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.

 

New York among Eight States to Release Zero-emission Vehicle Action Plan

 

By:   Christian Okolski

Last Thursday, eight states announced their collective commitment to the Multi-State Zero-Emission Vehicles Action Plan and a goal of placing 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) on U.S. roads by 2025.  The eight states include California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and their overall efforts are aimed toward bolstering ZEV markets.  In addition, as plug-in electric vehicles are currently more commercially viable than other zero-emission options, such as hydrogen fuel cells, the action plan places the greatest significance on electric vehicle adoption.  The 11 main “actions” detailed by the ZEV Action Plan include:

1)      Promoting the availability and effective marketing of all plug-in electric vehicle models

2)      Providing consumer incentives

3)      Increasing ZEVs in state, municipal, and other public fleets

4)      Encouraging private fleets to purchase, lease, or rent ZEVs

5)      Promoting workplace charging

6)      Promoting ZEV infrastructure planning and investment by public and private entities

7)      Providing clear and accurate signage to direct ZEV users to charging and fueling stations

8)      Removing barriers to ZEV charging and fueling station installations

9)      Promoting access, compatibility, and interoperability of the plug-in electric vehicle charging network

10)   Removing barriers to the retail sale of electricity and hydrogen and promoting competitive plug-in electric vehicle charging rates

11)   Tracking and reporting progress toward meeting the goal of 3.3 million ZEVs on U.S. roads by 2025

The ZEV Action Plan is not a shocking revelation.  It is the child of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that first revealed the goal of deploying 3.3 million ZEVs and was signed by the eight states last Fall.  That MOU from October 24, 2013 has been made publically available by the California Air Resources Board.  It is also no surprise that overarching “actions” proposed by the plan are broad and leave room for flexibility.  Ultimately, The ZEV Action Plan allows states to address and prioritize their own individual needs as they work to grow their ZEV markets.

New York is one member of the ZEV Action Plan and has been a great example of a state that is taking a diverse approach to bolstering ZEV adoption.  A release made public by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Office, notes that New York is taking various steps to support ZEVs, including a $50 million, 5-year investment to stimulate electric vehicle demand and build out charging infrastructure.  The release notes 5 additional steps that the State is taking, including the deployment of 900 new electric vehicle charging stations, tax credits of up to $5,000 for public electric vehicle charging stations, electric truck vouchers of up to $60,000, $2 million in electric vehicle research and demonstration projects, and comprehensive electric vehicle policy review.

Hopefully, as the eight states that have committed to the ZEV Action Plan invest in electric vehicles and all ZEVs, they will quickly move toward their end goal of placing 3.3 million ZEVs on U.S. roads by 2025.  Even more importantly, however, the plan has the potential to inspire the remaining 42 states to make their own bold commitments to sustainable transportation and accelerate the plans already set forth.  You can access the entire ZEV Action plan and related press releases at the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management website, here.

 

 

 

French Company Bolloré Brings 100% Electric Car Sharing to Indianapolis

By:   Christian Okolski

Just over a week ago, the French industrial company Bolloré Group put out a press release to announce the launch of its 100 percent electric car-share service in Indianapolis.  The launch of this service, dubbed BlueIndy, coincided with the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) annual conference, which was also held in Indianapolis.  To commemorate the occasion, the City’s Mayor, Greg Ballard, called BlueIndy an “innovative, economical and environmentally friendly mode of transportation” and expressed hopes that Indianapolis would “lead the way for other U.S. cities”.

Although customers are not using this all-electric car-share service just yet, Bolloré Group expects BlueIndy to be in full operation within the next eight months.  To ensure a strong rollout and success, Bolloré Group plans to invest an incredible $35 million dollars in vehicles and infrastructure, which marks a significant commitment to the Indianapolis car-share market as well the French company’s business in the United States.  Included in this investment will be 500 electric cars for sharing and 200 service stations that will supply a total of 1,000 electric vehicle charging units.  According to Forbes, Mayor Ballard has revealed that the service will be supported by a revenue model that charges customers a recurring subscription fee along with a vehicle usage fee of approximately $10 per hour.  He also expects the service to be profitable in five to seven years.

BlueIndy may seem like a potentially risky venture, but it will certainly be a true pioneer as the first all-electric car-share service to ever be introduced in the United States.   Sure, companies like ZipCar and Car2Go may have electric vehicles in their own car-share fleets, but BlueIndy is exclusively electric.  It will also bring a completely new type of electric car to the United States, which is supplied by Bolloré Group itself and has previously only populated European roads.  Called the Bluecar, this economical electric vehicle is a two-door hatchback that seats four comfortably and is powered by unique, lithium-polymer batteries.  However, while the Bluecar is larger than micro-cars such as those sold by Smart, it has relatively limited cargo room and versatility.

