Chinese-backed Start-up Unveils Crossover EVs; Touts Technology
Silicon Valley witnessed yet another automotive coming out party last week as SF Motors unveiled an upscale crossover electric vehicle and showed off some of the company’s technology. While the car itself may be a bit of a me-too (high-power, connected, autonomous-capable in a conventional SUV coupe-like shape), the back story of the technology this well-funded formerly stealth start-up has developed tells a much more interesting story.
The story underneath
The most intriguing part of the SF Motors is the vertically integrated nature of the company. It showed off a modular home-grown electric motor (in nominal 100, 200 and 400 kW trim), proprietary battery cells and packs, gearboxes and controllers. It also announced an intent, perhaps with a little hubris, to not only put its components in its own cars, but sell them to other automakers.
SF Motors is affiliated with Chongqing Sokon Industry Group, one of many privately held car companies in China. Chongqing Sokon provides financial backing and a plant in China capable of producing 150,000 cars annually. Currently the company produces a variety of models in China.
T0 bolster the company’s move into electric vehicles, SF Motors has set up its headquarters in Santa Clara, California, in Silicon Valley. The company has R&D centers in China, the U.S., Germany and Japan. It acquired the old AM General plant in Indiana as a U.S. production site. The nominal annual production capacity of that plant is 50,000 vehicles. It plans to launch its cars in the U.S. market first and then migrate to China and other markets.
The First Car
SF Motors showed off two of its expected three models to press and investors last week—the SF5 midsize crossover that it plans to have on the market in 2019 and the full-size SF7 crossover that will follow. Details were sketchy on the cars, which follow the styling trend being set by the BMW X4 and X6 and the Mercedes-Benz GLC and GLE SUV coupes.
The SF5 midsize crossover will be SF Motors’ first vehicle
The cars looked good as concept cars usually do (well, maybe Faraday Future’s FF91 is the exception that proves the rule). SF Motors plans to start taking orders for the SF5 later this year. Media reports put its price at about $60,000 while the SF7 may hit $95,000. Of course, getting the 1000-horsepower version that will do 0-60 in under three seconds could be a little more. And that kind of performance may keep you under the 300-mile range the company said the cars will be capable of.
The specs released last week by Dr. Yifan Tang, SF Motors’ CTO, were that the motors would deliver 5.5 kW and 10 Newton-meters of torque per kilogram of weight, which would put it in the top end of electric motors for that metric, Tang said the battery packs would delivery 280 kWh per kilogram.
Of course, it’s not just about automobiles in Silicon Valley so SF Motors also laid down some markers for its technology. By 2020 they will be introducing “protective autonomy with connectivity,” according to Tang. The company reported it is already testing systems with computer vision, deep neural networks and Lidar.
SF Motors showed its AV tech on a Lincoln
SF Motors will also be building on existing relationships with suppliers, including Bosch, Dürr, Siemens, Samsung SDI, Infineon Technologies, LGC and AFT. The company has also purchased Tesla co-founder Martin Eberhard’s battery start-up, and made Eberhard chief innovation officer of SF Motors.
In its technology display, the company also showed off its 21700 cells for a solid state cylindrical battery. The company also intends to get into the battery recycling business, creating energy storage products that would allow second use in homes and offices for batteries no longer functional for automotive use.
SF Motors is making its own battery cells
It’s an ambitious plan, but SF Motors believes it is well on its way toward becoming a producer of high-end and affordable electric cars and potentially an industry supplier. As is the case with other recent EV introductions, such as Lucid Motors and Faraday Future, the proof will be not only delivering the first or the 100,000th car to paying customers, but doing so at a profit. That’s something first-mover Tesla is still struggling with after 10 years. We’ll be keeping an eye on their progress.
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New Tech, Styling, More Range Added to the World-Leading EV
The Nissan Leaf is the first and most successful mass market all-electric car, with more than 300,000 sold worldwide. Introduced in 2010 as a 2011 model, it was a pioneer, won the 2011 World Green Car award, and just repeated that feat for 2018. However, with much more competition today, it needed a major update. The 2018 model is the result, as validated by the World Green Car award and our early drive.
A Pair of Aces
I sampled two models of the new Leaf at the recent Western Automotive Journalists Media Days event. I grabbed it for the first drive of the day, 23+ miles that included some freeway, some in-town, and some open road travel, including the climbing the winding Laureles Grade in Monterey County.
