This Week’s Top 10: GM deepening urban mobility commitment with Sidecar acquisition, Southern California Edison installing 1,500 charging stations

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Sidecar logoGeneral Motors Co. confirmed its commitment to urban mobility yesterday by announcing it has acquired the technology and most of the assets of Sidecar Technologies Inc. Sidecar had been the third largest ridesharing firm after Uber and Lyft, and the acquisition follows closely behind GM’s $500 million investment in Lyft. GM is also bringing over about 20 employees from the Sidecar team, including co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Jahan Khanna. It’s expected the deal price was somewhere around $39 million. Sidecar started up in San Francisco in 2012, which was the also the home base of Uber and Lyft; the company has been credited with playing an integral role in popularizing peer-to-peer rides where car owners transport customers through smartphone transactions; ridesharing also became common with Sidecar riders long before Uber got into that segment. Sidecar ceased operations at the end of December and said it would soon announce “the next big thing.” GM expects the Lyft and Sidecar acquisitions will place the automaker in a strong competitive position for ridesharing services and autonomous vehicles – and to compete with Uber and other automakers. Automakers are showing their seriousness about investing in urban mobility and advanced vehicle technologies through the GM deals; Ford CEO Mark Fields has said his company is working on its own ride-sharing service; and last year, Daimler acquired German ridesharing apps RideScout and mytaxi.
  2. Southern California Edison will be installing 1,500 electric car charging stations throughout Southern California. California Public Utilities Commission gave approval in December for a $22 million pilot program targeted at installing charging stations at locations where cars are parked for extended periods of time, such as at workplaces, campuses, recreational areas and apartment and condominium complexes. SCE will install and maintain the supporting electrical infrastructure, but participating property owners will own, operate and maintain the charging stations. CPUC issued a statement in December with modification to the San Diego Gas & Electric’s original proposal, and the utility must still decide whether or not to accept the CPUC’s modifications.
  3. Incentives for fleet deployment of EVs: ACT Expo is hosting a complimentary, one-hour webinar, which will highlight key incentives that help to substantially buy down the cost of electric vehicles, charging, and other costs of traditional vehicle ownership to maximize fleet deployment. Presenters include Nissan with information offered about significant fleet incentives; and GNA’s Funding 360° Program that helps companies, municipalities, and organization track, evaluate, and apply for funding programs throughout North America. Click here to register for the free webinar, “Making Cents of Electric Vehicles: Key Incentives for Fleet Deployment,” which takes place of Feb. 10, 2016, at 10:00-11:00 a.m. PT.
  4. Tesla’s Gigafactory: Panasonic has shed more light on the Gigafactory project in Nevada; the electronics giant will invest up to $1.6 billion in the $5 billion project, Panasonic president Kazuhiro Tsuga recently said at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Panasonic will also provide its expertise on battery development as its partner Tesla Motors develops the production plant for its more affordable battery packs in the upcoming Model 3 electric car.
  5. Propane-powered school buses: Roush CleanTech is working with Blue Bird to provide 11 propane-powered school buses to the  Metropolitan School District of Warren Township. That will be the largest deployment of propane autogas school buses in the state of Indiana. The Blue Bird Propane Vision buses, purchased through dealer MacAllister Transportation, include ten 78-passenger models, and one bus outfitted with a wheelchair lift. “Better cold weather starts, lower maintenance and fuel cost, quieter buses, as well as better air quality for students, the bus driver and our community were the reasons we chose propane autogas,” said Steve Smith, director of transportation for M.S.D. Warren Township.
  6. Green cars sold and made in China: Battery electric and hybrid vehicles are expected double to 700,000 vehicles sold in China, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers said. Sales of “new energy vehicles” quadrupled in 2015, thanks to government subsidies and other preferential policies. General Motors plans to export the plug-in hybrid version of its Cadillac CT6 luxury sedan from China to the U.S. when the car goes on sale this year. The plug-in hybrid version will be built only in a plant in China, which is one of two factories assembling the CT6, the company said.
  7. Tesla and Apple: Tesla CEO Elon Musk did confirm that his company will be working on an electric car project with Apple. Known as “Project Titan,” the program is reported to involve hundreds of engineers, and some analysts say its goal is to produce a car as innovative as the iPod or iPhone. “It’s pretty hard to hide something if you hire over a thousand engineers to do it,” Musk said in a recent interview with the BBC at Tesla’s California design studio. Tesla and Apple have also been filing for patents on similar technologies, another sign that an alliance was in the works, according to a Thomson Reuters report.
  8. VW investors suing: Along with over 450 lawsuits filed by owners of faulty Volkswagen diesel models, the German automaker just took another hit – dozens of the largest shareholders, and “thousands” of smaller investors, will be suing the company. They’ll be demanding compensation for the losses they’ve taken coming from the scandal. In other VW news, the California Air Resources Board on Tuesday of last week formally rejected VW’s plan to fix its polluting diesel engines. CARB said the recall plan was “incomplete, substantially deficient and falls far short of meeting the legal requirements” to be approved; and that VW was taking too long to devise a fix.
  9. RNG delivery trucks: UPS will be adding more renewable natural gas to its fleet with an estimated 15 million diesel gallon gas equivalents of RNG. It will be part of a multiple-year agreement with Memphis Light, Gas and Water and Atmos Energy Marketing, LLC, in the Memphis, Tenn. and Jackson, Miss., coverage areas for UPS deliveries. The RNG will fuel more than 140 heavy duty trucks in Memphis and Jackson, which is part of UPS’s natural gas fleet.
  10. General Motors and Honda may expand their hydrogen fuel cell vehicle joint venture, adding a new fuel cell plant. The new measure would take things toward a critical next step, helping put their research into production, the companies said. Honda is set to become the third major automaker to begin retailing a hydrogen-powered vehicle with the planned introduction, later this year, of its Clarity FCX.

