Climate Change and transportation policies: Are skeptics right that it’s really a lost cause?

Climate change polar bear

Stakeholders striving to bring green transportation to the mainstream tend to articulate one, two, or all three of the following reasons for supporting their missions:

1. Petroleum: Reducing and eventually eliminating America’s (and Planet Earth’s) addiction to oil and all its negative implications on geopolitics and energy security, economic stability, and environmental issues.
2. Economics: A seismic shift has been in the works for years, long before the Great Recession, with globalization and adoption of new technologies driving change. As America sees several industries and jobs diminish or disappear, looking for new opportunities is a very good thing. Alternative fuels and vehicles offer the possibility of return on investments, OEM and infrastructure sales, good paying jobs, and sales tax revenue.
3. Emissions: On the regulatory front, along with sustainability policies being adopted by several corporations, green transportation tends to be primarily pushed forward to reduce tailpipe and carbon emissions. Air pollution and its health-hazard implications are there on the tailpipe smog side of the analysis, and for many organizations, climate change is the central issue.

I’ve recently heard persuasive arguments made that climate change is certainly occurring, but there’s very little humans can do about it. While reducing fossil fuel consumption and emissions is the clear path to reducing CO2 levels, it will only address one end of the scale; there are environmental forces – including what’s happening deep within our oceans – that are outside human-caused climate change and there’s very little we can do about it.

Whether these arguments have weight or not, it’s very important to stay current on what’s happening out there, as it will affect government and corporate transportation policies. So here’s the latest on the climate change debate….

The US Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just released a report stating that the scorching hot heat that hit the north central and northeast US during the summer of 2012 was impacted by man-made climate change. The report’s analyses found evidence of human-caused climate change in half of the 12 extreme weather and climate events analyzed from last year. It started with unusual warmth in the spring season of 2012. “Approximately 35 percent of the extreme warmth experienced in the eastern U.S. between March and May 2012 can be attributed to human-induced climate change,” NOAA said about one study in the report. From another study in the report, NOAA stated, “High temperatures, such as those experienced in the [north central and northeast] U.S. in [summer] 2012 are now likely to occur four times as frequently due to human-induced climate change.”

The California Air Resources Board has a legal battle to deal with that’s attempting to undercut the Low Carbon Fuel Standard Program, which came out of AB 32 when it was enacted in 2006. Oil and ethanol companies want to void the rule and claim that the fuel standard discriminates against crude oil and biofuels producers outside California. There are two lawsuits in the works. CARB lost the federal court case and is waiting to find out if the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the case. Ethanol producer Poet LLC has another case filed with the state court claiming CARB violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when it adopted the standard. Poet claims the rule unfairly penalizes ethanol producers by counting their indirect carbon emissions.

National Geographic’s September cover story, “Rising Seas,” shows the Statue of Liberty waist high in seawater. The lead feature article starts out with three statistics – 136 large coastal cities are now at risk from sea-level rise; 40 million people are at risk in those cities; and there’s $3 trillion value of assets at risk. A fold-out map shows what the planet would look like if all the ice caps melted – the southeast US is underwater; California doesn’t break off and sink to the bottom of the ocean, but somehow its central agricultural region becomes a giant lake. The global map forecasts 5,000 years into the future when the sea level rises 216 feet, perhaps much faster if we add five trillion more tons of carbon to the atmosphere. The average earth temperature will be shooting up from the current 58 degrees Fahrenheit to 80 degrees. Most of magazine’s special section focuses on tactics for surviving flooding and other consequences that come out of disasters like last year’s Hurricane Sandy. In June, Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined a $19.5 billion plan to defend New York City against rising seas. Tim Folger, author of the article does mention the role of human decisions impacting melting ice caps…. “Unless we change course dramatically in the coming years, our carbon emissions will create a world utterly different in its very geography from the one in which our species evolved,” Folger wrote in the summary. “No matter how much we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, Foster (Gavin Foster, a geochemist at the University of Southampton in England) says we’re already locked in to at least several feet of sea-level rise, and perhaps several dozens of feet, as the planet slowly adjusts to the amount of carbon that’s in the atmosphere already.”

In June of this year, President Barack Obama came back to the issue of climate change, which he’d basically avoided during his reelection campaign last year. In June of this year, the White House published the “Climate Action Plan” and the president gave a speech that month on climate and energy. The theme of the transportation portion of the report digs into increasing fuel economy standards and developing and deploying advanced transportation technologies as the way to address climate change. The report does start out with a quote from the president’s reelection inaugural speech in January where he mentioned the overwhelming majority of scientists convinced that climate change is for real ….. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms,” he said. Our moral obligation is to hand over sustainable energy sources to future generations, according to the president. Obama addressed the topic during the G20 summit, though the issue of what to do about Syria was much more important. Five Scandinavian nations (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) agreed with the president on the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan.