While BlueIndy and the $35 million investment is the first of its kind for Bolloré Group’s efforts in this country, the company has been building out electric car-share services in France since December 2011.  Autolib’ was its first all-electric car-share service, which operates in and around Paris and has been used by approximately 140,000 subscribers.  This success prompted Bolloré Group to expand with Bluely in Lyon and Bluecub in Bordeaux, and it is now looking to further expand its car-share business to London, England, as reported by The Guardian.

Emerging from the success of its sister ventures in France, BlueIndy is making Indianapolis a pioneer of the car-share industry.  It is also a critical component of Mayor Ballard’s mission to reduce the City’s greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption.  Ballard’s efforts even helped Indianapolis win the 2013 “E-Visionary” award from the World Electric Vehicle Association.  Ultimately, BlueIndy is good for the electric vehicle industry and consumer awareness, good for Indianapolis and its air quality, and hopefully a venture that cities across America will be able to embrace.  If BlueIndy proves to be successful, it may not be long before similar projects spread from New York to Los Angeles and countless cities in between.  BlueIndy could be the beginning of a revolution in urban transportation and sustainability.

 

 

Now Owned by Chinese firm Wanxiang, Fisker Automotive Returns

By:   Christian Okolski

As the emerging electric vehicle market continues to grow and automakers continue to release new models, an old EV maker is trying to make a comeback.  After announcing its bankruptcy last fall, Fisker Automotive has been revived and is now owned by a Chinese company called Wanxiang Group Corp.  The EV maker even has a new website! In a recent Bloomberg article, it has been reported that Fisker will resume production and sales of the Karma, a luxury performance plug-in hybrid, in an attempt to compete with Tesla and its Model S.

Although the company’s passionate and outspoken founder, Henrik Fisker, was ousted from power last year, before the Wanxiang acquisition, Fisker is now under the leadership of yet another highly passionate individual.  Lu Guanqiu is the billionaire Chairman of Wanxiang Group, and in his exclusive interview with Bloomberg stated that he will “put every cent that Wanxiang earns into making electric vehicles”.  He even went so far to say “I’ll burn as much cash as it takes to succeed, or until Wanxiang goes bust.”

Mr. Guanqiu is clearly on a mission to make Fisker the success that it had hopes of being before its bankruptcy.  However, while the Fisker Karma has received much acclaim for its exterior design, technical issues and even battery fires prevented it from ever reaching Tesla Model S status.  Not even a $192 million loan from the U.S. government was enough to save the automaker and its well-publicized Karma.  After buying the automaker for almost $150 million though, Mr. Guanqiu seems confident that he will be able to make “The New Fisker” a success.

With some technical fixes it is not inconceivable that the Karma and future Fisker models may find the same success that Tesla has achieved since launching the Model S.  After all, the Karma fits into the same vehicle segment as the Model S as a performance and luxury car.  Moreover, Fisker is eying the rapidly expanding Chinese auto market as a great opportunity that can complement and possibly exceed U.S. sales.  First thing is first though, and the re-released Karma needs to actually start being sold again, before its resurgence can be measured.  In due time, we will see if “The new Fisker” will be the hit that Mr. Guanqiu needs it to be.

Electric Truck Update: Smith Electric is Back in Business, Secures $42 Million

By:   Christian Okolski

Back on April 10th, this blog covered the state of the electric truck market in the United States.  One of the most notable parts of that post detailed how Smith Electric Vehicles, the Country’s leading manufacturer of all-electric trucks and vans, had suspended production last year.  Regardless, Smith’s CEO, Bryan Hansel, went on the record to promise that his company was merely in a transitional phase and would have its Kansas City factory up and running again.  Well it turns out Mr. Hansel may have been right.

Flash forward to this Monday, and the Kansas City Business Journal is reporting that Smith has secured a $42 million investment from Sinopoloy Battery Ltd., a lithium-ion battery maker based in Hong Kong.  The two companies have already closed on the first round of $2 million, while the remaining funding will be released in two additional phases as both companies meet unspecified milestones over the next few months.  This detail ensures that Smith is motivated to spend the money wisely and fulfill the business plans it likely wooed Sinopoly’s investment with.

With this funding, Smith intends to refine its production process and resume making commercial electric vehicles as soon as this summer, which aligns with comments Hansel made to Fleet Owner Magazine in April.  In addition, the deal between the two companies stipulates that Sinopoly will become Smith’s exclusive supplier of lithium-ion batteries and preferred supplier of electric vehicle components.  Therefore, Sinopoloy will benefit from any success and sales growth that Smith may experience in the future.

Smith has been a leader of the emerging electric truck market, and if it did close its doors for good, it would have certainly been a setback to the electric vehicle industry.  Instead, the future looks promising for Smith and its ability to continue putting electric trucks on U.S. roads.  Maybe someday, the electric truck factories that Smith has planned to build in both New York City and Chicago will become a reality after all.