NLRB investigating Tesla factory conditions: The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint and opened an investigation into worker safety conditions at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant. The investigation comes from complaints filed by Tesla factory employees and the United Auto Workers union with charges of unfair labor practices. The Fremont factory has been picking up production volume as the Tesla Model 3 is being delivered to first buyers, and with production volumes speeding up later this year. Tesla sees it as a campaign by UAW to unionize Tesla workers, which has failed to gain enough support so far to win a union election. Employees have voiced their own concerns about working conditions in the factory. A study released by Worksafe in May found injuries at the Fremont plant to be much higher than the industry average in recent years.
Groups asking feds to retain fuel economy rules: Several groups have asked to be heard when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency holds a Washington D.C. public hearing on Sept. 6. That hearing will explore possible changes to phase two of the fuel economy and emissions rules. Several groups have filed opinions opposing the Trump administration rolling back on the 2022-2025 standards adopted in the last days of the Obama administration. These groups include the Union of Concerned Scientists, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, International Council on Clean Transport, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), American Lung Association, Consumers Union, Consumer Federation of America, and BlueGreen Alliance. They’d like to see it stay in place over concerns for the environment, health, consumer and business interests, oil imports, and national security.
Nissan Leaf sales doing well: Nissan reports that sales of its all-electric Leaf have been doing well lately, with an 8.3% increase over July. At 9,685 units sold in the U.S. so far in 2017, it’s up 22.3% over that same period last year. There’s been a lot of interest in the Leaf lately with the all-new version being launched in September. It will be longer range than the current Leaf and will feature a new set of tech features, including ePedal. Consumers are looking for more affordable electric cars and have a lot of interest in the new Leaf, along with the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt.
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.
Several more Tesla factories: Tesla has some very big plans in store, according to CEO Elon Musk during yesterday’s annual shareholder meeting. The company may need to build at least three and possibly as many as 10 or 20 new factories to keep up with expected demand. That will include the current models, the upcoming Model 3, and the Model Y crossover, which Musk says is the next new vehicle in development for a 2019 launch. It will be the company’s most popular vehicle ever, he said, so a lot more new factories will be needed; and to support more Gigafactory battery production. Other hot topics included whether to change board member seats to annual instead of staggered three year (which failed), and safety concerns for Fremont, Calif., plant workers (Tesla is dealing with it, Musk said).
Latest in automated tech: Bosch and TomTom have brought a first-ever to automated driving – high-resolution maps. Video data is being used from radar signals with billions of individual reflection points. Automated vehicles can use the map to determine their exact location in a lane down to a few centimeters, Bosch said. It will enable these vehicles to reliably determine their location at all times. Reflection points are formed everywhere that radar signals hit – for example, on crash barriers or road signs – and reproduce the course a road takes. It speaks to safety during a time when industry leaders like Bill Ford are asking questions about how autonomous vehicle technology will really work; and how it will respond to emergencies and unexpected occurrences that happen while driving.
2 million EVs: There were about two million plug-in electrified passenger vehicles on roads around the world by the end of 2016, according to an International Energy Agency report. That number was next to zero just five years earlier; however it’s still just 0.2% of light-duty vehicles, according to the report. Last year saw a surge in sales – 60% more than in 2015, with much of that taking place in China. “China was by far the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40% of the electric cars sold in the world and more than double the amount sold in the United States,” the IEA wrote in the report. “It is undeniable that the current electric car market uptake is largely influenced by the policy environment.”
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…….
