For Today: Concept EQ A teaser sent out before Frankfurt, Mercedes-Benz supporting van rides for urban mobility

Concept EQ A in Frankfurt:  Mercedes-Benz has sent out a teaser photo of the Concept EQ A that will be revealed soon at the Frankfurt Motor Show. The teaser suggests that EQ A could be a crossover like the Generation EQ Concept show last year in Paris; it could be an electric sedan but most likely will be a small crossover or hatchback. It’s not going to roll out until 2020 or later as a production vehicle, and Mercedes-Benz is expected to reveal a few other electric EQ concept vehicles by that time. The company will also be showing a small autonomous concept car in Frankfurt called the Smart Vision EQ.

Merkel pressured to fund clean transportation:  German Chancellor Angela Merkel has committed to doubling funds dedicated to bringing clean transportation to urban spaces. It will double to 1 billon Europe ($1.19 billion) for the fund. As the national election approaches this month, Merkel has been heavily pressured to distance herself from auto executive ties. Critics also say Merkel put off dealing with the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. On Monday, she met city mayors and regional leaders in a follow-up to a summit last month at which automakers agreed to fix 5.3 million diesel cars to cut emissions

Mercedes-Benz supporting van rides for urban mobility:  Mercedes-Benz is entering the ridesharing venue through a U.S. joint venture with Via, a startup company that supports smart public transportation. Mercedes-Benz Vans is investing $50 million in the company, and Daimler Mobility Services’ Volker Mornhinweg will be joining Via’s board of directors. Via passengers secure rides through a mobile app. Via’s algorithm finds a vehicle that best matches the passenger’s route along with other riders in the van. The company’s mission is to support reducing traffic volumes in urban areas.


Semi-legal parking: What drivers must deal with in congested urban environments

Looking for parking in crowded cityIn the not-too distant future, parking cars in crowded cities is expected to improve drastically. Self-driving cars will drop off riders and take care of the parking. Automated parking systems (APS) are starting to provide parking for cars on multiple levels stacked vertically to maximize the number of parking spaces while minimizing land usage.

The problem in large cities for local residents, workers, and those attending events, is that parking is going to remain an ever-increasing problem for several years. For those ridesharing drivers picking up riders or delivering meals, parking is taking a lot of perseverance and patience, laser-focused vision, and the risk of getting a parking ticket. It can mean pulling into a red zone, blocking a driveway, or using payment cards and dropping in coins at meters. The stress level can be high, and it can be quite a relief to find out you’ve dodged another parking ticket.

Part of the problem is that the cost of parking is going way up. Not that many years ago, it was shocking to find out you’d be paying $20 to park for a business meeting or social event in a big city. As for now, the average daily parking rate in midtown New York is $41, according to Bankrate. Honolulu is No. 2 at $38, followed by Boston at $34, Chicago at $32, with Los Angeles and downtown New York tied at $30 as the most expensive U.S. cities for parking costs. Metered parking cost has been shooting up, with drivers complaining about getting hijacked by a city trying to bring in more revenue through meters and parking tickets. Parking costs are on the rise in major U.S. cities as officials grapple with reduced revenue and political difficulties in raising taxes. Demand is part of it – drivers will pay more for parking when there’s absolutely nothing else available in crowded, congested cities.

As I’ve discovered driving for Uber, Lyft, and Postmates (a food delivery service), finding short-term parking can be quite stressful and sometimes costly. You might pull up for the passenger pickup and there’s no place to park, and you’ll be blocking traffic on a narrow street. What are your options? Park in a red zone or driveway? Circle the block looking for a decent place to park? Another scenario is that you’ve parked on a narrow street waiting for the rider to come out, and there are cars creeping up behind you. One of the drivers honks his horn, and others join the fray. You may have to leave that spot and circle around again, or call the rider.

Some riders seem perfectly comfortable making the Uber or Lyft driver wait five-to-10 minutes until they come out. Taxi drivers have been known for arriving at a home or office early and calling the rider to come out to their cab. Uber and Lyft riders are much more comfortable having the driver wait in an environment that might be tough to park and deal with the delay. It may be a generational difference for passengers – most of whom are Millennials riding with Uber and Lyft and who utilize food delivery services. The social rules of order appear to be transforming.

