Tesla Gigafactory Update: Site Selected in Nevada

By:   Christian Okolski 

A little more than a week ago, Tesla Motors announced that it had selected Nevada to be the home of its state-of-the-art battery gigafactory.  Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, and the Governor of Nevada, Brian Sandoval, also attended a press event in the Silver State to make the announcement and reiterate the benefits that will arise from the electric vehicle maker’s new battery factory.  Musk even expressed his enthusiasm by calling Nevada a “get things done state”.  Tesla’s decision is not a complete surprise, since just recently, this blog reported that Nevada was the frontrunner in the gigafactory’s site selection sweepstakes, which has seen fierce competition from five states, Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas.

For those who are unfamiliar with the gigafactory saga, Tesla released its plans to build the ten million square foot battery facility somewhere in the Southwest, and it has been deliberating on where exactly to locate it until two weeks ago.  While the initial states in contention included Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, the field was expanded after requests for consideration were made by California, the home of Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters.  Ultimately, the five states trying to secure Tesla’s gigafactory have been negotiating incentives deals with the automaker in hope of luring the revolutionary gigafactory and its estimated 6,500 jobs.  It seems now, that Nevada has presented Tesla with the best deal.

As Forbes reported, Nevada has promised Tesla approximately $1.3 billion in tax rebates over the next 20 years, which would cover at least 25 percent of the projects total cost of $4-5 billion.  This offer is the 10th largest incentive package offered to a company in the United States.  In return for its newly awarded $1.3 billion in financial assistance Tesla will be required to invest at least $3.5 billion in manufacturing equipment and other property in Nevada.  According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, while a special legislative session was needed to approve Tesla’s benefits, the legislation to solidify the deal was unanimously passed by the State Legislature and signed by Governor Sandoval last Thursday.

After last Thursday’s approval and the finalization of a $1.3 billion in financial assistance, Tesla has won much more than the 10 percent of public funding that it originally desired for the project.  In return, the State will reap billions in economic activity, thousands of new jobs, and one of the greatest initiatives of innovative technology development and manufacturing in America.  It turns out that Elon Musk was right, and Nevada is indeed a “get things done state”.

 

Kia Nears Release of Its First Electric Vehicle, the Soul EV

By:   Christian Okolski 

 Last October, it was reported that an all-electric version of the Kia Soul, the Soul EV, would enter Kia’s product line with an expected release date of Fall 2014.  As fall quickly approaches, CleanTechnica has posted an interesting article on the Soul EV, detailing when it will go on sale, where it will go on sale, and what kind of range and charging it will offer.  Ultimately, it looks as if Kia’s original timeline is still in place, and U.S. car buyers will soon have a new electric vehicle to choose from that will offer competitive pricing and functionality.

For those unfamiliar with the gas-powered Kia Soul, it is the Korean automaker’s quirky hatchback that has been marketed in TV commercials featuring anthropomorphized hamsters that are both hip and can drive.  Over-the-top marketing aside, the Soul is Kia’s successful take on a versatile and affordable city car.  In fact, it recently scored highest on the “Top 10 Urban Cars” list compiled by Cars.com, receiving praise for its build quality, comforts, and technology.  Ultimately, the Soul EV fits into the electric vehicle market well, since it appeals most to customers who drive in dense, urban areas where the limited driving range of electric vehicles is not as much of a problem.

Kia has made the Soul EV’s range competitive with other electric vehicles by outfitting it with a lithium-ion battery that holds 27 kilowatt-hours of charge and delivers a range of 80 to 100 miles.  Moreover, the Soul EV will be capable of DC Fast Charge, which can bring the battery’s charge from zero to 80 percent in approximately 33 minutes.  While the base model of the gas-powered Soul will offer 130 horsepower to the driver, the Soul EV’s electric motor will supply 109 horsepower but with “instant torque”.

