Significant clean transportation news events in 2014

New yearGreen Auto Market hopes you’re having a great holiday season away from the office. Before the new year begins, here are 10 leading events from this year (and a few “almost made it” at the end of the list) that will have rippling effects on 2015………

  1. Gasoline price drops – On Friday, AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report said that US regular gasoline prices had averaged $2.32 per gallon versus $3.26 one year ago. As explored in another Green Auto Market article this week, gas prices will go up quite a bit but it could take about five years for that to happen. Sales of hybrids, electric vehicles, and natural gas vehicles have been impacted by that market force. Making the case for investing in alternative fuel vehicles is getting tougher for fleets and consumers, but there are still a few solid reasons for going in that direction.
  2. Tesla battles dealers – The Georgia Automobile Dealers Association has been the latest state dealer group to battle Tesla Motors’ legal ability to directly sell its cars to consumers outside independent franchised dealers. Earlier this month, Georgia auto dealers testified before a state administrative law judge to make that case. Tesla is slightly ahead of dealer associations on this issue in several states, but has been barred in a few of them (such as the sizable market of Texas).
  3. Google rolling out self-driving cars – Google’s launch of a test project featuring its own self-driving pods back in May of this year fueled a heated debate that went viral on the internet. Autonomous vehicles, also known as driverless and self-driving cars, led to significant studies being launched (such as Hands off the Steering Wheel), automaker announcements, and extensive media coverage. It will take a few years to see autonomous vehicles next to you on roads, but things are changing.
  4. Infrastructure growth – In the past year, alternative fueling and charging stations saw some growth in the US – compressed natural gas (CNG) stations increasing 150 stations to 794; electric vehicle public charging stations increasing 2,102 to 8,814; propane autogas increasing 44 to 2,715; and liquefied natural gas increased 19 to 64 stations (according to Clean Cities Alternative Fuels Data Center). Clean Energy Fuels played a big part in the natural gas station expansion; and California started seeing more hydrogen stations open up.
  5. Ridesharing service Uber has become Public Enemy No. 1 this year for the taxi industry and other ground transportation services. This San Francisco-based network company makes mobile applications that connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and ridesharing services. Taxi drivers have protested this year in US and European cities; they’re furious that Uber drivers don’t have to pay the steep prices for taxi licenses that taxi drivers end up paying off over several years. India will decide if Uber can access metro markets in that country.  Other ridesharing services such as Lyft and Sidecar face similar battles with cities that fear ridesharing will transform the taxi business and take away the revenue that comes from fees paid by taxi owners every year.
  6. Luxury plug-ins had a significant year with the BWW i8 joining the i3 in BMW’s electric vehicle offerings. The plug-in hybrid i8 sells for $136,000 and has the same performance as a BMW 335i. As of Nov. 30, the i3 had sold 5,079 units in the US for 2014– pretty impressive for an expensive luxury electric car.
  7. Propane autogas had an impressive year in school bus fleets, police cars, utility trucks, and in UPS’ decision to bring in 1,000 propane-powered delivery trucks to its fleet. Fleet managers are making a business case that propane-powered vehicles are worth the investment with emissions reductions, fuel cost savings, and supporting domestic fuel providers.
  8. ACT Expo saw attendance growth In Long Beach, and significant partnership announcements including joining up with Electric Drive Transportation Association for the 2015 event. Other clean transportation conferences did very well, too. AltCar Expo saw growth in attendance with a strong Santa Monica, Calif.-conference in September and through its partnerships with the Bay Area and Dallas events. Other successful conferences were North American Green Fleet Forum, presented by Sacramento Clean Cities Coalition; CleanTech OC’s annual conference and clean transportation event earlier this year; Plug in 2014 in San Jose, Calif.; and CALSTART’s annual conference and Blue Sky Awards.
  9. The Renewable Fuel Standard decision by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was once again put off on biofuel production and gasoline blending until next year – nearly one year after deciding to extend that decision on production volume. The biodiesel industry has been feeling the pinch, and corn ethanol has shifted to overseas markets. Advanced biofuels like biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol will take longer than expected to reach higher production volumes.
  10. While it didn’t get all that much media attention, a major global alliance took a big step forward. The United States and China, which together produce 45% of the world’s carbon emissions, made an agreement to extend their greenhouse gas emission reduction targets farther than before. Details on the US-China greenhouse gas emissions agreement is being decided for next year. China’s economy is booming, and workers are moving to cities to take jobs and housing. They’re buying a lot of cars, too. All of this producing a huge volume of emissions at power plants and vehicles.

Here are some other significant news stories for 2014: Tesla Motors choosing Nevada to set up its “Gigafactory;” California institutionalized its position as leader in the electric vehicle market; the debate over whether hydrogen fuel cell vehicles could make or if electric vehicles should be the only alternative technology supported by OEMs (and why Toyota was choosing hydrogen); NAFA Fleet Management Association and CALSTART moved the Sustainable Fleet Standard Program forward; and the launch of LeSage Consulting in January 2014. The idea for that consulting firm started in February 2013 while talking to my Automotive Digest colleagues and interviewing fleet managers such as NAFA President Claude Masters, an experienced and passionate advocate of clean transportation. (Editor’s note: the decision to put out the press release on the launch of LeSage Consulting at the beginning of this year was going to be delayed several months – until my partner/significant other challenged me to keep my word. Thanks very much, Susan. Special thanks also goes out to Chuck Parker, Nancy Edwards, Ted Roberts, Janice Sutton, and other Automotive Digest colleagues; members of the monthly Stakeholder Editorial Advisory conference calls; and to Long Beach Clean Cities Coalition.)

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