Research into environmentally sensitive ways of running a car, AKA “green patents” have been in the news lately and it’s been good news for GM’s image. The Detroit automakers in general are not seen as technology leaders, particularly in terms of alternative energy. Bob Lutz saw the Chevy Volt as a way of changing that perception, taking away some green luster from Toyota. Since there is usually considerable time between a patent’s filing and its granting, patents granted in the last 2 or 3 years are a good reflection of what a company has been doing for the past 4 or 5 years, and there’s evidence that Lutz’s strategy was not just a PR job but also a reflection of a very large amount of research and development at the automaker. Cleantech Group, of the Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti intellectual property law firm, publishes the Clean Energy Patent Growth Index. The CEPGI tracks the granting of U.S. patents for solar, wind, hybrid/electric vehicles, fuel cells, hydroelectric, tidal/wave, geothermal, biomass/biofuels and other clean renewable energy. The law firm publishes the CEPGI quarterly and then tabulates the annual results.
Dare to suggest that a strong CAFE standard won’t ruin any automaker, and you’ll be overwhelmed by deafening cries of “what about the market,” “think of consumer choice,” and “don’t you tell me what to drive.” Now, I’ve made it very clear that I’m not a huge CAFE fan, but the fact of the matter is that since nobody is leading a charge for a gas tax (least of all the industry that says it would be a good thing) it’s the only option on the table. Which leaves just one question: why regulate fuel economy at all? There are all kinds of arguments against regulating fuel economy, but most stem from a desire to “let the market do its thing.” That’s an argument I’m highly sympathetic towards, but it doesn’t necessarily require that the government but out and let the era of cheap, thirsty trucks roll on unabated. What maybe, just maybe, if the market actually wants more fuel economy? Well guess what campers… according to research by IHS Global Insight [via Automotive News [sub], the market does want more fuel economy.
If you asked an auto industry lobbyist, say, a month ago, what the big fights were over in CAFE negotiations, he probably wouldn’t have said “the number.” In the parlance of the Potomac valley, that means everyone at the table knows that at some point they’re all going to join hands and sing kumbaya over one highly symbolic number. Not surprisingly, the numbers that everyone in DC has been looking at fall right in the middle of these four scenarios… not coincidentally the tipping point where hybrids swing from a quarter to nearly half the market. But are these WSJ [sub] charts even accurate? John Krafcik, CEO of Hyundai Motor America and the industry’s CAFE contrarian implies that it’s not for everyone, telling Automotive News [sub] that
Honestly, our focus isn’t on hybrid. Our focus is on optimizing internal combustion and getting as many fuel-efficient vehicles out there, across the lineup. That’s the way you do it. If you look at the math, if you look at how CAFE math works, volume trumps everything.
But then Krafcik oversees a brand that doesn’t just sell lots of high-efficiency cars, it sells very few pickups… resulting in a sales-weighted fleet fuel economy 35.7 MPG in the first half of this year (as calculated by Hyundai). Did we mention that the 2016 passenger car standard is 37.8 MPG, at which time it figures its non-hybrid Elantra will get 50 MPG combined on the CAFE test? And nobody can look at Hyundai’s six-month sales performance (up 26%) and argue that Americans don’t want to buy fuel-efficient cars. In short, Hyundai is proving that automakers who can make money selling appealing, fuel-efficient cars need not binge on hybrids Even, according to the EPA’s final rule on standards through 2016, for manufacturers trying to sell as many pickups as possible.
Electric vehicles present all kinds of challenges to the traditional ways of understanding cars. From design to differentiation, from range to refueling, EVs simply act different than the internal combustion-powered cars we’ve been refining for centuries now. And yet, through consumer incentives and subsidized charging stations, governments seem to be barreling headlong towards the goal of simply replacing our gas cars with electric ones, as if the two were fundamentally interchangeable. Sadly this is not the case, and a study by Project Better Place and PJM Interconnection [PDF] illustrates in stark terms just how costly an unplanned, uncoordinated rush to electric cars can be.
TTAC has long seen stop-start systems (which turn off the engine at idle) as one of the many common-sense technologies that will continue to improve internal combustion engine efficiency at a relatively low cost. Outside of these digital pages, though, the systems have taken longer to gain awareness in the United States, resulting in the lagging adoption rate pictured in the chart above. Up to this point, we’ve assumed that this can largely be blamed on the EPA test’s unwillingness to acknowledge the urban-driving advantages of stop-start systems, pointing to Mazda’s protests on the matter as evidence that government intransigence was keeping the technology out of the market. But recently Mazda has announced that all of its vehicles will get stop-start as standard by 2015, and Ford has said that it will begin offering the technology on “some” four-cylinder models for the North American 2012 model-year… and the rest of Detroit isn’t far behind. So what’s the deal? The EPA hasn’t changed its test… why are stop-start systems finally starting to trickle over?
