This Week’s Top 10: Congresswoman challenges Trump’s EPA budget cut, Toyota Prius Prime takes top spot in April

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. Challenging EPA cuts: President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget will shut down the Ann Arbor, Mich., vehicle emissions testing lab and put 435 employees out of their jobs, according to U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. Dingell toured the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory on Monday, which is part of her congressional district. She’d been denied access to visiting the site in April. Trump’s 31% budget cut to the EPA would be the biggest cut to any federal agency; the Ann Arbor lab has been the home base for vehicle emissions testing in the U.S. “This is extremely troubling and raises serious questions about the executive branch closing access to government facilities and preventing members of congress from conducting necessary oversight,” Dingell wrote in a recent letter to Trump.
  2. PEV sales in April: The Toyota Prius Prime took top spot for the first time, nudging out the Chevy Volt at 1,819 units sold versus 1,807. Another interesting one was seeing the Bolt move up higher in the rank to No. 3 with 1,292 sold, up 32.1% over March sales. Overall plug-in electrified vehicle sales in the U.S. were up 7.82% over April 2016 and down 25.6% from March, according to HybridCars’s Dashboard. For hybrid vehicle sales, the Toyota Prius moved back to No. 1 in April, beating out the Ford Fusion Hybrid 5,802 versus 4,509. Overall hybrid sales were down 3.3% from March and up 6.8% from the previous year.
  3. Softening subsidies hurt BYD: The world’s leading seller of electric vehicles has taken a dive in China since government subsidies have been reduced. BYD saw its sales drop 34% during the last quarter. BYD had seen double-digit sales growth, driving China to the global lead in EV sales. The company is now looking at how to cut costs in producing cars without cutting into profits. The Chinese electric carmaker had been seeing 45% annual sales growth in recent years. That led the Chinese EV market to see more than 500,000 in sales last year.
  4. Q1 PEV sales: The U.S. and Europe saw a great first quarter for sales of plug-in electrified vehicles. U.S. sales of PEVs jumped 49% during the first quarter, according to Bloomberg. That figure reached 40,700 units sold, which indicates sales will go up noticeably this year over last year. The European Automobile Manufacturers Association reported that sale of PEVs have increased by 37.6% compared to the first quarter of 2016. Battery electric vehicles saw a 49% increase and plug-in hybrids were up 13% in Europe during the first quarter.
  5. Uber supporting university AI project: Uber is taking a new tactic to affirm its place in the autonomous vehicle market, and stabilize that part of the business as the Waymo legal battle comes to a conclusion. The ride-hailing giant will be setting up a new artificial intelligence (AI) team in Toronto to improve its autonomous vehicle software and to tap into university resources. The Toronto office will be led by professor Raquel Urtasun of University of Toronto, an expert on the technology. Uber and Waymo are watching for a ruling by Judge William Alsup over a potential preliminary injunction, which could happen as soon as next week against Uber’s autonomous vehicle program. The Google self-driving car division has claimed that its former employee, Anthony Levandowski, stole files while he was working for Waymo and then brought them over to Uber. In related news, the city of Portland, Ore., is clamping down on Uber for using software called Greyball that helped its drivers evade local transportation regulators.
  6. India going electric: India appears to be leaning toward plug-in electrified vehicles over hybrids and traditional gasoline engine cars, according to a draft document from a government think-tank read by Reuters. Current incentives for hybrids may go away, as India appears ready to follow China’s lead in providing subsidies for plug-in vehicles while taking hybrids off the list. India is looking to cut oil imports by half and follow the Paris climate treaty.
  7. M-B offers energy storage: Mercedes-Benz is going into the energy storage business, starting in the U.K. with up to 20 kWh storage available to home residents. A commercial property program is also coming out in that country. It’s being tied into solar power, with alliances being worked out with partner companies. Daimler first started the energy storage unit in 2015, soon after Tesla did so. BMW and Nissan are also getting into this side of the business that tapes into the lithium-ion batteries going into their electric cars.
  8. Tesla goes to Mexico: Tesla held interviews in Mexico over the weekend to bring in more experienced manufacturing engineers to its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant. The electric automakers has big plans on the table, preparing to manufacture 500,000 units a year starting in 2018. Mexican engineers have a lot of experience working for automakers, with 19 automotive plants now open in Mexico. The Trump administration has different things in mind, not wanting foreign workers to come to the U.S., and not supporting the NAFTA free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.
  9. Year of the plug-in hybrid: Automakers see plug-in hybrids as an important stepping stone toward all-electric vehicle sales, and will be rolling out quite a few of them this year. These will be price-competitive models such as the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid version compared to the gasoline-engine Niro crossover. Federal tax incentives are helping, with cars like the Chevy Volt getting the maximum $7,500 tax credit. State incentives are helping, too, with New York recently starting a $2,000 rebate program.
  10. What’s helped China PEV sales: While Chinese government subsidies are likely to see a cutback this year, they have been critical in getting China to where it is as the leading global PEV market. A new report from Oak Ridge National Laboratories took a wide-angle view, studying all of the incentive programs being offering by the national and local governments. One of these has been significant investment in the charging infrastructure and a diverse vehicle portfolio receiving subsidies. The government has been supporting electric buses and other fleet applications such as electric taxis. The boom in “new energy vehicle” sales has been a mix of electric small cars, luxury cars, and commercial vehicles.

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