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

AFV 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, 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, 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. 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 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.

BMW says it’s not taking on Tesla for luxury EV buyers, but who’s kidding who?

BMW i3 and i8“Revenge of the Electric Car” was a must-see in 2011 – the sequel to the influential “Who Killed the Electric Car?” shifted gears and explored who might become the iconic leader of the reincarnated electric vehicle market – Tesla’s Elon Musk, GM’s Bob Lutz, Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn, or custom electric car do-it-yourselfer Greg “Gadget” Abbott. While watching the movie, I kept wondering:  What about BMW?

BMW was testing out the Mini E with US drivers during the time the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt made it to the market. Next came the BMW ActiveE and now the BMW i3, and the i8 plug-in hybrid is next. Maybe the problem was the German automaker didn’t have any recognized US “car guy” celebrity to star in a movie? Well, the game is changing and BMW is poised to take on Tesla Motors for market share in the luxury electric vehicle market – even if BMW or Tesla doesn’t admit that being the case.

BMW says that’s its upcoming i8 sports car is not competing directly with the Tesla Model S. It’s a supercar of the future with the driving performance of the BMW M3, and the plug-in hybrid gets more than 80 miles per gallon, BMW says. The i8 is being shown at the Frankfurt auto show next month and will go on sale in the US in early 2014. Pricing hasn’t been released but it’s going to be steep – something less than $150,000. BMW is obviously paying attention to how well the Tesla Model S has been doing this year in sales performance. BMW says that the i8 and Model S will be reaching different buyers – but both automakers are clearly targeting sophisticated, high-income consumers. Incentives/rebates do apply, but that doesn’t really matter much at these price points. Leasing takes some of the edge off of it, but it’s still got a limited market potential. German luxury automakers have known this for years but have been committed to battling competitors (including Japanese luxury brands) for more share.

What about the BMW i3 versus the Model S? It doesn’t appear to be competing directly with the Model S. The i3 is a hatchback with a starting price of $42,275 versus the Model S sedan that starts at about $70,000. It might be more comparable to the Tesla Model X crossover that will be launched in 2014 for a starting price around $35,000. Tesla says it will go 200 miles on a charge, while the i3 gets 80 to 100 miles on a charge. The i3 is getting a lot of raves out in the automotive media and cleantech space – it’s the first in the series of BMW electric cars and the German automaker has been masterful at marketing its image – tying into BMW’s legacy as a high-performance carmaker and also tapping into the grand theme of global urbanization, as depicted in the photo above.

During a recent investor quarterly conference call, Tesla CEO Elon Musk chuckled when asked by an analyst about the BMW i3. It wasn’t clear what was so funny with Musk and a group of co-workers inside the conference call room, but he is known for putting down competitors (just ask Henrik Fisker). “I’m glad to see did BMW is bringing in electric car to market. That’s cool. There’s room to improve on the i3 and I hope that they will,” Musk said.


Big Picture: Will Elon Musk gain business from Hyperloop?

Hyperloop AlphaHyperloop:  Telsa CEO Elon Musk stirred up a lot of curiosity over the past year for the unveiling of his Hyperloop high-speed rail concept yesterday. It boils down to flying through a steel pipeline; take a look at this 57-page report. It’s a concept that won’t necessarily be carried out by any of Musk’s companies such as SpaceX, but it is intriguing. Musk says he is releasing the designs as an open source project in hopes of optimizing the design and bringing down costs.

The high-speed transit solution could go from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes and would cost $6 billion – compared to the $68 billion budgeted for the state’s high-speed rail project. It would travel along the state’s I-5 and I-580 highways and reach top speeds of 760 miles per hour. The capsules, or pods, could carry up to 28 people and each person could bring two bags. The trip would cost them about $20 one way. Musk recommends that it be built as a low friction suspension system traveling with a cushion of air from the pod using the same air bearings principle used in an air hockey table, instead of wheels. His team thinks that a battery used to accelerate the pod would be drawn not from the battery pack (that battery would circulate air in the pod); instead an external linear electric motor with a round induction motor, similar to the one used in the Tesla Model S, would deliver that power. Perhaps Tesla would provide an electric motor? There is probably some potential business opportunity for Musk and his companies — similar to Google funding and delivering driverless Toyota Priuses to states testing out autonomous cars. There’s got to be some technology applications that Google and Tesla can provide.