Thanks to new research obtained by TTAC from the cleantech investment fund Pacific Crest, we now have a better understanding of stop-start technology, and why we’re actually glad it’s taking so long for the systems to get here.
General Motors CEO Dan Akerson set off something of a firestorm a few weeks ago, when he said, in response to a question about forthcoming CAFE increases:
You know what I’d rather have them do — this will make my Republican friends puke — as gas is going to go down here now, we ought to just slap a 50-cent or a dollar tax on a gallon of gas.
Predictably, populists and economic alarmists of all stripes took great umbrage at Akerson’s candor, questioning his leadership of GM as well as his perspective on the shaky US economy. But Akerson is not alone in his support of some form of gas-tax increase. Bob Lutz and Tom Friedman (an odd couple right there, if ever there was one) agree with him. Edmunds CEO Jeremy Anwyl defended Akerson and even suggested a $2/gallon tax earlier this year. Bill Ford and AutoNation’s Mike Jackson are of the same mind as now-retired Republican Senator George Voinovich on the issue. And yet, inside the Beltway, the subject tends to draw a chuckle and a roll of the eyes. Everyone wants it, but nobody wants it.
While the political battle lines over increasing CAFE standards are being drawn in Washington, with the industry taking on both environmentalists and itself, a line of analysis that’s been around since 2009 is exacerbating the industry’s internal divisions over the impact of CAFE increases. A two-year-old University of Michigan study has been exhumed and expanded upon in a new CitiGroup report which makes a bold claim: CAFE will actually improve both sales and profits for the industry. And with Detroit taking the lead in resisting CAFE increases, one might think that the industry’s “turncoats” like Toyota and Hyundai, who have made marketing-led decisions to support CAFE increases, would be the main beneficiaries of these reports. Not so. According to this battle-line-confounding analysis, the biggest beneficiary of CAFE increases will be… Detroit. Madness you say? You may well be right…
Though the EPA won’t actually announce its 2025 CAFE standard until September, the California Air Resources Board’ insistence on a 62 MPG standard for ’25 has the industry’s analysts and talking heads in something of a frenzy. Smelling the smoke on the breeze, Automotive News [via AutoWeek] trots out a range of interpretations of the proposed 62 MPG standard, from the frightening to the apocalyptic. Cost increases per vehicle for a 62 MPG by 2025 standard are estimated by government agencies at $3,500 “at most,” while Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers reckons they’ll run “as much as $6,400.” Sean McAlinden of the notoriously industry-friendly Center for Automotive Research figures the market will have to shift to 64% plug-in hybrids, at a price increase of $9,970 per vehicle, while the AAM adds that 62 by 20205 “could cut car sales by 25 percent, costing the industry 220,000 jobs.” And the EPA seems to be listening to the rising chorus of grumbles, as the agency’s Margo Oge soothed the locals on a recent visit to Detroit with the words
We will be very mindful — and I underline ‘mindful’ — of the consumer throughout this process. Unless people buy these new clean cars and trucks, and buy them in large numbers, everyone loses.
But if CARB wants 62 MPG by 2025, it will get it from the EPA. Which means the real question is simply how much will the standard actually add to per-vehicle costs? Is the industry inflating its numbers in hope of a teaspoon of federal sugar to help the medicine go down? Is the 62 MPG standard really an industry killer?
For years now the Chinese automakers have been the bête noir of the global car industry, inspiring equal parts fear and contempt in boardrooms and editorial meetings from Detroit to Stuttgart. In an industry built on scale, China’s huge population and rapid growth can not be ignored as one scans the horizon for dark horse competitors. And yet no Chinese automaker has yet been able to get even a firm toehold in the market China recently passed as the world’s largest: the United States.