Sacramento and East Bay Clean Cities Forum explores advanced vehicle technology innovations

Sacto and East Bay Clean Cities“Northern California Clean Technology Forum” featured informative speaker panels and introduction to the Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell car. Held at the California Automobile Museum in Sacramento on Oct 14-15, and hosted by the Sacramento and East Bay Clean Cities Coalitions, stakeholders in the region met to mingle, hear the latest on advanced vehicle technologies, and check out exhibited vehicles including plug-in electric school buses; there was also one of the few remaining GM EV1 models on display in the conference room.

The event kicked off Wednesday with a tour of the Sacramento CNG Station and Natural Gas Compliant Shop. A welcome reception started off the evening prior to the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition 2015 Clean Air Champion Awards. Richard Battersby, Equipment Services Manager for the City of Oakland and Coordinator and Executive Director of the East Bay Clean Cities Coalition, handed out awards to: Ben Rutledge, Resident Engineer, Anheuser Busch In-Bev, Fairfield Brewery; Pat O’Keefe, Vice President and Lori O’Keefe, Project Manager, Golden Gate Petroleum; Nina Hapner, Environmental Director and Fred Carr, EV Project Director, Kashia Band of Pomo Indians of the Stewart’s Point Rancheria; Phillip Kobernick, Sustainability Project Manager, Alameda County; and Kent Leacock, Director of Government Relations, Proterra.

On Thursday, Keith Leech, President of Sacramento Clean Cities and Chief, Fleet Division & Parking for Sacramento County, made opening remarks on topics to be addressed during the day. The first speaker panel started with Kerry Drake, Associate Director at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – Region 9, talking about the gains being made in the Central Valley to meet the EPA’s top priorities, public health and greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Drake compared the museum’s vehicle display of classic cars going back to the 1920s to where we are now; he described his trip to the museum using Google Maps, being a carsharing subscriber, and looking forward to seeing the upcoming Tesla Autopilot.

Mike Tunnell, Director of Environmental Affairs at American Trucking Associations, talked about the trucking industry facing the second phase of the federal regulations on fuel economy and emissions. Technology innovations need to be reached for this to be possible, Tunnell said. Waste heat recovery, 6×2 axle configurations, automatic engine shutoff, low rolling resistance tires, and automatic tire inflation are resources being tapped into for mileage improvements.