Transportation produced 31% of total carbon emissions and 26% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the US during 2011, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Electricity, industry, residential and commercial, and other non-fossil combustion make up the rest of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the EPA analysis. GHG and CO2 emissions go through ebbs and flows of interest and action by government entities, researchers, and businesses. The published B2B and consumer surveys make the issues look vulnerable to fluctuation on priority lists for elections, investments, purchase decisions, and lifestyle concerns. Climate change is not going away as a pressing issue – especially in the wake of natural disasters and weather catastrophes – but it’s probably best suited for success in league with petroleum and economic issues.

Lithium-ion batteries see much brighter days for Asia-based battery makers

LG Chem battery researchNot long ago, Navigant Research identified what it considers to be the top 10 most significant lithium-ion battery makers active in the electric vehicle market. Its top 10 ranking is based on systems integration, safety engineering, chemistry performance, geographic reach, manufacturing and product performance, pricing, and overall corporate financial health. Here’s the top 10 list with a bit of company background information….

  1. LG Chem – formerly a subsidiary of LG Group, the South Korean company went public in 2001 with LG Group remaining a significant investor.
  2. Johnson Controls – a US-based company offering products and services to optimize energy and operational efficiencies to several industries including automotive.
  3. Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC) – a joint venture between three Japan-based companies – Nissan, information technology company NEC Corp., and electronic device company NEC TOKIN Corp.
  4. Panasonic – a Japanese electronics company.
  5. Samsung SDI – a subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics.
  6. SK Continental E-Motion – a joint venture between South Korea’s largest oil refiner SK Innovation and German automotive parts supplier Continental AG.
  7. Hitachi – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  8. Toshiba – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  9. GS Yuasa – a Japanese company known primarily for automobile and motorcycle lead-acid batteries.
  10. BYD – Chinese BYD Company is a major battery maker and also owns BYD Auto Co.

You might notice a pattern here – of these 10 companies, only one is US based and nearly all others are in Asia and bring many years of success in automotive, engineering, and electronics to their battery divisions. The US has its share of electric carmakers, but the battery packs haven’t gone well for US-based manufacturing. A123 Systems went bankrupt and is making a few batteries now for its Chinese company owner; EnerDel came from Ener1 and its troubled partnership with Norwegian electric carmaker Think. EnerDel is struggling with lack of business and just cut its Indianapolis-area workforce by one third. Coda Automotive has pulled out of the electric vehicle market and filed for bankruptcy. Management is now focused on building its battery energy storage system through its Coda Energy division, which it started in 2011, and it’s focused on markets outside of electric vehicles.

LG Chem has done very well in the global li-ion battery market, but the US has been a bad experience for the top-ranked company. LG Chem finally began producing li-ion batteries in July for the Chevrolet Volt at its Holland, Mich. plant, but that’s been stopped again in the past few days. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised questions about how the cells are being made. The EPA has issued a subpoena on LG Chem to find out what chemicals have been used in production. The company says that it’s still confident it can get production ramped up once this investigation gets wrapped up.

LG Chem had received $151 million in US Department of Energy funds, but had not built any Volt batteries from Holland, Mich., until very recently – only from its South Korean facilities. It got fairly ugly earlier this year when the Office of the Inspector General reported that LG Chem employees were sitting around doing nothing but playing games and watching movies while being paid from these federal funds. LC Chem was instructed to return $842,000 as a result of the report.

Lux Research reported that electronics giant Panasonic’s lithium-ion battery division earned about $40 million in profits during Q2 2013 – much better than in Q2 2012 when the company lost $20 million. The company is expected to invest over $200 million during the next year to expand its li-ion production lines in Japan. Panasonic has supplied nickel-metal hydride batteries to Toyota and Honda hybrid models, but more recently has invested more in its li-ion division. Tesla Motors is a major client – Panasonic has been producing 60 kilowatt hour to 85 kWh battery packs for its Model S electric car. Lux Research reported that Panasonic has overtaken LG Chem and AESC in US li-ion sales. The US market is competitive for li-ion EV battery market share, but it’s now coming from companies based overseas.

