US more energy independent now, Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV a star at LA Auto Show

“America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.”
President George W. Bush during State of the Union speech, Jan. 31, 2006 

I had a fascinating conversation with an economist at a social gathering last week. We discussed the impact of oil imports and exports on the global economy — especially its impact on US energy independence and climate change policies. The US has entered a new place in the world’s oil supply, now exporting more oil than importing it — and less vulnerable to occasionally turbulent global oil prices than was the case years ago.

This economist finds it quite ironic that two other countries have reputations for supporting sustainability and other forward-thinking policies, but are also leading global oil exporters. The US will have to face this scrutiny as well, he said.

One of them is Norway, a leading backer of the UN’s Paris agreement on climate change, and the most impressive nation in the world for per capita electric vehicle sales; along with generous government incentives for EV purchases and charging infrastructure.

Norway was the 13th largest global oil exporter last year, at 1,254,920 barrels per day.
It was named the 20th most oil dependent country in the world during 2016 in another study, with 3.84 percent of its GDP coming from oil revenue, and fuel exports making up 53 percent of its merchandise exports that year. About 45 oil wells were drilled in 2018, up from about 30 in 2017.

Canada, the second nation mentioned by the economist during our conversation, is recognized for having the best healthcare system in the world and for being proactive on climate change through its government’s policies. However, it was the fourth largest oil exporter in the world last year.

Canada exported 3.5 million barrels of oil per day to the US in 2018, 96 percent of all Canadian crude oil exports, according to Natural Resources Canada. Canada supplied 43 percent of US oil imports last year; followed by Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq.

The US was the eighth largest oil exporter last year. Saudi Arabia and Russia were No. 1 and No. 2. Saudi Arabia has much larger export volume than any other country in the world.

2018 Largest Oil Exporters — Barrels Per Day

1. Saudi Arabia — 8,300,000
2. Russia — 5,225,000
3. Iraq — 3,800,000
4. US — 3,770,000
5. Canada — 3,596,690
6. UAR — 2,296,473
7. Kuwait — 2,050,030
8. Nigeria — 1,979,451
9. Qatar — 1,477,213
10. Angola — 1,420,588

Sources: CIA World Factbook and US Energy Information Administration

The US is not an oil-dependent country on the import vs. export ratio as of 2019, but the addiction to petroleum continues. On the bright side, the US is less dependent on OPEC, the league of oil producing nations that caused energy and economic chaos in the US twice in the 1970s (along with the Iranian revolution in 1979) — and that continues to be a major power player in the global oil market.

The US is now exporting crude oil to more nations than it’s importing from, the Energy Information Administration said in a new analysis in late October. During the first half of the year, US crude oil exports average 2.9 million barrels per day, according to the EIA, a number that’s gone even higher in the second half of 2019. In the first seven months of this year, the US imported oil from a maximum of 27 nations during a given month; that had gone as high as 37 nations a decade earlier.

A surge in domestic production has made the US a crude oil export powerhouse, a goal that had been the basis of the Bush administration’s energy policies in the previous decade that first created the Energy Policy Act of 2005; and with some of it carried over to the Obama administration. Bush’s famous State of the Union quote on oil addiction has been used as both an irony (raising the question: How serious was the Bush administration on weaning the US off petroleum?), and supporting moves to stabilize US energy through reducing oil imports from countries like Iraq and Kuwait where America had sent troops to; and other countries, especially OPEC members, with hostile attitudes and actions toward the US.

The Energy Policy Act promoted US nuclear reactor construction through incentives and subsidies — which has since been discredited and sidelined following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011. The Act also provided loan guarantees to entities that develop or use innovative technologies that avoid the by-production of greenhouse gases.

The Act also launched the Renewable Fuel Standard that requires transportation fuel sold in the US to include a minimum volume of renewable fuels. The RFS was expanded and extended in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. These federal laws were where standards came from governing the amount of biofuel that must be mixed with gasoline sold in the US. It soon because the source of a battle between oil companies and refineries versus corn farmers and ethanol producers.

Crude oil is produced in 32 US states and in US coastal waters, according to EIA. In 2018, about 68 percent of total U.S. crude oil production came from five states. Texas is the leader with 40.5 percent of domestic oil coming from that state. North Dakota was the second largest at 11.5 percent, followed by New Mexico at 6.3 percent, Oklahoma at 5 percent, and Alaska at 4.5 percent of domestic crude oil last year.

It’s one of the reasons gasoline is much cheaper in Texas than other states that have to ship and pipeline over their oil and might have state regulations that raise the price at the pump. For example, gasoline recently has been more than $4 a gallon at some California gas stations. In Texas, it’s been a little bit over $2 a gallon.