The car is all new, but contains some remnants of the old model, including its hatchback shape. However, all the rounded shapes of the original Leaf are tightened up and the nose wears a much more conventional grill and headlamps, in Nissan’s corporate V shape. The rear pillar is partially blacked out to give the impression of a floating roof panel, just like the competing BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt EV (and several other models like the Lexus RX).
New Inside & Out
The new interior, like the outside, is more restrained than the exuberantly flowing original. The steering wheel looks very traditional and the instruments ahead are clear and easy to understand. The rectangular center panel gives you access to the entertainment, information, apps and provides knobs for volume and tuning. The shapes are gently curved, but overall sensible and familiar. Nearly all surfaces are at least slightly padded, creating a comfortable and slightly more upscale feel.
The room inside the Leaf is great
I dropped into the seat and was pleased at how comfortable it felt. The Chevrolet Bolt EV, a leader in the category now, has firm, narrow chairs that work for me, but have generated complaints from some drivers.
On the road, the Leaf starts out smartly, with a 147-horsepower motor pulling smoothly and silently. While no rocket, it feels completely, well, normal. Handling is predictable and pleasant. The ride is firm, but not harsh.
The new Leaf offers e-Pedal, which provides stronger regenerative braking. Much like the L setting in a Bolt EV or the default setting in a Tesla, this means you can use one-pedal driving, pressing your right foot down to move forward and lifting it to slow down. Like the Bolt EV, the Leaf can come to a complete stop without touching the brake pedal (the Tesla cuts the regen at a few mph). You can drive the Leaf like a regular car by turning e-Pedal off.
The New Tech
The new ProPilot Assist feature allows you to choose one of three following distances and set a speed on the highway. Your Leaf will follow the car in front at the set distance, and brake and accelerate to retain that distance—as you’d expect with adaptive cruise control. But it also gently stations you in the center of the lane. You must keep your hands on the wheel—this is low-level autonomy—but it is more relaxing when traveling on the freeway and busy roads. It worked perfectly when I tested it on Monterey County highways in the second Leaf.
The gauge support is there to tell you what’s happening
The new Leaf has significantly improved battery range. It’s up to 150 miles now, much better than the 2017 model’s 107, but still well below the Chevy Bolt EV’s 238 miles. Nissan says a 200+ mile range battery is coming, but for now, is 150 miles enough for most drivers’ needs?
Why did Nissan go with the 40-kWh lithium-ion battery instead of a 60 kWh one like the Bolt EV uses? It’s about value, says Paul Minahan, Jr., Sr. Manager, Electric Vehicle Fleet Operations. Leaf customers wanted a lower price—and batteries are still expensive. The new Leaf starts at $29,999 for the S model, before federal and state rebates and tax breaks. The SV and SL add more to the price, but also to the features list. I tested the better-equipped SV and SL. The SL’s price of $36,200 still undercuts the $37,500 base price of the Bolt LT, while offering more features, including leather seats. Other EVs, such as the Tesla Model 3 and BMW i3, are simply more expensive.
Nissan has a huge base of existing customers; some will trade up for this significantly better car. More people may be willing to consider the new Leaf with its less controversial styling and overall improvement in everything it is and does.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nissan Targets 1 Million Electrified Vehicle Annual Sales By 2022
With more than 300,000 global sales, the Nissan Leaf is the bestselling electric car in history. The 2018 Nissan Leaf has launched with an EPA-rated 151-mile driving range. A second version for 2019 is coming with more than 200 miles of range. The big question now is, where will Nissan go from here?
One of the missing pieces of the electric car portfolio is the crossover. Most current EVs are sedans with Tesla’s Model X and Jaguar’s I-Pace the only electric crossovers available, although others are coming from luxury automakers Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Given the popularity of crossover SUVs, an electric crossover utility based on the IMx concept shown at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2017 will be added in 2020, according to an interview published last week in the British magazine Autocar. It will stay true to the striking concept.
Stylish and More Than an EV
“Of course, we have the new Leaf, but I think the [production version of the] IMx concept will become a breakthrough model,” Mamoru Aoki, Nissan’s European design chief told Autocar.