Big Picture: Nissan joins Tesla in selling ZEV credits, Volvo Trucks upping its green credentials, Toyota improving Prius performance

Nissan Leaf ZEV creditsHere’s my take on top news stories of the week:

  1. One of the gains made by selling plug-in electric vehicles in California is gaining zero emission vehicle (ZEV) credits and selling them to your competitors. Nissan Motor Co. now joins Tesla Motors in selling green-car credits. California requires large automakers to sell electric or other ZEVs in proportion to their market share in the state. Nissan has sold enough Leafs that it can sell its excess carbon credits to other automakers. The Tesla Model S can generate up to seven ZEV credits because of its range of as much as 300 miles per charge and the option of swapping its battery pack with a charged one (the company will open its first battery swap facility by year’s end). The Leaf earns three credits through the state program.
  2. Volvo Trucks is upping its green credentials even more – Through its Climate-Smart City Distribution project, emissions from 400 distribution trucks were cut between 30% and 80% over three years. Volvo worked with several partners to improve the efficiency of distribution operations in Gothenburg, Sweden. Conventional diesel distribution trucks were replaced with vehicles using renewable fuels – biodiesel, biogas, and dimethyl ether (DME); hybrid technology; and methane-diesel fuel. Volvo and Mack Trucks are committed to bringing DME powered trucks to roads soon; earlier this year, Volvo unveiled plug-in hybrid buses as part of a field test.
  3. Toyota is optimistic that its next generation Prius will get even better fuel economy and cost even less. Improvements will come through using lighter materials and significant advances in battery, electric motor, and gas engine technologies, the company said. Toyota thinks its miles per gallon rating on the hatchback Prius will gain from 50 mpg to near 55. It’s likely to come out in 2015. It next generation batteries will have higher energy density. For the Prius and other Toyota models, the automakers is working on a diverse set of batteries – lithium ion, nickel metal hydride, solid state, lithium air, and magnesium.
  4. Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) and its GoElectricDrive Foundation have a partnership with Green Sports Alliance dedicated to improve the environmental performance of sports teams and facilities. Since being founded in March 2011 by six professional teams and five venues, Green Sports Alliance now has over 170 professional and collegiate teams from 15 different sports leagues. Members include Anaheim Ducks, Baltimore Ravens, Boston Red Sox, LA Dodgers, Miami Marlins, New York Jets, and University of Texas Longhorns. EDTA and Green Sports Alliance will show organizations the benefits of integrating electric drive in their fleets, and giving fans a place to charge up their EVs while watching a ballgame, said Brian Wynne, president of EDTA.
  5. The 2013 AltCar Fleet Conference and Expo will be put on by the City of Santa Monica on Sept. 20-21. It tends to offer the best green vehicle display and ride and drive with just about e everything you can think of available to check out. As for speakers at the Friday fleet conference, these will include Terry Tamminen, former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; David Friedman, deputy administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration; JR DeShazo, director of the Luskin Center at UCLA; Randall Winston, special assistant to the executive secretary, office of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.; Jon Coleman, fleet sustainability & technology manager for Ford Motor Co.; and Richard Battersby, Public Sector Fleet Manager of the Year, from East Bay Clean Cities. Vehicle debuts will include Southern California Gas Company’s west coast introduction of four new prototype consumer vehicles built to run on compressed natural gas and capable of using gasoline as backup.
  6. CleanFUEL USA has just brought in Blair Poulsen as its director of sales; Poulsen brings more than 23 years of propane industry experience to the company. He was most recently regional sales and marketing director for Heritage Propane and AmeriGas Propane, and currently serves on the Nevada Board of Regulation of Liquefied Petroleum Gas. Poulsen will lead a team serving clients in propane refueling infrastructure and OEM vehicle technology, including Thomas Built Bus, Collins Bus, General Motors Corp., and Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.
  7. You think regenerative braking is pretty cool? How about a regenerative suspension? German automotive parts maker ZF says it’s bringing the first technology of its kind to the world. ZF Friedrichshafen AG has teamed up with Levant Power Corp. to product a system that works like regen braking, recapturing energy when the suspension gets put in motion. It would take away the large amount of energy needed by suspension systems and increase fuel economy.
  8. Is your community burdened by dirty coal? How about converting over to cleaner natural gas? Navigant Research is hosting a webinar on Sept. 10 that will explore that topic. Utilities are shutting down a lot of aging coal-powered plants through 2020. There are costs and complexities involved in switching over to natural gas that will be discussed by panelists, including examples of plants that have gone through these conversions in recent years.
  9. States like California are digging into the best financial models for reducing traffic congestion and repairing worn out roads. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) taxes, gasoline tax increases, road tolls, increasing vehicle licensing and registration fees, transportation-focused sales tax, and infrastructure bonds – and all they pluses and minuses – are explored in an article that was just published in Westways. It’s a very tough issue that states are going through.
  10. Reincarnated electric carmaker Detroit Electric will still be making its all-electric SP:01, only it won’t be happening in Detroit. Its Lotus-based sports car will be made in the Netherlands, and production will start in the fourth quarter of this year. The company was going to bring jobs to Detroit initially – 2,500 cars per years with a workforce of 100. Plans started being delayed in June, as the company said it couldn’t find the right manufacturing location in Wayne County, Mich., where Detroit is located. 