The US has seen its supply of oil and natural gas surge over the past dozen years through domestic wells and with natural gas coming much more from shale gas fields. Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been the key driver of change in domestic fuel — where oil and gas are extracted from tiny pores in rock formations coming from shale, sandstone, and limestone. Fracking breaks up the rock in formations creating pathways drawing out oil and gas from the rock layers. It involves forcing water, chemicals, sand, or other materials under high pressure into the wells. Steam, water, or carbon dioxide (CO2) can also be injected into a rock layer to help oil flow more easily into production wells.

Fracking has been the source of public protests and litigation from environmental groups, pushing the federal government to enforce regulations. It won’t be going away anytime soon with advocates insisting its become safer and an economical use of clean energy. Critics say fracking brings devastating consequences to drinking water supplies, air pollution, releasing more greenhouse gases, and triggering earthquakes.

More recently, new applications of fracking technology and horizontal drilling have led to the development of new sources of shale gas that have offset declines in production from conventional gas reservoirs, and has led to major increases in reserves of US natural gas. Oil supply has been helped by the Trump administration weakening environmental regulations for offshore and land oil drilling.

What does it mean for transportation fuel in the US going into next year?

The EIA expects regular gasoline retail prices to average $2.65 per gallon in November and fall to $2.50 per gallon in December. The agency forecasts that the annual average price in 2020 will be $2.62 per gallon. EIA expects that Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil prices will see gradual changes next year — up to $65 per barrel compared to $61 this year for Brent; WTI prices are expected to be about $4 per barrel lower than Brent in late 2019 and throughout 2020.

The US Dept. of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center sees price stability for these fuels since 2014 — compressed natural gas, liquefied natural gas, propane, electricity, ethanol (E85), and biodiesel (B20 and B99-100). Gasoline and diesel have seen more fluctuation in the past five years, but have stayed within a $2 to $3 per gallon national average (with diesel slightly over $3 lately).

Electric vehicle sales are down now in the US, and fuel-efficient smaller cars and crossovers have been down in sales compared to trucks and SUVs since oil prices plummeted downward in 2014.

Spiking oil prices in 2008, and periods of turbulent pricing in 2010 through 2012, helped automakers sell smaller vehicles, EVs, hybrids, and smaller crossovers. All of that changed in 2014 when oil prices plummeted downward — and gasoline and diesel pricing also dropped — helping pickups and SUVs take the lead in new vehicle sales.

Being less dependent on oil imports has helped US gasoline and diesel prices remain stable and less prone to price spikes than a decade ago — less affected by decisions made by OPEC and disruptive events in key supplier markets. It also raises the bar on making the case for consumers and fleets to purchase new vehicles powered by electricity, hydrogen, propane autogas, natural gas, and renewable fuels.

And in other news……..
Ford is rolling out the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric crossover SUV at this week’s LA Show press days. It will have two different battery sizes, with one of them having the capacity to go up to 300 miles per charge. Buyers can also choose from rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and different power outputs. Ford thinks the Mach-E will make a big splash, its first ever all-out competition against Tesla and the majors, tapping into the performance history and style of the Mustang. EVs are expected to play the leading role at this year’s LA Auto Show product launches, with the Audi E-Tron Sportback and, post-show, Tesla’s Cybertruck. Overall, new SUVs/crossovers will be the leading vehicle classification on display.

California announced yesterday that it will halt all purchases of new vehicles for state government fleets from General Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and other automakers backing the Trump administration in a battle to strip the state of authority to regulate tailpipe emissions. It’s been a good market for OEMs on the fleet side; between 2016 to 2018, the state said it purchased $58.6 million in vehicles from GM, $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, $10.6 million from Toyota, and $9 million from Nissan.

Volkswagen’s Electrify America announced today an agreement with Lyft to provide the ride-hailing company’s Express Drive program renters of electric vehicles with convenient and included charging on its DC fast charging network. Express Drive is Lyft’s short-term car rental program that gives people wanting to drive on its platform access to an electric vehicle through its rental providers.

VW and Toyota highlights at LA Auto Show, Nissan tapping into energy grid

One of the stars of AutoMobility LA at the LA Auto Show has been the I.D. Buzz Cargo concept, which ties into Volkswagen’s traditional Transporter cargo van and the look of its retro-passenger microbus. It’s the largest vehicle to be built on the German automaker’s Modular Electric Drive Kit (MEB) platform, and it will be getting an expanded version of the microbus with a large rear cargo area in lieu of seats. It will also get a battery pack capable of going 340 miles on a charge. On the other side of the urban mobility scale, the company unveiled the Cargo e-Bike, a three-wheeled, battery-assisted electric bike that it says can deliver cargo up to 463 pounds. It’s expected to enter production in 2019.

