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

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

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

EVS29 728x90

This Week’s Top 10: Seasonal pattern starts up for EV sales, Budgetary restrictions tightening up available EV incentives

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Tesla Model S vs. Nissan LeafMay sales: Plug-in hybrid and battery electric vehicles saw the start of a seasonal pattern – up for May, the first month of a strong selling period that usually extends through August. Electric vehicles saw increases over April – plug-in hybrids increased 21.1% and battery electric vehicles are up 16.9%. The Nissan Leaf, number two behind the Tesla Model S, has now seen more than 80,000 units sold in the US since its launch. The Leaf had 2,104 units sold in May and the Model S had 2,300 units sold. Sales are down about a third from a year ago for the Leaf, and trouble lies ahead when the Georgia tax credit ends after July 1.The Chevrolet Volt saw an improvement in sales – at 1,618 it was the best monthly sales figure since August. The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid has been seeing a similar pattern – sales have been down in recent months with the revamped 2016 model coming out soon. Like the Volt, the Prius Plug-in had better results during May. At 727 units sold, it was the best sales month since August.
  2. EV incentives dwindling: Electric vehicle (EV) incentive programs are going away in two states, while other states are limiting funding for these programs in a climate of state budgetary restrictions. Automakers will also be facing federal tax incentives drying once they pass 200,000 units sold point for that EV. Georgia’s tax credit of up to $5,000 will end on July 1; owners of noncommercial EVs in the state face an annual license fee of $200, while owners of commercial EVs will pay $300. For Illinois, state legislators indefinitely suspended its rebate program that had provided up to $4,000 on alternative fuel vehicles including EVs; that program had given out $14 million in incentives since 1998. Last month, Connecticut started a rebate program from up to $3,000 on the purchase or lease of an eligible EV; however, only $1 million was set aside for this program, which means it may not last very long.
  3. CAFE up in May: The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in May went up quite a bit – 0.3 mpg over the previous month, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. For light-duty vehicles sold in the US during May, the average window-sticker value of new cars, crossovers, pickups, SUVs, and vans sold that month as 25.5 mpg – up from 25.2 in April. The increasing price of gasoline had something to do with it, according to Transportation Research Institute researcher Michael Sivak; dropping gas prices also influence fuel economy dropping in previous months. (See this week’s feature article for more analysis of hitting the 54.5 mpg target by 2025.)
  4. NGVs coming back: Falling gasoline and diesel prices may have softened demand for natural gas vehicles, but that’s likely to turn around, according to a new study by IHS. The study, LNG in Transportation: Challenging Oil’s Gripsays that use of natural gas as a transportation fuel could displace more than 1.5 million barrels per day (mbd) of oil demand by 2030. The study says that it’s often more economic for truck fleets to switch to alternative fuel sources. Truck fleets have a relatively quick turnover which could lead to faster adoption of new technology. A combination of drivers – environmental, technological and commercial – will drive greater adoption of natural gas in transport, according to the IHS study.
  5. Some dealers support Tesla: Executives at publicly traded dealer groups are “quietly supporting Elon Musk,” according analysts at Morgan Stanley about the Tesla Motors chief executive. Publicly traded dealers, which were not named in the report, said they would be delighted with deregulation, which would even help their business. Morgan Stanley analysts see the “Tesla vs. dealers” battle as the first of many legal challenges to existing state franchise laws; after numerous discussions with dealers, carmakers, and fleet managers on this topic, they wouldn’t be surprised to see today’s 10,000-plus dealer groups scaled down to as few as tens of dealer groups in the future.
  6. Charging for fleets: Car Charging Group, Inc., has launched a new feature for fleet customers utilizing Blink EV chargers and Blink Network, software that operates, monitors, and tracks the Blink stations and all of its charging data. The company solicited feedback from fleet managers when creating the product and found that requiring drivers to enter odometer data before charging their plug-in electric vehicle was a control that needed to be put in place.
  7. India facing severe air pollution: While China’s megacities have been taking the rap for severe air pollution, India is facing far worse air quality. New Dehli, India, is facing air pollution that’s twice the level of what’s being found in Beijing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly half of that city’s 4.4 million school children already have irreversible lung damage from air pollution, according to the WHO study.
  8. San Diego may see more charging: San Diego Gas & Electric is working with a group of automakers, labor representatives, environmentalists, and service providers on the utility’s proposal to substantially increase its local electric-vehicle infrastructure and incentives. The program calls for SDG&E to install charging stations for electric vehicles at up to 550 sites throughout its service territory and offer special rates to encourage use at times that are optimal for power-grid efficiency. Agencies signing on in support of the pilot effort include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, California Coalition of Utility Employees, Greenlining Institute, ChargePoint Inc., NRG EV Services LLC, Smart Grid Services Siemens AG, Plug in America, GM, Honda, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, KN Grid, CALSTART, the Center for Sustainable Energy, and the Green Power Institute. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to rule on the proposal sometime this year.
  9. Panasonic moves forward on Gigafactory: Panasonic Corp. will be sending hundreds of its employees to Tesla Motor’s Gigafactory in Nevada starting this fall, as preparation for lithium-ion battery production moves forward for startup next year. Yoshio Ito, head of Panasonic’s automotive and industrial systems (AIS) division, said the company plans to invest around $478 million this fiscal year in the Gigafactory and the company’s joint development project with Spanish auto parts maker Ficosa International SA, which specializes in advanced driver assistance systems featuring blind spot detection and assisted parking.
  10. Sending power back to grid: Electric vehicles with excess power stored under their hoods are a good source of electricity to send back to the local grid, according to Japanese auto executives. These company leaders are part of the movement supporting the CHAdeMO charging standard who think electric vehicles can be a good energy source for building, external batteries, and appliances. The strategy was unveiled during the annual meeting of companies backing CHAdeMO, a high-speed direct-current charging protocol for EVs and plug-in vehicles – and a target for competition by automakers in the US and Europe adopting SAE standards instead of CHAdeMO. “I think that’s how CHAdeMO can expand,” said Toshiyuki Shiga, CHAdeMO Association president and vice president of Nissan.