Food delivery drivers have to include short-term parking into their cost of doing business. Mobile-app food delivery services are taking off in cities now with UberEats, DoorDash, GrubHub, Postmates, Caviar, Seamless, and other services taking off. Drivers are independent contractors and have to build the cost into the trip. Suburban shopping malls are full of parking for drivers willing to take a long walk, but picking up meals at restaurants and stores in cities usually means looking for open metered parking spaces, or paying for parking garage fees. Some garages will allow drivers to leave the building for free if they’ve only been there less than 15 minutes. Other garages will require a payment of $2 to $5 for drivers to see that gate come up and freedom given from the parking garage – even if they’ve been there just a few minutes.

The future of mobility technologies is being carefully tracked by urban planners and developers, employers, owners of residential properties, university administrators, and event managers. Here are a few trends to watch for:

  • Green Parking Council is supporting development of sustainable, efficient parking garages. Examples include Propark America’s green parking Canopy facility at Denver International Airport. BMW Group’s DesignWorks USA and Green Parking Council worked with Propark on setting up the Canopy garage with LED lighting, EV charging, and alternative energy applications, including geothermal. Automation Parking Systems installed an automated facility in New York City in 2007 and has been working on improvements ever since. Robotic parking pallets are able to stack cars for efficiently using parking garage space.
  • More recently, the city of West Hollywood, Calif., opened up an automated parking garage attached to City Hall on Santa Monica Boulevard. The mission has been to remove the nuisance of driving around looking for parking. Drivers can just pull their cars into one of the small garages and the automated system does the rest. The city’s three-story automated parking garage with the capacity to house 200 cars was unveiled in May, and it marks the first municipal robot parking garage built on the West Coast.
  • Tony Seba, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Stanford University lecturer, author of Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation, and a two-time keynoter at AltCar Expo, had a few radical statements to make about the future of parking. Autonomous vehicles, along with carsharing services like Zipcar and ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft, will be game changers. Annual sales of new vehicles will shrink, highways will open up, and many of the parking spaces we have in our cities will go away. Highway capacity can be increased four times when autonomous vehicles show up on our roads; there will be no need for 80% of our parking spaces as autonomous vehicles show up exactly when and where they’re needed by the owner, Seba said.
  • Mobile apps for parking are offering some short-term solutions. Parkmobile, ParkWhiz, ParkMe, PayByPhone, and FordPass, are among the services available in select U.S. cities. Drivers are able to rent spaces from their smartphones, and will be directed to finding the space. It takes away the hassle and frustration of trying to find a parking space on multi-story parking structure with unexpected costs appearing. Riders using Uber and Lyft will typically bring up the problem of finding and paying for parking spaces when deciding to go take the ridesharing option instead of driving. They’re also interested in having more accessible and affordable parking options for those times they will be driving and parking their own car.

Parking and dealing with the stress of driving for ridesharing and food delivery services is part of my new book, Tales of UberMan: An auto journalist shares his Prius with savvy riders. You can also read about some of the trends in the marketplace and new technology innovations in the book’s blog.

This Week’s Top 10: Tesla Model X voluntary recall, Three more mobility test projects

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. Model X recall: Tesla Motors has initiated a voluntary recall of 2,700 Model X sport utility vehicles due to problems with the third-row seats. The company was conducting an internal strength test prior to shipping Model X deliveries to Europe, and found that the third-row recliner unexpectedly slipped. The affected customers, all of whom live in the U.S., were sent an email about the recall. The Model X can still be driven prior to a recall, although Tesla is asking that passengers don’t sit in the third row seats until the SUV has been fixed. The recall affects vehicles that were made and delivered beginning in September and which were made before March 26. Tesla is now assembling new third-row seat backs and expects to replace them all within five weeks.


