1. Tesla-Mania (and why I called it that):
The list could go on and on about Tesla Motors during 2013 – state battles with auto dealership associations; battery fires and the NHTSA recall; stock price roller coaster; CEO Elon Musk’s Hyperloop concept; and Supercharger fast charging stations come to mind. It’s rare to go more than a week without reading a Tesla article in the industry’s bible, Automotive News – along with several other major news sources. Automotive News is centered around its auto dealer readership, who generally would like to see Tesla go away. The news has got to be big and attention worthy to get as much ink/gigabyte as it has in Automotive News in the past year. That’s where my “Tesla-Mania” headline buzzword came from. There’s been a bit of media frenzy. Another fascinating element while following Tesla is that the company does not utilize the traditional media strategy – a large media/PR department or outsourcing it to one of the majors. They do it themselves and keep it low budget – but are using everything that needs to be done these days – Twitter postings and emails from Musk; strong press releases; attractive showrooms, and well-promoted events like ride and drives or Supercharger rollouts. Making a very impressive car like the Model S (have you ever driven it?) really helps with the storytelling, as well.
2. Volvo and Mack Trucks bringing DME to America:
Ever hear of dimethyl ether (DME), a non-toxic, clean-burning alternative fuel? It comes from a variety of domestic, sustainable sources such as biogas from food and animal waste, wastewater treatment facilities, and landfills. Back in June, Volvo Trucks introduced this option with fuel supplier Oberon Fuels in Sacramento, Calif., for rollout in 2015. Mack Trucks announced soon after that it’s following corporate parent Volvo and will be rolling out big trucks with a 13-liter MP8 engine that can be powered by DME in that same year. DME has been on the market for years as an aerosol propellant in cosmetics and other household products. Its potential is huge – it has the performance qualities and energy efficiency of diesel but can lower CO2 emissions by 95% compared to diesel. It produces no soot, and the fuel is stored in lighter, simpler fuel tanks and lower psi systems than what’s needed for LNG and CNG systems. Volvo Trucks is still committed to CNG and LNG offerings as well – its lineup already includes CNG-powered Volvo VNM and VNL model daycabs. The company is also producing its own proprietary LNG engine in VNL daycabs and sleepers next year.
3. Natural gas as a vital domestic power source:
Natural gas had a very good year in the US – fueling more electricity power stations than before, moving coal farther down the supply chain. There’s been modest growth in CNG and LNG vehicle sales – some of it through vehicle conversions and more OEM offerings like the Ford F-150 CNG option introduced this year. Fueling stations have seen a good deal of growth this year as Clean Energy and a few other infrastructure builders announce more openings, and fleets add in more onsite refueling stations. The vehicle conversion cost is a factor, but the payoff is happening within two-to-three years; fleets acquiring NGVs make an effective business case with upper management that fuel cost savings, emissions reductions, and supporting a domestic industry is a win-win-win.
4. Warfare over the Renewable Fuel Standard and E15:
When the Renewable Fuel Standard was adopted in Washington in 2005 (and expanded in 2007), it made a whole lot of sense. The Bush administration was concerned about our reliance on foreign oil as we waged war in the Middle East, and legislators on both sides of the aisles could agree. Corn-based ethanol was the mainstay and was supported as a clean, domestic fuel that could pave the way toward advanced biofuels like cellulosic and algae. The “Detroit 3” automakers began rolling out flex-fuel vehicles capable of running on E85. That movement faded in the midst of the “food versus fuel” debate which started up in 2008, and was followed by attacks on the prospect of E15 becoming standard at US gas stations. Some of that fight came from “big oil” companies and some from automakers concerned about the long-term reliability of engines that might not handle E15 very well. The EPA’s decision to scale back its ethanol blending mandate in late 2013 was harsh for the biofuel community to hear.
5. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles aren’t going away:
The running joke in the car biz about hydrogen fuel cell vehicles is that they’re a great idea but they’re still a long ways away. And we’ve been hearing that for years. Well, this year witnessed a few impressive developments. Early this year, Ford and Daimler added Nissan to its fuel-cell alliance to share costs and brainpower on the development of a common fuel-cell stack and other systems by 2017. General Motors and Honda announced a partnership to make a common hydrogen powertrain by 2020. In other news, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota joined up with the US Dept. of Energy’s H2USA project. The formation of the public-private partnership is centered on building a hydrogen fueling infrastructure. As for auto conventions, this year’s LA Auto Show gave fuel cell vehicles a lot of attention. Hyundai showed off a fuel cell version of its Tucson sport-utility vehicle. Honda unveiled its FCEV, its next-generation fuel cell vehicle. During that same time Toyota showed its FCV (fuel cell vehicle) concept at the Tokyo Motor Show. Toyota said that it’s a “practical concept” of the fuel cell vehicle it plans to launch in 2015;
And then there’s 6-10:
6. Ford and Hyundai-Kia MPG claims: Hyundai and Kia have taken a different approach than Ford on its hybrids, as was covered in the Big Picture article this week.
7. Plug-in EV sales: Take a look at the impressive chart showcased by Electric Drive Transportation Association. It was a big year for battery electric and plug-in hybrid sales.
8. Fisker and other auto greentech failures – Fisker, Envia, A123, Coda, and ECOtality –these plug-in EV, battery, and charging station makers looked so promising a few years ago, but 2013 was a year of bankruptcies and bad news.
9. Propane autogas moves forward – The fueling station unveilings and vehicle offerings have been very good in 2013. School buses converting over to propane were a part of that trend.
10. Renewable natural gas –There’s been a lot more going on in the background than Clean Energy’s Redeem announcement. If you want to be very impressed with how much is also being done on this front, check out the webinar, “Securing California’s Clean Energy Future with Renewable Natural Gas.”