- Tesla taking heat over immigrant worker and supplier relations: Tesla Motors has been facing challenges lately on the vehicle manufacturing front; one of these controversies comes from a Slovenian electrician named Gregor Lesnik working at the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif., falling through the roof in May 2015 and suffering broken bones in his legs and ribs and head injuries, including a concussion. Lesnik survived and sued his employers, as reported last week in a San Jose Mercury News’ watchdog report. He’d entered the U.S. in March 2015 with a B1/B2 visa on behalf of his employer, ISM Vuzem, as a supervisor of electrical and mechanical installation. He was going to work in a paint shop at a South Carolina BMW plant but instead was diverted to the Tesla plant to install an industrial heating and cooling system, something his visa did not allow him to do. The lawsuit and media report raised the flag on exploiting immigrant workers and committing fraud; and if the federal government should be watching more carefully. Lesnik alleged in his suit that although his hourly rate was over $10 an hour, it averaged out to a little over $5 an hour, far below minimum wage, because he wasn’t paid overtime for weeks that often reached 80 hours. The same work by a local employee would have cost more than $50 an hour. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has denied wrongdoing and said his company is auditing the contracts to see if its contractors met wage obligations……. That news story came days after Reuters reported on concerns raised by analysts and supplier executives who asked not to be identified that Tesla’s plan to manufacture 500,000 electric vehicles per year by 2018 has been called into question by several sources close to the issues. Tesla’s ambitious plan has called for moving up high-volume Model 3 production two years earlier than originally projected, which they claim will be very difficult and costly. Larger automakers have had to adjust production volumes to lower levels per year at assembly plants to realistically hit their targets. Tesla continues to have delivery delays for its Model X crossover, and its Model S also missed delivery targets when launched and that’s likely to continue with the Model 3, they say. Tesla says that orders and deposits for the Model 3 have been reduced to 373,000 following cancellations of about 8,000 cars and 4,200 duplicates canceled by the company. As capital intensive as auto manufacturing can be, Tesla also announced last week plans to sell about $2 billion in stock to help finance the accelerated launch of the Model 3.
- Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford said the company is looking into more partnerships with other companies as it moves to expand beyond manufacturing and selling cars and trucks. The game is changing for automakers this year following General Motors’ moves with Lyft, Sidecar, Cruise Automation, and Maven; and Fiat Chrysler’s deal with Google on self-driving cars. Ford has been investing heavily in electric cars, self-driving vehicle technology, and other initiatives, Ford said. Earlier this year, the company launched Ford Smart Mobility LLC, as part of its efforts to delve into carsharing and other mobility services. Asked about a potential alliance with Google, Ford said, “Anything’s possible with anybody. We have a good relationship with Google” but no alliance to disclose. (Editor’s note: Read the clean mobility feature in this week’s Green Auto Market that includes Volkswagen’s upcoming announcement on mobility services it will be launching during its diesel emissions scandal.)
- The 29th World Electric Vehicle Symposium and Exhibition (EVS29) event organizers have announced more keynote plenary speakers for day two of the event. Dan Neil, Pulitzer Prize winning auto columnist from the Wall Street Journal, will sit down with industry leaders to talk electric drive innovation and automaker strategies for scaling success during a robust roundtable discussion. Roundtable participants include: Christoph Huss, Vice President Engineering, BMW of North America; Kazuo Yajima, Alliance Global Director, EV and Engineering Division, Nissan and Renault; Kevin Layden, Electrification Programs and Engineering Director, Ford Motor Company; and Michael Lord, Executive Engineer, Toyota Motor Engineer & Manufacturing. The EVS29 conference takes place June 19-22, 2016 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. Register now and gain access to the entire electric drive value chain under one roof.
- SAE International approved for publishing “SAE TIR J2954 Wireless Power Transfer for Light-Duty Plug-In/ Electric Vehicles and Alignment Methodology,” a guideline to establish wireless power transfer between infrastructure, vehicle suppliers and OEMs for plug-in electric and electric vehicles (PH/EV). The document will be available from the SAE website on May 31st. SAE TIR J2954 is the first step in standardization and was developed by SAE International’s PH/EV Wireless Power Transfer committee, established in 2010. Jesse Schneider serves as the Chair of SAE International’s Wireless Power Transfer committee and is the Fuel Cell, Electric Vehicle and Standards Development Manager at BMW North America.
