation news…..

  • Fisker Automotive Holdings Inc. is continuing at a fast pace through bankruptcy proceedings.  Its lawyers convinced US Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Wilmington that the process should roll forward. The hearing started last week as the judge gave creditors more time to sell their assets and not just sell it all off to Hong Kong tycoon Richard Li. Attorneys on both sides disagreed and asked that a hearing be scheduled for January 3, which Gross did approve. At that time, the judge will decide if the reorganization plan should be allowed to go forward, along with the structure for selling the company’s assets.
  • Green Car Reports lambasted dealers for many times mishandling plug-in electric vehicle sales experiences. Here’s the rub: “Remember two things about dealers. First, they make very little money selling new cars, perhaps $100 to $200 on average. Their profit comes from selling used cars, and providing parts and service for existing cars. Second, every salesperson’s mission is to close the deal, today, at maximum profit with minimum time invested. Selling a plug-in car takes three to five times as long for a dealer as does selling a gasoline car. It requires explanation, education, training, all of the fuss and bother associated with installing a charging station in the garage if the buyer wants one, and so on.”
  • Ever hear much about methanol as being an advanced alternative fuel of the future with plenty of benefits? Nobel laureate Dr. George Olah and Surya Prakash, director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at USC, are singing the praises of methanol. They’ve won a million dollar prize from the Israeli government to conduct research. They say that methanol can be produced by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide and it can be used to power vehicles. One of the outputs can be the diesel substitute dimethyl ether, which Volvo Trucks has been testing out.
  • Check out this flyer from Sacramento Clean Cities promoting Propel Fuel’s 10th fuel station in that region. And you get free fuel — $10 worth of ethanol and biodiesel from December 18 to 20.
  • Sapphire Energy and Phillips 66 have an agreement to produce algae crude oil to commercial scale production and turn it into fuel. Their goal is to complete fuel certifications to move forward Sapphire Energy’s renewable crude oil, called Green Crude, for wide-scale oil refining. Perhaps algae biofuel will actually make it to the market – there’s been quite a few enthusiastic fans out there waiting for it to reach commercial scale.
  • Ford is joining the race for driverless cars to make it to dealer lots. “Our goal is to test the limits of full automation and determine the appropriate levels for near- and mid-term deployment,” said Raj Nair, a vice president at Ford, about the automaker’s Fusion Hybrid research vehicle. While Ford says that most of the automation it’s testing won’t be deployed until after 2025, it intends to phase in pieces of it little-by-little before then. 

Confessions of a secret “Billy Jack” fan – and other unspoken eco-heroes for baby boomers

Billy Jack“I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face… and you wanna know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it.”
Billy Jack to Mr. Posner in the 1971 film, “Billy Jack.”

Okay, how many of you remember that scene from the movie? And have watched “Billy Jack” more than one time? Come on, fess up…..

As a 50 year old, tail-end member of the baby boomer generation, I have to admit having seen it a few times. I did feel a twinge of sadness yesterday hearing about “Billy Jack” actor-writer-director Tom Laughlin’s death at age 82. I had seen the predecessor Billy Jack picture – the1967 biker movie, “The Born Losers,” a few years ago, but couldn’t sit through the tedious sequels, “The Trial of Billy Jack” or “Billy Jack Goes to Washington.”

While it may seem like an odd perspective (and memorial), I do think that Billy Jack and a few other characters from that era had an influence on young people’s perspectives on socio-political issues including environmental concerns. For those of you motivated to buy a green car, do a bit of recycling, visit a national park, and avoid eco-irresponsible actions, you may have shared with me a few symbolic memories from those days. I’ve thought about it enough to pull together a Top Five list of unrecognized influential eco-heroes from years ago……

Iron Eyes CodyIron Eyes Cody: Do you remember the TV commercial about 40 years ago where what looked like an Indian chief from a hundred years earlier would paddle a canoe down a river and see all the pollution – garbage, landfill, smog, and dirty water – with a tear streaming down his face? It came from a public service announcement launched on Earth Day in 1971, one year after that national holiday started up. It featured actor Iron Eyes Cody and was produced by the Keep America Beautiful non-profit organization. The campaign promoted a theme: “People Start PollutionPeople can stop it.”

Silent RunningFreeman Lowell in “Silent Running”: Bruce Dern played Lowell in the 1972 sci-fi thriller set in the future. He’s a botanist and ecologist who’s completely dedicated to saving the very last of the plant life from planet earth that’s stored on a fleet of space freighters – hoping it can return to earth for reforestation of the planet. He loses what’s left of his sanity when he sees other cargo freighters get blown up by crewmates while following orders from commanding officers. He kills one of his crewmates who shows up to plant a bomb and destroy the last remaining greenhouse dome that Lowell is desperate to save.  One of the memorable scenes from the movie shows Dern wearing a card-dealer visor and distributing cards to play poker with his two drone buddies, who he names Huey and Dewey.

Smokey BearSmokey Bear: Everybody’s seen the Smokey Bear ads, which started in 1944 and have continued to this day. It lays out a tall order – “Only you can prevent forest fires.” That message started up in 2001 after a series of wildfires around the country. The ranger bear character is owned by the federal government and the Ad Council. While John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt have been honored for establishing our national parks and stopping the US from being turned into a giant suburban neighborhood and shopping mall/parking lot, Smokey Bear has had a lot more influence lately.

 

Soylent GreenSol Roth in “Soylent Green”: For those who’ve seen the 1973 film “Soylent Green” starring Charlton Heston, you probably remember the scenes where he talks about the past with his old roommate, Solomon “Sol” Roth. Played by classic 1930s gangster movie star Edward G. Robinson, Roth sermonizes about the past when there used to be blue sky and beautiful beaches and forests. Set in 2022 (nine years from now – yipes!), they live in a big city, probably New York, and the planet is overpopulated and dying off; the air is so thick with smog that people wear surgical masks as they stand in line waiting for their government-rationed food. Soylent Corporation controls all of it and manufactures the food products. It’s in such short supply that crowds riot over it. Heston, playing corrupt-but-justice-seeking cop Thorn, finds out through Roth that Soylent Green is made out of people. The most memorable part of the film is where Roth has given up on living and has gone to a center for euthanasia. Roth finds him there and watches the last moments of Roth’s life as film footage is shown streaming giant images of the earth’s long-lost beauty.

Paul Simon as Billy JackBilly Jack: Yes, it was absurd. A half-Native American, half-white ex-Green Beret war vet, martial artist takes off his shoes and kicks a racist bully upside the head. Another pivotal scene was his spiritual initiation into an Indian tribe where he becomes enlightened and recognizes that all the earth is interconnected – you need to protect the planet, champion equality, and make sure diversity is respected – or life can only be a total bummer. He speaks up for the Freedom School and its young students against the kind of redneck townspeople who killed the stars of “Easy Rider” a couple of years earlier. As hokey as it was, it did make for a very entertaining movie – very similar to drive-in movies we would watch in those days with car chases and fight scenes and social commentary galore. It was enough to inspire “Saturday Night Live” to satirize it a few years later with pop star Paul Simon playing Billy Jack. And come on, we all remember the famous theme song, “One Tin Soldier.” Don’t feel embarrassed about watching the music video and that you might want to sing along……