Unfortunately for electric vehicle enthusiasts, the Soul EV will first go on sale in California this fall, and shortly after it will be available in Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey, and New York.  If you don’t live in one of those five states, Kia’s first electric vehicle will not be coming soon to a dealer near you.  While the official price is yet to be revealed by Kia, Edmunds expects the Soul EV to cost somewhere in the high $20,000s or low $30,000s.  However, it will also be eligible for a $7,500 federal tax rebate, bringing the real cost to the low or mid $20,000s.

Ultimately, the Soul EV is not likely to be a game changer in the electric vehicle market.  While its price, range, charging abilities, and performance will be competitive with the best-selling vehicle in its class,  the Nissan LEAF, the Soul EV will not provide a single breakthrough feature that sets it apart.  However, its acclaimed refinement, style, comfort, and versatility should still make the Soul EV a very viable option to customers who are not only looking for an electric vehicle, but also a good all-around city car.

 

 

 

 

Tesla Nears Final Site Selection for its “Gigafactory”

By:   Christian Okolski 

Back in winter, this blog reported on Tesla Motors’ plan to build a massive “gigafactory” to produce large volumes of electric vehicle batteries.  Ultimately, the gigafactory is expected to be completed and operational in 2017 and, as production ramps up, have the capacity to supply 500,000 electric vehicles with batteries by 2020.  While Tesla still needs to select a site for the facility before beginning construction, Silicon Valley’s reporting shows that a decision on that front is looming.

The most compelling piece of news regarding the site selection is that Tesla has already broken ground on and begun excavating a potential location in Reno, Nevada.  Reno seems to be a frontrunner in the selection process due to its lack of any corporate income tax, personal income tax, or inventory tax.  In addition, the potential Reno location is suitable for on-site power generation from three different renewable energy sources, including wind, solar, and geothermal.  Despite the good prospects for the Reno location though, Tesla wants the winning state to contribute 10% of the $4-5 billion project cost, and as the Reno Gazette-Journal has reported, Nevada may need to convene a special legislative session to muster those funds.  As Nevada figures out an incentives package though, conversations between Tesla and other states are continuing “behind closed doors”.

Still in the running to be home of the gigafactory are Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas, and the competition among those states is reportedly fierce.  Tesla’s new battery plant is expected to employ approximately 6,500 people with, a plethora of well-paying, skilled manufacturing jobs that would provide a significant boost to a local and even state economy.  In fact, USA Today has made it known that in a recent conference call with Wall Street analysts, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that site evaluations similar to the one taking place in Reno will also be conducted in “one or two other states”.  Tesla’s gigafactory business is so desired that in California, two state senators are actually sponsoring new legislation that would give special, currently unavailable incentives to the electric vehicle maker.

If Tesla wants to build a $5 billion, 10 million square foot battery plant on a 500-1000 acre site in time for 2017, it surely wants to select its location as soon as possible.  Although Reno may be the frontrunner in the Tesla gigafactory sweepstakes, and there seem to several compelling reasons for it, the decision clearly has not been set in stone.  Either the Reno location still needs to be investigated further, or other options in Arizona, California, New Mexico, or Texas are seen as being potentially more compelling, or both cases currently hold true.  Regardless, Tesla is closing in on finding a home for its unprecedented gigafactory and seems likely to make a decision in the not so distant future.

 

 

Cadillac ELR Owners Get Wireless Charging Option

By:   Christian Okolski

Last Monday, Evatran put out a press release announcing that its PLUGLESS wireless charging system will soon be available to owners of the Cadillac ELR, GM’s luxury plug-in hybrid.  The PLUGLESS L2 wireless charging system was first made available to owners of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF, and the Cadillac ELR will be the third vehicle that is compatible with the system.  Evatran notes that ELR owners are now able to pre-order the PLUGLESS L2, which may be delivered as early as September 1st.  Moreover, the company says that it will make its wireless charging system available to owners of three additional “premium” electric vehicle models by the end of the year.

