Tesla faces battery and Autopilot challenges, High speed rail struggles in US

Spotlight on Tesla safety in China and the U.S.
The electric vehicle manufacturer is facing scrutiny over two safety issues that have dogged the company for years — fires starting in its battery packs, and crashes happening while its Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system had been activated. Reports have emerged on a Tesla fire in a Hong Kong parking log. Weeks before, a video streamed on Chinese social media platforms showed a Tesla Model S bursting into flames in a Shanghai garage. Startup competitor Nio said last month that one of its ES8 models caught future in Xi’an while being repaired. In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Board said in a preliminary report that Tesla’s Autopilot system was active at the time of a fatal Model 3 crash in Delray Beach, Fla. That involved a collision between a Model 3 and a semi truck on March 1st. NTSB reported that the Model 3 driver had activated Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision, and that for about eight seconds before the crash, the Model 3 didn’t detect the driver’s hands on the wheel. Tesla is rolling out an over-the-air software update for the Model S and Model X to improve safety and battery life as it continues investigating the cause of the Hong Kong fire; and issued a statement on the Autopilot incident.

CARB’s Mary Nichols confronts White House over emissions rules
California Air Resources Board Chairman Mary Nichols was set to deliver comments that won’t go well with the Trump administration today during a meeting with California air quality and transportation agencies. Nichols is arguing that the state will match any relaxation of federal auto rules with its own more stringent anti-pollution requirements on everything from fuel to the refineries producing it. The state may be joining a few countries in eventually banning fossil-fuel powered vehicles. These comments were made as the Trump administration readies a final plan for easing emission and fuel economy standards. “CARB will be exploring ways to ensure communities get the reductions of air pollution they so desperately need to keep the air clean and breathable — and continue to fight climate change,” Nichols said in draft remarks. “That might mean, for example, tougher requirements for low-carbon fuels, looking at tighter health-protective regulations on California refineries, doubling down on our enforcement efforts on mobile and stationary sources — and might lead to an outright ban on internal combustion engines.”

What will happen in GM’s Lordstown Plant?
Last week, President Donald Trump set off a wave of attention when tweeting that General Motor’s Lordstown Plant would be bought by Workhorse Group, Inc., even though the deal had not been settled. GM had been in discussions with electric truck startup Rivian, but those talks ended. Since then, Ford has since agreed to invest $500 million in Rivian. Details have yet to come out on GM’s role in the Lordstown Plant, and whether Workhore’s W-15 electric truck will be part of it. There’s also speculation out there that the plant could be where Workhorse builds electric mail trucks for the US Postal Service; but the company would first have to win that contract.

