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…….
- January EV sales: Plug-in electric vehicle sales saw the typical downturn pattern for the month of January. Winter Storm Jonas, which closed parts of the Eastern Seaboard for several days, has meant that less car shoppers have visited dealerships. With 2015 down slightly from 2014 in overall EV sales, January didn’t start this new year on a strong note. The Chevrolet Volt had the most sales in January at 996 cars sold in the U.S., up from 542 one year earlier. Sales strength was supported by the all-new Volt rolling out to dealerships, and winning Green Car Reports’ 2016 Best Car To Buy award. Tesla Model S came in second with 859 units sold in January, down from 1,100 sold in January 2015. The Nissan Leaf had 755 units sold versus 1,070 one year earlier. The recently launched Tesla Model X came in at number four with 370 units sold, up from 199 units sold in December 2015. Volkswagen e-Golf came in at fifth place with 328 units sold, up from 181 sold a year ago.
- ACEEE names Greenest and Meanest: Mercedes-Benz topped the Greenest and the Meanest categories in the 19th annual rankings released by American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Mercedes-Benz’s Smart Fortwo Electric Drive tied the Chevrolet Spark EV for No. 1 on the Greenest List for 2016, with each ranked at 63 points on the ACEEE rating system. The 12-cylinder SUV, Mercedes-Benz G65 AMG, finished at the bottom of the scores with a 20, and topping the Meanest List for vehicles least friendly to the environment. Battery-powered vehicles were big on the Greenest list this year. For the first time ever, the list is completely populated by plug-in and hybrid vehicles. “Fortunately, the electricity sector is slated to become cleaner over the life of model year 2016 vehicles, thanks to the Clean Power Plan, and that has bumped up electric vehicles’ green scores this year. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that how green your electric vehicle truly is depends on the electricity it uses to charge,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan.
- Tesla applies for dealer license: Tesla Motors is trying to work around Michigan’s ban on OEMs selling directly to consumers by filing for a “Class A” dealership license to sell new and used cars in the state. Tesla initially filed in November and submitted follow-up information in recent weeks. A state spokesperson said a decision will be announced in one-to-two months from now. Companies granted the Class A dealership classification will also need to have a licensed repair facility in place, which Tesla has done in other states.
- Cruz takes Iowa: Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who has been opposed to the federal biofuels mandate, didn’t seem to be hurt by opposition received from the Iowa’s corn ethanol establishment. Cruz had about 28% of the vote, followed by Donald Trump at 24% and Marco Rubio at 23%.Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad had previously told voters that they shouldn’t vote for Cruz because of his opposition to ethanol. While the fuel is very important to the state’s economy, with 47% of the state’s corn going into ethanol, public opinion has changed since Barack Obama campaigned from a very pro-ethanol position in the 2008 primary. Analysts point to changing social conditions, including more Iowans moving to cities like Des Moines and working within a broader economic landscape than a state that had been driven entirely by agribusiness for many years.
- National Biodiesel Board convention: On the advanced biofuels front, the National Biodiesel Board celebrated growth in biodiesel production and consumption last year during its annual conference. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released 2015 volume numbers just prior to the convention, reporting that US consumers used a record of nearly 2.1 billion gallons of biodiesel last year. According to NBB CEO Joe Jobe, the numbers “show without question that the Renewable Fuel Standard is delivering significant volumes of Advanced Biofuel to the American people.” More than 1,000 biodiesel industry leaders and supporters attended the conference. Another newsworthy announcement: Peterbilt and Kenworth manufacturer, PACCAR Inc., now approve of B20 biodiesel in 100% of its vehicles, old and new; which means that over 100,000 new trucks are joining the biodiesel ranks, traveling over twelve billion miles year round.
- VW preparing for volatile shareholder meeting: Volkswagen is preparing to release the results of an internal investigation on the use of “defeat device” software to cheat on emissions tests, which will be released at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on April 21. VW’s leadership is preparing for what’s expected to be a tense session with shareholders. Dozens of large shareholders plan to sue VW in a German court, seeking compensation for the plunge in its shares due to its emissions test cheating scandal. VW’s investigation, conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day, includes testimony from around 50 Volkswagen employees, who testified under amnesty granted by the company to induce them to talk. One employee testified that VW’s use of “defeat device” software was an “open secret,” which VW has denied, according to German newspapers. VW is investing more in electric vehicles, partially to repair its image as an environmentally responsible company. The all-electric Volkswagen BUDD-e may see production in the near future. Debuted last month at the Consumer Electronics Show, the BIDD-e would be built on the company’s Modular Electric platform.
- Batteries can be stumbling block: While Ford will be investing $4.5 billion in electrified vehicles to catch up with Tesla and GM, the company has been frustrated with the slowness of developing next-gen batteries. “Battery costs are not coming down fast enough to democratize it,” said Kevin Layden, director of Ford’s electrification programs. With no technology breakthroughs coming around the corner, Ford’s scientists and engineers are finding gradual ways to reduce the costs of lithium-ion batteries by 10% to 20% from one generation to the next, he said. That is reducing battery weight and cost while boosting power.
- New president follows Underwood: Energy Vision has named Matt Tomich, 29, its new president as founder Joanna Underwood steps down while continuing to retain her role as chair of Energy Vision’s board. Underwood has played a strong role in supporting development of renewable natural gas in fleet applications. In this Automotive Digest video interview, Underwood talks about how RNG, or biomethane, that comes from landfills, sewage treatment, and agriculture, turns expensive solid waste burdens for communities into clean, available fuels. Tomich worked with a pioneering green chemistry startup based in Kansas City before joining Energy Vision in January 2012. “I’m proud to be able to continue building on Energy Vision’s remarkable first decade,” Tomich said.
- Love’s acquires Trillium CNG: Love’s Travel Stops announced an agreement to purchase natural-gas fuel provider Trillium CNG for an undisclosed price. That will expand Love’s network of public access CNG facilities to 65 from 37. Chicago-based Trillium was acquired last year by WEC Energy Group. “Many of our customers, including fleets and motorists, appreciate the stable pricing that CNG offers, so we’ve remained committed to developing our CNG network,” Love said in a statement. Trillium designs, builds and maintains CNG facilities; the company has provided annual fuel deliveries totaling more than 55 million gallon equivalents of CNG.
- ExxonMobil exploring cellulosic fuels: ExxonMobil has an agreement with Renewable Energy Group to study the production of biodiesel by fermenting renewable cellulosic sugars from non-food sources such as agricultural waste. ExxonMobil is tapping into REG’s patented technology that uses microbes to convert sugars to biodiesel in a one-step fermentation process similar to ethanol manufacturing. This comes at a time when the oil company has been heavily criticized for possibly obscuring what it knew about the risks of climate change. Working with REG will accomplish the oil company’s goals of avoiding a biofuel that might have a major impact on food supplies; and “exploring future energy options with a reduced environmental impact,” said ExxonMobil Research and Engineering VP of research and development Vijay Swarup.