This Week’s Top 10: Tesla Model X has a big month in sales, BMW shifting from electric to autonomous

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. Tesla Model XMay EV and hybrid sales: The Tesla Model X has seen a huge sales increase – up a third from the previous month. Consumer Reports did feature a critical review in print and video, focused mainly on concerns with the falcon doors and too many bells and whistles versus practical features. That was released last week, so we’ll have to check on June sales to see if it’s having an impact. The Model S is seeing some decline in sales month-over-month and year-over-year. The Ford Fusion Energi is doing well in sales, and is getting closer to the Fusion Hybrid in overall sales numbers. The Ford C-Max Energi continues to soften in sales. Overall battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle sales were flat from April, and were up 5.5% over May 2015. Hybrid sales as a share of total U.S. new vehicle sales increased slightly – up to 2% of the total share after it had been hovering below the 2% mark for several months. Since it was debuted in January 2015, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has become a hot seller. Now at No. 2 in the rankings, it came in at No. 9 during the month of December 2015 with 1,430 units sold that month. The hybrid version was debuted a few months after Toyota halted production of the low-selling all-electric RAV4.
  2. BMW switching to autonomous cars: BMW announced that it’s slowing down in its EV development and wouldn’t be developing another fully-electric i model until 2021. BMW is moving over to development of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence. While being a “fantastic car,” the BMW i3 isn’t as popular as BMW had hoped, so the automaker is switching some of its focus over to self-driving vehicles – which is becoming the next “technological race,” according to the BMW blog.
  3. Building EV market: The 29th International Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS29) & Exposition has announced new forums dedicated to market building discussion. The Market Builders’ Forums will gather public and private industry innovators to discuss their strategies for growing the electric drive market and will include an opportunity for audience Q&A. Forum 1 will be moderated by Robert Graham, Director, EV Everywhere Challenge for the U.S. Dept. of Energy; panelists will include Britta Gross, Director, Adv. Vehicle Commercialization Policy at General Motors; Robert Langford, Manager, Electric Vehicle Sales at American Honda Motor Company; Brendan Jones, Vice President, East Region at NRG EVgo; and Laura Renger, Principal Manager, Air & Climate at Southern California Edison. Forum 2 will be moderated by Lisa Jerram, Senior Research Analyst at Navigant Consulting; panelists will include Aaron Cohen, General Manager, Electric Vehicle Strategy at Audi of America; Colleen Quinn, Vice President, Gov’t Market Development and Public Policy at ChargePoint; Marco Vivivani, Director, Development and Public Relations at Communauto; and CC Chan, Professor, Academician, Fellow at University of Hong Kong, EVAAP, WEVA and others. Register now and gain access to the entire electric drive value chain under one roof.
  4. Uber, Lyft, and Walmart: Ridesharing firms Uber and Lyft are adding to their list of services by working with Walmart for grocery shopping and delivery. Walmart will start with delivery tests through Uber in Phoenix and Lyft in Denver, which should start within the next two weeks. Walmart is testing another grocery service through its Sam’s Club stores. The pilot project started in March with delivery of general merchandise and grocery for business members in Miami.
  5. DOE funding: The S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) announced that $22 million is now available to support research, development, and demonstration of innovative plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) and direct injection propane engine technologies; as well as community-based projects to accelerate the adoption of light, medium, and heavy duty vehicles that operate on fuels such as biodiesel, electricity, E85, hydrogen, natural gas, and propane.
  6. EV charging in San Diego: San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) is supporting development of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure through a $45 million pilot program for the installation of electric-car charging stations; and through investing $7.5 million over the next five years in an education campaign to promote electric cars. The project will include installation of 3,500 charging stations at 350 locations, including businesses and apartment complexes. Of that total, 10% will be installed in disadvantaged communities, SDG&E said.
  7. Winner of EcoCAR3: Ohio State University has won EcoCAR3 once again. Along with winning the latest round, OSU won EcoCAR3 last year and won the final EcoCAR2 the previous year. OSU’s Series Parallel PHEV 2016 Chevrolet Camaro was the first to officially meet all safety protocols. The team of students achieved the goals in just a few short months after receiving the car, to winning the competition. Sixteen university teams each reworked a 2016 Camaro for the competition. EcoCAR3, run by the U.S. Department of Energy and sponsored by General Motors, works to further the reality of the vision and development of eco-friendly vehicles while maintaining power and performance.
  8. Santa Monica buses running on RNG: Clean Energy Fuels Corp. announced that the City of Santa Monica has awarded Clean Energy a multiyear liquefied natural gas (LNG) contract to fuel its Big Blue Bus (BBB) fleet of vehicles. The 5-year deal, worth an estimated $3 million per year, will enable BBB to continue using Clean Energy’s Redeem™ brand of renewable natural gas (RNG), rated up to 90% cleaner than diesel and considered the cleanest transportation fuel available. BBB began using Redeem by Clean Energy in January 2015.
  9. VW settlement in Germany: Germany’s motor vehicle authority KBA on June 3 approved proposed fixes for the three models with 2.0-liter diesel engines from the EA 189 diesel engine family, VW said. The automaker received regulatory approval for technical fixes to its Passat, CC, and Eos models. VW can now recall more than 800,000 of the 8.5 million cars in Europe affected by its emissions scandal.
  10. Smart city mobility: Navigant Research is presenting a webinar on June 14 at 2:00 p.m. EDT, “Changing Models for Urban Mobility – Examining New Transportation Options in the Smart City.” Vehicles are becoming more connected and autonomous, and more reliant on digital technologies. Electric vehicles are also becoming more widely available and affordable. At the same time, governments are pushing for increasing emissions reductions and cities are increasingly regulating private car usage. All these factors will work together to change how people move around in the smart city. In this webinar, Lisa Jerram, principal research analyst at Navigant Research, Eric Woods, research director at Navigant Research, and David Alexander, senior research analyst at Navigant Research, will discuss the dynamics surrounding this shift in transportation strategy.

