This Week’s Top 10: Fisker Inc. bringing ‘spiritual successor’ to market, Tesla doubling Fremont plant size

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. fisker-inc-logoFisker Inc.:  Henrik Fisker is bringing his brand name back to the electric car space through Fisker Inc., which will be launching a car he refers to as the “spiritual successor” to the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid sports car. The new model will probably be all-electric, and will be revealed in the second half of 2017. He says it will have a driving range of more than 400 miles, and will come equipped with an industry-leading battery life that will potentially match the life of the vehicle. The company has a battery division called Fisker Nanotech based in northern California. Jack Kavanaugh will serve as chairman of Fisker Nanotech, while Fisker will be chairman and CEO of Fisker Inc. He will lead other business units including being head of design and product strategy at VLF Automotive, the company he founded with former GM executive Bob Lutz and Gilbert Villarreal in January 2016. Fisker Automotive went through a structured bankruptcy auction in February 2014, where Wanxiang Group bought certain assets, excluding the Fisker brand name. Fisker also retained his logo, as you can see in this article.
  2. Tesla doubling plant size:  Tesla Motors has filed for a zoning proposal in Fremont, Calif., to double in size its assembly plant and meet a 500,000 vehicle annual production goal. In May, CEO Elon Musk said the company would be building a million vehicles a year by 2020, but that will also involve setting up more factories overseas. Tesla has set a goal of producing 500,000 Model 3s a year from 2018 to 2020. Earlier this year, the company said that about 373,000 pre-orders of the Model 3 had been placed. Tapping into the capital needed to ramp up factories will be difficult for the company. Last week, Goldman Sachs downgraded Tesla Motors soon after Morgan Stanley did the same. That came at a bad time – right before Musk begins rallying investors for a new fundraising round.
  3. Battery partnership:  Faraday Future announced a partnership last week with LG Chem to supply lithium-ion cells for the startup’s electric supercars. Both companies have agreed to collaborate on EV battery technology that they say will have the world’s highest energy density for a production automotive battery. These cells will be incorporated into Faraday Future’s VPA platform, the company’s “universal and scalable modular battery structure.” LG Chem says it now has more than 20 global automaker as customers.
  4. Formula E:  Mercedes-Benz will be gearing up to race in the 2019/18 Formula E electric racing series. Pending approval from FIA World Motorsport Association, Mercedes-Benz’s British-based subsidiary, Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix, hopes to bring its experience in motorsports over to electric racing. The automaker gained a lot of electrified racing experience through its hybrid Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One racer. Mercedes-Benz is expected to use Formula E as a marketing platform for its newly created EQ electric car sub-brand.
  5. Concerns over Autopilot 8.0:  Consumer Reports tested out Tesla’s new Autopilot system 8.0 upgrade. The changes were appreciated, and the magazine encouraged the automaker to keep working on making the system safer. One issue is that drivers have time to drive hands-free for about a minute and even longer on highways. The publication thinks the Autopilot name should be changed, since it’s not really in autopilot mode. There’s also concern that system remains a beta release. Tesla CEO Elon Musk had said last month the system isn’t really a true beta release, but the company labels it a beta release to reduce people’s comfort level when turning the system on – keeping them more aware and safe.
  6. STORM electric motorcycle trip:  Cal State LA College of Engineering, Computer Science and Technology and EcoCAR team today are welcoming on campus a team of students from Eindhoven, Netherlands, going around the world in 80 days with their STORM Wave electric motorcycle. STORM Eindhoven left the Netherlands to tour the world on Aug. 14, and traveled through Europe, the Middle East, and China before coming to the U.S. A short impression of their tour so far can be found through this  link. The motorcycle runs on a battery pack designed by Eindhoven students. The pack consists of 24 cartridges that have 28.5 kWh of energy, which enables the motorcycle to travel 380 kilometers (236 miles) on a single charge. It is possible to adapt the whole pack to enable a lighter motorcycle for a more sporting driving style. The bike will travel down the West Coast and through the South and Midwest before finishing its tour of America in New York on Oct. 26. STORM will make stops in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Dallas, Columbus, and Pittsburgh, among others. During each stop, the STORM team will meet with universities and companies interested in smart urban planning and sustainability to demonstrate the potential of sustainable transportation and recharge the motorcycle. Track and trace the team live on this page.
  7. EPA on ethanol blends:  A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal would reclassify ethanol blends above E15 as “ethanol flex fuels,” potentially opening the door to wider use of these blended fuels. The proposal would place fuels with 16 to 50 percent ethanol in the same category as E85. The agency believes its proposal could encourage more interest in flex-fuel vehicles and the “blender pumps” needed at fueling stations to add greater amounts of ethanol to gasoline. Some gas station owners have expressed concern that there’s a lack of consumer interest in blends of E15 or higher, and the cost of installation isn’t worth it. It’s not clear whether the new proposal will settle the oil vs. biofuel industry battles, or if advanced biofuels would be supported through the revised rules. The EPA is expected to put its new proposal for adding more ethanol blends to the flex-fuel category up for public comment in the near future.
  8. Hydrogen and fuel cell day:  U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory released a Q&A guide to commemorate October 8th as National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day. Check out the Six Things You Might Not Know About Hydrogen guide. Here’s an interesting one: The day is celebrated on October 8 (10/08) because the atomic weight of hydrogen is 1.008 atomic mass units…. Hydrogen can also be used as a way to store energy, and this use has the potential to have a large impact on our future…….. Current commercial fuel cells use platinum, a rare and expensive metal, as the catalyst. Researchers are working on new catalysts that use less of this expensive metal, or that don’t need platinum at all……. Argonne operates four different divisions where labs conduct research on hydrogen and fuel cells.
  9. Wheego and Valeo win self-driving car permits:  Wheego Electric Cars and Valeo North America have received permits to test self-driving cars on public roads in California. Wheego is based in Atlanta and is led by former EarthLink Inc. president Mike McQuary to design and sell electric vehicles. Valeo is a unit of French auto supplier Valeo SA, which joins several other parts makers trying to develop technology that auto makers may need to put self-driving cars on the road. Cruise Automation received a permit before General Motors Co. in March agreed to acquire the startup in a deal valued at $1 billion.
  10. 48V taking off:  Navigant Research just published a report on the increasing importance of 48V systems adding to fuel efficiency and performance. While 12V has been the standard for many years, 48V is taking off for stop-start systems combined with other technologies including electric turbochargers that can increase efficiency in traditional gas engine vehicles without the adoption of hybrid or plug-in vehicle capability. For comparison purposes, several plug-in electric vehicles have battery packs with about 360 volts. According to Navigant Research, global sales of light duty stop-start vehicles will exceed 61 million by 2025, accounting for 59% of all light duty vehicle sales. Of these, about 15% will feature 48V components.

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