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  1. Mobility projects: Automakers are continuing to launch test projects for mobility services of the future. Jaguar Land Rover launched a technology venture named InMotion on Monday which aims to create apps for services such as carsharing. InMotion will begin testing carsharing mobile apps in North America, Europe, and Asia in the near future. JLR and other automakers are trying to appeal to younger consumers in major global cities who are less likely to buy a car and have been attracted by new services such as carsharing veteran Zipcar and rideshare giant Uber…… Volvo will be adding to locations to its Drive Me autonomous driving pilot projects. The U.S. has been added to the list, soon after announcing that China will be part of it. Drive Me will be launched in Gothenburg, Sweden, in late 2017. In China, up to 100 self-driving cars will be tested by local drivers on public roads in limited driving situations, such as on express roads and highways…… BMW is getting back into the carsharing business with ReachNow, which is starting with 370 cars in its point-to-point carsharing business. ReachNow will offer the ability to pick up a car on the street and park in any legal curbside spot near the driver’s destination, rather than in reserved parking spaces. Like Daimler’s Car2Go carsharing firm, ReachNow will offer the ability to pick up a car on the street and park in any legal curbside spot near the driver’s destination, rather than in reserved parking spaces; it will start up in Seattle and move out to other cities.
  1. Alternative fuel engine innovations: Cummins Westport Inc. told that its 8.9-liter “near-zero NOx” engine is finishing its field test phase and the company will start taking orders this month. The engine reduces emissions of nitrogen oxide, or NOx, a smog- and ozone-causing product of fuel combustion that is particularly difficult to eradicate. The engine — called the ISL G NZ — is aimed at helping trucking companies meet regulations set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency clean-air standard that phases in from 2023 through 2031……. ROUSH CleanTech has developed a propane autogas fuel system for the Ford F-750 chassis that costs less than similar diesel counterparts. Operating up to 33,000 GVWR, the model was created in response to the growing demand for an autogas-fueled medium-duty chassis for bobtail applications, cylinder delivery trucks, and larger tank setters and box trucks, the company says.
  1. Global EV incentives: A new study by Navigant Research examines global demand-side polices for plug-in electric vehicles. PEVs provide a number of advantages over conventional internal combustion engine-powered vehicles, including cost reductions related to vehicle operation and maintenance and the convenience of forgoing gas stations, oil changes, and emissions tests. While these benefits have not been significant enough to justify the high cost of the technology for many consumers, government policies around the world are helping to ensure the supply and demand of PEVs. Government incentives have been critical for gaining support. Western European countries are seeing few incentives and could gain from more government incentives. For example, Germany’s PEV penetration almost matches that of the United States, however incentives are relatively non-existent, which means a modest incentive improvement could create significant impacts for the market on a country and global level, Navigant says.
  1. Model 3 may not see tax incentives: Tesla Motors may be able to stretch out federal tax incentives for the upcoming Model 3 by taking a creative approach – at least one discussed online by Tesla owners and analysts. Tesla will likely be approaching the cap placed on automakers of 200,000 electric vehicles sold for the $7,500 tax incentive as soon as 2018. Once the 200,000 mark is reached, the IRS cuts the tax credit in half for the next two quarters to a maximum of $3,750. Then the IRS slashes the tax credit in half again for another two quarters, and the incentive goes away. “We always try to maximize customer happiness even if that means a revenue shortfall in a quarter,” Musk replied on his Twitter page after suggestions were made on Tesla stretching out the timing.
