For Today: Tesla making agreement on Chinese factory, NAFA launches new website

Will Tesla forge a Chinese JV?:  Tesla is very close to finalizing an agreement to build a factory in China, according to sources close to the matter. The agreement is being made with the city of Shanghai and is expected to be released this week. The U.S. automaker will need to set up a joint venture with at least one Chinese company, which is the case for all other automakers manufacturing vehicles in China. While Tesla wants to cut out the 25% tariff being charged to import its cars to China, creating a JV has been outside Tesla’s corporate culture (an example being creating its own Supercharger fast charger and not sharing the tech with other automakers). In early May, CEO Elon Musk had met with Chinese vice premier Wang Yang, which was reported in state-owned media as focusing on a JV being forged. The electric automaker released a statement at that time denying it will be going into business with a Chinese company. But Tesla does want to have a strong presence in China, having tripled its revenue there to $1 billion last year; creating a JV may be a necessity.

BMW 530e being outsourced to Magna:  BMW is outsourcing manufacturing of a new 5-Series plug-in hybrid to North America’s largest auto supplier, Canadian company Magna International. Production will take place at the Graz, Austria plant of the Magna Steyr subsidiary with building of the BMW 530e starting this summer. Magna is opening the door to a new space for auto suppliers – contract manufacturing at a large scale. Magna Steyr will be manufacturing the Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV starting in early 2018. Companies like BMW and Jaguar will be able to outsource some of their production, keeping costs down and allowing them to use their factories for other vehicles. That means moving forward on hitting carbon emission targets and getting electric cars out at a faster pace.

New NAFA website and webinars:  NAFA Fleet Management Association (NAFA) has unveiled a new website,  which is providing more value to the memberships and visitors. It was redesigned to be easy to navigate and mobile device responsive. You can also view listings for upcoming clean transportation webinars in the Upcoming Events area. “Electrifying Your Fleet: How the latest technologies can significantly reduce the infrastructure and operating costs of driving on electricity,” will take place on August 16 and will be presented by charging infrastructure supplier ChargePoint. “Case Studies of Green Fleet Activities in Canada” will take place on October 18 and will be presented by Fleet Challenge.

This Week’s Top 10: More news from the Detroit Auto Show, Rick Sikes and Keith Leech announce their retirements

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. North American International Auto ShowUnveiling the Chevrolet Bolt and 2016 Volt changes stole the thunder last Monday at the North American International Auto Show. As for the rest of that week…….. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk was a keynote speaker at the Automotive New World Congress and said that Tesla will boost production of its electric vehicles from less than 40,000 last year to at least a few million by 2025. The company may not be profitable until 2020. Chinese sales were weaker in the fourth quarter of 2014 than the company had expected; Musk said city-dwelling Chinese consumers have misperceptions about the difficulty of charging their electric cars. On Thursday of last week, Musk traveled to Texas and urged state legislators to ease restrictions on selling Tesla electric cars there, and the possibility of setting up a new car factory or test facility for his “hyperloop” fast train…… Volkswagen debuted its five-seater Cross Coupe GTE. The plug-in hybrid has a maximum output of 355 horsepower and an all-wheel-drive system. It has a manufacturer-estimated fuel economy rating of 70 MPGe…….. Honda showcased its FCV hydrogen fuel cell vehicle concept with US availability of the production vehicle in 2016. The company also announced plans to offer several next-generation, advanced powertrain vehicles, including a new battery-electric model and plug-in hybrid model by 2018………. Ford unveiled the all-new GT, an ultra-high-performance supercar that serves as a technology showcase for top EcoBoost performance, aerodynamics and lightweight carbon fiber construction……… Hyundai revealed a plug-in hybrid version of the Sonata midsize sedan that will go on sale this year. Hyundai said it plans to start by selling the 2016 Sonata PHEV in California and nine other U.S. states that mandate sales of zero-emission vehicles.
  2. Two prominent fleet managers have retired. Rick Sikes, fleet superintendent for the City of Santa Monica, and Keith Leech, fleet manager for the City of Sacramento, announced their retirements this month. Sikes is known for leading Santa Monica’s fleet for more than 25 years and bringing it up to 85% alternative fuel including electric, propane, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, and biodiesel. Sikes has served on the leadership team for the city’s AltCar Expo since its inception in 2005. Leech served as Sacramento’s fleet manager from May 2006, where he promoted fleet sustainability with alternative fuels and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. Leech has served as President of the Sacramento Regional Clean Cities Coalition; his fleet has been honored several times with awards including taking #1 Government Green Fleet in North America by “100 Best Fleets” and Green Fleet
  3. Former GM product czar Bob Lutz says that Via Motors delivered its first 40 plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Silverado converted pickups to fleet customers, and 200 retrofitted Chevrolet Express vans are in the works. Lutz plays a leadership role with Via, and he says the company expects to sell 50,000 vehicles per year by 2018.
  4. Cheap gasoline prices make it harder to sell electric cars, says Ian Robertson, BMW’s head of sales and marketing. He expects sales to dip in a few countries due to declining gas prices. Maybe a 60-second spot during the Superbowl will help move the metal. The i8 plug-in hybrid is only available in limited production and is quite expensive with a list price of $137,450, but the interest in strong. People are waiting about a year to receive their i8, doubling the delivery this year to 1,000 plus compared to last year. Ludwig Willisch, CEO of BMW of North America, said those i8 models won’t be in the US until October.
  5. Roush CleanTech has earned California Air Resources Board (CARB) retrofit certification for all Ford 6.8-liter vehicles for model years 2012 to 2015 – and is the first company to receive this certification for propane autogas. Any 2012 – 2015 model year Ford E-450, F-450, F-550, F-650, F-53 and F-59 vehicles can now be converted to run on propane autogas in all 50 states.
  6. A recent JD Power and Associates study found that fuel economy has been the top vehicle buying decision for consumers for the past four years; and it should stay high on their consideration list even with the huge drop in gasoline prices, a JD Power analyst said.
  7. The California Energy Commission approved more than $12 million for alternative fuel vehicle projects during its first business meeting of the new year. Regents of the University of California will receive $11.2 million for a natural gas vehicle incentive program; US General Services Administration will receive $600,000 to install 50 electric vehicle charging stations at federal facilities in California; and Linde LLC is receiving $300,000 for a new hydrogen fueling station in West Sacramento.
  8. Uber will provide the City of Boston with data on its ridesharing service trips as part of Boston’s plan to ease traffic congestion and assist in smarter city planning. Uber will provide a quarterly report with trip logs with details on the ride – pickup days and times, distance travel, and zip codes where passengers were picked up and dropped off. That follows new rules from the state of Massachusetts officially recognizing Uber and other ridesharing services as valid modes of transportation. Question: could carsharing services track and report trips to cities and fleets?
  9. Tom Saxton, chief science officer for Plug In America, analyzed how things are going for workplace electric vehicle charging in a blog post. One of the challenges is finding the “just right” fee for charging costs. Free charging is a good thing for kickstarting awareness of electric vehicles but it’s not going to last forever. Free charging can lead to oversubscription and reduce charging availability for those needing charges; that would discourage EV adoption from people who could most benefit from charging at work, Saxton says.
  10. While the price drop at gasoline pumps was a leading topic last week at the Detroit Auto Show, it’s not going to last forever, says Bob Carter, the head of US automotive operations for Toyota. Carter is in agreement with most other automotive executives that those prices will go up; but the question continues on what impact it may have in 2017 during the industry-government review of the 54.5 mpg corporate average fuel economy by 2025 mandate.

