Fisker Orbit autonomous electric shuttle coming to smart cities, Hyundai Ioniq Electric takes top spot in MPGe rating

Fisker shuttle serving smart cities:  Fisker Inc. will be bringing an electric shuttle to global markets through an alliance with Hakim Unique Group, a Chinese company. The Fisker Orbit will come through the two companies designing, developing, and integrating the Fisker autonomous, electric shuttle into the first project, a smart city implemented by Hakim Unique. Fisker will start delivering the first Orbit shuttles by the end of 2018. It’s built around a shared vision in where public transportation will be going into smart cities of the future. That will come through infrastructure, design, and EV innovation, Fisker said.

NEVS 9-3 in production:  NEVS began production of the NEVS 9-3 electric vehicle at its Tianjin, China facility, on December 5. The company has annual production capacity of 50,000 EVs in the first phase and up to 220,000 in the second phase. NEVS will be developing three generations of EV powertrains in Tianjin and Trollhattan, Sweden; it was founded in 2012 and acquired the main assets of Saab Automobile after its bankruptcy. The second and third generations of the 9-3 are being developed with Chinese ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing. The automaker is also working with the Global Energy Interconnection Corp. on a joint venture to provide service and infrastructure for EVs for ride-sharing services. NEVS also announced that it will launch mobility pilot programs in select European cities in 2020.

Ioniq Electric takes top MPGe spot:  The Hyundai Ioniq Electric has taken the top spot for the second year in a row in the 2018 Fuel Economy Guide with its 136 miles per gallon equivalent rating (MPGe). Published annually by the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, the guide is based on current model year vehicles. Some vehicles from last year, such as the BMW i3, didn’t make the list this year. Fuel economy information on some vehicles was not available in time to be printed in the guide. All electric vehicles are given an MPGe rating, and plug-in hybrids are ranked by their combined gasoline/electricity rating.

For Today: Honda 2030 Vision electrified and automated, More on the Fisker EMotion

Honda EV and automated vehicle goals:  Honda will be putting more emphasis on battery electric vehicles to reach its goals for zero emission vehicles. While still committed to fuel cell vehicles, the company will release a China-specific electric vehicle in 2018. Another EV made for global markets will be launched this fall at an auto show, said President & CEO Takahiro Hachigo at a press briefing in Tokyo. A new R&D department, Electric Vehicle Development Division, was started up last fall to speed up the process, he said. The company is also committed to serving mobility needs of its customers through a Level 3 highway-driving capability by 2013; and a Level 4 automated driving system that will allow the driver to take over if needed for safety. All of the announcements were part of a presentation on 2030 Vision, the company’s global mission statement.

Ricardo and CaFCP alliance:  Ricardo Strategic Consulting just announced its collaboration with the California Fuel Cell Partnership to provide economic modelling tools. It will enable the assessment of total cost of ownership of future fuel cell trucks, and the hydrogen stations needed to support commercial operation. Ricardo’s proprietary Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) modelling capability, provides insights on the economics of fuel efficient technologies, both today and in future. This model enables vehicle manufacturers, regulators, transport authorities, urban planners, and other stakeholders in making informed decisions about new technology implementation. The collaboration with Ricardo supports CaFCP’s efforts to enable adoption of hydrogen fuel cell technology in commercial trucks.

Fisker EMotion:  Fisker Inc. released more information and some teaser photos on the EMotion all-electric sports car. One of the tricks to getting up to the 400-miles per range will be lightening up the car, and it will be safer through patented crash design. The company now has a patent on the Emotion’s frontal crash structure that it says exceeds current minimum standards for occupant protection. The starting price has been set at $129,900 and it will be launched soon, with more details coming out this month.