Another LA Auto Show highlight: While the Toyota Corolla has been on the market for 53 years, the 2020 Corolla will be the first-ever to come in a hybrid edition. It’s expected to achieve more than 50 miles per gallon and will be loaded with Toyota’s standard suite of safety equipment, Toyota Safety Sense. The Japanese automaker also announced that the Prius will be getting the all-wheel-drive equipped AWD-e, that will provide additional traction through various conditions like inclement weather, snow or rain, and an estimated 52 mpg in the city. Toyota also had other product announcements during the show.

Nissan is tapping into the ecosystem and energy grid through two new programs, one out of Japan and one announced at its U.S. headquarters. The Yokohama global HQ announced Nissan Energy, where owners of Nissan electric vehicles will be able to easily connect the EV to energy systems to charge their batteries, power their homes and businesses, and feed energy back into the power grid. It will also develop new ways to reuse electric car batteries. The company is working with partners such as electric and telecom companies, conducting field tests of vehicle-to-grid and virtual power plant systems to tap into the clean energy benefits. In Franklin, Tenn., the U.S. division announced a program built around Nissan EV owners saving on electric utility costs by tapping into energy already stored in their Nissan Leaf. Working with Fermata Energy, a vehicle-to-grid systems company, Nissan North America is launching a new pilot program under the Nissan Energy Share initiative. It taps into bi‑directional EV charging technology to partially power its North American headquarters in Franklin, and its design center in San Diego, Calif. Bi-direction charging technology not only charges the Nissan Leaf, it also stories energy in the car’s battery pack to partially power external electrical loads, such as buildings and homes.

Electric scooter company Bird is offering independent operators a way to get into the mobility business. Bird is selling the scooters to local business people and getting 20% of each ride. They also get access to Bird’s chargers and mechanics, but they do have the option of charging the scooters themselves. A number of cities do regulate the number of scooters they’ll permit to run on their streets. Called the Bird Platform, the company will begin rolling out the franchisee program in December in markets where city regulators have been more relaxed about it. Municipal governments have mixed feelings about whether they should allow Bird and and its competitor, Lime, to have free rein in their cities, or if they should be limited in number of scooters allowed on their streets; as has been the case in San Francisco. Bird and Lime believe in the “micro-mobility solution,” where electric scooters will be a solution to increasing traffic congestion and an alternative to ride-sharing options like Uber and Lyft. They usually enter markets first by showing up and gaining ridership before working things out with the city; and that sometimes happens after the city initiatives regulations and forces the issue.

Ryder System has ordered 1,000 medium-duty electric panel vans from Chanje, which will be operated by FedEx Express pick-up and delivery services. FedEx is purchasing 100 vehicles and leasing the other 900; the fleet vehicles are expected to operate throughout California over the next two years. The Chanje electric van is equipped to haul up to 6,000 pounds, up to 675 cubic feet of cargo, and travel 150-miles of range on a single charge.

Vincentric announced the 2018 U.S. Hybrid Analysis results with 42 of the 79 hybrids evaluated (53%) having a lower total cost of ownership compared to their closest all-gasoline powered counterpart. It was a significant growth rate over the 2017 study, where about 40% of the hybrids analyzed were cost-effective. The Ford Fusion Hybrid Titanium had the highest savings, where buyers could save close to $6,400 over five years of ownership compared to the similarly equipped all-gasoline powered version. “The number of cost-effective hybrids has increased significantly from last year’s analysis,” said Vincentric President, David Wurster. “Our research shows that the lower hybrid costs for fuel and maintenance now gives buyers a larger variety of cost-effective, eco-friendly vehicles to choose from.”

Jeep Wrangler will see plug-in hybrid version, Toyota cars and trucks powered by animal waste

Newsworthy:  Fiat Chrysler Automobile is bringing its second plug-in vehicle to market – the refreshed 2018 Jeep Wrangler will come out with a plug-in hybrid version in 2020. The company hasn’t yet released specs on the variation such as fuel economy and battery-only range. The other FCA plug-in vehicle, the Chrysler Pacifica, comes with a 16 kW hour battery and has been given an 84 mpg combined fuel economy rating. The Wrangler will most likely need its own plug-in hybrid system. FCA will probably carry over technologies from its other vehicles, a typical practice by the automaker to bring economies of scale to its product lineup………….. Journalists were able to take a ride in a self-driving Chevy Bolt in San Francisco this week. Led by General Motors’ Cruise Automation unit, it was the first time the autonomous electric car had been experienced by non-GM employees. The only time one of the GM employees had to take over a ride was after it took too long for test car to wait behind a parked taco truck bringing lunch to construction workers………….. The Honda Clarity took Green Car of the Year at the LA Auto Show yesterday, with other nominees being the Honda Accord, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf and Toyota Camry. The Clarity was acknowledged for offering all three green powertrains in one single model – all-electric, plug-in hybrid, or fuel cell vehicle with the automaker’s ability to readily shift production from one technology to another to meet future sales……………. The more costly, long-range version of the Tesla Model 3 has been given a 310-mile range rating by the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s also been given a 131 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent (MPGe) city, 120 MPGe highway, and 126 MPGe rating combined. While the entry level version for the Model 3 starts at $35,000, the long-range version starts out pricing at $44,000.