Neapolitan Express is leading a campaign to bring natural gas vehicles to food delivery vehicles in fleets across the country: Everything is powered on natural gas, instead of propane for food heating and gasoline or diesel for the truck’s engine and the motor powering air conditioning and other features. The food truck produces 70% less carbon emissions and reduces fuel costs by 60% over gasoline and diesel-fueled versions. Company owner Max Crespo unveiled the Neapolitan Express in February alongside New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Clean Energy Fuels Corp. founder T. Boone Pickens. In partnership with Clean Energy Fuels, Crespo is now rolling out the concept across the country, according to ClimateWire (subscription required).

Cellulosic ethanol reaches commercial production: The US Environmental Protection Agency is adjusting the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in order to reflect market realities. The rule previously called for 14 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol, but the final rule reduced the number to six million gallons of cellulosic ethanol this year. While coverage has stated that the EPA backed down, the cellulosic ethanol is actually becoming a tangible biofuel industry with commercial production starting up. KiOR started commercial production in March using wood chips to produce cellulosic fuels, and Ineos just announced that their Indian River BioEnergy plant in Florida has begun operations to make biofuels from plant waste. Both of these are now operating at full commercial scale.

Attention Fleet Managers — Sell green vehicles as part of GHG emissions reduction strategy:  Major aerospace company Northrup Grumman just released impressive numbers on reaching its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets – the only problem is that it had nothing to do with transportation. The company reduced GHG nearly 27% in three years – two years ahead of plan. How was this accomplished? An environmental sustainability program that covers facilities, engineering, and manufacturing efficiency projects, a green information technology strategy, real estate optimization, renewable energy, and ecosystem conservation. Not a word was said about its fleet vehicles. Fleet managers have been thinking about installing electric vehicle charging stations on campus and looking at green vehicles like its fleet management counterparts, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Hot Potato #1: Keystone XL pipeline heading for approval

Keystone pipelineThe Keystone XL pipeline is probably the leading “hot potato” energy issue to environmentalists, energy companies and legislators this year, possibly bumping “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing in shale fields for natural gas) to number two. The Keystone XL pipeline would deliver Canadian oil sands from huge reserves in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the gulf coast of Texas. Most of it is currently in operation, but the final phase is awaiting US State Department approval. It’s a critical issue to follow for those interested in the future of energy in the US.

The main question has been the impact the Keystone XL will have on greenhouse gas emissions, with environmentalists forecasting serious increases. The US Environmental Protection Agency expressed concerns in April over the environmental impact. This was a response to a US State Department analysis that the Keystone XL pipeline will have “no material impact” on US greenhouse gas emissions. The State Department findings were just backed up by a study from the IHS CERA consulting and research firm, which is likely to influence President Obama’s decision on whether to support approval. Like the State Department’s environmental impact review, the IHS study thinks that transportation by rail will probably play an important role in meeting environmental and economic targets. Alternate transportation routes could lead to oil sands production growth going to a higher level or remaining unchanged.

These findings won’t go over well with everyone. Cleanteach analysts and environmental groups tend to be skeptical about bias coming from firms like IHS toward more traditional oil industry backers and not so much toward alternative energy. It’s certainly a mixed bag – many would like to see the US free itself from the power of OPEC nations in setting domestic fuel prices causing economic disruption that goes back to the oil embargoes of the 1970s. To them, creating a strong relationship with Canada’s oil industry is a much better deal. Others would like to see America weaned completely off its addiction to oil, replacing it with alternative fuels and energy. To them, Keystone XL continues to not only support vehicle tailpipe CO2 emissions but increased greenhouse gas emissions to transport the Canadian oil in the first place.

Green and alternative fuel vehicles aren’t ready to take over new vehicle sales. What’s next?

Electric vehicle verus hybrids in salesWhile reviewing the state of the US auto industry in new vehicle sales, it’s easy to get depressed about the condition of electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles. Hybrids and EVs were a little bit over 4% of about 1.3 million new vehicles sold in the US market in July. Sales and of new and converted natural gas vehicles, propane autogas, hydrogen fuel cell, and biodiesel vehicles ran in small numbers (maybe 0.5% of the total). Tracking flex fuel/E85 numbers are not worthwhile since the adoption rate for fueling them on E85 ethanol runs pretty low. The grand vision commonly expressed by government officials and advocacy groups of green/alternative fuel vehicles making up 50% of new vehicle sales by 2050 seems insurmountable at times.

But it’s good to keep things in perspective. Energy & Capital put out one of its usual snarky stock market analyst pieces on plug-in electric vehicles; yet managing editor Jeff Siegel did have some fairly positive things to say about their potential. Federal and state tax credits play into it and will be around for a few more years.