This Week’s Top 10: The mystery of Tesla’s Gigafactory may be unfolding, Wanxiang Group announces a second Fisker model

Tesla Gigafactoryby 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. More details revealed on Gigafactory – Was it Col. Mustard with a dagger in the billiard room? The mystery of the Tesla “Gigafactory” is beginning to be solved. Panasonic Corp. has reached a basic agreement with Tesla Motors to supply machinery to make lithium battery cells; and an investment of about 20 billion yen to 30 billion yen ($196.4 million to $294.7 million) initially, according to the Nikkei newspaper. Details are being worked out, with an official announcement expected by the end of this month. In May, Panasonic said it wanted to be the sole battery partner in this factory. Analysts expect the factory to need about $5 billion to get up to speed, and that Panasonic may put in $1 billion of it. And while Tesla has officially looked at three sites in the US to build the plants, the decision might have already happened. Greentech Media reported that the world’s largest lithium-ion battery factory will be built near Reno, Nev. One unnamed source took pictures of about 50 earthmovers clearing a site estimated to be large enough to house the proposed 10 million-square-foot Gigafactory. This source has also heard whispers about the secret project from construction industry folks and locals. There are still permitting and licensing issues to be worked out, and Tesla says it’s potentially the site of a pizza factory…… We shall see……….
  2. Fisker’s new owner announced second modelFisker Automotive may launch its second model in 2017, though no details have yet been released. Lu Guanqiu, the billionaire chairman and founder of Fisker’s owner, Wanxiang Group, Inc., thinks that this can happen in the next three years with the Karma luxury sports car returning to market well before then. The Karma will be built once again in Finland, and Wanxiang hopes to bring production to the US.
  3. Los Angeles will be added to Nissan’s “No Charge to Charge” promotional campaign on Aug. 15 for its Leaf electric vehicle charging program. Leaf drivers get an EZ-Charge card for public charging stations for two years. The program was launched in Dallas-Ft. Worth and Houston in Sept. 2013; since then, it’s been expanded to San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Nashville, Phoenix, Washington, Portland, Ore.; and Sacramento, Calif. Nissan plans to add 14 more markets in the next year.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is late on creating rules governing electric vehicles (EVs) making noises to warn pedestrians as EVs pass by, and automakers say they’ll need more time to adopt the rules to vehicles. That rule was supposed to be released in January, so automakers are urging a delay in the schedule that requires them to start phasing it until 2016. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers jointly issued a letter asking NHTSA to postpone full compliance until Sept. 1, 2018.
  5. General Motors Opel subsidiary won’t be offering the Ampera (the European version of the Chevy Volt) after the Volt is redesigned for the US market for the 2016 model year. Opel will launch its own successor, an electric vehicle, sometime between 2014 and 2018.
  6. Samsung isn’t just rolling out new Android smartphones – the South Korean technology supplier has expanded its partnership with BMW to produce lithium-ion battery cells for the BMW i3, BMW i8, and additional hybrid models that will come out later. That partnership started in 2009 and now Samsung has agreed to enhance developments of its battery cells.
  7. Natural gas vehicle supporters were unable to gain necessary support for a diesel gallon equivalent that would govern the sale and pricing of natural gas for heavy duty vehicles. NGVAmerica says that they were unable to get the votes necessary to move it forward at the National Conference on Weights and Measures in Detroit. The gasoline gallon equivalent was adopted in 1994, but the industry needs the diesel equivalent standard for realistic comparisons.
  8. Renewable energy saw more gains in the first half of 2014. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects reported that wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and hydropower made up 55.7% of newly installed electricity generating capacity in the first half of this year. Natural gas provided most of the balance of new generating capacity.
  9. Stop-start technology yields a 5% to 7% improvement in fuel economy and C02 reduction, according to a AAA study. The AAA tested three vehicles equipped with automatic stop-start systems using the US Environmental Protection Agency’s “urban” driving cycle.
  10. Nissan has been able to save $938,000 per year at its Smyrna, Tenn., plant using the US Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Superior Energy Performance program. Savings at the plant that assembles the Leaf and other Nissan vehicles comes through using the ISO 50001 energy management standard. Nissan made changes at its plant such as rescheduling work shifts, reducing motor spends in industrial hardware, and improving startup and shutdown procedures. The $331,000 investment was paid back in four months and led to annual savings; it was much less capital intensive than buying new hardware or doing expensive retrofits, according to the DOE.

Toyota moving out of California and the jobs will follow

factoryCalifornia is the best place in the US to sell hybrids, plug-ins, and other alt-fuel vehicles, but not necessarily the best place to base your vehicle manufacturing operations. Toyota will be moving from the Los Angeles suburb of Torrance to the Dallas suburb of Plano. The Japanese automaker will also expand its technical center in Ann Arbor, Mich.; Toyota’s facility in Kentucky will also move over to Texas. About 4,000 employees will be impacted by the move, yet it’s too early to say how many of them will be moving to Texas.