EVS29 728x90

Greenest of the green cars by fuel economy, emissions, sales, and overall value

Last week, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its 18th annual comprehensive environmental ratings for vehicles. As you can view in this list of the 12 Greenest cars in 2015, battery electric vehicles did the best, taking the top three spots. Greenest cars of the year for 2015The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive took No. 1 for the second year in a row, this year taking the highest Green Score ever. Plug-in electric vehicles took six out of 12 places on this year’s list. The Toyota Prius did well this year with its Prius C taking 4th place and the Prius liftback, and Prius Plug-in jointly took No. 6. The Nissan Leaf finished in fifth place.

ACEEE assigns each vehicle a Green Score that incorporates lifecycle greenhouse gas and criteria pollutant emissions. The announcement of this year’s winner coincides with the release of ACEEE’s brand new website that will now offer subscription-free access to all vehicle scores from model year 2000 and later. Another new feature this year is analysis of where the electricity powering the electric vehicle comes from. “A car that is charged using electricity generated from natural gas or renewables is going to have significantly less impact on the environment than one charged on a coal-heavy grid,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.

ACEEE also looks at the other end of the spectrum – acknowledging vehicles that are the least friendly to the environment. Number one on this year’s list is the Dodge Ram 2500 (Class 2b), followed by the Chevrolet/GMC G2500 Express/Savana cargo conversion vans.

Looking at the selection of “greenest of the green car” awards released around this time of the year begs the questions: What is a green car? What makes it the best? Overall, the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, and Volkswagen models performed very well in the rankings.

Fuel economy is one that always comes up in consumer polls, fleet acquisitions, and government rating systems. Take a look here at top vehicle’s Top Ten EPA-Rated Fuel Sippers (2015); these are based on fuel economy measured in miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) for electric vehicles where 33.7 kilowatt hours is equal to one gallon of gasoline. The combined rating is weighted at 55% city and 45% highway driving.

The 2015 BMW i3 is having a very good year – taking the top spot in the rating, Kelley Blue Book’s (KBB) Green Car of the Year for 2014, and winning the 2015 Green Car of the Year award at the LA Auto Show.

Volkswagen has seen positive results as well, with the Golf product lineup taking Green Car Reports’ Best Car to Buy for 2015. The compact five-door Golf, now in its seventh generation, is both lighter and more spacious inside. The Volkswagen e-Golf, the German automaker’s first-ever all-electric car and zero-emission vehicle, also helped bump it up on the list. The Volkswagen Jetta Diesel and Passat Diesel were among the top 10 best-selling green vehicles in the US last year.

The Nissan Leaf didn’t take any of the top spots this year, but finished well in the top 10 on several lists. It was the top-selling electric car in the Top 10 selling green cars for 2014US during 2014, whether or not the Tesla Model S started stealing the thunder. As you can see on this top 10 list of 2014’s best-selling hybrids, electric vehicles, and clean diesel cars, the Leaf isn’t selling anywhere near the volume of the Toyota Prius liftback (the non-plug-in hybrid version of the Prius), but it is far ahead of the second highest-selling plug-in model from last year, the Chevrolet Volt.