He makes the point that EV sales are impressive so far compared to hybrid sales in their early phase. Approaching 25 months on the market, EVs are hitting the 110,000 total new vehicles sold so far. At that same period of 25 months after market introduction, hybrids were only at about 50,000 units sold. So after another 10 years, EVs should be making up a larger percent of total sales. Hybrids are at about 3.5% of new vehicle sales and EVs could be around 5% to 6% of total sales in about 10 years at its growth current rate. Both numbers are expected by several analysts to be wider going forward. Maybe they’ll both be about 10% of new vehicle sales by 2025 reaching 20%? It’s all possible and other segments could be part of it, such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Maybe other advanced fuels and technologies will take hold and see some substantial numbers as well.

Making it to 50% of all new vehicle sales would make for a massive transition. It could be that looking at the numbers will have to change. What if the US and other major markets hit their targets for highly fuel efficient vehicles (or somewhere near the mark – 45 miles per gallon may not be 54.5 mpg but its way better than 24 mpg). If green/AFV numbers made up to 25% of new vehicles sold and internal combustion engines were reaching 40+ mpg, it would be a much better environment.

Big Picture: Mazda’s SkyActiv campaign, F-150 in CNG and propane, Chevy Volt feeds the price war

Mazda Laird Hamilton adHave you seen Mazda’s TV commercial with monster waves being surfed by legend and tow-in surfing pioneer Laird Hamilton? Mazda makes the bodacious claim that its Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology is on the same level. The ad pitches the 40 highway mpg EPA estimate, that it was named a top safety pick by Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and that it starts at $16,700. “This is the Mazda way, and this is the Mazda3. What do you drive?”

Mazda has yet to offer any plug-in, hybrid, or alternative fuel vehicles – so its SkyActiv technology is its best bet for meeting federal fuel economy and emissions standards – and for upping its green credentials. Mazda says that the smartness of SkyActiv boils down to highly fuel efficient engines with great compression ratio; ideal transmissions; reduced vehicle weight; safety performance; and a clean diesel version. While Mazda’s sales were slow in the first third of 2013, Mazda credits SkyActiv for starting to pick up the numbers again for its all-new 2014 Mazda6 and versions of the Mazda3 and CX-5 utility vehicle. It’s too early to tell if SkyActiv is making much of a difference; those models were already doing well in their vehicle categories, but sales have picked up for the automaker and SkyActiv is the main focus of its marketing campaign.

Ford offering CNG and propane powered F-150s
Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) nearly have nothing to do with retail light duty passenger vehicles, with the exception of the Honda Civic Natural Gas Vehicle (which has only been sold in very small numbers to retail buyers so far). Now, when it comes to fleets, natural gas and propane autogas-powered trucks are a very big deal. Ford Motor Co. is adding to alternative fuel vehicle offerings with CNG and LPG options for the 2014 F-150 pickup truck. Ford will become the first automaker this fall to offer both a CNG and propane autogas version of a half-ton pickup. Ford expects to sell about 15,000 CNG-LPG vehicles this year. Chrysler and General Motors are offering bi-fuel trucks that can be powered by either CNG or gasoline. Fleets like the alternative fuel trucks for the cost per mile – about a third of gasoline and diesel and reduced emissions compared to conventional trucks. The challenge has been seeing enough product offerings on the market and a refueling infrastructure outside the fleet’s home base. Ford’s announcement is good news for advocates of the alternative fuel and technology.

On the subject of CNGs, Nissan is bringing a CNG pickup truck to the Thailand market. There are expectations that alternative fuel vehicles will be seeing an increase in Asian markets, especially through government-funded projects aimed at reducing air pollutions and vulnerability to fuel price volatility. The Nissan Navara CNG is the company’s first bi-fuel CNG-gasoline engine. It’s powered by an engine that generates 154 horsepower at 5,200 rpm. The new Navara CNG will reduce running costs by two thirds compared to a conventional gasoline engine, Nissan said.

Chevy Volt ramping up the price war
Chevrolet has cut the Volt’s price by $5,000 for the 2014 model year — down to $34,995. The 2013 model had already been cut by $4,000. Sales had been down slightly last month; while sales are up more than 9% for 2013, Volt sales are still behind the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S in the battle for the top spot in the plug-in market. So, the price war continues….