The formal announcement sounds grand – “to better serve customers and position Toyota for sustainable, long-term growth,” was the official company announcement. Unofficially, according to reports that began leaking out prior to the corporate announcement, it’s more about slashing expenses and moving away from California’s strict regulatory environment.

While Tesla Motors will continue building luxury electric cars in Fremont, Calif., and its newly acquired idle-parts distribution center is located in rural California, its advanced battery project will be out of state. Tesla’s upcoming lithium battery plant, Gigafactory, will be opening up in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, or Nevada. It’s anticipated to require about $5 billion in investments with partners and would generate about 6,500 manufacturing jobs.

While cheaper land and hourly wages, and looser regulations, are probably playing their part, Tesla has another strategy: getting into markets where strict dealer franchise laws have blocked Tesla’s retail store growth strategy. Texas is very important for that reason, though one analyst thinks Nevada will be the winner. Nevada has a railroad line that connects directly to Tesla’s Fremont plant. Nevada is also rich in lithium pools, a big part of what goes into Tesla’s battery cells.

Fisker Automotive will likely be finding an office elsewhere. As new parent company Wanxiang America, a unit of China’s largest auto parts supplier, has taken over, there’s word of Fisker leaving its headquarters office in Costa Mesa, Calif., and moving out of state. (See Big Picture for more details.

California is not going away as an essential place to be for the auto industry. Engineering and design firms are based primarily in Southern California, and they play a key role in producing the next wave of new vehicles. In fact, Toyota’s design and racing units are expected to stay in Orange County. Some of the largest dealerships in the country are based in the state; and several alternative fuel providers (especially natural gas) have set up shop in California – with one of the principal reasons being state programs providing incentives. Fleets are very good customers, especially municipal fleets with dedication to clean transportation.

The auto industry will continue to be an integral part of the US economy and job creation – especially given that most other manufacturing sectors have shut down or moved overseas. California will continue to be a vital part of the industry’s future, but the limitations are always a factor. The weather’s great and there’s always something fun to do (surfing, Disneyland, Hollywood Blvd., riding BART into the city, etc.), but corporations are always looking into slashing costs and moving somewhere else.

Big Picture: Bankruptcy judge speeds up Fisker court procedure, Amazon delivering packages by aerial drones

US bankruptcy courtUS Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross would like to see the Fisker Automotive bankruptcy procedure speeded up. The troubled automaker may be sold by January 3 under a fast-track schedule approved by the Wilmington, Del., court judge. The bankruptcy filing took place on November 22, and the typical asset bidding process is being circumvented. Fisker said the process already happened when the US Dept. of Energy held an auction for the $168.5 million loan that it made to Fisker. An affiliate of Chinese company Hybrid Tech Holdings LLC won the auction and only paid $25 million for the Fisker assets. The judge admitted it was an unusual process but seems to agree that the auction process has been moving along. Creditors will also have access to a December 10 hearing that will decide whether a disclosure statement from Fisker has enough information for creditors to decide whether to oppose the liquidation plan.

Amazon will be dropping off your orders from the sky. You thought driverless cars accessing our roads by 2020 sounded pretty far out? How about aerial drones delivering packages for within the next five years? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the robotic airplane project on Dec. 1 during the CBS program “60 Minutes.” The vehicles could deliver up to five pounds in a 10-mile radius of Amazon’s 96 warehouses within 30 minutes, Bezos said. Bezos thinks it will be very green – much better than driving trucks around.

Nissan is working with NRG Energy’s subsidiary NRG eVgo to expand its electric vehicle charging station Freedom Station chain across Washington DC. Through this plan, eVgo is intending to develop a comprehensive fast charging network in the greater Washington area with charging stations at Dulles Town Center in Loudon County, Arlington County, and District of Columbia at Van Ness. In addition, two stations are currently being constructed in Rockville and Towson in Maryland alongside other sites under development stages across the Washington metropolitan area.

Check out the new zero emission vehicle (ZEV) Guidebooka resource for California cities and counties to find where electric vehicle chargers and hydrogen stations are being installed. It comes from Governor Brown’s recent Executive Order that calls for California’s major metropolitan areas to complete infrastructure plans, improve permitting and complete other actions to accommodate ZEVs by 2015.