Check out Jon LeSage’s blog:
Interested in topics other than sustainable transportation? You can check out my blog to read about a few others, such as:
“Why I’m a pragmatist, and why you’re one too”
My favorite school of American philosophy, pragmatism, was based on what I see as a few simple questions: Does it work for me? Do I buy into it? What’s in it for me?
“Grocery shopping for Instacart customers who really really really need to have it delivered”
Grocery store shopping and delivery for Instacart, Incidents #1-5……….
 “How a failed rock critic turned working writer — and a big fan of Lester Bangs and rock ’n’ roll”
You may have noticed that my blog is defined as: “writings, reviews, and ramblings from a failed rock critic turned working writer.” Ok, what’s the story behind the failed rock critic? Was there an internship with Rolling StoneSpinEntertainment WeeklyBillboard, or American Songwriter that failed to turn into a job?
“Best rock n’ roll song moments ever in movies, in my opinion”
The Rolling Stones, ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ in ‘Mean Streets’ (1973). Director Martin Scorsese is credited for forging a unique connection between pop music and film, and having a lot of influence on younger filmmakers who followed his lead. But wait, there’s more……..
“Mystery guest sits next to my hospital bed, nudging me to stay alive”
Here’s Chapter 1 in a book I’m putting together, based on my experience in 2007 temporarily dying from encephalitis; and what living has been like since then. The book has the working title, Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8.
You’ll have to hit the Older Posts link at the bottom of the first page to see some of these blog posts, and there are more. You may be wondering why I do it, and placed an image of chimpanzees typing away, trying to write a book. I got hooked on writing when I was a child. My mother had been a newspaper reporter for a short period, and worked as a secretary. She would type our term papers, and boy did we get good grades. But she was my fist mentor in writing and editing. The best part is writing about topics I’m fascinated with and love learning more about. Telling the story teaches me a lot as well, and gives me a platform for sharing information that I want to spread with fans of electric vehicles and clean transportation, music and pop culture, spiritual/philosophical experiences (a la pragmatism), and more.
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High-speed rail takes off, but what about the U.S.?
High-speed rail continues to take off in Asia, with Thai companies building a $6.8 billion rail project that will link three major airports in the country. That follows Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Hitachi beginning testing of Alfa-X, a train capable of hitting a maximum speed of 400 km/h (248 mph). These projects support government efforts to boost investments in hi-tech industrials, robotics, and electric vehicles; and to begin unclogging traffic-jammed roadways.
What about the U.S.? The country continues to fail other leading countries, with California slowly moving forward on its long-promised high-speed rail project and other rail projects stalling. The money isn’t really there yet, but a few companies are looking for a way to bring the rail technology — which is popular in Europe and Asia — across the U.S. Automakers and air travel are fighting it, but the biggest block is funding. The U.S. has more cost per mile in building rail with resolving private property ownership, utility rules, environmental mitigation, and labor costs. Growing traffic congestion and air pollution are thought to be behind companies supporting innovative high-speed rail test projects around the country.

Big Picture: NHTSA drops Tesla battery fire investigation, Honda and UC Davis showing how EV batteries can store solar power

Tesla Model S fireThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ended its four-month investigation into three battery pack fires in the Tesla Model S that occurred last fall. That decision followed Tesla Motors adding a titanium underbody shield to protect the luxury electric car from road debris that can cause battery fires. Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in an article on Medium.com that all Model S vehicles built after March 6 will have the new shield. Owners of the Model S built before that date can have the titanium shield added by Tesla. NHTSA said that the shield, along with the software upgrade a few months ago that lifted the car’s ride height, have alleviated the agency’s safety concerns with the Model S. Last fall, Tesla’s software upgrade added the ability to raise ground clearance at highway speeds; at that time, Tesla also took steps to prevent overheating of its charging systems, including giving customers upgraded wall adapters and providing charging-software upgrades.

And in other clean transportation news……..