This Week’s Top 10: Tesla and BMW may focus more on collaboration than competition, Honda funding hydrogen stations in California

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. Tesla and BMWCombining “lightweighting” and advanced batteries could bring Tesla Motors and BMW beyond competition for dominance in the sporty luxury electric car space. Tesla CEO Elon Musk told German weekly Der Spiegel that Tesla and BMW have been in meetings on forming a potential alliance in batteries and light-weight carbon fiber components being used in the BMW i3 and i8. Musk finds the carbon fiber made by BMW and its joint venture with materials supplier SGL “interesting” and “relatively cost efficient.” Musk said the talks are exploring whether collaboration might work for battery technology or charging stations. BMW and Tesla had met in June to discuss creating charging stations applicable to different types of electric vehicles. This alliance could expand Tesla’s recent history of working with major OEMs such as Toyota and Daimler. Toyota is moving away from building its RAV4 EV that uses Tesla’s electric drivetrain, but still wants to work with Tesla; the same is true for Daimler, which recently sold its remaining 4% stake in Tesla but wants to continue to collaborate with electric carmaker.
  2. Honda will loan $13.8 million to FirstElement Fuel to build 12 more hydrogen fueling stations in California. The hydrogen station supplier received a similar loan of $7.3 million from Toyota earlier this year as part of funding for the first 19 FirstElment stations in California. California wants to have 100 hydrogen stations assembled by 2020. The California Energy Commission granted FirstElement almost $27 million earlier this year; it’s part of a pledge of almost $200 million to bring the 100 fueling stations to the state. Hydrogen stations are expected to expand to other states, including Toyota collaborating on a hydrogen network in the Northeast. Volkswagen, which showed two hydrogen-powered vehicles at the LA Auto Show, is prepared to bring its fuel cell vehicles from Germany to the US market.
  3. Keith Leech, Fleet Manager at the City of Sacramento and head of Sacramento Clean Cities, has won the 2014 Fleet Excellence (FLEXY) in Public Fleet Sustainability award. “We are the first government fleet in the country that is actually fueling with renewable natural gas (RNG) naturally produced locally from organic food waste using anaerobic digesters that the city did not build. We’re excited to be out in the forefront and support a local start-up company [CleanWorld – a Sacramento Clean Cities partner],”Leech said. Read more about it in NAFA Fleet Management Association’s FLEETSolutions.
  4. Clean Cities is rolling out a new program to coordinate bulk alternative fuel and advanced vehicle technology orders. Its new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) is called Alternative Fuel and Advanced Vehicle Procurement Aggregating Initiatives. “By developing a process for companies and organizations to consolidate their orders, it could help vehicle manufacturers achieve better economies of scale and lower prices per unit,” Clean Cities says.
  5. The Sierra Club is joining Ford Motor Co. and SunPower’s Drive Green for Life program to help more Americans move toward emissions-free driving. Ford customers who own electric vehicles such as the Focus Electric, C-Max Energy and Fusion Energy plug-in hybrids, will get a $750 rebate on a SunPower residential solar system. Two other models are eligible for the program, the C-Max Hybrid and Fusion Hybrid. The Sierra Club will be receiving a $500 donation for each rooftop solar system through the program.
  6. Energy Vision named four winners to its 2014 Leadership Awards in the renewable energy field. Among the winners were Richard DiGia of Aria Energy and Harrison Clay, President, Clean Energy Renewables, whose joint project works with the Seneca Meadows Landfill in Seneca Falls; its first New York State operation converting landfill biogas into vehicle fuel, to ship its renewable natural gas to California, where Clean Energy Renewables distributes it to vehicle fleets.
  7. The Coda Sedan now has a second life as the Mullen 700e, an unchanged version of the electric car. The Mullen 700e debuted at the LA Auto Show last week. One big difference is that the 31-kilowatt-hour battery pack is now supposed to deliver the car 185 miles on a charge compared to the previous 125 mile range on the Coda Sedan. The car comes from a post-bankruptcy firm named Coda Cars, whose chief executive Rick Curtis now serves as president of Mullen Consolidated, the corporation that’s overseeing the revival of this electric sedan.
  8. The US Department of Defense and the US Air Force are bringing 42 plug-in electric vehicles to the Los Angeles Air Force Base. The non-tactical vehicle fleet gained a $3 million investment from California Energy Commission and comes from an alliance between federal, state, and private energy organizations, Air Force officials said. The fleet is made up of plug-in sedans, vans, and trucks. It’s also serving as a demonstration model for emerging vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology. The vehicles can direct power to and from the electrical grid when they’re not being driven. The technology is capable of providing more than 700 kilowatts of power to the grid, which could power more than 140 homes in the US.
  9. About 280 employers in the US now have workplace electric vehicle charging stations, a number that’s nearly doubled in the past two years. Workplace charging is turning into an effective tactic to attract and retain talented employees while supporting reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and advanced vehicle technologies. Several of these employers are participating in the US Dept. of Energy’s EV Everywhere Workplace Charging Challenge. Starting with 13 founding partners in January 2013, its grown to 150 partners who are providing access to charging stations for more than 600,000 employees at more than 300 worksites around the country.
  10. Lux Research presented a cost-of-ownership model comparing gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine vehicles to battery electric vehicles (EVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, hybrids, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. EVs lead the way due to the relatively low cost of electricity, and it was followed by various types of hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. Rating measures included fuel cost alone, fuel cost plus operation, and purchase or lease for total ownership cost.

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.