- AltCar Expo: Oakland hosted the third annual Northern California AltCar Expo on May 20-21. Toyota, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Nissan showcased hydrogen fuel cell cars, electric vehicles, hybrids, and natural gas vehicles, and renewable diesel vehicles. Attendees were able to test drive the vehicles for free both days. Keynote speakers included Richard Battersby, Equipment Manager and Director, City of Oakland and East Bay Clean Cities Coalition; Peter Van Deventer, Program Director & Diplomatic Liaison, Coast to Coast EV Connection and Consulate General of the Netherlands; John Kato, Deputy Director, Fuels and Transportation Division, California Energy Commission; David Meisel, Senior Director, Transportation & Aviation Services, Pacific Gas & Electric Company; Tim Lipman, Ph.D, Co-Director, Transportation Sustainability Research Center, UC Berkeley; and Rick Sikes, Chief Operations Officer, carbonBLU.
- Mercedes-Benz will likely be launching two electric sedans and two SUVs by 2020. They may be plug-in hybrid, battery electric or both, and are being built with minimal changes from the internal combustion engine models. The electric SUVs may be built on the Mercedes GLA and GLC platforms, and the electric sedans could come from the C-Class and S-Class platforms. Going this route could give the company the opportunity of pricing these EVs lower than the Tesla Model S and Model X.
- Volvo will be rolling out its new 40 series compact cars and SUVs, including a plug-in hybrid and an electric car, starting in spring 2018 in the U.S. Details on plug-in hybrid and all-electric variants of the 40 series haven’t been released yet.Last year, Volvo released its new “global electrification strategy,” which will include new plug-in versions of its cars, SUVs, and wagons.
- xStorage battery packs: Nissan, through its U.K. division, is following Tesla’s lead by entering the energy storage market. Available for pre-order in September, the xStorage line of battery packs was developed with power-management company Eaton. The partnership between Nissan and Enel SpA, Italy’s largest utility, will let Nissan Leaf and e-NV200 owners sell excess energy back to the grid. Owners can sell energy from their lithium-ion batteries during periods of peak demand to the utility.
- Self-driving car survey: The University of Michigan Sustainable Worldwide Transportation conducted its second annual survey on self-driving vehicles – and found that Americans might tend to agree more with the California DMV’s suggested policy than with Google’s argument for owning completely autonomous vehicles. The survey yielded completed responses from 618 licensed drivers in the U.S. and found that the most frequent preference for vehicle automation continues to be for no self-driving capability, followed by partially self-driving vehicles, with completely self-driving vehicles being the least preferred choice. Respondents still overwhelmingly want to be able to manually control completely self-driving vehicles when desired.
- ACT Expo highlights: Check out the photo gallery, conference program, and event summary for ACT Expo 2016, which just took place in Long Beach, Calif. Set for May 1-4, ACT Expo 2017 will return to the Long Beach Convention Center. Event organizer Gladstein Neandross & Associates will be presenting Rethink Methane Symposium 2016 in Sacramento, Calif., on June 29-30, 2016.
With Toyota Motor Corp. announcing its plan to shut down at its US headquarters in Torrance, Calif., and then moving to Texas by 2017, Tesla Motors will become the largest auto industry employer in California. Tesla now employs more than 6,000 people in the state, mainly at its production plant in Fremont. Tesla will add at least 500 more workers by year’s end in California, according to a company spokesman……. Tesla CEO Elon Musk received more media attention last week on where “gigafactories” are headed. Speaking at the World Energy Innovation Forum, Musk said the need for lower-cost batteries for autos and power storage will bring hundreds of these advanced lithium battery plants like the one Tesla is planning with fellow investors. Musk thinks cost will be reduced for these lithium-ion cells initially by 30%, but that will only get better. In other news, Tesla is getting a perhaps temporary break in the state of Missouri in the franchised dealers vs. Tesla online sales battle. Legislators have put a bill on hold until its reintroduced next year.
And in other clean transportation news…….
- Japanese automakers have formed a consortium similar to what’s been implemented in Europe – taking a big step forward in fuel-efficient powertrains. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Daihatsu, Suzuki, and Fuji Heavy Industries (which makes Subaru vehicles) have pooled resources to jointly produce gasoline and diesel engines that are 30% more fuel efficient by 2020. It’s taking place through a newly created organization, Research Association of Automotive Internal Combustion Engines. The Japanese government is putting up half the budget, which combined totals out to 1 billion yen ($9.9 million).