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Via Motors and PG&E roll out emergency power storage in plug-in hybrid trucks
Hurricane Sandy raised hackles for locals living in places like New Jersey last year. Power outages wreaked havoc for residents and employers in ways that tend to get forgotten about until the electricity disappears. Plug-in hybrid truck maker Via Motors has been working on a “power export” offering with Pacific Gas & Electric. The Via pickups can be hooked up to supply electricity for urgent situations, such as a home or medical facility that needs electricity to respond to an emergency. The two companies are working on a Via Motors VTRUX, a range-extended truck with a 300 kilowatt traction motor, 150 kW generator, and 4.3L, V6 engine. It’s able to power 120V and 240V power outlets, which can power tools and export electricity as needed.

Apple competing for share in the connected car space
Connected cars and telematics are a competitive battleground for third parties like Microsoft and Pandora Media, and now Apple is competing for space. By the end of this year, car shoppers will be seeing several vehicles with Apple’s iPhone functions that use Siri voice controls for navigation, texting, emails, and music. It takes a lot of testing and hard work to make these technologies work the right way in cars – and suppliers typically fail to deliver it, according to the Car Lab consulting firm. Automakers know many consumers already use their iPhones as a substitute for built-in navigation systems. The trick for automakers is figuring out a good way to pair the iPhone to their cars in a way that avoids driver distraction and increases user satisfaction. The Chevrolet Spark and Sonic small cars offer Siri, but it hasn’t done well so far in reviews. So Apple has a big challenge ahead, and it will get a lot of attention from connected car analysts.

Workplace charging is taking off, but what does it take to succeed?

For car shoppers to take plug-in electric vehicles seriously, Level 2 and fast chargers should be installed at four locations:

  1. Homes
  2. Workplaces
  3. Starbucks
  4. Trader Joes

In all seriousness, analysts say that the workplace is the leading charging location for now. According to statistics from Ecotality, workplace chargers are used three times as much as typical public chargers. A recent survey by the charger company found workplace charging grew by leaps and bounds in the first half of the year – an increase of about 61% in the first six months of 2013.

The sales figures play into the interest and use at the workplace. There were more than 8,600 plug-in hybrid/extended range and battery electric vehicles sold in the US in June 2013 versus about 3,300 in June 2012.

workplace chargingAs of late July, there were 7,849 public and private non-residential charging stations in the US; 1,579 were located in California, according to the US Dept. of Energy. Workplace charging plays a significant role in the non-residential charging station networks in California, where Google and other employers are taking them very seriously. Google sees them as a key perk for keeping skilled technologists on their payroll and not losing them to a nearby tech company in Silicon Valley.

In its guide for employers interested in setting up workplace charging stations, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency presented eight steps to take for a successful workplace charging infrastructure….

1. Survey employees on their interest in a workplace-charging program.
2. Discuss findings and EV charging needs amongst employees and company’s decision-makers.
3. Examine different types of EV charging equipment options and compare the benefits and costs (Level 1, Level 2, and fast charging).
4. Determine who will own the EV charging equipment – employer, parking lot owner, or third party.
5. Look for any existing incentives that might be available for workplace EV charging.
6. Create a company policy on workplace charging.
7. Contract with a certified electrician to determine ideal locations, comply with local permitting, and install the equipment.
8. Install signage and alert employees.

Toyota had an especially good green car sales month in July

Toyota Prius - Sea Glass PearlHere’s how US green vehicle sales fared during the month of July….

  • Toyota had a very strong sales month overall with a 17% increase over June, bumping out Ford’s place on the ranking list for the first time since March 2010. The Prius family played a big role in the outcome with a 40% increase and sales of 23,294 units for its best sales month ever.
  • Plug-in electric vehicle sales were fairly strong during the month and are moving closer to the 100,000 units sales mark for the year – they’re averaging more than 7,000 a month but were down to about 5,900 in July.
  • The Nissan Leaf beat the Chevy Volt in sales volume – 1,864 units sold for the Leaf versus 1,788 for the Volt.
  • They’re running neck-to-neck so far this year with the Leaf slightly out in front – 11,703 for the Leaf and 11,643 for the Volt.
  • The Leaf has shot way up in sales this year – more units sold in the US in 2013 than during all of 2011 or 2012. The Volt has been keeping pace with last year but moved ahead – it’s now nearly 1,000 Volts ahead of last year’s 10,666 units sold in the first seven months.
  • The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is still ahead of Ford – 817 units sold in July versus 433 of the Ford C-Max Energi and 407 of the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids.
  • The Chevrolet Spark EV sold 103 units in July in California and Oregon only. It’s doing a little bit better than other “compliance cars” in sales – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV sold 46 units, the Smart Electric Drive hit 58, and the Honda Fit EV had 63 units leased out. The Spark was behind two other electric vehicles – the Ford Focus EV at 150 units and the Toyota RAV4 EV at 109. Yet, the Spark was only in its second month on the market and only in two markets.