Chrysler Group and NADA encouraging dealers to be energy efficient

Westgate dealer proud to be greenChrysler Group just recognized 30 of its dealers who’ve performed well through its second annual Dealer Environmentally Conscious Operations program. Dealers are saving money by adopting energy efficient practices and looking for ways to make the changes pay for themselves. One of the more interesting examples has been Westgate Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, based in Raleigh, N.C. Westgate installed 420 solar panels on its service department and sold the power to the region’s electric utility at a fixed rate. It’s reducing energy costs $1,800 to $3,000 per month, depending on the volume of sunshine that make it to the solar panels.

Chrysler Group is emphasizing two accomplishments its dealer network is reaching – significant contributions to the environment and creating a sustainable enterprise. There’s also the operating cost savings part – which will take a while depending on the incentives available to the dealer and the cost of having the solar panels installed or other building structure investments needed for improved energy efficiency. Dealers can access incentive programs in some states that lower the solar panel installation cost quite a bit; and can start up energy efficiency programs such as changing over to LED lighting fixtures. Chrysler looks at how its dealers are doing in energy efficiency, waste recycling, wastewater control, bulk oil containment, vehicle lift maintenance, and community relations program.

The Chrysler dealers are based in 21 states, with four of them being in Michigan and four in Florida; California, North Carolina, and Texas each have two dealers recognized this year. They were selected based on data from dealership online surveys and in-dealership notes.

As for vehicles, Chrysler Group hasn’t done much at all in the green space. It is testing out some plug-in hybrid Ram pickups and a few other concept models. Parent company Fiat has introduced the Fiat 500e electric car to the US market; some say it’s a “compliance car” in California, but it does seem to be getting a good deal of interest from car shoppers.

National Automobile Dealers Association is in the process of having dealer members provide data in a benchmarking study through the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program. They’re asking dealers to take a survey that will give EPA a benchmark to compare energy usage of dealers across the country, and to allow for certification of those dealers that perform well. Dealers are sharing their utility bills, total square footage, and different types of equipment being used at the dealership.

The NADA and EPA relationship goes back to 2007 in what’s called the Energy Ally program that was designed to help dealers reduce their energy consumption. Dealers are being educated on energy reduction and cost saving opportunities and strategies. KPA, a dealer services and internet marketing provider, now has an alliance with NADA through Energy Ally. KPA and other companies are helping NADA to benchmark at least 500 dealers on their energy usage.

WEX whitepaper educates fleets on alternative fuel vehicles as demand increases

WEX going green saving green whitepaperWhile alternative fuel vehicles started noticeably showing up in fleets in the early 1990s, they haven’ t become significant in numbers or budgets until recently. Now fleets are acquiring all types of green vehicles, and that includes government fleets, corporate, service and delivery, utility, trucking, car rental, and car sharing companies. They’re also continuing to buy the most fuel efficient vehicles on the market, but alternative fuels have more importance now than 20 years ago when Clean Cities started up.

WEX Inc., formerly known as Wright Express, just sponsored a new whitepaper on the topic“Going Green, Saving Green: A Fleet Manager’s Guide to Alternative Fuels Best Practices.” WEX is the leader in fleet fueling payment cards systems, and is now bringing that over to electric vehicle charging and natural gas refueling stations.  It’s interesting to see a company like WEX release this type of whitepaper – the importance of alternative fuel vehicles has gained enough presence to inspire a whitepaper. It’s reminiscent of NADA Used Car Guide recently releasing a special report on resale value trends for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt – after having ignored the issue for quite a long time.

The WEX paper pro­vides fleets with best prac­tices for cost-effective imple­men­ta­tion of alter­na­tive fuels in a fleet. While media primarily focus on consumer behavior with green vehicles, this paper asserts that fleets are much better positioned to use alternative fuels – their choices are premeditated, unlike consumers’. They’re usually traveling along predetermined routes and can stop for recharging and refueling at given points. That makes it much more viable to plan strategically and contain costs. Here are five recommended tips on making it work….

#1: Know the station coverage in your area.
US government agencies have made significant infrastructure investments, bringing up the number to 11,800 stations – of which about 6,000 are charging stations. About 82% of alternative fueling sites are accessible to the public. The Dept. of Energy offers a comprehensive directory of charging/fueling sites around the country.

#2: Compare historical fuel costs.
Starting in 2008, the commonly used fleet industry terminology for spiking gasoline prices was “fuel price volatility.” It was quite volatile that year, which shot up fuel costs for fleets and hurt vehicle financing and remarketing programs. Switching over to alternative fuels can bring price stability to fleets, though they do have to build in the conversion costs and lifecycle costs of choosing hybrids and EVs over fuel efficient gasoline and diesel engine vehicles.

#3. Think in terms of total ownership cost.
While green vehicles tend to sell for a premium price over typical internal combustion engine vehicles, total cost of ownership can be very appealing – especially for fleets putting a lot of mileage on their vehicles. Fleets tend to study four cost categories: capital costs; maintenance costs; end of life recycling and replacement costs; and indirect costs.