Waste to energy:  The question of where hydrogen is being extracted from – and how clean and economically feasible it is – is always being asked by fleet operators and other parties. Animal waste is much more appealing than natural gas, taking the landfill mass typical to agribusiness states like California and using it for something constructive. During the LA Auto show, Toyota announced that it will using animal waste from the state’s Central Valley to power clean cars and trucks such as the Toyota Mirai and hydrogen-powered semi trucks currently being piloted at the Port of Long Beach. Called the Tri-Gen Project, Toyota hopes that participating in the demonstration will help support moving fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen fueling forward.

“We believe hydrogen technology has the potential to become the powertrain of the future,” said Doug Murtha, a group vice president for strategic planning with Toyota’s North American operations. It will be “a key milestone in Toyota’s larger commitment to clean mobility.”

The Tri-Gen Project will generate 1.2 tons of hydrogen per day. Bringing it to the port ties well in the state’s commitment to support clean air near its ports and freeways, where disadvantaged communities are especially vulnerable to the health problems caused by diesel-powered heavy-duty trucks.

For Today: Ford and Zotye create JV in China, AutoMobility LA coming up later this month

Ford creating JV with Zotye:  Ford Motor Company and Chinese automaker Zotye signed an agreement to establish Zotye Ford Automobile Co., Ltd., a new 50:50 joint venture that will offer a range of stylish and affordable all-electric vehicles for consumers in China under a new local brand. If it achieves regulatory approval, the new JV will design, build, market and distribute all-electric passenger vehicles for the Chinese market. The Detroit automakers already has JVs in place with Changan Ford Automobile Corporation, Ltd. and Jiangling Motors Corporation. Ford will continue working closely with each of its JV partners to develop and manufacture new energy vehicles to meet rising consumer demand in China during the impending electrification phase of the Chinese auto industry.

SJ Airport bringing in electric buses:  Electric bus maker Proterra announced that the San Jose City Council has approved the purchase of 10 Proterra Catalyst E2 battery-electric transit buses and related charging infrastructure for use at the San Jose International Airport. It marks Proterra’s first airport electric bus deployment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Scheduled to be placed in service in late 2018, the buses will be designed and built in California at Proterra’s Los Angeles County manufacturing facility. “These electric buses can help us significantly reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions, and represent a step towards our aspiration that an electric engine power every shuttle and bus on San Jose’s streets,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

AutoMobility LA will kick off LA Auto Show:  AutoMobility LA is bringing together leading technology companies, automakers, designers, entrepreneurs, government officials and more at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Nov. 27-30, 2017. Debut vehicles will be shown right after at the 2017 LA Auto Show, which will be open to the public Dec. 1-10. The AutoMobility LA conference will feature more than 50 thought leaders across several panels, discussions, and keynote addresses. The Top 10 Startups challenge sets ten startups apart from thousands of newcomers, earns them a tremendous amount of media exposure, and places their products/services on AutoMobility LA’s global stage. Automakers are expected to conduct more than 50 world-class debuts at the event. BMW will be making nine debuts during its press conference, including two global debuts. Porsche will launch the global reveal of the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo. Green Car Journal will announce the winner of the 2018 Green Car of the Year award. The 2018 nominated models include the Honda Accord, Honda Clarity, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf, and Toyota Camry. The announcement will take place at the LA Convention Center on Thursday, Nov. 30, at 8:00 a.m. PST inside the Technology Pavilion.


This Week’s Top 10: VW e-Golf and other LA Auto Show e-launches, BMW shooting for 100,000 plug-ins per year

