This Week’s Top 10: Is Apple jumping into the autonomous EV space? Tesla revamping stores to prep for Model X

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. Apple Project TitanIs Apple jumping into the autonomous vehicle space, and how about electric vehicles?  Jamie Carlson, former “Autopilot Firmware Manager” at Tesla Motors, joined Apple this month to work on a special projects team at the company according to his LinkedIn profile. What about Project Titan, the code name for Apple’s electric vehicle program? Apple won’t make an official statement about entering the car business, but it has hired several people with impressive autonomous vehicle backgrounds. Along with Carlson, colleagues at Apple include Megan McClain, a former Volkswagen engineer with expertise in automated driving; graduate researcher Vinay Palkkode who came from Carnegie Mellon, and Paul Furgale, the former deputy director of the Autonomous Systems Lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology. Driverless car testing (including what Apple will likely be doing at the GoMentum Station in Concord, Calif.) is on the minds of many these days, including Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche – and it could indicate that Apple and Google are setting themselves up to be technology partners with major OEMs, not necessarily following Tesla into the incredibly costly vehicle manufacturing space. “Google and Apple want to provide system software for cars and bring this entire ecosystem around Apple and Google into the vehicle,” Zetsche said. “That can be interesting for both sides.”
  2. Tesla Motors revamping stores: Tesla will be remodeling its retail stores soon to coincide with the upcoming launch its Model X electric SUV. So far it’s only through one of its stores in San Jose, Calif., where visitors get to see interactive displays built around four major themes: safety, autopilot features, Tesla’s charging network, and the dual motors that power each axle. Tesla will have more cash reserves than expected to pay for these and other projects; its secondary stock sales brought proceeds up to an estimated $738.3 million – well over the $642.5 million the company announced that it needed to raise last week. Tesla sold 3.1 million shares at $242 each to give itself a cash cushion as it prepares to begin deliveries of its Model X. In other news, Tesla announced that it will be installing charging stations at 30 West Coast hotel properties managed by Airbnb Inc. Tesla says these are “high-end” Airbnb properties that come through Airbnb’s “shared economy” model (similar to Uber and other ridesharing companies and Car2Go and other carsharing services) where property owners rent out house space to customers.
  3. Ford of Europe COO working with Chinese company: Former COO of Ford Europe Martin Leach is now working for a new electric car manufacturer based mainly in China and California. Leach is recruiting staff for the company but declined to name his new employer; he says that the company doesn’t have a background in the auto industry. The new automaker will start out making electric vehicles and may eventually produce autonomous vehicles, he said. Enhancements in battery technology that will extend range, and government incentives, are setting up a viable market – especially in Chia, Leach said.
  4. Connecticut’s big ideas for EV incentives: Connecticut is taking on California to become the cutting-edge electric vehicle (EV) incentive state. In May, “cash-on-the-hood” rebates for EVs showed up, making it the first state to go with the cash incentive model. “We’re a small state, but we have some big ideas, and maybe we can show California how to do this” by using automaker-style customer rebates, said Jim Fleming, president of the Connecticut Automotive Retailers Association in Hartford. The Connecticut Hydrogen and Electric Automobile Purchase Rebate (CHEAPR) program has set aside $1 million for rebates from $750 to $3,000 per electrified vehicle, depending on battery size. The rebates are on top of a $2,500 to $7,500 federal tax credit for the vehicles. There is a way to go in catching up with other states in funding the incentives – so far, only a small part of the $1 million fund is set aside for dealer cash.
  5. Carsharing Potential in NYC: Could carsharing services from Car2go and its competitors such as Zipcar actually replace taxis and subway rides? A Crains New York article ponders the question. It may also involve tiny, nimble cars like the Smart cars being used in the Car2go fleet. The challenges and opportunities for Car2go are there, according to the article: Buses are too slow, subway lines can require long routes, and cabs and Uber rides can quickly get expensive. Customers can locate, reserve and open rides on Car2go’s Smart cars with a mobile app, which means the carsharing company could complement the transit system and help fill a hole in the way people get the city.
  6. GM investing in Chinese factory: A General Motors join venture in China will be investing about 3 billion yuan, or $470 million, to build “new energy vehicles” for plug-in vehicles and hybrid cars. SAIC-GM-Wuling, a three-way joint venture with SAIC Motor Corp Ltd, GM, and Wuling Motors Holdings Ltd, began construction of the plant last week in the province of Guangxi. That’s coming from the Chinese government’s mandate for automakers to reduce air pollution in cities.
  7. New study on EV battery leaders: Panasonic is the market leader in the battery market for electric vehicles, but LG Chem has the potential to overtake Panasonic in what will be a $30 billion market in 2020, according to a new study from Lux Research. Panasonic has nearly 40 percent of the share but its dependence on a single deal with Tesla Motors makes the company vulnerable. LG Chem has a strong client list that includes GM, Volkswagen, Daimler, and Ford.
  8. New study on autonomous vehicles: Navigant Research estimates that 85 million autonomous-capable vehicles are expected to be sold annually around the world by 2035. How many of these will be used as fully automated vehicles? Navigant is being vague about it, as are other transportation forecasters. The study focuses on the semi-autonomous technologies already being deployed in new vehicles, such as cruise control on freeways and navigation systems for safely navigating traffic jams. Installing multiple sensors will increase that capability.
  9. Prius global sales: The Toyota Prius has surpassed another milestone – seven million units have been sold globally since it was launched in 1997. The Prius has made up the lion’s share of Toyota and Lexus hybrid sales – eight million hybrids have been sold globally with seven million being Priuses. Hybrid models vary outside the U.S., including a Yaris Hybrid sold in Europe and the Crown Royal Saloon Hybrid sold in Japan. Outside the U.S., models vary from a Yaris Hybrid sold in Europe to the Crown Royal Saloon Hybrid, a big rear-wheel drive luxury sedan sold in Japan.
  10. Dealing with aging hybrid batteries: Toyota and Honda hybrids have been on US roads for the past 15 years, and many of them need service or replacement to stay on roads. Owners are facing decisions over which of the 3 Rs they want to choose for their battery packs – reuse, repurpose, or recycle. EV World profiled GreenTec Autos, which has been positioning itself as a leader in the field. The company has 11 locations in the US from the West Coast to the Northeast, with a service center in Kansas City. GreenTech Auto also offers a mobile operation to service hybrid vehicles.

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