EPA award winning NAFA President Claude Masters on vehicle electrification

By Mike Sheldrick, Senior Editor, Fleet Management Weekly

Masters_ClaudeFresh from his accepting the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2014 Clean Air Excellence Award for innovative programs on behalf of Florida Power & Light Co., we caught up with Claude Masters, NAFA President and FPL’s Manager of Vehicle Acquisition and Fuel. We found that Claude’s longtime enthusiasm for the potential of electric vehicles to save energy and contribute to our energy independence remains undimmed — in fact, even brighter.

Tell us about some of the electric vehicle initiatives that are in the forefront right now at Florida Power & Light Co.

Our initiatives are also important for the industry as well: helping move along the fleet electrification process for not just our fleet, but for the country and the industry as a whole.

How electricity is produced and used is a large component of the effort we are making to achieve energy independence. I serve on an Edison Electric Institute (EEI) committee that is writing a white paper for the CEOs of investor-owned electric companies across the country that will help them understand what fleet electrification means and why it is important to them.

Vehicle electrification is further along than many think. We already have a generation infrastructure.  What is not fully developed yet is the final attachment point. But that distribution network is being worked on very actively. For example, you see a lot of media related articles about what Tesla is doing. Florida Power & Light has actually helped the company with the installation of a “supercharger highway” in Florida, and we look forward to doing more of that.

If you look at the electric vehicles that we have in place today, they have played an important role in helping the whole industry get to where it needs to be. For the OEMs to meet future CAFE standards, electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have to be a major part of the OEMs plans. There is just no other way for them to meet those numbers without it.

There have been substantial improvements in these vehicles. Take hybrids, for example. Some early models didn’t even have electric air conditioning systems. With some of the early offerings, you had to take it out of “economy mode” to run the air conditioner because there wasn’t enough volume in that market space to drive development of a cost effective electric air conditioner. Today that is a standard feature on hybrid vehicles. Moreover, all of the ancillary components — power steering, power brakes, etc., that were formerly driven off the engine are being electrified. Removing that “parasitic loss” saves 40 to 65 horsepower, making the engine that much more fuel-efficient.

