Westport Innovations has just signed a second deal with General Motors to produce light duty natural gas engines, and it’s probably not the last time we’ll be seeing these kind of partnerships forming. Natural gas vehicles have been explored previously on TTAC, but the technology hasn’t been fully explored in-depth, aside from some well-informed comments in various articles.
CARB has mandated that 15.4 percent of new vehicles sold in California by 2025 must be plug-in, electric or fuel cell powered. The new mandate was supported by major OEMs and could mean as many as 1.4 million zero-emissions vehicles (as well as plug-in cars) on California roads by 2025.
After intensive study, the automaker and union-funded think tank, the Center For Automotive Research (CAR), came to the conclusion that closing down automotive manufacturing sites is not as catastrophic as originally thought. Nearly half of the 267 U.S. automotive manufacturing plants that had been shuttered since 1979 have come back to life. Read More >
Though the idea that there is a “war on cars” appeals to certain segments of society, there’s little evidence for any such effort. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that there’s a “war on drivers” on, and it’s being led by the automotive industry. On the one hand, cars are being ever-more laden with distracting gizmos and toys, while simultaneously, companies are testing systems that minimize the need for drivers at all. Though Google’s autonomous cars get a lot of media play in this country, another system is moving Europe towards a similar endgame. Known as “Car-To-X,” the system allows cars to swap information like speed and direction, not just with each other but with traffic lights and traffic data collectors. The idea is to avoid traffic and crashes, by warning drivers of oncoming traffic in a left-hand turn scenario, for example. Because who wants to use their eyes to make sure they’re safe when technology can do it for you?
According to Autobild, the first public German test of the system will begin next spring, with 120 vehicles taking part. GM is currently testing a similar system. If all goes according to plan, systems like this and Google’s autonomous technology will fulfill GM’s prediction that autonomous vehicles will be a reality by 2020, and the war on driving will be won. Or lost, depending on your perspective.
According to many news sources, the historic Twin Cities Assembly Plant in St. Paul, Minnesota is headed for a not-so-grand finale. Come December 19th, the 86-year-old facility that originally built Model Ts will be history. Ironically, Twin Cities is currently making the T’s spiritual successor: the (somewhat iconic) Ford Ranger compact truck. So shall we, the collective group of automotive journalists, lament the loss of this famous nameplate from Ford’s storied past? Read More >
A top congressional leader on Wednesday made clear his opposition to President Obama’s idea of spending $10 billion to create a national infrastructure bank (view details). The bank, part of the White House jobs bill, would offer public subsidy for the financing of “public private partnerships” — which most often would take the form of a toll road. The chairman of the US House Transportation Committee said at a hearing the president’s plan would not advance.
“A national infrastructure bank is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives,” Chairman John Mica (R-Florida) said. “If you want a recipe to put off job creation, adopt that national infrastructure bank proposal.”
Toll roads at one point appeared to be unstoppable. Steady growth in traffic yielded rapidly rising profits, especially for pioneers in the field such as Australia’s Macquarie Bank where executives became so rich from deals that included the leasing of US roads that it was dubbed the “millionaires’ factory.” That all changed when the recession took hold and motorists scaled back on the mileage driven each year. Losses began to mount, and as a report released last week by Fitch Ratings argues, the dynamics for tolling may not improve in the near future.
“Fitch tracks data on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels across its ratings portfolio,” Fitch analysts wrote in the report, Downshifting: US Transportation Reacts as GDP Growth Flattens. “Traffic declined year over year as much as 10 percent during the Great Recession. Sustained positive growth in traffic commenced in February 2010. The most recent Fitch data indicates that growth in traffic volumes began slowly declining on tolled facilities, heading to zero growth in second-quarter 2011.”
Colliers International has come out with its 2011 parking survey results for North America [PDF] and the world [PDF], and you might be surprised by what people pay on average to let their car sit somewhere. The global expensive parking crown (on a monthly basis) goes to London’s West End, which runs a cool $1,014 per month… by comparison, the US average is $155.22 per month. On a daily basis, Copenhagen takes the cake with $73.11, with the highest daily rate in the US coming to $41 per day in Midtown Manhattan. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
Though it doesn’t get the play it deserves in the auto media, Project Better Place is one of the most ambitious, potentially disruptive plays anywhere in the world of cars, uniquely positioning itself to eliminate the biggest shortcomings of electric vehicles. TTAC was on hand when the “end-to-end” EV services firm opened its first battery swap station in Israel, and now the firm has launched its first European swap station in Denmark. Better Place’s single model, the Renault Fluence Z.E won’t be widely available in either of the two initial launch markets until later this year, but having sold over 70,000 of its initial order of 100k units from Renault, Better Place is keeping its foot on the gas… er, juice.
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A study released earlier this month by the Cascade Policy Institute questioned whether pricey mass transit options in Portland, Oregon are really being used by the public. The city has been a leader in securing funding for various forms of passenger rail and trolley systems. The Obama administration, for example, pledged $745 million in federal gas tax dollars to pay for the construction of a $1.5 billion, 7.3 mile light rail project connecting Portland to Milwaukie. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has singled out the city’s priorities as for praise.
“By adding innovative transit opportunities, Portland has become a model livable community, a city where public transportation brings housing closer to jobs, schools, and essential services,” LaHood wrote in March.
One of President Obama’s signature achievements, passage of $812 billion in stimulus funds at the height of the recession, was labeled a failure by the chairman of the US House Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over about eight percent of the projects funded. In a hearing yesterday, Representative John Mica (R-Florida) explained that the money did not end up going to needed infrastructure projects.
“This will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of a government program to stimulate the economy that mankind has ever created,” Mica said. “This is a trillion-dollar lesson.”
“This is the worst situation we’ve faced since the war,” a source close to Toyota told the Yomiuri Shimbun. The Japanese car industry is facing post-war-like shortages when it comes to auto parts. Toyota is short 150 parts positions, which can be anything from a bolt to a complete dashboard.
Dealerships are empty – of cars. Test drive cars do double duty as display vehicles. “We get a lot of customers coming in, but we don’t have cars to sell them,” a salesperson told the Tokyo paper. Read More >
The March 11 tsunami is having long term effects on Japanese car production. Toyota, the world’s and by far Japan’s largest car company, is severely impacted. Toyota just announced that vehicle production from May 10 to June 3 will proceed at approximately 50 percent of normal. Read More >
In a memo that surprises no-one that has followed TTAC’s extended coverage of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Toyota’s U.S. chief Bob Carter warns dealers that deliveries of parts and cars could be severely restricted for months to come. “What we don’t know are vehicle production levels for May through July,” Bob Carter wrote in a memo. “The potential exists that supply of new vehicles could be significantly impacted this summer.” You have seen this coming. Read More >