  1. Ridesharing legal battles: Ridesharing leaders Lyft and Uber are attempting to sort through legal battles with settlement agreements. A federal judge in California’s Northern District has rejected Lyft Inc.’s proposed $12.25 million settlement to resolve a case filed by California drivers over their status as independent contractors of the ride-hailing service. Under the settlement, Lyft would have avoided changes to a labor model that relies on classifying drivers as independent contractors; the judge thinks drivers have been shortchanged on mileage expenses. Uber has agreed to pay up to $25 million to settle a 2014 lawsuit filed by city officials in San Francisco and Los Angeles who want to see more from Uber on driver safety guarantees. The cities argued that Uber gave customers a “false sense of security” by touting its background checks as the toughest in the industry and are superior to the ones used by the taxi industry. Taxi drivers are given fingerprint checks, but Uber drivers are not.
  1. Concerns over federal self-driving car guidelines: As the federal government gets closer to unveiling guidance on deployment of self-driving cars, an auto group has warned that it may be too aggressive. An automaker trade association warned Friday that U.S. auto safety regulators’ timetable for unveiling guidance on the deployment of self-driving cars may be too aggressive. The federal auto safety ageny “should not bind itself to arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines at the expense of robust and thoughtful policy analysis,” said Paul Scullion, safety manager at the Association of Global Automakers, a trade group representing Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and other major foreign automakers. “NHTSA should instead consider the development incrementally.” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said Friday the agency must move quickly, noting cars with significant self-driving features like Tesla Motors Inc’s autopilot function are already on the road.
  1. Bay Area AltCar Expo: The third annual Bay Area AltCar Expo & Conference is scheduled to be held May 20-21 at Oakland City Hall and Plaza. It offers a comprehensive program for the latest in vehicle technologies, ride and drive, and public education. The event is being co-presented by the City of Oakland Public Works, the East Bay Clean Cities, and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Event partners include: Honda, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, Smart, San Francisco Clean Cities, Silicon Valley Clean Cities, Breathe California, Association of Bay Area Governments, and the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at UC Berkeley.
  1. Honda CR-V plug-in hybrid: We may be seeing a redesigned 2017 Honda CR-V, and with it, a plug-in hybrid version. A Japanese media outlet is reporting that the available plug-in hybrid variant will have a 2.0-liter gas engine that mates with an electric motor. Honda hasn’t announced the fifth-generation CR-V yet, but it’s likely to be coming out around that time with current version having been launched in 2011 and a refreshed model released in 2014.
  1. Electric postal vans: Germany’s postal carrier service may be building its own electric vans. Deutsche Post has been planning it for years, and acquired StreetScooter in 2014. StreetScooter is a maker of prototype electric vans that the postal service demonstrated in 2012. Deutsche Post plans to build 2,000 vans this year, which will join a handful of electric vans of various types already in operation. Deutsche Post plans to eventually replace its 30,000-unit fleet of internal combustion vans with electric vehicles.