Bill Van Amburg, Senior Vice President at CALSTART, gave an overview of 2016 model year roll-outs in clean vehicles. The Mirai, a Japanese word for “future,” was up on the stage with Van Amburg and other speakers; that fuel-cell vehicle is launching this month in California.  The 2016 Toyota Prius, with its revamped exterior, is also being anticipated in the market.

On the commercial vehicle side, Van Amburg discussed innovations being adopted as increased fuel economy pushes forward in Phase 2 of the federal rules; breakthroughs on this front include a Freightliner model that has increased from 6 mpg to 12 mpg and a Cummins engine with NOx 90% below its 2010 level. Renewable natural gas is coming to market, and Cummins said that the clean fuel can now be used in its 6.6L and 12L engines. Two other innovations that Van Amburg discussed include the Cadillac Super Cruise hands-free system rolling out in 2017 Cadillac models; and the Workhorse battery electric “HorseFly” package delivery drone winning U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorization for test flights.

Rich Piellisch, Editor of Fleets & Fuels, moderated a panel on renewable fuel sources moving forward as a viable alternative for fleets. Speakers included Teri Rohner, CA DGS Natural Gas Services Program on renewable natural gas; Pat O’Keefe, CEO of Golden Gate Petroleum on renewable gasoline and diesel; Chris Kretz, Business Development Manager at Air Products on renewable hydrogen; and Bill Boyce, Electric Transportation Supervisor at Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) on renewable electricity.

During that same day, the City of Oakland announced its commitment to renewable diesel when the first of its vehicles filled up with NEXDIESEL renewable diesel during a gathering of the Public Works Department, its supplier Golden Gate Petroleum and fuel manufacturer, Neste. Golden Gate Petroleum sells Neste’s NEXBTL renewable diesel under its own brand NEXDIESEL renewable diesel and had display cars outside the automotive museum.

Green Auto Market Editor Jon LeSage moderated a panel on future vehicle technologies and transportation trends. Jean-Baptiste Gallo, Senior Project Engineer at CALSTART; Jason Schulz, Partnership Marketing Manager & Business Development for the 21st Century at Toyota; and Tim Lipman PhD, Co-Director at the Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley, talked about the “urbanization” trend with traffic congestion and air pollution driving policy changes and increased use of transportation alternatives such as carsharing and ridesharing. Carsharing services such as Zipcar and Car2Go are taking off in membership, and ridesharing services from Uber and Lyft are seeing gains in permission to pick up at airports and in ridership numbers.

With predictions of another one billion people living on the planet by 2025, Toyota is looking at alternatives such as the electric I-Road three-wheeler being testing out in Japan, Schulz said. Automakers are looking at the changing transportation options that members of the Millennial generation who put off car purchases longer than previous generations, and who are looking for practical options in personal mobility in crowded cities.

During the panel’s discussion of autonomous vehicle technologies, Schulz said that for OEMs, safety is the driving force behind supporting test projects such as Mcity in Ann Arbor, Mich. Toyota, Honda, GM, and suppliers are exchanging data from the Mcity project to develop autonomous technologies and take away the 33,000 fatalities per year figure that continues in the U.S. Safety issues and cyber security are being addressed in the autonomous vehicle studies, as is the question of whether driverless cars will take away road traffic congestion, Lipman said. If long commutes become easier for watching TV or reading a book, it can take away the motivation to drive less miles and remove some of the traffic congestion, he said. Lipman and his colleagues have seen a strong convergence between electrified and autonomous vehicle technologies.

Electrification of urban fleets is seeing gains in passenger vehicles and truck options, Gallo said. Energy storage, smart grid technologies, and electricity price planning are being explored by companies. A recent CALSTART study analyzed how fleets are integrating electric vehicles including delivery trucks and transit buses. Managing through demand periods when energy costs rise is still new for a lot of fleets, and they’re testing out solutions in the new vehicle-to-grid systems.