Nissan previews future EV design in the IMx
Aoki told Autocar that the exterior of the IMx is a clear indication of Nissan’s next-generation design language and the intention is to be closer to the company’s Japanese roots. He said the IMx “does not have a masculine look or a heavy appearance” of the type that is now common for mainstream combustion-engine CUVs. “It has a light feel and sheer surfaces,” he said. “The exterior is very Japanese in its details–expressive, but with purity and an expensive feeling.”
Aoki added: “The interior is notably bigger than with a conventional vehicle and there’s much more usable space, thanks to the totally flat floor allowed by the [underfloor] battery pack. The dashboard is also pushed right back [towards the windscreen] because the HVAC [heating, ventilation and air-con] unit is under the bonnet.”
The overall cabin concept reflects Japanese architecture and interior design, he said, because traditional Japanese houses are tiny, and some rooms have to be multi-purpose in their use.
Aoki was also keen to point out the unusual interior trim in the IMx, which is an alternating laminate of wood and translucent plastic that can be illuminated from behind—a hint, perhaps, that the finish is heading for production.
The IMx Concept offers a sleek crossover utility shape and a pair of motors, one per axle, to provide all-wheel drive. Combined power of the two drive motors is quoted at 430 horsepower and a substantial 516 pounds-feet of torque. Its quoted battery range on the Japanese test cycle was more than 370 miles, although we’d expect that to be closer to 250 miles in U.S. EPA testing.
But there’s more! The IMx is the “future of mobility,” according to Nissan. It features a future version of ProPilot, Nissan’s autonomous car technology. When engaged, it will retract the steering wheel, recline the seats and take over control of the car. The featureless (no knobs or switches) dash is designed to respond to gestures, eye movement and spoken commands. Whether this advanced ProPilot will appear in the 2020 production car is at the moment questionable.
One Million Electrified Vehicles Annually by Fiscal Year 2022
Nissan pledged to maintain its leadership in electric vehicles as the automaker outlined plans to launch eight new EVs and hit annual sales of 1 million electrified vehicles by March 31, 2023. The eight new EVs will come on top of Nissan’s current offerings, the Leaf and eNV200 van. One will be the all-electric crossover based on the iMx concept, while four of the new EVs will be directed to China.
The automaker’s sales goal of one million EVs, includes pure electrics and plug-in hybrids. The tally will get a boost from the introduction of Nissan’s new e-Power setup, a range-extender hybrid system it is already selling in Japan and will bring to other markets. Sales of vehicles equipped with e-Power will account for more than half the total.
The components of Nissan’s goals were presented last Friday at the company’s global headquarters, offering details of the M.O.V.E to 2022 midterm plan unveiled by CEO Hiroto Saikawa last fall for six years running through the fiscal year ending March 31, 2023.
Nissan’s luxury arm, Infiniti, won’t be left in the dark, either. All Infiniti models will be electrified starting in 2021. Chief Planning Officer Philippe Klein said, “This electrification trend will be deeper and quicker for Infiniti. Our objective is to position Infiniti as the No. 1 challenger brand in the premium segment.”
“We have more EV customers than any other automaker,” Klein said. “You can count on us to defend our EV leadership.”
One Year Update for the First Affordable 200+-mile Range EV
Is ‘Game Changer’ over used, or maybe even a bit passé, because everything and anything of late is considered the greatest? Just as actors can be celebrities, but all celebrities are not stars, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV whooshed right past the celebrity tag and quickly became a star. How else would you categorize an all-electric car that goes 238 miles on a single charge and costs in the mid-$30,000 range? That qualifies as a game changer—and a star.
The Bolt story starts with the gauge that tells you there are 200 gas-free miles ahead of you when fully charged
The five-passenger small car market is increasingly being populated by all-electric offerings, with the Volkswagen e-Golf, Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Soul, Ford Focus and Fiat 500e among the top sellers in this category. To design the Bolt from a clean sheet, Chevrolet knew they had to do something far different than these other EVs that topped-out in the 130-mile range and also cost in the mid-$30Ks. And no, they weren’t looking at them for inspiration.
Chevrolet looked higher and went after Tesla. The Tesla S and X can go between 208 and 335 miles on a charge, depending on which model you buy, but you will pony-up between $70K and $120K. The much anticipated (and delayed) Tesla Model 3 is rated at a 310-mile range (for the big battery pack), but the base price is somewhere around $44,000. The latest word out of Palo Alto is that the $35,000, 220-mile range “Standard” Model 3s won’t begin production until the end of 2018.