Green Auto Market adding new department on advanced transportation and urban mobility

Urban mobilityAs I discussed last month during a workshop in Sacramento with colleagues, the “urbanization” trend with traffic congestion and air pollution is driving policy changes and increased use of transportation alternatives such as carsharing and ridesharing. Starting in this week’s Green Auto Market, a new department will join the Top 10 clean transportation stories: Advanced Transportation & Urban Mobility. Along with following companies such as Lyft, Uber, Zipcar, and Car2go, other topics that will be tracked and analyzed will include: autonomous vehicles, smart transportation, advanced vehicle technologies, Hyperloop and bullet trains, intelligent transportation systems, and connected cars. Here are some interesting advanced transportation developments over the past week………

  • The global electric vehicle racing event, Formula E, will be adding an autonomous electric car race next year. RoboRace will launch one-hour races designed to test artificial intelligence. These races will have 10 teams and 20 cars competing, and will take place on the same day and racing circuits as the Formula E championship. Kinetik, the company that will build all the cars for RoboRace, is “trying to make them better than humans. So it means we expect the cars will have high acceleration and high speeds,” said Denis Sverdlov of Kinetik.
  • Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is taking on SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash., and founded by Bezos, launched a rocket into space and landed it back on earth vertically on Monday of last week. While SpaceX was able to vertically land a rocket two years ago, that rocket hadn’t gone out into space. Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket reached 329,839 feet before returning to touch down on its Van Horn, Texas concrete landing pad. That rocket can be reused and may increase the frequency of launches; Bezos would like to carry tourists as well as cargo payloads into space. SpaceX does have an edge over Blue Origin on carrying payload. Blue Origin hasn’t been used yet for carrying a payload while SpaceX’s rockets have been used for commercial, military, and NASA payload launches since 2012. SpaceX will be taking its first human transport mission to the International Space Station in late 2017.
  • Uber is moving forward in navigation technology through agreements with TomTom and Microsoft. Uber will use TomTom’s maps and traffic data for its ridesharing service. Uber also acquired Microsoft’s mapping technology and the key personnel that came with it. Earlier this year, Uber also acquired veteran location industry company deCarta. Mapping data is expected to be key in Uber’s strategy to be a major player in autonomous vehicle technology.
  • The number if people using carsharing services is expected to mushroom over the next five years. Berg Insight predicts that the number of people around the world using carsharing services will grow from 6.5 million this year to 26 million in 2020. The number of vehicles used in carsharing is expected to grow from 123,000 cars today to 450,000 by the end of 2020. Technologies such as telematics systems and smartphones will support this growth, along with expansion of one-way carsharing that enables users to return the car to any station operated by the carsharing firm. Carsharing growth will also come through new markets accessed by major and local carsharing services; and through car-based mobility services from car rental, carpooling, ridesharing, taxi, and ridesourcing services.
  • Daimler’s carsharing service, Car2Go, is testing out a promotion to grow its membership. From now through Dec. 6, Car2Go is reducing its sign-up fee for new members from $35 to $5, and adding 60 minutes of free travel time. In addition, existing members will see the per-minute fee for signing out a car drop from 41 cents to 19 cents. Paul DeLong, the carsharing service’s CEO and president, sees the program as a way to both recruit new members and inspire existing members to use the service more regularly – and to compete with ridesharing services Uber and Lyft, which have been taking away market share. It should also help improve community relations in its home market of Austin; Car2Go had downsized its presence in the market, which received criticism from users who found their home or office suddenly cut out of the service area.


Snapshot of clean, smart transportation: We’re living in a very interesting time

Urban mobilityAre clean, advanced technology vehicles going away because of low gasoline prices and car shoppers turning their attention elsewhere? Do transportation alternatives like ridesharing, carsharing, and self-driving cars stand a chance of surviving and thriving? Read on for interesting market trends……….

Navigant Research expects global light-duty vehicle (LDV) sales growth to continue over the next 20 years – from 88.8 million vehicles this year to 122.6 million sold in 2035. Navigant Research sees changes driven primarily by the adoption of vehicles with various levels of drivetrain electrification and vehicles that run entirely on alternative fuels. New transportation business models for LDVs such as carsharing programs alongside increased urbanization is likely to put downward pressure on vehicle sales in the long term, Navigant Research says. As for the 20-year forecast, change is being driven by government-led initiatives to improve fuel economy and market demand for alternative transportation options and alternative fuel vehicles. “LDVs primarily fueled by gasoline are expected to fall as a percentage of the overall global fleet from 82% in 2015 to less than 71% in 2035, particularly as diesel, electricity, and other alternative fuels become more price competitive and their respective infrastructure becomes more available,” says Scott Shepard, research analyst with Navigant Research.

While gasoline prices have been hurting hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) sales in the U.S., other countries are seeing growth in EV sales. The U.S. share of the market is expected to drop as sales stall out here but grow in other countries. Global EV sales in 2015 through May came in at more than 160,000 units, of which the U.S. saw only 39,000 deliveries. In Norway, a third of its new vehicle sales were EVs in the first quarter of this year, and the Netherlands saw it become 5.7% of its share during that time (compared to about 0.8% of new vehicles sales in the U.S.). For this year, U.S. sales are expected to stay flat, but are likely surge next year and in 2017 with higher production and new entries from several high-volume makers. The 2016 Chevrolet Volt and an all-new Nissan Leaf released in 2017 or 2018 are expected to make a difference. The Tesla Model X, which is expected to double Tesla’s annual sales, is slated to show up in China in the first half of next year after being introduced in the U.S. sometime this quarter.