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. LA Auto ShowElectric launches at LA Auto Show: Along with crossover utility vehicles, plug-in electrified vehicles will see a few North American launches at the LA Auto Show. A refreshed e-Golf will be revealed with increased miles per charge (186 miles on European standards) and infotainment/connected car updates. The miles per charge range may be closer to 125 when defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency using its own calculation – closer to the Nissan Leaf and Ford Focus Electric. For VW, it’s a jumpstart to a much larger post-Dieselgate electrification campaign with vehicles built on the MEB platform, including the all-electric ID in 2020. Jaguar will be showing the electric I-Pace crossover concept. The production version of the Tesla-competitor luxury electric car will be shown in late 2017 and go on sale in the U.S. in the second half of 2018. Also during the LA Auto Show (called AutoMobility LA during pre-show media and trade days), look for: all-electric models or concept cars from Porsche, Mitsubishi, and Mini; Cadillac will show off its CT6 plug-in hybrid; and Chevrolet will be promoting the all-electric Bolt, with its 238-mile range that starts shipping to dealers within weeks.
  2. 100K EVs sold per year: BMW Group wants to boost sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars by two-thirds next year to 100,000 vehicles, the company said. The German automaker expects to increase deliveries of vehicles from its “i” subbrand to around 60,000 units this year. BMW expects electric car sales will grow three-fold. Sales of battery-powered BMW models have totaled about 100,000 cars since November 2013, according to BMW. BMW currently sells the compact i3 EV and i8 plug-in hybrid supercar in its electric subbrand. The automaker has said it also plans to add an electric Mini and BMW X3 SUV by the end of the decade.
  3. Supplier on emissions mandates: BorgWarner is sticking with its plan to introduce a new generation of motors, transmissions and other gadgetry for electric cars and hybrids, even if the 54.5 mpg softens under the Trump administration. CEO James Verrier said during a presentation Friday that automakers have spent big sums to design EVs, upgrade powertrains and reduce vehicle weight over the next three to five years. “I don’t think the automakers will back off,” Verrier said. “I don’t think we’ll see regression.”
  4. LeEco cash-strapped: LeEco’s co-founder has admitted to turbulent financial conditions that may pull back the Chinese company’s plans to compete in electric “supercars” through its LeEco and Faraday Future ventures. In a letter to employees last week, co-founder Jia Yueting admitted that the company is running out of cash through its rapid expansion. The company has been questioned about its significant investment in Faraday Future’s Nevada plant. “No company has had such an experience, a simultaneous time in ice and fire,” Jia wrote in the letter to employees. “We blindly sped ahead, and our cash demand ballooned. We got over-extended in our global strategy. At the same time, our capital and resources were in fact limited.”
  5. Audi gasoline engines: Automotive litigation firm Hagens Berman has filed the first class-action lawsuit against Audi over charges that the automaker illegally installed an emission-cheating device in 3.0-liter gasoline cars. Models names in the suit include the Audi A6, Audi A8, Audi Q5 and likely the Audi Q7, as well as potentially several other 3.0-liter, automatic gasoline models. In related news, on Thursday a coalition of Audi owners sued the company’s Audi AG and Audi of America, LLC units after reports surfaced over the past weekend that certain gasoline powered Audi vehicles were equipped with emission control defeat devices. Similar to last year’s revelations involving Volkswagen’s diesel models, it is alleged that the California Air Resources Board has discovered cheat software installed by Audi engineers in certain 3.0 liter A6 and Q7 Audi vehicles.
  6. Green Car of the Year award: Green Car Journal announced the five finalists last week for its annual award, four-out-five of which are available now in plug-in hybrid variations and one being an all-electric vehicle. The five 2017 model year nominees for the Green Car of the Year award are: the BMW 330e, Chevrolet Bolt, Chrysler Pacifica, Kia Optima, and the Toyota Prius Prime. The winner will be announced Thursday morning at the LA Auto Show. Green Car Journal also recently announced that the Ram ProMaster City work van won Green Car Journal’s 2017 Commercial Green Car of the Year, the second year in a row it’s taken that award. The gasoline-engine ProMaster City was recognized for environmental attributes along with traditional features customers seek, such as functionality, versatility, safety, value, and style. The announcement was made yesterday at the 48th annual San Antonio Auto & Truck Show in San Antonio, Texas.
  7. Europe battery factory: Tesla Motors plans to begin looking for locations in Europe next year for a second “Gigafactory” to make cars and the battery cells to power them, the company said. Possible locations for the factory include the Netherlands, France and Spain, according to local media speculation. Tesla hasn’t communicated a preference. The electric automaker already has a facility in the Netherlands that does final assembly work for European versions of Tesla cars built in the automaker’s Fremont, Calif, factory.
  8. Top 10 charging networks: Netherlands-based The New Motion charging network supplier has been ranked No. 1 in a Navigant Research report on charging networks, followed by the leading U.S., ChargePoint, at No. 2. EV-Box finished in third place, followed in order by Chargemaster, Fortum, Innogy SE, Greenlots, EVgo, Clever A/S, and Pod Point. Navigant based its rating system for plug-in electrified vehicle charger network suppliers on 10 criteria: vision; go-to-market strategy; partners; product strategy; geographic strategy; market presence; marketing and distribution; product performance and reliability; product and service capabilities; and staying power.
  9. Supercharger network: Tesla Motors announced that more than 4,600 Superchargers have been installed around the world that allow over 160,000 Tesla owners to drive across the continental U.S., from the Arctic Circle to the south of Spain, and across all of the population centers in China and Japan, among many other places. The Supercharger Network, which Tesla calls the world’s fastest charging solution, was designed by the automaker so that all customers have access to a seamless and convenient charging experience when they’re away from home, as our intention has always been for Supercharging to enable long distance travel.
  10. NHTSA noise rules: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has issued new standards to automakers requiring audible alerts required on all new hybrid and electric vehicles going forward beginning September 1, 2019. The new sound requirements applies across the U.S., and should help prevent as many as 2,400 pedestrian injuries each year once they span the range of EVs and hybrids on the road, according to the agency. The new rule says that all-electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid vehicles that have four wheels and weigh under 10,000 pounds must make an audible noise when traveling either backwards or forwards at speeds up of to 19 miles per hour.