#4: Find and use tax credits wherever you can.
It goes without saying that incentives like federal tax credits and state rebates are very attractive for fleets – and there are a lot of these offerings to choose from now. Calstart encourages fleets to stay informed on state voucher programs to reduce ownership costs. The DOE offers a useful site to find out about the latest federal and state programs. Keep in mind that you need to have good fleet reporting mechanisms in place to cash into these incentives.

#5. Think holistically about fleet fuel costs.
This is where experience will come to play. It depends very much on the regional location of the fleet – in some areas like California, the infrastructure is more solidly in place for natural gas fueling and EV recharging than in most other states. A fleet might have very limited routes with plenty of downtime, making EVs with Level 2 chargers a good buy. Other fleets may choose hybrids and fuel efficient cars and crossovers, depending on their mileage and coverage area and the available infrastructure in that area.

Stay tuned for more specialized reports on green vehicles and infrastructure to be released.  These reports are likely to focus on the US and other key economic markets – China, India, Japan, Korea, Brazil, European Union, and Canada being the most important. Eventually, the economic impact of green vehicles and fueling will grab more attention as the numbers grow and the industry adds more layers to operations.

Big Picture: America’s largest port sees transportation emissions drop dramatically…. NHTSA irked by Tesla’s best-ever safety ratings claim

vacation timeWell it was certainly a busy week for alternative technology vehicles – and that’s saying a lot given that it’s unofficially Vacation Time here in the USA. So here’s a list of the most interesting stories of the past week….

  • The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles were proud to announce some big numbers…. Long Beach has cut diesel particulates by 81% and sulfur oxides 88% since 2005. The port has also reduced nitrogen oxides by 54% and other greenhouse gases by 24% since 2005. Reasons mentioned in the report for emissions reductions include bigger ships carrying cargo more efficiently, newer ships with cleaner engines, implementation of the Clean Trucks Program, increasing use of shore power, and a new low-sulfur fuel rule for ships, according to its Emissions Inventory report.
  • Port of Los Angeles just put out a similar report – the 2012 Inventory of Air Emissions. LA saw a 79% drop in diesel particulate matter since 2005. Moving cargo volume fluctuations from the equation showed the number was closer to 81% in reductions. The LA port saw a huge drop in sulfur oxides emissions (SOx)  throughout the South Coast Air Basin. In this report, 6% of all SOx came from the Port of Los Angeles – way down from 25% in 2005. Nitrogen oxides also saw a big drop during the past seven years. The port has implemented several clean-air measures, requirements, and incentives to reach these targets. All transportation modes are included – ships, trucks, trains, cargo-handling equipment, and small harbor aircraft.
  • NHTSA is tweaked that Tesla claims it received the highest crash-test safety record ever for its Model S. It got great ratings – five stars in each category, but it didn’t really get a 5.4 overall score like it claims, NHTSA said. Tesla used the mathematical formula that NHTSA cites to come up with its own 5.4 rating. NHTSA doesn’t even rate vehicles beyond five stars and doesn’t rank them against other vehicles, the agency said. (Editor’s Note: Wrong or right, Tesla did gain a lot of publicity when it issued its press release on gaining the best five-star safety record ever. I sure fell for it!)
  • In other Tesla news, the EV maker’s plans to enter the China market have stalled out for now. There’s a dispute over a trademark that Tesla needs to enter the market and set up a flagship showroom in Beijing. A businessman in China is claiming the trademark rights to the name.
  • And….. Tesla hit $173 and then closed at $164.23 in stock price yesterday – that’s market value in excess of $20 billion for part of the day.
  • Tesla competitor BMW is rolling out another plug-in concept next month at the Frankfurt Auto Show. The BMW Concept5 X5 eDrive plug-in hybrid is based on the BMW X5 SAV. It will be powered by a four-cylinder TwinPower turbocharged gasoline engine in tandem with a 70 kilowatt electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack. The X5 eDrive will join the BMW i3 and i8 plug-ins in Frankfurt.
  • California Energy Commission is seeking proposals for $4.7 million available in awards – three awards up to a little over $1.5 million each to be distributed among three regions – Northern, Central, and Southern California. The funds will support new or existing centers for alternative fuels and advanced vehicle technology. Winners of the awards will support a neutral site for companies to collaborate on technology demonstrations, with fleet managers expected to play a big role. In other government funding news, the new US Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, said the feds may revive the $25 billion Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program. That program has been on hold since March 2011 after two of the five companies that had received loans halted production. The DOE is looking at revising the loan solicitation process.
  • Detroit Electric is sputtering in its manufacturing plans as the company that revived the historic EV brand has to yet to make an agreement for a plant in Wayne County, Mich. There was going to be a facility in Plymouth to make its electric sports car, but that’s failed to come together.
  • Mercedes-Benz ordered 123 more hydrogen-based GenDrive fuel cell units to run forklifts at its logistics center under construction in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Last month, Mercedes bought 72 of these fuel cell lifts for its Tuscaloosa vehicle assembly plant.
  • While some scoff at the term “clean diesel,” others would disagree. RL Polk & Co. says the US sales figures have gone up 25% between 2010 and 2012 and the number of these diesel-powered light-duty vehicle models will be going up from 27 models now to more than 55 in the next two years. Why is the momentum building for diesel passenger vehicles? Three main reasons:  lots of appealing products to choose from; diesel engines are 20% to 40% more fuel efficient than comparable gasoline engines; who cares of diesel is pricier than gasoline? Automakers like them for the 54.5 mpg by 2025 fuel standard mandate and consumers have more confidence in them now. The Volkswagen Golf TDI and Jetta TDI impressed a lot of people as high performance and fuel efficient, and led the way in diesel adoption.
  • Google poised to profit from self-driving cars: Mega-automotive supplier Continental AG is now in alliance with Google and IBM to build autonomous driving systems for cars. Continental has a similar deal with Cisco Systems for automated/driverless cars and data transfer between automobiles. Google has been in this game since 2010, providing test results from California highways and played an important role in the state of Nevada doing its homework and becoming the first state to adopt a self-driving car testing program.
  • EVCARCO Inc.., an up-and-coming dealer network offering green vehicles, has launched its EV Leasing Program. The company wants to support increase in demand in the US for new and pre-owned electric and hybrid vehicles available now in the US. CEO Walter Speck said the EVCARCO has submitted licensing to solicit consumers to enter into a lease of new or pre-owned models, which include the Chevy Colt, Nissan Leaf, Teslas, BMWs, Toyotas, and other alternative fuel vehicles.