- Check out “Forty One New Models Coming,” an Automotive Digest video featuring AOL Automotive’s Steve Sturm, at the thinkLA, Automotive Breakfast 2014. Sturm thinks that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles rolling out in the next year will have a role to play in new vehicle sales.
- Fisker Automotive will be assembling its cars in the US and maybe eventually in China, said Lu Guanqiu, chairman and founder of Fisker’s post-bankruptcy owner, major Chinese auto parts maker Wanxiang Group Corp. The Fisker Karmas out on the roads today were built at an assembly plant in Finland. Lu sounds very serious about building the next wave of Fisker plug-in hybrids. “I’ll put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles,” Lu said. “I’ll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust.”
- Last year’s controversy has subsided over Terry McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive company being the subject of a Securities and Exchange Commission for promises made by the electric carmaker while soliciting overseas investors. Its merger with VL Automotive is helping GreenTech Automotive to express optimism about delivery of electric city cars to the Chinese market. McAuliffe, now serving as governor of Virginia, started up GreenTech about five years ago. GreenTech President and CEO Charles Wang last year became embroiled in the governor’s race about the deal making McAuliffe had been part of.
- In this day of five million General Motors recalls being announced, 276 Nissan Leafs is a mere pittance. Nissan is recalling 211 vehicles in the US and 65 in Canada to check for a problem with its front structural member assembly. The risk of injury during a crash goes up for these models as the assembly may be missing welds, which affects structural integrity during a crash. Nissan is notifying customers and their dealers to bring in their Leafs for inspection.
- Lobbying for higher blends of ethanol at the national and state level is continuing. Legislators in Illinois have heard from a racing celebrity who supports the alternative fuel. NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace. “I’m here to let everyone know not to worry about it,” Wallace said. “I’ve got a lot of knowledge and it’s a clean-burning fuel. It’s good for the environment and it cuts down on emissions.” Wallace has been working with the Illinois Corn Growers Association to advocate blended fuels. Illinois currently provides tax credits for fuel with a 10% ethanol blend; the association wants to see the credit carry over to fuels with a 15% blend.
- The 2015 Chevy Spark EV will have an entirely new battery pack. General Motors will bring assembly of the electric Spark’s battery in-house to the Brownstown, Michigan, plant that already builds batteries for the Chevrolet Volt, Opel/Vauxhall Ampera, and Cadillac ELR. The first 1,000-plus batteries were assembled by Compact Power Inc. at a different Michigan plant, then shipped to South Korea for installation in the Spark EV.
- AT&T has deployed its 8,000th compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle; the company is more than half way there to fulfill its 10-year, $565 million commitment to add approximately 15,000 alternative fuel vehicles to its fleet by end of year 2018. The 8,000th CNG vehicle – a 2014 Chevy Express van manufactured in Wentzville, Missouri – was delivered to a work center in St. Louis, Missouri, and will be used to provide entertainment and communications services in the St. Louis metropolitan area.
- IHS Automotive sees EV sales performing stronger than early hybrids: IHS Automotive has become the leading market analyst on auto industry trends through its acquisition of Polk and all of Polk’s vehicle registration data. A new report by IHS Automotive says that despite the limitations that electric vehicles (EVs) have faced in its early development and market availability, these models have still sold better than hybrids did in the early years starting in 2001 with the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic and Insight. “Most EV drivers still own their first-generation electric vehicles,” said IHS Automotive analyst Ben Scott. “Furthermore, there have been insufficient product offerings to effectively legitimize the market and show to consumers that EVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) represent the way of the future.” The IHS Automotive study also says that early expectations and perceptions for EVs may been too lofty, which had a negative impact. It’s lead some people to think of early EVs as failures for not meeting their inflated expectations despite these models’ relative sales success in the global market.