So, could Chevrolet produce an all-electric car that costs roughly the same as their main five-passenger small car competitors, but has the range of the larger and more expensive contenders? Yep, they did. The Chevrolet Bolt has been on the market for a little more than a year. It is on sale in all 50 states. We thought it was time to catch up with one of the people behind this ground-breaking electric car.
Bolt Philosophy and Importance
Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to speak with Darin Geese, Chevrolet cars customer segment leader. We covered a range of topics including the Bolt and the electrification of vehicles at General Motors. It was a fascinating conversation.
CFR: What is the importance of the Bolt and its technology within Chevrolet and General Motors?
Geese: The Bolt for Chevrolet and General Motors is the first long-range, affordable electric vehicle in the industry. We are pretty proud we delivered on the three promises made to Mary Barra (General Motors CEO) at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, that we would be over 200 miles (of range); under $30,000; and available to be onsale by the end of the year. We delivered on all three with a 238-mile EV range, a price of $29,995 (less the Federal tax credit) and the first retail deliveries were December 13, 2016.
As we look forward to what role it is playing, the Bolt is the halo. It provides advanced zero emissions technology, and gives a look at what electric vehicles could be in the future. By packaging the battery pack beneath the floor, this opens the passenger compartment because, with a flat floor you don’t have tunnels and footwells. By not having an engine under the front hood, more components can be placed up there, and the windshield can be pushed forward. The Bolt seems smaller on the outside than it really is on the inside.
The hatchback makes the Bolt a crossover in some folks’ view
CFR: How does this apply to other General Motors vehicles?
Geese: This opens it to different vehicles, body styles and types, and let’s us ask “what are the possibilities?”
CFR: What statement did you want to make about the Bolt?
Geese: We wanted to say: we are an all-electric vehicle, providing enough range that pretty much gets rid of range anxiety, as 238 miles will take you through many days of normal driving activities. We still see the average American driving around forty miles daily, round trip. So at 238 miles, this is five day’s worth of driving before needing to recharge. We do encourage people to treat the Bolt like their cell phone and plug it in overnight.
CFR: The EPA estimates a 238-mile range. What feedback have you received from owners about real-world driving distances?
Geese: The majority of our customers are getting more miles than they expected, with reports of over 300 miles. For Chevrolet, it is good to hear back from an average perspective that we are delivering and exceeding on our promises.
CFR: Any first year warranty issues?
Geese: There has been nothing abnormal to the regular vehicles we produce. It is nits and nats, and mostly customers not understanding how the vehicle is supposed to operate. We get people not knowing how to pair their Bluetooth phone, but nothing at all about the electric vehicle technology.
In its first year on sale the Bolt vaulted to the head of the affordable plug-in cars
CFR: How have sales been in the first year? Is the Bolt EV sold in all 50 states and at all dealers? What percentage of Bolt sales are in California?
Geese: Sales through November 2017 have been 20,649 units (ed. note: full year sales were 23,297, second only to the Tesla Model S in plug-in cars), with 50-percent of Bolt sales in California. The Bolt EV is sold in all 50 states, but we do not require all dealers to sell the vehicle. It does take some investment on the dealer’s part, such as putting in charging stations and all the tools and equipment and training they need to sell and service the vehicle. So, we see about a third of our dealers have signed-up, which is good as they are focused and committed. These are the kind of dealers we want to see.
CFR: When the Bolt was being developed, was the Tesla Model 3 a prime competitive target? What, if any, strategies were designed for the Bolt with the Model 3 in mind?
Geese: There was a strategy to be there (in market) ahead of them, which we did before their first units were produced. This is the first mover advantage. But we had to look at them not as a direct competitor, because they are offering a different body style, sort of like a compact luxe sedan. The Bolt is a small crossover and that kind of buyer does not cross shop between sedans and crossovers. It’s going to be interesting how the consumer reacts to their vehicle, their likes and dislikes, especially the packaging from the standpoint of rear headroom and rear leg room. We think we are very competitive in these areas with the Bolt EV.
CFR: You mentioned the Bolt is a crossover. I see it as a compact car.