Green Automotive bringing electric shuttles to US market as part of broad strategy

Newport Coachworks image on GAC websiteWe’ve certainly seen quite a few startup OEMs and battery makers go belly up in the electric vehicle space in the past three years. To survive and thrive in this newfound industry, building reliable, high performance product, marketing and “messaging” in a way that resonates with the core audience, and having solid financials, are key ingredients.

Green Automotive Company (GAC) is the holding company for three units – Liberty Electric Cars and GoinGreen in the UK and Newport Coachworks in the US. Ian Hobday, director of GAC, says the holding company has a business strategy of going “back to basics.” A steady cash flow is needed for EV makers, and each of GAC’s business units have revenue streams beyond EVs. “You can’t have 100 percent of your focus on EVs,” he said. “The volume’s not strong enough yet.”

His initial company, Liberty Electric Cars, was acquired last year by GAC and brings about eight years of experience in the European market to the table. It’s been delivering electric vehicles to customers in Europe for several years, and has other diverse offerings on the market including all Electric Range Rover conversions.

In November, Newport Coachworks will start building electric shuttle buses at its production facility in Riverside, Calif. The Newport Coachworks team has been in the bus market for years and was recently acquired by GAC. While most of the buses in chauffeured transportation tend to be converted from Ford E450 or F550 platforms, Newport Coachworks will be building its own electric buses from the ground up. Newport is tapping into Liberty’s experience delivering electric vehicles to parcel delivery and postal fleets, and to plumbers, gardeners, decorators, and other business customers. The shuttle bus is powered by an 80 kilowatt battery pack that goes about 100 miles on a charge; the A/C unit doesn’t need extra power during the trips as it has its own source, Hobday said.

What GAC is finding out is that customers appreciate the cost per mile differential with electrics buses – 14.5 cents per mile for typical shuttle buses and 2.5 cents per mile for electric shuttles. Drivers also love the fact that the electric bus has no vibration or noise – they feel more relaxed while doing their jobs, Hobday said.

A number of clients have been using GAC’s drivetrains in their own vehicles, including OEMs in Europe. They’ve also been accessing the Liberty E-Care service offering, which provides service and support for EVs already on the roadfrom trained and skilled technicians equipped with customized diagnostic tools.

GAC found California to be a smart place to launch its electric shuttle buses in the US market. It’s the largest market so far in the US for electric vehicles, and there’s incentives and support for the technology within the state. The company is also focused on getting as close to 100% as possible in using American parts and labor in its vehicles. GAC has been working with manufacturers of lithium ion battery cell makers such as Dow Kokam on its electric Range Rovers. GAC wants access to inherently safe, high energy density cells from US suppliers. “Why go to China? It’s much cheaper, but the failure rate is higher,” Hobday said.