An afternoon session featured fleet success stories using GPS/telematics for sustainability gains. Dave Head, President of NorCalMEMA; David Worthington, Fleet Manager, Sonoma County; Doug Bond, Fleet Manager, Alameda County; and Sam Pence, Heavy Equipment Mechanic Leadworker, CalTrans, participated on this panel.

Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach bringing opportunities for clean air improvements

Ports of LA and Long BeachAs acknowledged during the annual CALSTART annual meeting and awards presentations, facing air pollution at freight corridors and ports is a serious challenge. Workers and local residents are prone to serious health hazards including asthma, lung cancer, and emphysema from toxic air pollutants. It is getting better at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the entire southern California region;  the cancer risk has dropped 65% since 2005, but it’s still considered to be too high and one of the worst in the nation. Incentive programs and cleaner fuels have slashed diesel emissions from trucks, ships, and other vehicles. For anyone living and working near the ports, there continues to be a strong demand for air quality to get better.

Two meetings in the Los Angeles area last week gave me some hope for the future of clean transportation at the largest port area in the US.  On Monday afternoon, PortTech Los Angeles, a non-profit organization funded by the Port of Los Angeles, held its annual open house meeting. Guests were able to see PortTech’s expanded office facilities and view table displays from startups in PortTech’s newest portfolio of companies. Like LA Cleantech Incubator, PortTech helps cleantech entrepreneurs go from early startups to thriving businesses. Member companies are in a good place to support PortTech’s vision of advanced, clean technologies serving the port community.

One of the displaying companies, Transpower, is manufacturing battery-electric drive systems for Class 8 trucks. The electric drive system offers lower lifecycle costs than diesel engines and is well suited for port drayage trucks, local delivery trucks, and refuse collection vehicles. NorthSouth GIS LLC (NSG) designs and deploys geospatial systems for ports. The company integrates these systems with other port systems, populates them with data, devises processes, and trains personnel with a focus on long-term sustainability. In September during the 5th annual PortTechEXPO, cleantech companies were able to connect with business prospects at Southern California’s ports and explore opportunities with ports worldwide working to achieve a more sustainable future.

Another meeting last week focused on a test project for cargo trucks serving the ports. On Thursday, the e4 Mobility Alliance, which is managed by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp., hosted a meeting featuring Dennis Rodriguez, the Southern California account manager for Siemens. Rodriguez gave a presentation on electric trucks participating in a test project in Carson, Calif. Siemens is providing electric drive systems that will operate on a catenary system, similar to what you see powering metro buses in San Francisco and other cities. Along with the overhead external conductive box and cable system that Siemens is providing, Volvo Trucks is supplying test freight carrier trucks.

For Siemens, this technology has proven to be safe and efficient; trucks participating in previous tests have been able to perform at maximum weight loads and speeds. “Road freight emissions has become a big deal at ports,” Rodriguez said.

This project with its mile-long path in Carson, is the first part of a multi-phase project Siemens is seeking support for. South Coast Air Quality Management District is providing funding for this project that will start up next year. Siemens is hoping that its catenary system could be part of a dedicated single lane within 710 freeway’s corridor project set to start up in the next five years. That 12-mile project is still seeking buy-in from cities along that stretch of the freeway and government agencies overseeing the region. The concept is to launch the corridor project in 2020 and complete it in 2030; it’s expected to create 500,000 project jobs and to help reduce harmful emissions.


Resources to review on the cleantech investment front

Hey there, startup cleantech company executive, are you looking for investors? Would pitching to GM Ventures and other corporate investors on your advanced vehicle technology be of interest to you? If that be the case, check out Cleantech Group’s new online i3 platform. Beyond that announcement, what research tools are out there now for those seeking venture capital and corporate investors or IPOs?