Attending LA Auto Show to view green vehicle showcase

LA Auto Show 2014 5BMW’s award-winning electric vehicles and other automakers’ hydrogen-powered cars were the spotlights on Thursday at the LA Auto Show. Like all other car shows, new vehicle introductions and sporty concept cars were prevalent; USA Today’s Chris Woodyard thought the Lexus LF-C2 concept, Audi Prologue concept, and Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept were memorable. The Infiniti Synaptiq race car took the People’s Choice Award in the 11th annual LA Auto Show Design Challenge. As for more conventional new vehicle rollouts, three of them stood out to observers: the 2015 Mazda CX-3, 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, and 2015 Honda CR-V.

Here were some of the more interesting green vehicle developments:

  • BMW’s new electric cars won accolades, with the BMW i3 taking the Green Car of the Year Award and, on Wednesday evening, the BMW i8 winning Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year Award. The i8 had also won the Motor Press Guild’s 2014 Innovation Vehicle of the Year on Wednesday (along with the 2015 Ford F150). The lightweight carbon fiber and performance of the battery electric and plug-in hybrid systems impressed award judges. For Green Car of the Year, the i3 beat the Audi A3 TDI, the Chevrolet Impala bi-fuel CNG version, Honda Fit, and Volkswagen Golf.
  • Similar to last year, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were highly visible on display and during the Green and Advanced Technology Ride & Drive. As for concept vehicles, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen HyMotion and the Audi A7 Sportback h-tron Quattro were popular during the ride and drive; and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell and recently named Toyota Mirai were the production models to view during the show. Honda had unveiled a revised version of its FCV Concept in Japan a few days before the LA Auto Show; that car will be rolling out in 2016. For those of you interested in seeing a plug-in hybrid combined with an alternative fuel, the Audi h-tron can travel about 310 miles on hydrogen and about 31 miles on the battery.
  • The Ford Fusion Energi and Toyota Highlander Hybrid won the first-ever Green Fleet Car and Truck of the Year awards during a luncheon meeting. Readers of the Bobit Business Media publications including Green Fleet voted on the winners. The Nissan Leaf and Honda Civic Natural Gas were runners up in the car category, while the Ram 1500 Eco Diesel and Ford Transit T150 Wagon FFV finished in the top three for the truck category. Bobit Business Media had collaborated with, and received technical assistance from, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory to determine the award nomination and selection criteria.
  • Henrik Fisker has left the extended range Fisker Karma sports car behind and has gone back to another passion – designing muscle cars. Fisker and partner Galpin Auto Sports unveiled the Fisker Rocket, a 725-horsepower reworking of the 2015 Ford Mustang that Fisker called the “ultimate American muscle car.” It has several exterior modifications to give it a distinct look that Fisker has a lot of experience creating.
  • I think the most visible car on display this year was the Nissan Blade Glider, a zero emission vehicle concept car. (See photo above.) Another good one was Volvo announcing its 2016 XC90 seven-passenger SUV during the show.
  • Honda unveiled the Honda Developer Studio, an online portal and open innovation workspace in Silicon Valley. It’s part of Honda’s connected car strategy and coincides with its new Connect system for infotainment and navigation. It’s Android-based but it’s not part of Google’s Android Auto, Honda said.
  • Through Hertz 24/7, the major car rental company’s carsharing division, Hertz was demonstrating its PIN-pad six-digit code system at the ride and drive. The idea behind it is that you can leave the car or truck in a parking lot and the next Hertz 24/7 user can open and start it from the door panel or from their mobile device. Drivers can use the NeverLost dashboard device to get directions anywhere they want to go. They’re testing out the system on pickup trucks with Lowes so that users without trucks can go by some large items that won’t fit into their cars and will have access to a pickup for a couple of hours.
  • Team Fuel Saver won the Ford Car-Connected City App competition. That came out a September hackathon competition with 70 entrants that were narrowed down to 10 finalists from the developer community. The Team Fuel Saver shows all kinds of data on fuel consumption, fuel prices, and oil changes and other maintenance activities. The 10 finalists showed their apps during Connected Car Expo and the winner will be demonstrated at the CEI convention in January.
  • David Cummins, senior VP and managing director at Xerox Services, talked about the urbanization trend in US cities and how it’s affecting the future of cars. Baby Boomers – about 50-to-70 years old, are showing more interest and appeal with driverless cars; as the generation ages and loses the ability to drive, the advanced technology is expected to gain support. Millennials in the 18-to-35 year old age range are showing a lot of interest in what he called “urban mobility networks” and their implications for getting through traffic congestion and reducing air pollution as more of them live and work in metro areas. The challenge for connected, autonomous vehicles will be building a platform between public and private providers. The cornerstone must be “open data,” and a flexible network that can meet new innovations, Cummins said.

