This Week’s Top 10: More details released on the future of Fisker Automotive, Apple wants to test autonomous vehicles

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. Fisker Karma factoryThe future of Fisker: More details are being released on Fisker Automotive, which has been on the sidelines since 2012. The revived automaker, owned by Chinese auto parts giant Wanxiang, just signed an 11-year lease deal estimated to be worth about $30 million. Fisker will be opening a production plant in Moreno Valley, Calif., about 60 miles from its corporate office in Costa Mesa. The 556,000 square-foot industrial building is expected to create 150 new jobs, and will be the first Southern California vehicle manufacturing facility since General Motors shuttered its Van Nuys plant in 1992. The city of Morena Valley said that Fisker also plans to feature a showroom and guided tours at the facility. Fisker Karmas had been produced by Valmet Automotive in Finland; the luxury plug-in sports car was expected to be manufactured at a former General Motors plant in Delaware, but that plan fell apart with Fisker’s financial collapse and bankruptcy. Details haven’t come out yet on the 2016 relaunch of the Karma, which went on hold in 2012.
  2. Apple wants to test self-driving cars: Apple may be testing self-driving cars at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station in Concord, Calif., which is now called the GoMentum Station. That 2,100-acre facility northeast of San Francisco has more than 20 miles of paved roads, city streets, railroad crossing and tunnels; GoMentum has been utilized by both Honda and Mercedes-Benz to test out their autonomous vehicle projects. Apple engineers from the company’s Special Projects group have been in contact with representatives of GoMentum Station, according to a report in British newspaper The Guardian. Apple is continuing to show signs of taking autonomous vehicles seriously, and it may coincide with R&D on electric vehicles. It may be Project Titan, the code name for the company’s electric vehicle program.
  3. Fleet operators open to stricter fuel economy standards: A new study on truck fuel efficiency conducted by CALSTART and NAFA found that fleet operators believe they will benefit from cost savings from fuel efficient commercial trucks. The study found that 87% of fleet operators surveyed would support more aggressive regulations on truck fuel economy; and 89% are willing to pay a higher upfront cost for a more fuel-efficient commercial vehicle as long as they’ll see cost savings over the vehicle’s lifecycle. That higher cost could be paid off in as little as nine months, according to the study.
  4. Urban mobility solutions from Ford: Finding safe, clean, and mobile transportation opportunities in our fast-growing urban settings is the source of many studies and projects these days (with the Brookings Institution finding that urban truck traffic growth is happening faster than urban population growth). Ford’s President and CEO Mark Fields announced three new alternative transportation projects that the company is testing out: Peer-2-Peer Car-Sharing, a pilot program for select customers in six U.S. cities and in London; Multimodal Urban Mobility, an experiment focusing on the many types of transportation used in urban environments. One of these options that Ford is trying out is the new MoDe:Flex, a concept eBike design; and GoDrive, an on-demand carsharing pilot for one-way trips in London with a pay-as-you-go approach and guaranteed parking. What are the benefits of going these routes? Ford says that they will bring more cost-effective commutes, an uptick in multimodal transportation, less congestion and happier drivers.
  5. Tesla selling stock: Tesla Motors Inc. plans to raise about $642.5 million through selling more of its stock on the market – up from $500 million from its previous announcement days earlier. That will be about 2.1 million shares of the company. One analyst expects that this offering and its existing credit lines will offer enough cash for operations into 2016. The company burned through $359 million in cash during the second quarter as it expands its auto and energy storage businesses. The Gigafactory in Nevada is seeing a lot of that capital as Tesla prepares to make efficient batteries for its upcoming Model 3 electric car. The capital drain could go away for Tesla if an outrageous forecast by Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas turns out to be accurate. Jonas thinks that Tesla will go from around $280 (though its currently about $243) up to $465 in stock price. He’s basing this assumption of Tesla stock nearly doubling in price on a concept that the company may be rolling out called Tesla Mobility, an app-based on-demand mobility service utilizing semi-autonomous vehicles.
  6. Renewable diesel seeing big gains: Propel Fuels is now offering Diesel HPR (High Performance Renewable) at locations across Southern California. Utilizing Neste’s NEXBTL renewable diesel, Propel’s Diesel HPR is a low-carbon, renewable fuel that meets petroleum diesel specifications and can be used in any diesel engine. Fleets and consumers choosing Diesel HPR realize the benefits of better performance, significant reductions in greenhouse gases, and improved local air quality. Propel Fuels’ announcement comes not long after companies committed to the clean fuel: UPS will be purchasing 46 million gallons of renewable diesel (RD); FedEx will be buying three million gallons of RD per year; the City of San Francisco will be going to 100% RD by the end of the year; and Google is switching its bus fleet to RD.
  7. GM and Honda’s fuel cell project: Charlie Freese, GM’s head of global fuel cell engineering, has been very enthusiastic about GM’s hydrogen fuel cell partnership with Honda that started two years ago. The Next generation fuel cell stack is running in their laboratory now that is down almost a half in weight and size, and the cost is dropping down. He says that the two OEMs forged the alliance to standardize parts and get the volume up, which you can’t do alone very easily.
  8. Nissan working with Enterprise on college carsharing: Nissan has teamed up with car rental giant Enterprise on a new carsharing service. Enterprise CarShare will be going to 90 college campuses around the country for a rental fee of $5 an hour. For now, Nissan will be supplying 300 vehicles, with up to 25 going onto some of the campuses. Carsharing competitor Zipcar has been moving on campus in the past couple of years, and recently worked with Ford on bringing carsharing to six US cities and London; Ford has tested its own campus program.
  9. Natural gas incentives: The Natural Gas Vehicle Incentive Project, funded by California Energy Commission (CEC), started up earlier this month is being administered for CEC by the Institute of Transportation Studies, at UC Irvine. Incentives range from $1,000 for the lightest natural gas vehicles to $25,000 for NGVs with a gross vehicle weight in excess of 33,001 pounds; the project has $10,187,000 available in funding on a “first-come, first-served basis.” Eligible vehicles need to be new (model year 2014 or later), listed in CARB’s Certification Program, and must be registered and operated on natural gas in California (at least 90% of the time) for at least three years.
  10. Wireless charging could be here soon: Wireless electric vehicle (EV) charging could make it to the commercial level as early as 2017 with luxury EVs being first to adopt them, according to a study by Strategy Analytics. They’ll probably be an option available on for a fairly high price and limited to mainly luxury auto brands (Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Cadillac…..?) when launching in 2017, according to Strategy Analytics. The same issue is there for wireless as for plug-in – for them to be interoperable and able to work across different brands of EVs and charging networks.