Certainly many have tried, as the last decade is littered with companies who have tried to import Chinese vehicles, only to go out of business or radically rethink their strategy (think Zap for the former and Miles/CODA for the latter). Others, like BYD (or India’s Mahindra), have teased America endlessly with big promises of low costs and high efficiency, only to delay launch dates endlessly. In short, a huge gulf has emerged between overblown fears of developing world (particularly Chinese) auto imports and the ability of Chinese automakers to actually deliver anything. No wonder then, that we found what appears to be the first legitimate attempt at importing Chinese cars to the US quite by accident…
George Orwell’s warning, that “the first victim of war is the truth,” apparently applies equally to trade wars. On Friday, Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow (both D-MI) wrote the United States Trade Representative to express their concern over “reported draft regulations” of China’s New Energy Vehicle plan, noting
We are concerned that these draft regulations continue China’s long history of breaking international trade rules.
Given that the ongoing low-level trade war between the US and China, this was a predictable bit of saber-rattling. But if Levin and Stabenow’s political motivations are easy to understand, the logic that leads them to believe China’s New Energy Vehicle plan is a violation of international trade rules is not. Meanwhile, neither the Senators nor the USTR appear not to have heard about another, more serious possible trade issue arising from China’s headlong dash towards electric vehicles. Sounds like a job for The Truth About Cars…
Some nutcase on a big wheel trike beat a bus in a mile-long race in midtown Manhattan—by an absolutely incredible two minutes and 38 seconds.Meshugina Mark Malkoff, the comedian best known for living in the Ikea off the New Jersey Turnpike between exits 13 and 14 for an entire week; for visiting all 171 skcubratS in Manhattan in less than 24 hours, and buying something from each, and eating or drinking it; and for disappointing his mother by refusing even to apply to medical school (I made that last up, but logic dictates that it had to have happened) accomplished this feat on a Razor Rip Rider 360, obeying all traffic signals, and averaging 4.7 mph. The bus averaged 3.8 mph, which, as Mark pointed out in the video, is slower than a brisk walker, a skate boarder, someone on a pogo stick, or a snail riding on the back of a turtle. Not to name-drop, but Malkoff just happens to be my sister-in-law, Alison’s first cousin once removed. Which makes him my first cousin-in-law, once removed. Read More >
It’s long form Saturday! Most of you probably thought you would never see the day Bertel writes a fiery manifesto for the Electric Car. Today is your day.
Yesterday, we were first to run with the story that Beijing most likely will become EV capital of the world. Not because Beijing scientists have developed the miracle battery. Not because Chinese EVs suddenly go 400 miles on a single charge. Physics did not change. Beijing changes. Months ago, new car buyers in Beijing stopped dreaming about buying a new car.That dream was shattered. Now suddenly, an EV has become the only car a new car buyer can buy and drive tomorrow. Or on Monday. If one would be on sale. Here is what happened: Read More >
When Better Place launched their Visitor Center in Tel Aviv, the attending journalists’ fingers couldn’t keep up with all the numbers and the promises flogged by the company chiefs: tens of battery switch stations to be built, hundreds of charging stations to be deployed and a thousand cars to be sold to Israeli customers each month.
Just over a year has passed since these statements made air, and in typical Israeli fashion – most of the goals were not met. Despite promising to begin delivery of cars in the beginning of 2011, Better Place has not sold a single car over the four months that passed since New Year’s Eve. And the number of battery switch stations built in Israel was – you guessed it – exactly zero. Until now.
Alberta is a province in Canada. A lot is agricultural, but what is much more important are the treasures beneath the soil. Alberta sits on more than 1.7 trillion barrels of bitumen, better known as oil sand. That’s about equal to the world’s total proven reserves of conventional petroleum. Canadians are troubled that EVs might ruin these riches. Read More >
GM and its Korean battery partner LG Chem have signed licensing agreements with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory, giving the two firms access to Argonne’s proprietary lithium and manganese-rich metal oxide mix for use in lithium battery cell cathodes. The material will need “several years of testing” according to The General, but could extend battery life, increase charging voltages and storage, and make Li-ion cells safer. Energy Secretary Stephen Chu says GM’s agreement with the publicly-funded lab
gives General Motors the ability to use cutting-edge battery technology throughout its supply chain. The licensing of this technology will also spur the renewal of the American battery industry, creating hundreds of new jobs where they are needed most.
But that’s not quite the whole story. According to press releases, GM’s deal with Argonne allows the automaker to
to use Argonne’s patented composite cathode material to make advanced lithium-ion batteries
But LG Chem’s agreement allows the Korean firm
to make and use Argonne’s patented cathode material technology in lithium-ion battery cells
In short, a publicly-funded lab has licensed technology in a way that appears to deepen the (partially) government-owned automaker’s dependence on a foreign firm. Confused? So is the mainstream media. And so, to some extent, are we.