Wireless charging for electric vehicles employs a process called magnetic induction to charge an electric vehicle without a cord or plugging in.  In order for the technology to work, it requires two main hardware components, a transmitter on the ground that draws electricity from the grid and a receiver on the vehicle that is able to send electricity to the battery.  When the transmitter on the ground uses grid electricity to create a magnetic field, that field “induces” an electric charge in the vehicle’s receiver.  Once the receiver receives the induced charge of electricity through the transmitter’s magnetic field, it simply feeds that electricity into the battery to charge it.  In order to charge properly, the vehicle and its receiver must be properly aligned over the transmitter in order to facilitate charging.

Evatran’s website has some good photos of what its wireless charging technology looks like and gives those unfamiliar with the technology a better idea of how it works.  Moreover, Evatran says that its PLUGLESS L2 system charges electric vehicles just as fast as a traditional, plug-in device, and it allows customers to use charging timers and mobile apps to manage the system.

Wireless charging for electric vehicles is more widespread and has been around for longer than many may know.  A company called Conductix Wampfler, for instance, is one of the earliest pioneers of the technology and has been charging electric buses in Italy since 2002!  In addition, major automakers like BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Volvo, Toyota, Nissan, and more are all developing wireless charging technologies as well.  Although some of these automakers have licensed the heart of their systems from WiTricity, an MIT “spinoff” company that has also pioneered the field, there is clear interest from major automotive industry players in the commercialization of wireless charging technology.  However, it is important to note that Evatran, through its PLUGLESS system, is the first company to actually commercialize the technology and sell to owners of mass-market electric vehicles.  According to a recent article by the Richmond Times Dispatch, the Virginia-based company was expecting to ship 50 wireless charging units in July, although it previously only had 25 units in the field.

Ultimately, being able to charge electric vehicles wirelessly could be an important component to a convenient charging infrastructure, and there is certainly value in the ability to simply park and charge, without having to plug anything into the vehicles.  It will be very important, however, that the prices of wireless charging systems remain competitive with their plug-in counterparts in order for them to be successful.  Moreover, it will be just as necessary for these systems to work with the majority of, if not all, electric vehicles and provide interoperability among different manufacturers of transmitters and receivers.  Only through interoperability, will wireless charging one day be able to move into the public domain, where city streets and workplace parking lots can offer wireless charging to electric vehicle drivers with many different vehicle types.

 

 

Tesla to Sell its Affordable Model III in 2017

By:   Christian Okolski

As reported by Forbes, Tesla Motors has confirmed its plans to release another all-electric sedan, which is to be more affordable than the luxurious and high-performing Model S, in 2017.  This news is not a tremendous surprise, since Tesla had revealed the goal of building an affordable electric car as far back as two years ago.  However, it is noteworthy that back in 2012 and according to PluginCars.com, the anticipated launch date of the new model was 2015.

Since Tesla currently sells the Model S and is preparing for production of its Model X crossover, the automaker will name its affordable electric and third generation mass-market vehicle the Model III.  The Model III was originally slated to be called the Model E, but that idea was scrapped after Ford claimed its own trademark to the Model E name and threatened to sue Tesla if it violated the trademark.  While the Model III will be 20 percent smaller than the Model S, it is expected to have an impressive, 200-mile driving range and cost $35,000, approximately half the price of a base Model S.

The 2017 launch date for the Model III makes considerable sense, since that is when Tesla also expects to get its battery “gigafactory” up and running, as reported by this blog.  With the ability to produce batteries en masse and cut battery costs by approximately 30 percent, Tesla will have a much better shot at selling a Model III that resembles the excellent quality touted by the highly-acclaimed Model S.  By cutting the cost of an electric vehicles most expensive component, Tesla will be able to place more resources into refining the Model III’s overall performance and quality.

The Model III is expected to be revealed in 2016, so Tesla still has a couple of years to work out the details of its third, all-electric vehicle.  Regardless, it will be very important for the young automaker to successfully cut costs in the right places and deliver a car that provides high value for its price.  Time will tell if Tesla can build an electric car that goes toe-to-toe with the “mainstream” auto market.

