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…….
- Tesla Motors will soon find out whether it’s deal to set up its Gigafactory in Reno, Nev., will pass through the state legislature – and there could be a wave of opposition. The factory would be impressive – powered by renewable energy and expected to produce up to 500,000 lithium batteries annually, and the Gigafactory will cost $5 billion to build. The challenge is that Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval needs legislative approval for the $1.25 billion package of tax breaks needed to lure Tesla into the state. Speaker of the Assembly Rep. Marilyn Kirkpatrick said she did not know whether or not the deal will pass at a special session next week. Legislators have questions, Kirkpatrick said. The deal will need support of Democrats from the Las Vegas area that are skeptical of the plan, according to a media report. They are leaning toward voting for the plan but have questions needing to be answered. Established business groups might oppose the tax breaks due to how they’ll affect other companies in the state; car dealers may also oppose the Gigafactory as part of their fight to keep Tesla retail locations out of the state. There’s a lot at stake here – “This factory is very important to the future of Tesla — without it we can’t do the mass-market car,” Musk said at a press conference with Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval in Carson City, Nevada. As for other Tesla news……. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his company may have another “significant” joint project in two or three years with Toyota, and it would be at higher volumes than its recently ended Toyota RAV4 EV alliance…… Musk reiterated his pledge to bring a partially self-driving car to market in three years; it will be developed in-house using sensors and components from suppliers. He thinks all Tesla cars will someday be self-driving……. Tesla is arguing against a complaint filed against it by Georgia dealerships with the Georgia Department of Revenue last week. Dealers say Tesla is breaking the state rules which limit non-dealers to selling fewer than 150 of its electric cars directly to customers each year.
- The Nissan Leaf broke its own sales record in August – selling 3,186 units and marking its 18th consecutive month of year-over-year sales increases. In the nearly four years that the electric car has been on the market, it’s sold more than 61,000 units. The Chevrolet Volt came it at 2,511 sold, its best performance month since a year ago. A new 2016 Volt will be introduced in January; and nearly 67,700 units have been sold since its launch in December 2010. Sales of the Tesla Model S go unreported, but it was estimated to be about 1,200 units sold in August. BMW saw sales of its BMW i3 leap from less than 400 units in the three previous months up to 1,025 in August, according to industry and analyst reports.
- Growth in the heavy-duty natural gas truck market was underemphasized in the Wall Street Journal, according to natural gas vehicle (NGV) leaders. The market for these trucks is growing at an annual rate of about 20%, which is “extraordinary,” says NGVAmerica president Rich Kolodziej. Ron Eickelman, president of Agility Fuel Systems and chair of NGVAmerica, says demand for his firms compressed natural gas fuel systems has been very strong. NGV leaders disagree with the premise of the WSJ article that it takes four years for payback to be seen from the fuel-savings; operators can see that payback in as little as two years, say leaders at NGV organizations. In other NGV news, Ryder System, Inc., announced that it’s partnering with Anheuser-Busch to bring in 66 CNG diesel-tractor trucks to its fleet. GE Capital Fleet Services has made an agreement with VNG to support expansion of the CNG refueling infrastructure for light-duty fleet vehicles.
- Leading ridesharing company Uber has been banned from Germany until a hearing this year by a court in Frankfurt. Uber faces fines up to 250,000 euros (about $330,000) and its local employees could be jailed up to six months if the temporary injunction is violated. In April, a Brussels, Belgium-based court imposed a 10,000 euro fine on Uber drivers for every ride they accept in the city. Uber’s fight continues with taxis and governments.
- Daimler distanced itself from Uber as it announced acquisitions of two smartphone applications when acquiring Mytaxi and Ridescout. Daimler said these deals will not disrupt the taxi industry, a large client of its Mercedes-Benz cars. Through its Moovel GmbH, Daimler bought the Mytaxi app, which allows customers to hail a cab and other functions using a smartphone. RideScount helps customers find the best way of reaching a destination through both public and private transportation options, along with carsharing services. Daimler has been in the carsharing business through its car2go subsidiary.
- A Volkswagen Group executive thinks that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles won’t be doing well beyond Japan’s borders. Government subsidies of as much as three million yen ($28,500) by the Japanese government for hydrogen-powered vehicles will probably be too high for other countries to match; and refueling will be impractical even in Japan as handling hydrogen is challenging and building the infrastructure is costly, says Shigeru Shoji, Volkswagen Group’s Japan president.
- A $5,000 rebate on purchasing a propane autogas vehicle or converting an existing vehicle to propane are available to New York residents, including fleet users. New York Propane Gas Association is making the rebate available to one vehicle per fleet, and the incentive is available through the end of this year.
- The United States Advanced Battery Consortium LLC awarded $667,452 in an advanced battery technology development contract for next-generation plug-in hybrid electric vehicle applications to Xerion Advanced Battery Corporation of Westminster, Colo. The consortium is a collaborative organization operated by Chrysler, Ford, and General Motors.The competitively bid contract award is co-funded by the US Department of Energy and includes a 50% Xerion cost-share.
- Average fuel economy for light-duty vehicles sold in the US in August reached an all-time high, according to a University of Michigan report. Those new vehicles reached 25.8 mpg, up from 25.6 in July and 24.9 a year ago.
- Oberon Fuels had its dimethyl ether (DME) biogas fuel approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use in commercial vehicle applications. Oberon Fuels secured approval under the Renewable Fuel Standard and is now eligible for several renewable identification numbers (RINs) under the cellulosic and advanced categories. EPA says that Oberon’s DME has a 68% reduction in greenhouse gases compared to traditional diesel fuel. Oberon Fuels is working with Volvo Trucks and Mack Trucks to bring DME to Volvo and Mack trucks.