This Week’s Top 10: Ram 1500 EcoDiesel wins green truck award, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago will be opening an alternative fuel station

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. Ram 1500 EcoDieselThe Ram 1500 EcoDiesel took the first-ever Green Truck of the Year award from Green Car Journal at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show. The Ram pickup beat out four other models, including the expected winner Ford F-150 that has been receiving many accolades for its light-weight aluminum, EcoBoost, and increased mpg. The Ram 1500 EcoDiesel beat another Ram model, the 1500 HFE, along with the Chevrolet Colorado, and the GMC Canyon. Along with fuel economy and emissions reductions, other factors influencing the award’s outcome are functionality, versatility, safety, value, and style. The timing is very interesting given that Bobit Business Media will be rolling out its first-ever Green Fleet Car and Truck of the Year Awards at the LA Auto Show – the same day that Green Car Journal Publisher and Editor Ron Cogan will hand out the annual Green Car of the Year award. It’s also very interesting to see Green Car Journal announce nominees yesterday for more categories – Technology, SUV, and Luxury Green Car Awards. Winners will be announced at the Washington Auto Show on January 22, 2015. (Editor’s note: Still no announcement yet on Green Auto Market launching its own award.)
  2. O’Hare International Airport in Chicago will be opening an alternative fuel station in early 2016 offering compressed natural gas, biodiesel, and fast-charging stations. Taxis, shuttle buses, and electric vehicle owners will have access to charging, alternative fuels, and conventional gasoline. The aviation department says that an increasing number of vehicles using the airport are powered by alternative fuels including taxis and hotel and rental car shuttles. The center will be also be open to the general public. Clean Energy Fuels will work with PMG Airport Developers, which has built and operated other airport travel plazas.
  3. The Propane Education & Research Council launched a new series of educational videos called Clean American Innovation featuring interviews with leading US equipment manufacturers discussing their efforts to develop and commercialize new propane autogas technologies. PERC visited manufacturing facilities across the US to show cutting-edge propane technologies in production. Freightliner Custom Chassis, Kohler Engines, Power Solutions International, Roush CleanTech, and other companies participated in the videos.
  4. Diversity is the word for Ward’s 10 best engines 2015 nominees. Of the pool of 38 nominees, five are diesel, two hybrids, five electric vehicles, one plug-in hybrid, one is a CNG flex-fuel V6, and one is a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle. Twenty one of the engines are turbocharged, and four-cylinder turbo engines prevail. For the past decade, WardsAuto says its list has become more diverse than the previous year. Winners will be named in mid-December and awards handed out at North American International Auto Show in January.
  5. Slower-than-expected demand for electric vehicles has caused Continental AG to likely end a battery cell joint venture with South Korean company SK Innovation Co. While there’s been general interest in battery-powered vehicles, people are delaying their purchases, says Continental CFO Wolfgang Schaefer.
  6. The National Auto Dealers Association’s Get the Facts campaign continues with a new ad that highlights what it calls the “benefits of price competition.” It’s a brightly-colored cartoon that emphasizes why negotiating is good for buyers. This has come out in the wake of a series of videos published by Edmunds that ridiculed this practice, which it calls “haggling.” Get the Facts also explores the value of franchised dealers as they battle Tesla Motors over state laws on franchised dealers and car sales.
  7. The new 2015 Honda Civic Natural Gas will be rolled out in 37 states on Nov. 19 with a base price of $26,740 not including the $790 destination fee. It comes with a five-speed automatic transmission, a seven-inch touchscreen audio display, rearview camera, and LaneWatch display as standard features. As for mileage, its gasoline gallon equivalent is 27 mpg city, 38 highway, and 31 combined.
  8. BMW will be running a pilot project in Munich next year where street lights will charge electric cars. BMW will be testing out two prototype “Light and Charge” street lights that combine LED with BMW’s ChargeNow charging stations. These will be the first street lights that can charge electric cars and come straight from the existing local authority street lighting infrastructure, BMW said. Drivers will be apple to pay for their charging via a mobile phone app.
  9. Fisker Automotive will continue working with Quantum Fuel Systems, licensing plug-in hybrid control software for use in the Karma. Fisker will be paying Quantum $2 million before the end of the month to close the deal to renew their relationship and continue with the same control software used previously. Fisker will also pay an additional $2 million by late October of next year to license software for its next vehicle, the Fisker Atlantic.
  10. Growth in the materials supply chain for advanced batteries over the next 10 years has been analyzed in a new Navigant Research study. Most of the materials will likely be going into lithium-ion batteries; they’re expected to have a leading market share in all three of the major application areas: stationary, portable devices, and transportation. It is also expected that other chemistries will be seeing much growth over the next 10 years