  • Honda has worked together with University of California, Davis to build the Honda Smart Home in the city of Davis to demonstrate how an electric vehicle’s battery pack can store solar power. The 1,944-square foot home offers the very latest in energy efficient technologies – LED lighting, radiant heating and cooling, a geothermal recovery system, a large solar panel system, and a grey-water filtering and recovery system. The home contains a 10-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack; it’s a smaller version of the one that powers the electric Honda Fit. As more homes are generating electricity from solar panels, electric vehicle batteries are expected to become storage units when the sun goes down. “It’s a new world in terms of vehicles operating not as isolated artifacts but as being part of a larger energy system, and I think the greatest opportunity for automakers is figuring out how their vehicles become part of that system,” said Daniel Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, which provided the building site and the heating and lighting technology for the Honda Smart Home.
  • New Jersey Assemblyman Tim Eustace has introduced a bill that would permit consumers to buy electric vehicles directly from Tesla Motors. If passed, it would bypass the recent ban by the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC), which is composed of Governor Chris Christie’s cabinet members and appointees, on allowing Tesla cars to be sold outside of a franchised retail dealer network. Next door, in the state of New York, Tesla struck a deal on Friday with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others that will allow it to keep five existing company-owned stores, as long as it doesn’t open more of them in the state. According to the agreement between Tesla, Cuomo, legislative leaders, and auto dealers, additional Tesla retail locations would need to be established under a “strengthened dealer franchise law.” In return, elected officials agreed to drop language in a bill in the state legislature that would have forced Tesla to close its existing direct-sale operations.
  • The Tesla “corporate-owned stores vs. franchised dealer stores” debate could be a talking point in the 2016 presidential election. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a rising GOP star who’s expected to run for president, says that Tesla has the right to directly sell its electric cars. That will likely put him at odds with another expected Republication candidate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Gov. Christie will probably dispute Rubio’s claim and defend his decision against Tesla’s stores in New Jersey. The politics may also have something to do with what state will get the $5 billion lithium battery “Gigafactory” project. AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson thinks it’s quite ironic that Texas and Arizona – the states with the toughest pro-dealer franchise laws, are now considering lightening up on laws allowing Tesla to have retail stores in those states. Previous attempts to gain exemptions in those states had failed; now state politicians are courting Tesla. These states, along with Nevada and New Mexico, are finalists for the Gigafactory project.
  • General Motors CEO Mary Barra told lawmakers in Washington yesterday that she’s “deeply sorry” for the error on an ignition switch defect, and will be fully transparent once the company discover what went wrong. It’s part of a large recall that only involves one alternative fuel vehicle – the 2014 Cadillac ELR extended range coupe. The recall will correct a problem with the diagnostic function of the software that controls the electronic stability control (ESC) in about 656 ELRs built between September 26, 2013, and February 14, 2014.
  • Toyota’s Asset-Backed Green Bond, a $1.75 billion fund announced last week, is part of a much larger global financial trend in green bonds. Unilever, the world’s second-largest consumer goods company, last week issued a $415 million bond for reducing waste, water use, and greenhouse-gas emissions. Bonds used to finance bonds that are friendly to the environment are gaining popularity worldwide, according to Christopher Flensborg of SEB, a Swedish bank; Flensborg is considered to be the inventor of green bonds. Unilever’s issuance was part of $6 billion in green bonds in the first quarter of 2014, which is much higher than in the first quarter of 2013; that year ended with a total of $11 billion in green bonds. World Bank president Jim Kim thinks it will rise above $50 billion next year. Toyota Financial Services’ (TFS) $1.75 billion was upsized from $1.25 as institutional investors have expressed interest in this clean transportation investment opportunity. TFS will use the proceeds from Green Bond toward the purchase of retail finance contracts and lease contracts for Toyota and Lexus vehicles that meet high green standards.
  • Clean Cities will be offering about $4.5 million more in available funding in three areas of interest: an alternative fuel vehicle demonstration and enhanced driver experience; alternative fuel training for first responders, public safety officials, and critical service providers; and incorporating alternative fuels into emergency response and preparedness operations. On March 24, the Vehicle Technologies Office, Clean Cities’ parent office, issued a Notice of Intent for a potential upcoming Funding Opportunity Announcement, available on Grants.gov (second item in the table) and the EERE Exchange site.  Clean Cities also announced last week that it’s rolling out nine new projects with the National Parks Service. The projects will bring alternative fuel and fuel-efficient vehicles to the road, cut vehicle idling, and improve vehicle efficiency. Almost all of the projects involve installing charging equipment for plug-in electric vehicles and many will also add EVs  to the National Parks Service’s fleet.
  • Tesla’s “Gigafactory” lithium battery factory concept is raising a lot enthusiasm with investors and fans of cleantech; however, Tesla Motors’ primary supplier of lithium ion cells for its Model S is still thinking about it. Panasonic Corp. hasn’t committed to investing in the ambitious US battery plant that’s been proposed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Joining Tesla’s Gigafactory battery project would raise investment risks, according to Panasonic President Kazuhiro Tsuga. Whoever partners with Tesla on the Gigafactory will be sourcing raw materials within North America, according to Tesla – and that counts for graphite, cobalt, and other materials. “It will enable us to establish a supply chain that is local and focused on minimizing environmental impact while significantly reducing battery cost,” said Liz Jarvis-Shean, a spokeswoman for Tesla.