GoinGreen is GAC’s retailer network in the UK. It offers a wide gamut of EV products – city buses, bikes, scooters, and city cars. It will be coming to California then launching a global rollout. As GAC acquired Liberty and GoinGreen, the idea was to consolidate operations, reach economies of scale, and to cover all the basics – from manufacturing electric powertrains and conversions, servicing the vehicles, and expanding retail store fronts. GAC serves the internal combustion engine sector, as well. As GAC and other thriving players in the EV market (i.e., Tesla Motors) know very well, good solid profits are required for EV makers to survive and thrive.

Don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger! Why you should read John DeCicco’s commentary

Obama driving Chevy VoltThere’s an article you should read, even though many of you are going to hate it.

John DeCicco gets very blunt and criticizes the Obama Administration’s push for electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles – along with presidential programs going back to Ronald Reagan that he says were a waste of taxpayer’s money. Government subsidies and mandates haven’t worked, he says. He lambastes Obama administration policies, which are usually considered to be very green. He thinks that the policies are “under the misguided presumption that alternative fuels emit significantly fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline, and goaded by green groups and alternative fuel business interests.”

I do think you should take DeCicco and his article in a Yale University journal very seriously. He’s a noted academic researcher, has been a senior fellow at Environmental Defense Fund, and he pioneered US green car ratings for the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

He thinks the best way to go will need a three-prong strategy:  1. Continue to raise fuel economy standards. 2. Implement policies that will reduce driving. 3. Control carbon upstream in energy and fuels used downstream in our daily lives.

As for the upstream/downstream argument, he thinks much of it boils down to the source of the energy. DeCicco makes the classic argument about the downside of EVs. About two thirds of the electricity that powers plug-in electric vehicles comes from fossil fuels – coal and natural gas – which removes the good side of EVs. Carbon emissions need to be cut down at electricity power plants – although he does acknowledge that this is included in Obama’s new climate plan.

And, of course, he rips into biofuels:  “Similarly, for biofuels such as ethanol, any potential climate benefit is entirely upstream on land where feedstocks are grown. Biofuels have no benefit downstream, where used as motor fuels, because their tailpipe CO2 emissions differ only trivially from those of gasoline,” he wrote.

He’s painting a picture that can be bleak and depressing. At the end of the day, stakeholders in this field must stay well informed and effectively get the word out on their green transportation campaigns. That requires adopting strategies that have a good chance of accomplishing their intended goals. Using hybrids and highly fuel-efficient vehicles is part of reducing emissions. Natural gas, electricity, propane autogas, ethanol, biodiesel, and hydrogen – in their current realities – are far from perfect or ideal. You could think of it as “transitional fuels” that are a step forward away from petroleum and have their role to play in reducing carbon emissions, job creation and economic growth, and curing our addiction to oil. Electricity made from 100% renewables, algae and cellulosic biofuels, renewable natural gas, and hydrogen extracted from clean sources, are targets to aim for – but they’re still a long ways off.

Big Picture: EPA taking on controversial mileage ratings, Green manufacturing plants given thumbs up

How accurate and truthful are automakers and EPA being about mileage ratings?
47 MPG

Fallout from the fuel economy ratings on the Ford C-Max hybrid has caused the US Environmental Protection Agency to rethink how it calculates mileage. The EPA window sticker mileage rating labels go back to the 1970s, and disparities have widened as more hybrid and electric vehicle models have come to market. Consumer Reports and analysts are taking automakers to task for fudging on fuel economy numbers as OEMs push for fuel economy improvements to comply with strict federal standards.

EPA says it will work with consumer and environmental groups and automakers to propose revised fuel-economy testing regulations. It’s understood that the ratings need to be reliable. Ford has changed the combined rating on its C-Max from 47 mpg to 43. Ford is also offering C-Max owners reimbursement cash payments for additional fuel consumption. Consumer Reports is still staying on top of the controversy and just released a chart showing its own mileage testing data versus what the EPA lists for 14 vehicles. EPA test results showed them that the agency used a mathematical derivation formula in lieu of an actual test. EPA doesn’t publish the formula that it uses, but it is using the formula for EPA mileage ratings on more than 80% of all cars.

Here’s some of the numbers Consumer Reports found testing out 14 models

  • Ford and Lincoln had the widest gaps in their EPA ratings versus Consumer Reports. Along with the controversial gap between the C-Max hybrid and Fusion Hybrid ratings, two other that made the list were the Fusion Titanium (2.0T) that 26 mpg overall EPA rating versus 22 from Consumer Reports. The Lincoln MKZ 2.0 with EcoBoost had an EPA rating of 26 and a CR rating of 23.
  • The Chevrolet Traverse had an EPA rating of 19 mpg and a CR rating of 16 mpg.
  • Volkswagen Golf TDI got better CR ratings than EPA – 38 vs. 34, and Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI had 36 vs. 34.
  • The Nissan Frontier, Nissan Xterra, Lexus ES 350, Toyota Avalon Limited (V6), Toyota Land Cruiser, and Toyota Sequoia were very close to being exactly the same – sometimes just one mpg off.
  • It looks like the EPA and automakers have a ways to go – especially Ford – in gaining back confidence from car shoppers on accurate mileage ratings.