Automotive media and market analysts have decided that green vehicle sales are being trashed by low gasoline prices and affordable fuel efficient cars. That being said, they can’t stop dwelling on (obsessing over?) the topic. LA Times’ veteran automotive reporter Jerry Hirsch wrote two features about it, published within a day of each other last week. Hirsch is up there with USA Today’s Chris Woodyard as an expert reporter on green vehicles for a major media source. In “Setting the record straight on five common green car misconceptions,” Hirsch educates readers on topics such as range anxiety, hybrid battery cost, and the myth that EVs cause just as much pollution as gasoline-engine vehicles. In “What kind of car is the most green, fuel efficient and budget friendly?”, Hirsch worked with the Union of Concerned Scientists to examine seven powertrain options, analyzing their greenhouse gas emissions — including the power plant pollution required to produce electricity — along with their relative fuel efficiency and cost of operation. They found that battery electric vehicles are the cleanest and least expensive to operate. Richard Truett of Automotive News cares enough about the topic to have written a detailed report on gas prices and automaker product planning last week. For the federal mandate on fuel efficient vehicles, Truett thinks that, “If automakers can’t make money or at least break even on electrified and fuel-efficient vehicles, all bets are off. There are already rumblings around Detroit of asking the government to push the 54.5 mpg requirement out past 2025.”

One of the largest airports in the U.S. has allowed ridesharing leaders Uber and Lyft to begin picking up passengers. Despite protests by taxi drivers, Los Angeles (LAX) airport officials agreed Thursday to permit ridesharing/ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to pick up, and not just drop off, their passengers. That could begin as early as late August, subject to final approvals by airport officials and the city attorney. For the 2,361 licensed taxis serving that airport, many of them see LAX as their last remaining stronghold as ride-hailing eats away at their fares. Orange County’s John Wayne Airport began allowing ride-hailing services to pick up at the airport earlier this year. Uber revenue is expected to skyrocket this year – from $400 million to $2 billion, as consumers (primarily members of the 18-35 year old Millennial generation) choose Uber over taxis and other transportation sources.

Google continues to test its self-driving cars, and has seen injuries from one of the collisions for the first time. During the 14th accident from one of these test vehicles, a Google autonomous vehicle was rear-ended on July 1 near the company’s corporate campus in Mountain View, Calif. Three Google employees were taken to a hospital to receive treatment for “minor” whiplash. The driver of the other vehicle who hit the Google test car also suffered some minor injuries. Google’s test program generated headlines earlier in 2015 when it was revealed that more than a dozen crashes have occurred and the other drivers have been blamed. With the latest crash, the Google vehicles have been rear-ended in 11 of the 14 incidents. The test program has been using Google’s own driverless cars, and initially used modified Toyota and Lexus vehicles; the test project so far has driven over 1.9 million miles.

U.S. consumers are still concerned about losing control of their vehicles to self-driving cars, according to a recent survey by University of Michigan’s Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the Transportation Research Institute. The survey polled 505 people and found that 43.8% didn’t want any form of autonomous technology in their vehicles while 40.6% were comfortable with some level of self-driving tech. There was a nearly unanimous response to one question that doesn’t bode well for Google and its vehicles: 96.2% of respondents want a steering wheel, brake and gas pedal in their vehicle no matter the level of autonomy. Perhaps they will need to remain semi-autonomous vehicles? Along with Transportation Research Institute’s study, the university announced last week that it will be opening a new testing site for connected and driverless cars. The 32-acre testing grounds, called Mcity, are designed to simulate urban and suburban roads with a network of controlled intersections, traffic signals, streetlights, sidewalks, construction obstacles, and more. The test track is operated by the university’s Mobility Transformation Center and is an extension of a federally funded pilot program to study connected vehicle technologies at the university. Three years ago, the Transportation Research Institute launched a safety pilot program; that test program includes the deployment of about 9,000 vehicles – cars, commercial vans, buses, and motorcycles equipped with transmitters and data-logging devices to track position, acceleration, and velocity of vehicles and infrastructure.

Carsharing continues to see much interest as a transportation alternative in cities like Paris, San Francisco and Boston. Automakers and car rental companies continue to acquire or partner with carsharing startups like Zipcar, Car2Go, Getaround, and City CarShare. More than 1.5 million people are already using these services in the Americas, according to new research from UC Berkeley. As automakers and car rental companies expand their offerings, the business model is based on efficiency and easing congestion in crowded urban environments where carsharing makes a lot of sense. “This allows flexibility for the operator to serve more people with a single car,” said Susan Shaheen, director of Innovative Mobility Research at the University of California, Berkeley’s Transportation Sustainability Research Center.