Category: Green

By on September 13, 2011

TTAC’s Twitter followers already know that I’m at the 2011 APEC Transport/Energy Ministerial Meeting in San Francisco, rubbing elbows with key decision-makers from the world of energy and transportation across the Asia-Pacific region. Earlier today I had the opportunity to sit down with Better Place CEO Shai Agassi, the intense, formidable CEO of Project Better Place. I’ll be writing about that conversation shortly, but many of the major points are covered in the speech Agassi gave shortly afterwards to assembled ministers, media and businesspeople. The speech boils down Better Place’s hugely ambitious plan to tackle one of the most complex challenges the world faces: transportation’s dependence on oil. If you’re looking for an Al Gore-style “green” speech, keep looking. Agassi tackles the problem from an economic and technological approach, and he makes a case that is well worth about 17 minutes of your time.

If you’re not familiar with Better Place, you can read some of TTAC’s coverage of the battery-swapping, network-managing, mileage-leasing project at our Project Better Place tag here (much of it on-the-ground reporting from Tal Bronfer, who has been following its rollout in the Israeli market). A comparison of battery swap to other EV business models can be found here, and a study of EV grid management issues can be found here.

By on August 22, 2011

Today’s announcement of a memorandum of understanding between Ford and Toyota, uniting the two firms’ pickup truck hybrid drivetrain efforts, took quite a few industry-watchers by surprise this morning. As the industry leader in hybrid technology, Toyota has limited past hybrid cooperation to licensing its drivetrain wholesale to Nissan and a patent-sharing agreement with Ford. Moreover, the last big alliance aimed at developing hybrid technology for full-sized pickups, the Two-Mode V8 hybrids developed jointly by GM, Chrysler, Mercedes and BMW, have been a huge flop on the market, with the German partners walking away from the technology after using it in only a single application each (X5/X6, and ML Hybrid). Though Toyota and Ford have worked together to prevent a messy patent war over hybrid technology, there was little to suggest that they would take the cooperation any further, let alone join forces to hybridize full-size pickups. But if you’re looking to the marketplace to explain the Ford-Toyota tie-up, you’re looking in the wrong place: this is all about the freshly-announced CAFE standard and its generous credit system.
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By on August 4, 2011

I am sitting in a parking garage in a throng of torpid auto-journalists, nearly all of whom are wearing the same glazed expression of terminal information overload. On-screen, molecules of fuel and air are doing a complicated little computer-animated dance, as narrated by Susumi Niinai, program manager at Mazda’s powertrain development division. His English, while Japanese-accented, is better than, y’know, mine, but the concepts he’s explaining approach the limit of comprehensibility to the lay-person. Mind you, it’s a pretty nice parking garage.

Some of you, like me, may have been hearing all the rumblings about Mazda’s new SKYACTIV technologies and been wondering whether it’s going to turn out to be a series of technological breakthroughs or, alternatively, a load of complete cobblers thought up by some Zoom-Zoom marketing guru.

Good news everyone! It’s the former. Bad news everyone! I have to try to explain it to you. And I borderline don’t understand it myself. Here goes…

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By on August 2, 2011


A final rule for 2017-2025 CAFE standards won’t be published until September, but a pre-publication notice by the EPA [PDF here] reveals some of the key details we’ve been looking for. The broad strokes, which we are already well aware of are shaping up as follows:

NHTSA currently intends to propose standards that would be projected to require, on an average industry fleet wide basis, 40.9 mpg in model year 2021, and 49.6 mpg in model year 2025.  For passenger cars, the annual increase in stringency between model years 2017 to 2021 is expected to average 4.1 percent, and to average 4.3 percent between model years 2017 and 2025. Like EPA, in recognition of the utility requirements of full-size pick-up trucks and the unique challenges to improving fuel economy compared to other light-duty trucks and passenger cars, NHTSA intends to propose a lower annual rate of improvement for light-duty trucks in the early years of the program. For light-duty trucks, the proposed overall annual rate of fuel economy improvement in model years 2017 through 2021 would be 2.9 percent per year.  NHTSA expects to change the slopes of the fuel economy footprint curves for light-duty trucks from those in the 2012-2016 rule, which would effectively make the annual rate of improvement for smaller light-duty trucks in model years 2017 through 2021 higher than 2.9 percent, and the annual rate of improvement for larger light-duty trucks over the same time period lower than 2.9 percent.  For model years 2022 through 2025, NHTSA expects to propose conditional standards with an overall annual rate of fuel economy improvement for light-duty trucks of 4.7 percent per year

We had heard that trucks would improve their efficiency at a rate of 3.5% rather than 2.9% for the 2017-2021, and a 2022-2025 growth rate of 5% rather than 4.7%. But then, cars were supposed to improve by 5% in the 2017-2025 period, so both truck and car standards seem likely to end up lower than what the president’s report seemed to promise. But that’s not the only bad news for anyone hoping for tough fuel efficiency standards (or, good news for truck-dependent automakers)… with the release of this notice, we have an initial sense of the loopholes that will be included, and they appear to be of the hefty variety.

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By on July 26, 2011


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.

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By on July 25, 2011

 

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.

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By on July 18, 2011

 

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.

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By on July 12, 2011

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.

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By on June 29, 2011

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.

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By on June 25, 2011

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.

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By on May 20, 2011

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…

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By on May 9, 2011

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?

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By on May 4, 2011

 

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…

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By on May 1, 2011

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…

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By on April 10, 2011


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 >

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