Bay Area Governments Place a Large Order for New EVs

Photo credit:  BAY AREA NEWS GROUP, RAY CHAVEZ — AP Photo

By:   Christian Okolski

The San Francisco Bay Area is a well-known hotbed for sustainable energy efforts and new technology as well as home base for several companies who embrace those characteristics, such as Solar City, Tesla Motors, and City Car Share.  Considering California’s enticing electric vehicle incentives (including a $2,500 tax rebate on new electric vehicle purchases and unrestricted HOV lane access to electric vehicle drivers) and the fact that the Bay Area is the fifth largest metropolitan region in the U.S., it is no surprise that the region boasts one of the Country’s largest electric vehicle markets.   To further advance the Bay Area’s strong presence in the market, local municipalities have recently made the largest government fleet electric vehicle deployment in the U.S. to date.

The Bay Area Climate Collaborative (BACC), a public-private organization that works to advance the region’s climate goals, announced this electric vehicle deployment last Tuesday.  In total, 90 all-electric vehicles were simultaneously deployed by Alameda County, Sonoma County, San Francisco, Concord, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Oakland, Fremont, the Marin Municipal Water District, and the Sonoma County Water Agency.  The 90 electric vehicles include 64 Ford Focus Electrics, 23 Nissan LEAFs, and three all-electric vans built by Zenith Motors, which were all purchased with $2.8 million in funding assistance from California’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  The BACC, which helped organize and facilitate the deployment, notes that the 90 new electric vehicles are only one step among a series of efforts to incorporate more electric vehicles into public fleets.  It also notes that the new electric vehicles are expected to save more than $500,000 in operational costs and avoid the release of 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide through their first five years of use.

Unfortunately, 90 new electric vehicles is not a jaw-dropping number and will likely not make up a large percentage of this month’s electric vehicle sales.  As reported by this blog, 11,493 electric cars were sold this past June.  Regardless, it is an encouraging sign that local governments, not just in the Bay Area, are making an effort to support the market and set an example to other government agencies and consumers.  According to the New York City Department of Transportation, for example, New York’s city agencies have added 55 Nissan LEAFs and 8 Chevrolet Volt’s to their fleets this past year, with a total of more than 300 electric vehicles in current operation.  Hopefully, local government fleets in the Bay Area, New York City, and across the U.S., can continue to replace conventional vehicles with electric ones, delivering higher market gains, better cost savings, and greater reductions in greenhouse gas emission

Halftime Report: Electric Vehicle Sales Remain Strong through the First Six Months of 2014

By:   Christian Okolski

Electric vehicles have been consistently growing on American consumers since the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF were introduced to the U.S. auto market in late 2010.  According to the Electric Drive Transportation Association, annual Passenger electric vehicle sales have jumped 445 percent from 17,735 units sold in 2011 to 96,702 units sold in 2013.  Moreover, that trend is continuing into 2014.

Among other great research and reports, Hybridcars.com posts market “Dashboards”, which record the number of EVs sold each month by make and model.  Hybridcars notes that last June, 11,493 plug-in electric cars were sold, up 31 percent from June 2013.  As for total 2014 sales, there have been 54,973 so far, and five out of the six past months have seen greater electric vehicle sales than their 2013 counterparts.  The only month this year that saw a year-over-year decline in sales was April, but that decline was only 2.9 percent from April 2013.

Those numbers bode very well for the U.S. electric car market, since 2014’s sales are on pace to eclipse those of 2013 by 14 percent, even though 2013 was a very strong year.  However, if you consider the compound monthly growth rate of electric vehicles sales this year and the fact that the best months for automotive sales are still to come in the late summer and fall, total 2014 sales could be as high as roughly 167,000 cars!  Although that estimate may very well be an “optimistic” forecast, it is surely not beyond the realm of possibility.  At the end of the day, it would be not be surprising to see overall 2014 electric vehicle sales resting somewhere between 110,000 and 167,000

Amidst these growing sales numbers, another reason to be optimistic about the future of electric cars is that more automakers are placing more electric vehicles on the market.  What was once a market dominated by the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF, has become one with 17 different electric car models to choose from.  While some of them are indeed compliance cars, such as the Fiat 500e, and limited to buyers primarily in California, the majority are widely available to consumers.  In addition, some of the new entrants are remarkably different from the pioneers of this market.  While the LEAF and Volt were introduced as relatively affordable energy savers, the Cadillac ELR and Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, for example, are sporty, luxury vehicles that “break the mold” and show a willingness of automakers to develop exciting, new plug-in technologies.