 

Automakers given kudos for sustainability initiatives at US plants
Ford Motor Co. and General Motors have been recognized for making manufacturing plants more energy efficient, reducing landfill and water consumption, and powering plants with renewables. Competitors have been getting the nod lately, as well, for changes being implemented at US plants. Honda is working on a test track facility using 70,000 solar panels and selling the excess renewable energy. Subaru has installed a zero-landfill, 100% recycling policy at its Lafayette, Ind., plant. In Chattanooga, Tenn., Volkswagen opened a 9.5 MW solar park with 33,600 solar modules capable of producing 13.1 gigawatt hours per year of electricity. Toyota prides itself for having the most clean energy patents in one year – with 207 being filed in 2012. Honda is taking the lead this year on clean energy patents and registered 87 patents in 2012.

EPA ranks five greenest, most fuel efficient cars of the year
Green Car Reports made a list of the five greenest cars on the market, based on fuel economy measurements issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency. As you’ve just read about previously in this newsletter, the EPA’s ratings have been questionable lately. However, it is good to get a look at how the miles per gallon equivalent rating is being reported and what are now to be considered the top cars for fuel efficient vehicles. (You’ll also notice that the Toyota Prius is no longer in the top five, and it topped this list for years.)

(1) 2013 Honda Fit EV: 118 MPGe
(2) 2013 Fiat 500e: 116 MPGe
(3 and 4 tied) 2013 Nissan Leaf: 115 MPGe, 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid: 115 MPGe
(5) 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV: 112 MPGe

Renewable natural gas adopted by Washington bus fleet
Renewable natural gas just took a step forward. Pierce County, Washington, (covering Tacoma and Olympia) has been converting its transit bus fleet over from compressed natural gas to renewable natural gas. Pierce Transit gained EPA approval to fuel its bus fleet with RNG – 143 of its 155 buses are now being powered by RNG made from the biogases from the Cedar Hills Landfill in nearby King County. It’s the first municipal transit fleet in the country to utilize this alternative fuel, and probably one of the first large organizations to bring in RNG.

Ecotality hitting the wall and may go bankrupt
Another company in the EV supply chain may be heading for bankruptcy – Ecotality. The DOE has put Ecotality’s request for more federal funding on hold after the charging station supplier company stated that it’s having trouble getting financing and may have to declare bankruptcy. Ecotality outlined its problems in its latest SEC 8-K filing. Ecotality has been depending on the DOE funds — $100 million had come through, nearly all of which has gone into the federal EV Project.

AFVResale.com offering a much-needed channel for green vehicle resale process

AFV ResaleAFVResale.com is offering a service to alternative fuel vehicle owners that plays a major role in acquisition and lifecycle cost analysis – resale values. Launched last year, the site is offering a platform for alt-fuel vehicle owners, primarily fleets, to remarket used green vehicles and for buyers to find competitive deals on vehicles that are not easy to find at auctions or dealerships.

Propane autogas-powered vehicles has been the leading category on the site so far. Greg Zilberfarb, CEO and president of TSN Communications, the parent company of AFVResale.com, has worked closely for several years with leading companies and organizations in the field, including Roush CleanTech and Propane Education & Research Council; TSN Communications has worked with other alternative fuel organizations including the National Biodiesel Board. Electric vehicles have also been sold on the site.

Cummins is using the site to market its Ford compressed natural gas unit vehicles, and sales have been taking off, Zilberfarb said. Icom North America has also been selling on AFVResale.com, primarily propane-powered school buses in alliance with its partner, bus maker Blue Bird. Sellers are listing a number of used vehicles for sale, such as a propane-powered 2012 E25D Cargo Van. Buyers can find specification details to answer their questions and find out where the vehicle is located.

AFVResale.com was designed to be a straightforward platform for buyers and sellers to meet and do business. Zilberfarb says it’s a very simple sales process where anyone can create an account and post pre-owned alternative-fuel vehicles. Buyers can make a bid directly to the seller through the posted contact information. Vehicles are usually listed with photos, and buyers can contact the seller to negotiate the selling price. It’s a good platform for companies in the business to market themselves through detailed vehicle listings and photos, and through paid advertisements on the site.

Zilberfarb sees volatile gasoline and diesel prices as the key market driver for remarketing alt-fuel vehicles. The number of visitors to AFVReseale.com continues to increase. Zilberfarb is enthusiastic about the site being home to a growing community of alternative fuel vehicle buyers and sellers looking for the best opportunities in the marketplace.