Geese: When we do our product research, that is exactly one of the things we try to understand: What would you call this vehicle? How would you describe it? And for the most part customers said
This small wagon that plugs in is popular in California
it is a cross between a SUV and a passenger car. It’s a funny thing, because there is no official SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) definition of a crossover. When we submit our information to the EPA, they also do not have a crossover segment. They have SUVs and they have wagons, so the Bolt ended-up being classified as a small wagon, just like the Kia Soul, Toyota Prius V and Nissan Juke. It’s kind of a mixed bag of what is in there. For the most part, we do feel confident in the crossover designation as you do sit up higher with a bit more commanding view of the road, you have a tremendous amount of cargo space and the flexibility of the vehicle being able to manage both passenger and cargo. We even have the optional Rear Camera Mirror that is geared towards when there is a lot of cargo in the back and blocking your vision.
CFR: Let’s talk about the General Motors autonomous vehicle program. Is Bolt the go-to vehicle for self-driving cars within GM?
Geese: At this time we are utilizing the Bolt EV as the platform to develop our autonomous vehicle technology. And that is pretty much all we can say about it.
CFR: In closing, what are your thoughts on the past year, the next big thing for the Bolt, the Bolt platform, and electric vehicles within Chevrolet and General Motors?
Geese: We are very happy with the Bolt EV at our one-year anniversary. Month-over-month sales increases and everything about the vehicle, from production to customer satisfaction, has been good. You know, these buyers are very tough critics sometimes, very specific about what they want. So, when you hear great feedback and satisfaction, especially with the number one reason they are buying the vehicle, which is the EV range, we are knocking that one out of the park.
We are always looking out for the next big thing, like do we want to do a sedan, or more of a SUV? This market is so new that defining the sweet spot is anyone’s guess at this time. It was very interesting to see all the other manufacturers come out with different types of EVs, with different body styles and how they present those, and the consumers’ reactions.
So, it is very exciting times at this point. We are excited to continue on.
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A Swoopy Look at the Future Debuts; Surprise: It’s Not An Electric Car
For weeks, Infiniti has been teasing the Q Inspiration Concept ahead of its world introduction at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The glimpses hinted at the Japanese luxury carmaker’s future design direction and how its next fleet of cars could look. Not seeing any tailpipes on the rear end led us to believe it was powered by a battery-electric powertrain.
But when the car was revealed today, the Infiniti Q Inspiration proved to be more than just a swoopy, athletic piece of motor show eye candy; beneath the skin the concept featured Infiniti’s new variable compression ration gasoline engine technology (VC-Turbo).
A Different Kind of Gasoline Engine
VC-Turbo made its production debut in the 2019 QX50 crossover SUV at the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show last November. In the Q Inspiration, VC-Turbo allows Infiniti designers to make the most of the packaging, taking advantage of the compact powertrain to increase the size of the cabin while maintaining the footprint of a midsize car.
The Infiniti concept drives into the brand’s future
The VC-Turbo uses some complex mechanical magic to vary compression on the fly, between 8:1 for high-performance situations, to 14:1 for maximum efficiency. Mounted to the exhaust manifold and integrated in the cylinder heads of the four-cylinder engine is a single-scroll turbocharger. Infiniti says the system provides the torque and response of a hybrid or turbodiesel powertrain without sacrificing efficiency. In the Infiniti Q Inspiration, the power is directed to four wheels via a front-biased all-wheel-drive drivetrain. The system can direct torque to the rear wheels individually as needed.
Deatails about power output or fuel economy were not released.
Short Hood, Stretched Cabin And Swooping, Coupe-Like Roof Line
The Infiniti Q Inspiration will certainly stand out in a crowd. It features an over-sized, double-arch grille with narrow slits and a lighted Infiniti logo near the hood line. Additional scoops bring more wind into the engine and feed the blade-like air curtains used to reduce turbulence around the front wheels. The slit LED headlamps are framed by distinctive LED strip lights. bulging fenders give the sedan a muscular stance, with a strong crease that runs nearly wheel well-to-wheel well. A close look reveals hidden door handles and a lack of mirrors, with the concept opting for side view cameras.
The car has no pillar at its rear door, and the roofline has an aggressive, coupe-like curve that stretches, fastback style, into the rear decklid. Narrow taillamps that pick up the LED strip look wrap across the back of the concept and flare into the rear fenders.