In today’s truck market, most of the heavy over-the-road tractors still have belt-driven water pumps, belt-driven air conditioners, power steering, etc. Eventually, electrification of these ancillary components will migrate into the heavy truck market and you will see the same thing happen. Over-the-road trucks and tractors can start downsizing their engines to make them more fuel efficient. Measured over the size of that fleet, it will be a big deal.

It’s true that we need better, lower-cost batteries. Nevertheless, with today’s technology, Tesla has proved that electric cars can be successful. Tesla may not have fully solved the range anxiety issue but they have certainly diminished it greatly. It’s not uncommon in West Palm Beach or Los Angeles to go to an upscale mall or restaurant and see two or three Teslas in the parking lot at the same time. That tells you that the acceptance of those vehicles is here. Granted, not everybody can afford a Tesla today but they are certainly not any more expensive than other premium cars.

Do you think Tesla has significant proprietary technology or are there other advanced battery technologies being developed?

I don’t profess to be an expert on it but what I do know about the military and the defense industry is that every day their reliance on high performance batteries is increasing. There is always going to be a market for some type of advanced battery. They need to get lighter and they need to get more energy dense. It is like a race, much like any other business: whatever chemistry you use to build the battery that provides the highest energy density at the lowest price will be the winner.

If somebody comes up with an inexpensive, relatively high energy-density battery two or three years from now, I think they will continue to work on that and refine it, and keep playing with chemistries until we get the one that is the right one for the industry. Just like cell phones, the technology changes so fast that, four years from now, we will look at it and say, “This thing is archaic. I can’t survive with this version.”

If you are just building batteries for cars you are probably not going to stay in business very long. If you look at a lot of the larger, successful battery manufacturers they are building batteries not only for the automotive industry, but for the aerospace industry, the medical industry, the solar industry, etc. That explains Tesla’s deal with Panasonic to jointly produce batteries.

As fleets become more electrified, what will be the effect on maintenance costs and residuals?

Most people don’t initially grasp the changes in residuals but when you talk about it in detail then it starts to make more sense. The reason why it is hard to set residuals on battery/electric vehicles today is because there’s so much debate about what the true life cycle of a battery is. Most manufacturers warranty their batteries from eight-to-ten years. That has more to do with the charge cycles than it has to do with actual age of the battery.

The battery-life studies that the manufacturers do run like this: They cycle it, and every full discharge and recharge is considered a cycle. Most batteries are approximated to live between 3,000 and 4,000 cycles. If you used your car 300 days a year times ten years that is 3,000 cycles. They feel very confident that that battery will live for that ten year period and they feel comfortable giving you a warranty on that. Most people don’t keep a car ten years.

Let’s say that you bought a ten or eleven year old vehicle and the batteries fail on it at eleven years. What we don’t know is what battery costs are going to be in eleven years. There are a lot of studies that have been done on battery costs by doing forward projections. Almost no one will tell you what the exact number is because it is proprietary information, and nobody wants to give their competitors knowledge of what their costs are. But most of the people that I talk to that do research on this say that today’s prices for a lithium ion battery, which is what most people are using, is about $450.00 per kilowatt hour. The Ford projection for that in five to seven years can vary from $150.00 to $250.00 per kilowatt hour.

After a battery is not suitable for use in a vehicle, it hasn’t reached the end of its useful life. There are many applications, such as solar power, where they can be put to perfectly good use. Beyond that, the battery materials themselves can be recycled. A secondary market in batteries is already beginning to develop. When the Prius first came out over ten years ago, people said the Prius was not going to have any residual value because nobody is going to want to buy one. They don’t know what is going to happen to the batteries. Well, today there is a great secondary market for Prius. Its residuals are typically higher than a comparable vehicle in its class.

The one thing that everybody does agree on is that you do see a reduction in maintenance cost. But most people have not had electric vehicles in operation long enough to do a ten year comparison or comparative analysis, so that part has not been agreed upon. There are some Six Sigma tools that you can use to do projections. But, again, everybody agrees that your typical electric car has about one-third of the components of a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle. Typically you are talking about no transmission, no cooling system, and no exhaust system. On the heavier-truck side of it, the exhaust system profile for a medium- or heavy-duty truck is a big expense — $7,000-$10,000 worth of after-treatment devices on a truck that you didn’t have ten years ago. That is a big cost component.

Summarizing what we’ve talked about, can you give us your predictions for vehicle electrification?

Predictions are always dangerous, but certainly in 30 or 40 years, maybe sooner, we will probably be looking at vehicles that have electric motors to propel the vehicle, in conjunction batteries or with some type of power system such as a hydrogen cell reformer that generates the needed electricity. Electric motors —however they are powered, by batteries, or fuel cells, or even an onboard generator, have a significant edge in efficiency. In a conventional gasoline engine, only 30 to 40 percent of the energy actually makes it to the drive wheels; with an electric motor it is 100 percent. We still need higher-energy-density, lower-cost batteries.

In summary, vehicle electrification is a really big deal to our industry and to the country. I think it is going to play a major role in the transportation industry for the future, and I am going to do everything I can to help support that.