As electric vehicle sales continue to rise and new models become available to consumers, their successes still need to be put into context.  Plug-in cars still represent less than one percent of the total U.S. auto market, which sold over 1.3 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles this past June alone.  In order for electric vehicles to really make their presence known, their costs must come down, their battery ranges must go up, and a comprehensive, high-powered charging infrastructure must be built.  These improvements will likely play a big role in how fast and to what extent the electric vehicle market continues to grow, but for now, sustained, high growth since 2011 is certainly encouraging.

Harley-Davidson’s New Prototype May be a Great Boost to the Electric Motorcycle Market

By:   Christian Okolski

 

 Harley-Davidson is not only an iconic American motorcycle company, but the industry’s market leader in the United States.  Known for their powerful, loud, and aggressively designed bikes, Harleys can be easily identified by sight and sound, appealing to a large share of the Country’s motorcycle buyers.    However, Harley-Davidson may be looking to diversify its product line and appeal by revealing its prototype for an all-electric motorcycle, the LiveWire.

The LiveWire Project has ultimately brought Harley-Davidson into the realm of efficient, technologically-advanced transportation.  As Tech Times reports, the new motorcycle’s all-electric powertrain delivers 74 horsepower, a top speed of 92 MPH, and a little more than 50 miles of range.  Although these figures may be a bit underwhelming, the LiveWire does accelerate from zero to 60 MPH in less than 4 seconds and with a sound similar to that of a jet turbine, which is sure to pique interest.  In addition, it has an aggressive, muscular design that pays homage to the company’s roots and distinct appeal.

While annual sales of electric motorcycles are only a few thousand units, small companies like Brammo, BRD Motorcycles, and Zero Motorcycles are pioneering the industry with an array of products, ranging from city bikes, to trail bikes, to high-performing superbikes.  If the sales of these electric motorcycles begin to take off, just like the sales of electric cars have, Harley-Davidson will want to be on forefront of that shift and appeal to a new demographic that is buying electric motorcycles.  Harley-Davidson’s all-electric bike is bound to attract the attention of younger and more socially-conscious motorcycle buyers that are interested in new technology and alternative fuel vehicles, as well as a stylish, well-performing ride.

However, with Harley-Davidson expected to sell consumer-ready version of the LiveWire in 2016, the company also has a great opportunity to bring electric motorcycles into the mainstream.  By leveraging its large following of current customers, the American motorcycle giant can introduce its massive following of riders and motorcycle enthusiasts to electric bikes.  Hopefully, if the 2016 production variation of the LiveWire wins the hearts and minds of this following, it may impact the industry in a large way that smaller companies and startups would not be able to.

To begin introducing its electric motorcycle to the Country, Harley-Davidson is hosting the LiveWire Project’s 2014 Tour, which started in New York City on June 24th and will reach 29 more American cities through July.  Hopefully, this tour will be a successful first step to winning the hearts and minds of bikers nationwide, supporting the mainstream acceptance of and demand for electric motorcycles and zero-emissions riding.

Breaking the Mold, Tesla Opens its Patents to the Competition

By:   Christian Okolski 

Tesla Motors is certainly a unique company.  It is not only successful start-up automaker, competing with titans such as Ford, GM, and Toyota, but also the manufacturer of all-electric cars and the critically acclaimed Model S.    These two characteristics alone may make Tesla a not-so-common company, but there are plenty more examples of how this California-based tech startup is breaking the mold.  The Tesla Motors blog, for example, is a way for the automaker to reach customers, followers, and the media in a much more intimate and personal way than the common press release.  Even Tesla’s superstar CEO, Elon Musk, takes time to write posts of his own.