Thecleantech investors, advanced vehicle technologies, clean transportation way i3 works is that start-ups are able to highlight key information about their business model, differentiators, financial backing, partnerships, and leadership team. This process facilitates  executives in corporate strategy, R&D, and other business units being able to view a company’s profile in i3 and quickly assess a potential fit. With the new i3, corporate users are now able to get in touch with start-ups worldwide that might make for the best fit, and easily keep track of what their internal team is doing to build their innovation pipeline. Start-ups have more opportunities to find their next partner or investor. You can participate in a webinar on Oct. 15 or 16 to learn more.

CleanTech OC’s 2014 Conference & Expo will be taking place tomorrow, Oct. 7, in Irvine, Calif. I’ll be attending the event that highlights key technologies and drivers spurring economic growth in the Orange County clean technology industry. This is the only annual conference in Orange County dedicated to covering the clean technology space and connecting industry stakeholders throughout the region and state. The LA Cleantech Incubator is hosting its second annual Cleantech Global Showcase during that time – Oct. 6-7 at the landmark Los Angeles Theater.

If you’re interested in tracking stock in cleantech, clean transportation, renewable energy, biofuels, smart grid, and other related fields, check out Alt Energy Stocks and Seeking Alpha. It’s good to review market capitalization, stock price trends, earnings statements, and analyst commentaries on key players in green transportation. Green Auto Market – Extended Edition tracks publicly traded companies in green transportation, along with newsworthy items on private investments, mergers and acquisitions, and government incentives and loans.

“We see the tough realities that innovators face – the political, economic, and technology trends that, when fully understood, influence clean energy business strategies,” says Craig Shields, editor of 2GreenEnergy. Shields and his colleagues bring together investors and investment opportunities in clean, renewable energy and electrified transportation. You can sign up for the free “2GreenEnergy Alert” newsletter, which covers a wide range of topics from lessons learned at a wind energy conference to the latest on ocean acidification. You can also buy one of Shields’ books, including Renewable Energy – Facts and Fantasies.

Biofuels Digest is a good newsletter to sign up for and receive each business day; its editor, Jim Lane, is a name you’ll hear mentioned regularly. He and his staff dig deep into the geopolitical issues surrounding biofuels from the Renewable Fuel Standard to developments in growing overseas markets; and how biofuels are playing out in other markets like cosmetics, medical products, and jet fuels. Advanced Bioeconomy Leadership Conference (ABLCNext), organized by Biofuels Digest, will be taking place in San Francisco next month. Biomaterials, biogas, and ethanol will be among the topics discussed by leaders in the field.

It’s also a very good idea to get on the Navigant Research email list and find out about new market reports being released and events coming up. Smart is the keyword used by the market intelligence firm – smart energy, utilities, transportations, and buildings are tracked and analyzed. You’ll see reports on everything from autonomous vehicles and a forecast of global electric vehicles sales to challenges being faced in the charging infrastructure and making sense of the expanding business of nanotechnologies.

DOE funding more Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loans

DOE Loan Programs OfficeFinding funding sources for manufacturing advanced, clean vehicle technologies had another boost last week. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz announced that DOE has revised and updated its Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing (ATVM) program, which offers low-interest loans to carmakers and their suppliers. Loans will likely go to auto parts suppliers and not automakers, according to Peter Davidson, executive director of the DOE’s Loan Programs Office.

The program is focused on loans for more fuel-efficient gasoline and diesel engines, along with plug-in electric vehicles and natural gas vehicles. That would include components needed for advanced engines and powertrains, light-weighting materials, advanced electronics, and fuel-efficient tires. The DOE is also open to offering loans to suppliers based outside the US that may be interested in moving production to the US.

The $25 billion lending program was approved by Congress in 2007 and has about $16 billion remaining. In 2009, the ATVM program issued nearly $9 billion in loans to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of vehicles and components.

Loans went out to Ford, Nissan, Tesla, and Fisker in 2009 – and it became a target of heated debate in Washington especially during the 2012 presidential election campaign. Losing $139 million to Fisker after its bankruptcy made it worse, along with the $400 million loan to solar power supplier Solyndra that meant another big financial loss for DOE. Ford is paying off its $5.9 billion loan, and Nissan is coming through on its payments for its $1.6 billion loan; Tesla paid off its $465 million loan last year long before the final payment was due.