Big Picture: BMW i3 makes a splash, Attack of the drones, Plus more

Green Auto Market tree swing imageHere’s a few interesting happenings from the past week…..

  1. BMW unveiled its long-anticipated all-electric i3 hatchback. The German automaker has slowly been testing out electric drivetrains through its Mini Cooper subsidiary and through its ActiveE demonstration model. BMW hosted a series of elaborate events for the i3 on Monday in London, New York, and Beijing. It’s expected to price at $41,350 (plus a $925 delivery charge) in the US prior to incentives. It’s impressing analysts who see the automaker taking the technology very seriously, including investing $2.7 billion into it so far. The i3 can travel about 100 miles on a charge, and there’s also an optional diesel or gasoline range extender package you can buy that allows the car to travel about 300 miles. BMW has utilized lighter materials to extend the range; it’s built on a carbon-fiber based shell and an aluminum chassis.

Competitors will include other luxury brands with alternative technologies such as Lexus hybrid models, though it’s expected to be targeted primarily against German competitors in the home market. The most direct competition overseas will be Tesla Motors. The most popular version of its Model S is pricing at around $70,000. It will take until late 2014 for Tesla’s Model X crossover to come out and go more direct with the i3 in styling and pricing.

  1. Electric vehicle charging station maker AeroVironment just won a contract with the Federal Aviation Administration to use its drone for commercial purposes. It’s the first time this has happened, similar to Elon Musk’s SpaceX becoming the first civilian aerospace company to contract with NASA. AeroVironment has been providing its Puma 13-pound unmanned aircraft for military reconnaissance for several years. Now the Puma will be used to monitor oil spills and wildlife observation in the Arctic Circle. AeroVironment thinks its drone models can be used for other applications, like traffic monitoring, police surveillance, and storm tracking.

This is yet another example of robotics and autonomous systems striding forward. It’s similar to driverless cars being tested across the country, and several other advanced technologies. For those with ominous feelings about Big Brother and the Terminator taking over, you might want to get over it. There’s no going back.  

  1. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are on the verge of another breakthrough. UK-based ITM Power has figured out how to reduce the production cost of hydrogen by nearly 33% — from $9.57 per kilogram last year to $6.44 per kg. This includes a 10-year amortization period where its anticipated to drop to $4.13/kg – another 23% drop. The gain is coming from new, more efficient “stacks” – where hydrogen is extracted from electrolysis. Fuel cell vehicles will become much more affordable to fuel up. Now, if they just figure out a way to inexpensively install a lot of hydrogen fueling stations…..
  1. Japanese automakers are working together to install a lot more charging stations in Japan. The current number is about 1,700 fast chargers and more than 3,000 regular chargers; that’s expected to grow to more than 4,000 fast chargers and more than 8,000 regular stations. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and Mitsubishi jointly announced their agreement to work together to promote the installation of chargers for electric-powered vehicles and build a charging network service that offers more convenience to drivers in Japan. There will probably be a universal card-based system for charging at many of the stations. The announcement doesn’t mention it, but the fast chargers will be CHAdEMO chargers, which are used mainly in Japan. In North America and Europe the SAE combo charger is the norm.
  1. Electric Drive Transportation Association just brought in new board members and officers. Tanvir Arfi, president of Bosch Automotive Service Solutions, takes over as the new chair. He succeeds Mary Ann Wright, VP of engineering and product development for Johnson Controls, Inc. A former chair, Ted Craver, president and CEO of Edison International, was honored during proceedings. New board members represent a diverse list of technology suppliers to electric drive transportation – ABB, Inc.; Autowatts; Schneider Electric; Qualcomm; Real Power; Odyne Systems; BASF; and CenterPoint Energy.
  1. Biodiesel has worries to deal with; Mercedes-Benz is pulling out of the Illinois market after state lawmakers approved incentives to boost demand for biodiesel. Mercedes-Benz is concerned that if the fuel is poorly blended, it could gunk up its engines and worsen air quality. The German automaker has set a limit of B5, or 5% biodiesel content, and the state’s sales tax revision is focused on biodiesel of at least 10% blend.