Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance beats Volkswagen and Toyota for No. 1 in global sales, Diesel tests on monkeys and human puts VW back under spotlight

Alliance now largest automaker:  The Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance bumped Volkswagen Group out of the top spot as the world’s largest seller of light-duty vehicles during 2017. That was made up of 10.61 million new vehicles sold last year with Nissan bringing in 5.82 million, Renault 3.76 million, and its Mitsubishi subsidiary (acquired in 2016) selling 1.03 million. VW came in at 10.53 million and longtime winner Toyota Motor sold 10.2 million. CEO Carlos Ghosn has pledged to tap into economies of scale and double savings by 10 billion euros ($12 billion) by 2022. That assumes annual sales will rise to 14 million vehicles. Sharing parts and consolidating platforms is the foundation it’s being built on, as it usually cuts r&d and manufacturing costs. The Alliance will be rolling out 12 new all-electric models using common platforms by 2022, Ghosn said late last year. Plug-in hybrid models will also be utilized, coming from Mitsubishi’s experience with the Outlander PHEV. Two other utility plug-in hybrids will be coming to market over the next two years. The alliance companies have collectively already sold more than a half million plug-in electrified vehicles.

Uber supporting anti-trafficking groups:  Uber’s new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is looking for ways to pull the ride-hailing giant out of the quagmire, this time encouraging drivers to be aware of human trafficking that may be transported in their vehicles. When drivers log into the app, they’re instructed on how to spot victims of trafficking and best ways to report it to police and anti-trafficking support groups. One of these, Polaris, is Uber’s partner in the campaign. Human trafficking has become of major concern to non-profit groups and government agencies around the world, including the U.S. Khosrowshahi has been working at improving relations with Uber drivers and the public. Drivers can now receive tips, which was always an edge Lyft had over Uber; they can also call a hotline when they have questions.

Veloz launches EV awareness campaign:  Veloz, a new California-based nonprofit organization supporting the electric car movement, has hired Division of Labor, an advertising agency headquartered in Sausalito, Calif. The two are working together to develop, test, and provide a strategic plan for a brand-inclusive outreach campaign that will inspire Californians to drive electric. Veloz is taking an approach emphasizing the fun, emotional, and significant benefits EV drivers will experience by driving electric. Made up of industry experts to bring public and private sectors together supporting EV adoption, the group thinks that sales will only go up substantially if consumers know about good purchase choices they can make. A strategic planning phase will continue through May, followed in the summer by implementation of the campaign. As with other initiatives in California, a portion of the campaign budget will go to reaching multi-cultural populations, low-income, and disadvantaged communities.

VW fires chief lobbyist as scandal continues:  Volkswagen fired its chief lobbyist, Thomas Steg, today in response to reports that the company and two competitors had sponsored tests that exposed monkeys and humans to toxic diesel fumes. The company had come under scrutiny again last week after The New York Times reported that VW, BMW, and Daimler had funded an organization called European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT) to carry out the tests. These methods used in the U.S. were wrong, unethical, and repulsive, VW CEO Matthias Mueller said Monday. The study had been conducted in 2014 to defend diesel following reports that diesel car fumes were carcinogenic. The EUGT study had been dissolved last year. This news was revealed right after Germany’s KBA automotive watchdog has detected illicit emission-control software in Audi’s latest Euro-6 diesel models. KBA has ordered a recall of these 127,000 vehicles, putting more pressure on parent company VW to comply with government mandates in the U.S. and Europe.

This Week’s Top 10: VW paying $4.3B in fines, Tesla speeding up Model 3 production