The DOE is expected to be more cautious this time about the loans given, and has committed to exercising transparency practices for tracking return on investment. Automotive suppliers tend to fly under the radar compared to automakers, which means there will likely be less scrutiny and criticism for the DOE this time around.

The decision was good news for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “This is good news for drivers who want cleaner cars, faster and cheaper. A successful restart of the retooling loan program can help clear bottlenecks in the supply chain and ensure that clean energy jobs that might otherwise go overseas, are instead ‘onshored,’” wrote Roland Hwang, Director, Transportation Program, Energy & Transportation Program.

Why Robert Downey Jr. tapped into Tesla’s Elon Musk for “Iron Man” character

Robert Downey Jr in Iron ManWant to grow your market capitalization five times in less than a year, up to $15 billion in market value? Well then, get a celebrity to head your company. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk has become an expert at grabbing regular-and-social media attention; whether that be through unveiling the Supercharger fast chargers for the Model S or teasing the public with his Hyperloop transportation concept that can make it from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 45 minutes.

“Iron Man” director Jon Favreau and Elon Musk himself say that Robert Downey Jr. did, in part, base his superhero character Tony Stark on the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, and a co-founder of PayPal. This character is a true entrepreneur – a big risk taker with a big ego who will bet everything to change the world, according to Rocketboom. Musk heads SpaceX, the first civilian space travel company to link up with the international space station, which took place in May 2012. He’d done very well in taking Tesla public and seeing the stock price skyrocket soon after its first quarter earnings were announced.

Tesla’s market cap recently made it equal to Italy’s Fiat and France’s PSA Peugot Citroen combined, says The Detroit Bureau, and it was added to the Nasdaq 100 stock index. That can certainly change day to day in stock trading; more recently, Tesla stock tumbled 14% after an ominous report from Goldman warning that its stock was overvalued. Tesla’s stock prices had been surging since its first quarter earnings report – and that was the first quarterly profit for the company.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson has his eye on how well Tesla Motors performs; he thinks it has the potential to be a disruptive force to the automotive industry and he doesn’t want to be caught off guard. Akerson assigned a small team to study Tesla and how it might threaten GM’s business.

A few reasons I think Tesla Motors is seeing Model S sales grow, and that stock prices could stay above $100 a share…

  1. Musk and his staff – including former chief strategist at Apple’s retail stores, George Blankenship – have been highly skilled at going viral with their messaging for a pretty small marketing spend. Musk is addicted to Twitter, and the company is great at teasing the media and their audience with unveiling events.
  2. Tesla showrooms grab your attention. Dealer associations may win in the courtroom, but Tesla is placing enough retail stores in the style of Apple to inspire rabid fans.
  3. Ride and drive events –They’ve been skillfully scheduled and promoted. Once you get behind the wheel of the Model S, it’s easy to get hooked.
  4. They’re very good at utilizing Musk’s looks and charisma in interviews and TV guest appearances. Elon Musk has his fans on Wall Street, along with bloggers and Twitter followers who dig superheroes.
  5. Great product:  Sit in a Model S and check out its double screen dashboard, connectivity and functionality, and feel its powerful torque once you press the pedal, and you’ll be very impressed. Consumer Reports just gave the Model S its highest rating, with 99 out of 100 points.
  6. If the price is too high, check out the funding deals through its “revolutionary” financing package. Guaranteed resale value is also helping close deals.

Stay tuned for more info on fast-as-the-speed-of-light Hyperloop. “Will publish Hyperloop alpha design by Aug 12,” Musk posted on his Twitter page. Musk first mentioned the Hyperloop a year ago at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, Calif. – what he called a “fifth mode of transportation” and what he thinks is a cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table. He estimated it would cost about $6 billion to build a San Francisco-to-Los Angeles Hyperloop; that’s only about a tenth the cost of a plan that’s been floating around the state for years for a proposed high speed rail between the two cities. There’s a partnership that he may be developing a working relationship with – a company that could potentially build the Hyperloop to go 4,000 miles per hour. Pretty exciting stuff.