Honda green star at LA Auto Show; sneaking a ride in Via Motors plug-in hybrid

Honda Accord green car of year awardHonda enjoyed its presence at the LA Auto Show, gaining lots of media attention for its new hydrogen-powered concept car and for winning the Green Car of the Year award. The 2014 Honda Accord took the green award for its high fuel economy ratings and performance features. All three variations were honored – the gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. The Accord beat out four other finalists – the Audi A6 TDI, the BMW 328d, the Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla. Last year, another mid-sized US-based automaker car took the Green Car of the Year award for a model with gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid variants – the Ford Fusion.

Fuel cell vehicles grabbed much media attention at the LA Auto Show. Hyundai showed off a fuel cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle. Hyundai plans to sell 1,000 of these fuel cell vehicles next year in California for a monthly lease price of $499 with $2,999 down. Honda plans to roll out another fuel cell vehicle (in addition to its FCX Clarity) in the US in 2015. Honda unveiled its FCEV, its next-generation fuel cell vehicle.

During the same time that the LA Auto Show was launched, the Tokyo Motor Show was taking place. Toyota showed its FCV (fuel cell vehicle) concept sedan in Tokyo. Toyota said that it’s a “practical concept” of the fuel cell vehicle it plans to launch in 2015; the car will use hydrogen to generate electricity that can travel about 300 miles after a refueling. The concept car can hold four passengers and be refueled in minutes.

Those participating in the Green & Advanced Technology Ride & Drive at the LA Auto Show enjoyed driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee with its new 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 clean diesel engine. The award winning 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid was also on hand for a drive around the LA convention center. It’s a bit pricier ($30K to $35K) than arch-competitor Toyota Prius, but it does have a bit more interior space and comfort, and its new dashboard has been designed for simplicity and style.

While Via Motors did not open up its E-REV ride and drive to the media, I was able to sneak a ride in its plug-in hybrid, extended range variation of the Chevrolet Express van; and took a peak at its plug-in version of the Chevrolet Silverado pickup. Both models – the VTRUX cargo van and VTRUX extended cab pickup – offer impressive plug-in ports with an AC inverter and power outlets for both 120 volt and 240 volt charges; the unit also offers a J1772 charging port.

During a press announcement, Via Motors company stakeholder Bob Lutz bragged about the VTRUX’ capabilities including being able to gain a few miles of extra range from solar panels now placed on the truck’s flatbed; and the ability to tap into the VTRUX’ battery pack for backup electricity during a power outage. Lutz was joined onstage by Via’s new CEO, John Weber, former president and CEO of Remy International, a key supplier to Via and to General Motors. Weber says that Via is meeting its fleet orders and will add consumer sales in 2014.

Connected Car Expo was held for the first time ever right before the LA Auto Show started up, and featured expert panelists on telematics, advanced technologies, and a growing alliance between automakers and technology giants. Autonomous cars were discussed by panelists that included Jeff Klei, North American president of major supplier Continental AG, and Ron Medford, Google’s director of safety for self-driving cars. Google has played a major role in testing out driverless cars, but doesn’t have a timetable for when it will release its own autonomous vehicles.

Out on the ground floor of the South Hall, you could see Hyundai’s “Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” While it may have been placed there for the LA Auto Show, it was right next to the Connected Car Expo display booths and sort of stole the show. Connected Car Expo had some interesting exhibits, but the zombie display did grab most of my attention. It showed altered versions of two of its popular models, with these being renamed the Hyundai Santa Fe ZSM and Veloster Turbo ZSM (ZSM stands for Zombie Survival Machine).  These anti-zombie packages are sure to be more expensive than the MSRP starting price versions – but you do get all kinds of perks to fight off the undead – such as knife-blade wheels, dual chainsaws, a doom whistle, and a machine gun.

Hyundai’s display was started by Robert Kirmman, creator of “The Walking Dead” comic series (that inspired the hit TV series), designing a Zombie Survival Machine around a Veloster earlier this year. The Santa Fe ZSM design was built by Galpin Auto Sports and was unveiled at the New York Comic Con last month.