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. VW settles criminal charges:  Volkswagen’s guilty plea to three felonies in March resulted in the automaker being sentenced Friday to pay $4.3 billion in fines for importing 59,000 polluting diesel vehicles into the U.S. beginning in 2009. The charges were for conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and introducing imported merchandise into the U.S. by means of false statements. Without the plea deal, VW would have faced potential criminal fines in the cases of between $17 billion and $34 billion. In a federal courtroom in Detroit, U.S. District Judge Sean Cox called VW’s actions a “deliberate, massive fraud perpetrated by VW management. We don’t know how far up the corporate ladder it goes. Hopefully, the DOJ, and more hopefully, the German government, will continue to investigate and prosecute” those responsible. That ends prosecution by the federal government, but buybacks aren’t yet completed and civil suits continue in the U.S.; criminal investigations continue in other countries, including Germany.
  2. Speeding up Model 3 production:  Tesla will begin volume production of the Model 3 in September by streamlining the tooling process, which runs the risk of facing recalls or warranty repairs. On an investor conference call last month, CEO Elon Musk said the company would skip the usual auto manufacturing procedure, which he called “beta,” to speed up production. Musk said he would instead use “advanced analytical techniques,” which are computer simulations, to speed up the process. Automakers usually test a cheaper prototype model to make sure parts and components fit correctly, adding time and cost to the process but also guaranteeing a higher level of vehicle reliability. Musk has promised to ramp up vehicle production fivefold next year, producing and selling 500,000 vehicles a year by 2018 as the Model 3 enters the market.
  3. More Pacifica plug-ins going to Waymo:  Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is providing another 500 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minvans to Waymo’s self-driving vehicle test project. Last year, FCA delivered 100 of these vehicles that Waymo that both companies equipped with its autonomous technology. Waymo had worked with FCA engineers at a Michigan facility to modify the vehicle’s with the technology. Waymo is also planning on opening up test rides to the public, starting in Phoenix.
  4. Amazon goes autonomous:  Amazon is entering the autonomous technology sector by testing out applications to make its product deliveries become faster and more convenient for customers. Details aren’t coming out yet on what the team of a dozen employees is working on but it could be an autonomous fleet of delivery trucks. The internet giant is interested in autonomous trucking for its own deliveries and possibly to sell transport services to other companies such as UPS and FedEx. In January, the company secured a patent for a network that helps autonomous vehicles adjust in changing driving environments.
  5. AAA study on EV interest:  A new AAA study found that 30 million Americans say they’re likely to buy an electric vehicle, with members of the Millennial generation especially interested with 20% wanting to go that route. But the study also found that the interest level hasn’t yet turned into EV sales for most of them. AAA said that concerns include range anxiety, lack of charging stations, and running out of battery power before the end of their drive. Low ownership costs and emerging technologies will improve their sales in the future, according to AAA.
  6. EV Roadmap in Portland:  EV Roadmap 10 invites participants to “test drive the future,” learning from industry leaders as well as the leading communities and regional markets. The conference will be held June 20-21 in Portland, Ore., and will be organized around three tracks: Cars, focusing on the accelerating adoption of electric cars and other EVs. Charging infrastructure, which is evolving quickly to meet the needs of millions of new electric vehicle drivers. Community will focus on the broader “ecosystem” needed for the market to expand. Sessions will include an in-depth discussion of the Electrify America plan, programs designed to bring electric mobility benefits to underserved communities, and analysis of how electric vehicle adoption can lower electricity rates. You can register for the event online.
  7. Penske again named to SmartWay winners:  Penske Truck Leasing has, for the fifth straight year, been given the SmartWay Affiliate Challenge Award by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Penske is one of nine organizations to receive this honor. The SmartWay Affiliate Challenge is a national challenge developed by the EPA to acknowledge organizations that are contributing to a clean energy economy by reaching out to inform and educate businesses, their communities, truck drivers and other stakeholders about steps they can take to reduce freight emissions and their other environmental impacts. Here’s the list of winners. “EPA commends the SmartWay Affiliate Challenge honorees for their extraordinary level of commitment and enthusiasm in supporting more efficient and sustainable business practices in moving goods,” said Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality. “These organizations represent diverse industry sectors and stakeholders who believe that American prosperity can be preserved while protecting the environment.”
  8. Next Generation Mobility Challenge:  Toyota and Net Impact announced three finalist groups for the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, which focuses on developing solutions for critical mobility needs in local communities around the world. The winning team will be announced in early summer, and finalists were named to the list based on project design, feasibility, and social impact. The finalists are: “The Hub” – a carpooling concept based in school communities that would be more efficient than public transit and allow commuting parents to spend more time with their families, featuring students from California College of the Arts and UC Berkeley; “Project Mobius” – a company-sponsored employee transportation system for low-income individuals to help them acquire and retain jobs while boosting employee loyalty and reducing environmental impact, featuring students from University of Colorado; and “Para Pickup” – a service that gives people with disabilities safe, affordable and flexible ways to get home, improving on current options which can be inflexible and slow, featuring students from Georgia Tech.
  9. Fuel cell truck test:  Toyota announced “Project Portal,” a hydrogen fuel cell system designed for heavy duty truck use at the Port of Los Angeles. The zero-emission truck proof of concept will take part in a feasibility study examining the potential of fuel cell technology in heavy duty applications. The study will begin this summer and contribute to the Port’s Clean Air Action Plan, which has dramatically reduced harmful emissions from operations at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles since 2005.
  10. Propane autogas in Europe:  European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO) published a special edition of its report on the role propane autogas vehicles have played in the region in recent years. It’s the most widely used alternative fuel in Europe now with more than 12 million passenger vehicles placed in fleets as of 2015. Turkey has 35% of these vehicles with over four million vehicles. Italy and Poland join Turkey in being the only countries with over one million propane-powered passenger vehicles on their roads. Turkey also has the largest number of propane fueling sites, with over 10,000 stations. Germany has the second highest number of propane autogas stations despite having only the fourth largest propane-powered fleet in the region.