Using concept cars trucks like “suicide doors,” ingress to the interior is easy
“The premium sedan segment has become rather conservative,” Christian Meunier, Infiniti global vice president, said. “The Infiniti Q Inspiration previews something that could appeal to a younger audience who seek modern design and new technologies.”
Interior design is a minimalist approach to not distract drivers from driving. It provides everyone with a relaxed and airy environment, trimmed with leather and matte wood. Even though the concept has a midsize footprint, interior space is on par with some larger luxury sedans. Getting in and out is made easier with pillarless suicide back doors and low sills.
The instrument panel has a horizontal orientation and is divided into two tiers. The upper level features video displays that extend door-to-door. Another touchscreen, just above that center console, controls the infotainment and climate control systems.
The engine’s already here and the design is coming soon
The Infiniti Q Inspiration can seat four passengers with each given their own floating touchscreen infotainment system. This allows passengers to watch a film, read the news or relax individually without distracting other occupants. Each screen offers “guided meditation to help occupants leave any stress behind when they start a journey,” says Nissan “The car can also monitor passenger biometrics.”
Finally, a raft of ProPilot near-future semi-autonomous drive technology have been adopted from parent company Nissan. The car uses camera and radar input to support the driver in responding to other vehicles on the road ahead. In this application, ProPilot can automate end-to-end driving, operating and navigating autonomously on multi-lane highways and intersections alike.
A True Concept Car
The Infiniti Q Inspiration Concept isn’t planned for production. It does, however, offer a glimpse into the technologies we’ll see in Infinitis of the near future. As for styling, the concept is intended to show a design vision for upcoming sedans such as the Q70 sedan, which is due for a redesign in 2019 or 2020.
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Clean Fleet Report Founder Looks Back—And Forward
We have seen amazing progress in cars, electrified transportation and in the future of mobility, since I started Clean Fleet Report in 2006. Oil usage peaked in 2006 in the United States and other developed nations and I reported 10 reasons.
What once was rare (the EV) is becoming more commonplace
Clean Fleet Report was started to showcase success in clean transportation. Fleets were five years ahead of the mass market. Although I could not find hundreds of electric vehicles in my neighborhood, at US Marine Corps Camp Pendleton I witnessed hundreds of electric vehicles being charged with solar power. They also had a large fleet of advanced diesel vehicles running on biofuel and even a hydrogen fuel cell pilot. In 2006, it took fleets to put in the charging or fueling infrastructure, stock the parts, secure the advanced diagnostics and training, and keep everything running.
Now my neighborhood streets include a steady stream of electric cars from Tesla, Chevrolet, BMW, Nissan, Ford and dozens of others. Since I live near Silicon Valley, where every automaker has an R&D center, I also see a number of autonomous vehicles clocking-up their millions of miles.
I still am in awe of the innovators and the fleet managers who devote years to working through all the issues so that we can all benefit from the technology breakthroughs.
The Circle of Life
I interviewed hundreds of people for my book, Save Gas, Save the Planet. One theme that emerged is many experience a “circle of life.” Their college was in a city with excellent transit and they lived car-free. Later, a job, a relationship or a dog necessitated their buying a car. Relationships blossomed and they had a car and a truck. Many raised children and worked longer hours to support three or four vehicles. Eventually, they retire, downsizing to two, then one, and finally zero cars.
Shared electric bikes are another mobility option
With children long grown, my wife and I replaced our two cars with one Chevrolet Volt. My mom is down to zero. In my book and in Clean Fleet Report, I surveyed the progress of hybrids, electrics, advanced fuels and integrated urban transportation. When the book was released in 2009, much of the technology looked cutting edge.
Naysayers dismissed electric cars as expensive golf carts. Now we have millions of electric cars, SUVs, buses and trucks. We have 150 million electric bicycles. My wife and I only have one electric car, but two electric bikes, and frequently travel on electric buses and rail. Fleets continue to convert innovation into major success.
Another area of breakthrough success is in smart cities around the world. The future of urban mobility is ACES: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared.
For decades, we have used shared mobility in cities as we ride on buses, rail and on-demand ride-sharing options, including Uber and Lyft. Most major cities have metro rail and bus systems that enable people to travel faster.