Big Picture: Great month for EV and hybrid sales, Your opinionated comments are requested

EV sales May 2014Automakers experienced their highest monthly US sales figure ever in May for battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and their second highest month for hybrid vehicle sales. Overall plug-in sales reached 12,453 – with 5,802 of them battery electric vehicles and 6,651 plug-in hybrids. For hybrids, 52,227 units were sold in the US during May, its second highest sales month on record. Plug-in vehicles hit the 211,097 sales mark in the US by the end of May; that’s more than double the total recorded one year ago. Nissan had a particularly good month for Leaf sales, hitting 3,117 units for the month – it’s best month ever and the first time Leaf sales passed the 3,000 mark. It also brought the Leaf past the 50,000 mark for its US sales – 52,511 sold, to be precise. The Leaf is still behind the Chevrolet Volt for overall sales and highest monthly sales number. The Volt continues to be sold at a lower level this year, coming in at 1,684 sold in May – only marginally up from the 1,607 sold one year ago. Sales were thin for other EV models including the Cadillac ELR at 52 units sold in May, the Honda Fit EV at 33, and the plug-in hybrid Accord selling 46 units in May. Toyota saw a much better month for its Prius Plug-in, which sold 2,692 units in May.

Hey there, opinionated people:  I would bet that several of you readers have interesting perspectives on clean transportation – cool new technologies, geopolitics, economics, environmental issues, how something could succeed, why another is bound to fail……..  Your opinions are requested – and you’ll find the “Leave a reply” link at the top of every post in Green Auto Market. I have met some interesting people through reader comments, along with what I regularly post on LinkedIn and Twitter. So please keep it coming!

And in other clean transportation news…….

  • Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has an opinion that a lot of people would disagree with – driverless cars could be on roads four years from now. Most of the forecasts think it will actually take longer (maybe 10 years), but Ghosn and Google have more ambitious expectations. The real stumbling block, according to Ghosn, is regulatory red tape. “The problem isn’t technology, it’s legislation, and the whole question of responsibility that goes with these cars moving around … and especially who is responsible once there is no longer anyone inside,” Ghosn said at a French Automobile Club event on Tuesday.
  • Freightliner and Hino Trucks have been approved for the New York Tuck-Voucher Incentive Program. Freightliner’s M2 106 diesel electric-hybrid truck and Hino Trucks’ 195h and 195h-DC diesel electric hybrid Class 5 cabover engine trucks have been approved. New York’s program provides $19 million in incentives for clean vehicle technologies. The goal is to promote clean air by encouraging the adoption of advanced vehicle technologies in commercial trucks and buses.
  • Renewable Energy Group Inc., the nation’s largest biodiesel producer, announced the acquisition today of Dynamic Fuels LLC, which operates the first US large-scale renewable diesel facility. Dynamic was formed in 2007 by Tyson Foods Inc. and Syntroleum Corp. as a 50-50 joint venture. The facility in southeast Louisiana has the potential of producing 75 million gallons a year of renewable diesel made from animal byproducts.
  • Lux Research reports that China and India dominate Asia’s alternative fuels landscape, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to hit government targets. China followed the US’s 10% ethanol mandate, but will only reach 4% of its gasoline by 2017. India is pushing for jatropha as its biodiesel blend; the Indian government wants to see it reach a 20% biofuels mandate by 2017, but the nation is way off – biofuels will only account for 0.6% of its diesel and 0.3% of its gasoline by 2017, according to Lux Research. Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in China and India are being driven by cutting fuel expense – the fuel is costing nearly half that of gasoline – and the need to cut air pollution. India currently has the sixth largest volume of NGVs in the world, mostly in its public transportation.
  • Clean diesel passenger vehicles are selling much more than what I would have thought, according to an R.L. Polk & Co. research report commissioned by Diesel Technology Forum. The report states that diesel passenger vehicle registrations rose 11.5% from 6.3 million to almost 7.1 million between 2010 and 2013. During that same timeframe, hybrid vehicle registrations leaped 64.6% from 1.7 million to 2.8 million. It does seem a bit confusing, as recent new car data reports have shown hybrids to be a much higher sales volume than clean diesel cars. I would imagine that has to do with quite a few diesel pickups being included in the R.L. Polk numbers, versus other market reports that just include diesel passenger cars primarily sold by German automakers in the US market.
  • US fuel economy of new vehicles sold went up 0.4 miles per gallon in May to 25.6 mpg. That took place event the sales of trucks and utility vehicles were strong last month.
  • Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will go into production earlier than originally announced, with production planned for mid-December 2014. Toyota says that will lead to sales starting before the end of this year instead of the original intention of starting some time in 2015.
  • Ford Motor Co. has an affiliate relationship with Samsung Group that will install lithium-ion batteries and regenerative brakes on non-hybrid cars. This will be done to reduce carbon emissions; Ford also unveiled the prototype for a super-lightweight version of its Fusion.
  • BMW just began deliveries of its i8 plug-in hybrid sports car at 126,000 euro ($135,700). It’s built on a lightweight carbon-fiber frame, is more fuel efficient than a Toyota Prius and can go faster than a Porsche 911; BMW refers to it as a “brand shaper.” But it faces stiff competition from the Tesla Model S, which starts at 65,740 euros in Germany.
  • Speaking of Tesla, CEO Elon Musk said he wants to name its third planned model, a compact battery electric car, the Model E. Ford got wind of it and threatened to sue, making reference to a 2010 agreement where Tesla agreed not to register or use Model E, which is part of Ford’s trademark. Musk explained it to CNNMoney: “A friend asked me at a party, ‘What are you going to name the third-generation car?’ Well, we have the S and the X, so we might as well make it the E.” Ford heard about Musk’s idea and called him, saying it would sue Tesla for using its Model E trademark. “And we’re like, Ford’s killing SEX … that’s terrible. So, OK, fine, we won’t use the Model E,” Musk said
  • Nissan has offered more insight on its plug-in vehicle strategy. Andy Palmer, the company’s head of global product development, said that start of plug-in hybrid production for Nissan remains slated for late 2015, presumably coming to market in one or more model-year 2016 vehicles. Nissan will be selling its second electric vehicle in Japan starting in October – the e-NV200 compact commercial van. It will cost between 3.88 million yen and 4.79 million yen in Japan (between $37,900 and $46,700). It’s not coming to North America anytime soon or possibly forever due to vehicle range and charging network concerns. It will be a slow start – selling about 500 units a month in Japan, where it qualifies for up to 850,000 yen ($8,295) in government incentives.