Installed an electric vehicle charger in your garage and you want a federal tax credit? Then you’d better do so by December 31, after which the credit expires. The credit covers 30% of the cost of purchase and installation, up to a maximum of $1,000, for installing an electric-car changing station in a private home. This means using Form 8911 with the tax filing due by April 15 of next year. There will also be expiration on that date of a 10% credit for the purchase price of an electric motorcycle or three-wheeled vehicle.

Mahindra Group has created an electric racing division and signed an agreement with Formula E Holdings. It’s now the eighth team to join the new FIA Formula E Championship. “Mahindra Racing” was a natural chain events, Mahindra said, since it’s been involved for some time in the production of EV through its Mahindra Reva Company. Mahindra Racing, if approved, will join in the Formula E championship with Andretti Autosport, Dragon Racing, Asia’s China Racing and Super Aguri and European teams Drayson Racing, e.dams, and Audi Sport ABT.

Big Picture: Gobble, gobble….. A few clean transportation items before you leave for the holidays

turkeys driving a carAs you break for a long holiday weekend, here are a few happenings to read about…..

Things seem to be wrapping up for Fisker Automotive. Hybrid Technology Holdings, a Hong Kong-based investor group led by billionaire Richard Li, is buying the company’s assets for $25 million. That means the US Dept. of Energy will be losing about $139 on Fisker; the DOE will be overall be recovering about $53 million from its original $192 million disbursement.

Tesla Motors has lost it marketing leader – George Blankenship, who played a key role in setting up Apple’s retail stores and brought much of it over to Tesla, left the electric carmaker last month. As everyone knows by now, it’s a sensitive time for Tesla as NHTSA has decided to recall most of the Model S units for investigation and Tesla is working on overdrive to expand stores in North America, Europe, and Asia. Blankenship has been vague on his Linkedin page about why he’s leaving; he’s now 60 and is officially taking on the role of “Director of Smiles for the Blankenship Family.”

But there is some good news for Tesla. The automaker won a near-perfect score for its Model S, as it displaced the Chevy Volt at the top of Consumer Report’s annual vehicle owner satisfaction survey. It’s the best score the magazine has seen in years – 99 out of 100 points.

The Nissan Leaf is paying off for the automaker, according to Jose Munoz, Nissan’s senior VP of sales and marketing for the Americas. The Leaf is not the top reason customers are referred to the Nissan brand, he said, and the vehicle is now profitable.

Green Truck Summit is getting some ink – it will be March 4-5 in conjunction with The Work Truck Show 2014 in Indianapolis. It will offer attendees more than 20 educational sessions and a chassis OEM forum moderated by Indianapolis Mayor Gregory Ballard.

Luxury SUV buyers and non-luxury car shoppers are most likely to consider buying alternative fuel vehicles including EVs, hybrids, hydrogen-power, or CNG-powered vehicles. That comes from a Phoenix Marketing International study. About 50% of the survey respondents were neutral to alternative fuel vehicles, while the two aforementioned categories have the highest percentages of “very” or “extremely” to purchase an alt-fuel vehicle.

UPS was among the award winners at the NGV Achievement Award. United Parcel Service and Mike Scarpino, regional manager for DOE Clean Cities Coalition, were among the recipients of 2013 NGV Achievement Award held Nov. 20 in Atlanta. UPS was recognized for 25 years of exemplary NGV industry leadership. Eleven recipients were recognized during the gala and reception dinner at NGV America’s 2013 North American NGV Conference and Expo. Richard Kolodziej, president of NGVAmerica, was given a lifetime achievement award.

The cap and trade market is getting some play in California. California companies paid about $297 million for carbon allowances on the state’s carbon auction. On Nov. 19, California’s fifth auction took place, where companies such as Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical paid $11.48 per allowance to release one metric ton of carbon as early as this year. That was a lower price than a previous sale in August, when it sold for $12.22 per metric ton. All together, the five auction events have raised $1.4 billion.

For those interested in real-time traffic data being readily available….. INRIX, Inc. introduced INRIX XD™ Incidents, which correlates real-time traffic flow data with information from nearly 400 public and private sources including media partners, departments of transportation, emergency responders, and community reports via mobile, and in-vehicle applications, as well as social networks like Twitter. The service offer traffic intelligence that reports more accidents, road closures, and other incidents across significantly more roads in more countries and at much greater speed than ever before.