VW establishes $2 billion Electrify America subsidiary as part of emissions settlement

Volkswagen’s settlement of the its “dirty diesel” scandal took a step forward last week with formation of the Electrify America LLC subsidiary. The new business unit, led by longtime executive Mark McNabb, will carry out $2 billion in investments in zero emission vehicles, infrastructure, and public outreach over the next decade. As part of the settlement, VW has been directed to make its outreach and education programs “brand neutral,” and not become VW electric vehicle marketing campaigns; and, its charging stations are to be accessible to all plug-in electrified vehicles.

The $2 billion settlement presents a big opportunity for stakeholders in the field to find funding and support for their own contributions of PEVs, fuel cell vehicles, alternative fuel vehicles, charging and fueling infrastructure, and public education and outreach. It’s all part of the automaker’s settlement last fall on excess diesel emissions from nearly 600,000 U.S. vehicles; it requires that $800 million be spent in California and $1.2 billion be invested throughout the rest of the U.S. VW has already agreed to spend up to $25 billion in the U.S. on diesel emissions cheating settlements to address claims from owners, regulators, U.S. states, and dealers; and has offered to buy back about 500,000 polluting vehicles. The German automaker has other settlements to reach in Europe and Asia.

It’s important to follow, as many leaders in the field have indicated, and here are the latest developments…………

  • Timing: Volkswagen Group of America will accomplish its 10-year mission over four 30-month investment cycles. The four $500 million investment cycles must receive approval from the California Air Resources Board and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
  • 22 deadline: For those institutions submitting proposals, that process began in December. Initial ZEV Investment Plans are being shared with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board by February 22. The first 30-month investment cycle received proposals through January 16. Electrify America says that “noteworthy concepts received now could be included in our plans for subsequent investment cycles.”
  • Chargers: Construction of PEV chargers will start in 2017, in about 15 metro areas with 300-plus stations at Level 2 or DC fast chargers in the 50 to 150 kW range. A cross-country network of fast chargers will be set up at 200 or more stations, and these may include multi-unit dwellings, workplaces, retail locations, and community centers including municipal parking lots.
  • Phase 2 and beyond: Following the first cycle, Electrify America says that other “promising ZEV initiatives, such as hydrogen fueling stations or national ZEV car-sharing or ZEV ride-sharing services, will be considered in later investment cycles.”
  • Outreach: Public awareness and outreach will be carried out through information on charging availability, the benefits of electric mobility promoted through various methods including ride and drives, multi-channel advertising, website, social media, and educations programs.
  • Future concepts: A Green City initiative will be launched in a California municipality to pilot future concepts supporting sustainable mobility, a ZEV-based shuttle service using PEVs or fuel cell vehicles, PEV-based carsharing services, or ZEV transit vehicles.
  • VW executive: Mark McNabb, has served as executive vice president and COO for EVP and for Volkswagen of America. He has overseen the diesel settlement program and will continue to do so in his new role as head of Electrify America.
  • California sales: While VW is to remain brand neutral in the campaign, California wants the company to sell more PEVs in the state. In December, California said VW would be rolling out three new PEVs in the state by 2020, including an SUV. The automaker also agreed to selling at least 5,000 PEVs annually in California through 2025.
  • I.D. electric vehicles: VW has been rolling out its I.D. family of all-electric vehicles since the Paris Motor Show last fall showcasing a compact-sized hatchback. That was followed later by an electric SUV and a microbus MPV. These EVs are said to be coming out between 2020 and 2022. Overall, VW has said it will launch 30 all-electric vehicles by 2025 through its brands.
  • Hot topic: How this $2 billion will be spent has become an important issue to follow at industry conferences and through information resources. It’s a topic being discussed now at Energy Independence Summit 2017 in Washington, D.C, which goes through February 15. It will also be an issue discussed during ACT Expo in May 2017 in Long Beach, Calif.
  • Reaching out to state legislators: National Propane Gas Association and Propane Education & Research Council are working with state associations for development of mitigation plans at the state level; NPGA is relying on its extensive grassroots operation to advance this initiative. There are still several steps that need to take place before funding is made available, but the momentum is already building in the states to develop mitigation plans, according to NPGA. States are being given funds to replace older, dirtier diesel vehicles with clean vehicles. Propane has been successful in replacing diesel fleets, and other alternative fuels and clean vehicles are being considered, as well.
  • Charging fairness: Charging infrastructure companies have asked regulators to take give fair competition a chance – so that VW doesn’t build and install its own chargers or favor one or more suppliers over others in the market. ChargePoint, which operates the largest U.S. network of charging stations, requested an intervention in federal court in October, stating that the settlement could have an “enormous, and if not modified, potentially disastrous” effect on the market. Chargepoint was one of 28 companies and organizations that sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an independent regulator to ensure VW’s spending doesn’t take away competition in the market.