In fact, Musk has recently used the blog to reveal one of Tesla’s most unconventional moves to date.  Entitled “All Our Patents Are Belong to You, the CEO’s latest post has announced that the company will take an open-source approach to its patents and not litigate those who want to use Tesla’s technology “in good faith”.  While the title of Musk’s post may be a witty take on a popular internet meme, the content is a passionate affirmation of Tesla’s commitment to sustainable transportation and sincere hope that automakers get serious about electric cars.  As Musk notes, not even one percent of the vehicles sold by major car companies are electric, yet there are roughly 100 million vehicles sold each year.

It looks like Musk’s move to share Tesla’s technological advancements and inspire the electric vehicle industry could already be having an effect.  A report by Business Insider India notes that Mahindra & Mahindra, an Indian automaker, will review Tesla’s patents and their applicability to Mahindra’s REVA electric vehicles.  It also reveals that media reports are claiming that BMW and Nissan are now showing interest in working with Tesla on electric vehicle technology.

With automakers taking a look at Tesla’s patents and expertise, one may wonder if the decision to make Tesla’s intellectual property available to all will erode the company’s competitive advantage.  However, Elon Musk does not seem to think so.  In his blog post, Musk writes that “Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform”.  He also insists that Tesla’s success will be defined by its ability “to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers”, not patents that “stifle progress”.

Whether or not you agree with the business sense behind Tesla’s decision to share its patents, it is difficult to challenge the start-up automaker’s commitment to electric vehicles and sustainable transportation.  Elon Musk’s post does not just outline why the company has made its startling decision, but also passionately illustrates Tesla’s mission.

 

 

 

New York Power Authority Chooses EV Connect to Deploy Electric Vehicle Charging Stations across New York

 

By:   Christian Okolski

Whenever the practicality of electric vehicles is debated, the issue of range anxiety and the possibility of being stranded on the road with no battery charge is always a critique.  So naturally, as governments try to promote clean transportation and bolster electric vehicle markets, there has been a significant push to improve charging infrastructure, and that is exactly what New York has been doing.  Just last Wednesday, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) awarded EV Connect with an encouraging $1,568,108 contract to deploy more than 100 charging stations across the State.

The deal between NYPA and EV Connect should be no big surprise.  Two weeks ago, New York and seven other states released a Multi-State Zero-Emission Vehicle Action Plan with the goal of placing 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on U.S. roads by 2025; and as this blog reported, New York’s Governor’s Office also put out a corresponding press release, noting the State’s initiative to build 900 new public charging stations as a part of its Charge NY program.

NYPA’s contract with EV Connect is certainly a step in the right direction for New York’s electric vehicle infrastructure, since more than 100 charging stations will be deployed throughout the State.  Although they do not manufacture the charging stations themselves, EV Connect will source them from suppliers and deploy them across 37 different but strategic locations.  Those locations will include public parking structures, such as transportation hubs and private commercial locations that will provide employee electric vehicle charging.  In fact, it seems like work has already been underway.  As the Times Union reports, the first six charging stations have already been installed at the Albany International Airport’s parking garage and long-term parking lot.

EV Connect will not just install but also manage the new chargers with its open charging network, providing NYPA and customers with real-time monitoring, electricity usage, payment processing, reporting, and demand response, among other capabilities.  This use of an open network and not a closed, proprietary one is incredibly important, because it will ensure that once the chargers are in the ground, they can be managed by any network in the event that EV Connect is no longer able to do so.  This benefit will protect New York’s hardware investment, and ensure that the chargers would not have to be replaced by a potential new network manager.  Furthermore, it will ensure that in the event of a switch in network managers, New Yorkers will not lose access to these strategically located chargers and continue to be able to use them.

Judging by the recent electric vehicle news coming out of New York, the State seems committed to building and supporting its electric vehicle market, and it is putting its money where its mouth is.  While there is still much work to be done, NYPA’s deal with EV Connect is sure to result in transportation infrastructure that is much friendlier to electric vehicle owners.  To read the official press release on the contract between NYPA and EV Connect, click here.