We don’t know what the transportation future will look like, but we hope it will be ACES
Of our shared choices, rail moves the most; cars the least, with buses in between. Rail is laid down into fixed routes that last 40 to 100 years, yet cities grow and reshape organically. When people deboard transit one-quarter mile from their destination, most walk. But for the last one-to-three miles, on-demand services are needed. Smart cities have integrated these services of rail, bus, on demand, bicycling and walking.
Around 20 years ago, Toyota added an electric motor and advanced battery to a conventional car and introduced the hybrid Prius. Success in hybrid cars led to hybrid heavy-duty vehicles such as buses and trucks. With the success of hybrids, plug-in vehicles were introduced, so that batteries could be charged from garage outlets or public chargers.
By 2025, Navigant expects 37 million electric vehicles (EVs) on the global roads, fueled by lithium battery costs falling from $1,000 per kWh in 2010 to $145 (GM’s price from LG Chem reports Car and Driver).
From electric cars to electric buses and electric rail, we are ending our dependence on gasoline and diesel powering 15 percent efficient drive systems and transitioning to local renewable energy powering 90 percent efficient electric drive systems. Mobility is increasingly powered by wind and solar, not from the extreme emissions from shale drilling and pipelines from tar sands. Millions of lives will be saved annually, now lost to lung damage from air pollution. Trillions will be saved in health care.
In most developed nations of the world, transit systems in major cities are connected with high-speed rail, which is pure electric. The planned 800-mile high-speed rail system for California will connect all major cities, 25 transit systems and run on 100 percent renewable energy. Those transit systems are planning on thousands of electric buses. Ridesharing providers are already adding electric cars to their fleets.
Drivers kill over a million annually, making the roads unsafe for other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Self-driving cars see better, using multiple cameras, lasers and 360-degree lidar. Self-driving cars are totally focused on driving; don’t text, bounce to music, drive after drinking, smoke dope or get distracted.
Sharing is becoming a real, growing option to car ownership; soon that shared car may pick you up instead of you picking it
Machine learning and big data will make full use of autonomous fleets during peak hours, routing them to the right places at the right times. In some cities, wireless charging will be used for the fleets of self-driving cars and shuttles. In others, the vehicles will drive themselves during off-peak hours to car washes and parking structures where they will be fast-charged.
The benefits of self-driving are hotly debated. A transportation authority, San Francisco CTA, states that the on-demand services have made the streets of SF more congested. Other studies conclude that on-demand leads to fewer cars and more transit use. After analyzing the data from three million taxi rides, MIT calculated that 2,000 on-demand 10-person vans in New York CIty could replace 14,000 taxis. MIT researchers also estimate that successful use of ride-share apps like Uber and Lyft could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by a whopping 75 percent without slowing down travel.
We will have autonomous cars, buses and trucks. Vancouver even has electric self-driving Skytrain monorail.
Put a price on carbon, congestion zones and vehicle miles traveled during peak hours, and most urban transportation will not be solo drivers. It will be in electric and autonomous shared rides like Lyft Lines, Waymo and Waze (Alphabet companies) shuttle vans, autonomous buses and rail. Autonomous vehicles will save lives, insurance rates will drop, hospital bills will drop, urban housing will be more affordable without requirements of one and two spaces per unit. ACES mobility improves urban density.
When I listen to debates about autonomous vehicles, I am reminded of similar debates 10 years ago about electric vehicles. EVs were predicted to add massive congestion, use nothing but coal power, eliminate jobs and cause recessions by reducing petroleum demand. None of these alarming forecasts happened.
We were making a long and painful drive back from Los Angeles to San Francisco in heavy traffic. On the freeway, in the middle an empty desert, my Android Auto navigation told me that I could save 37 minutes by taking the next exit. I almost dismissed the direction as an error, but I trusted Google Maps and took the exit. As we drove 12 miles on a windy sideroad, I looked at the I-5 freeway in complete gridlock, due to a major accident. After 12 miles, we were directed back on the freeway, indeed saving 37 minutes.
Your car is now connected to the world and can help you navigate through it
Google could see the speed of thousands of Google Map users at that GPS location. In my Google Map settings, I had given permission to reroute me based on traffic information. Google’s sophisticated algorithms saved me valuable time. Tomorrow, similar apps will guide us through our day of interconnected services making best use of rail, transit, car, and some healthy walking.
Leading cities are already using ACES – autonomous, connected, electric, and shared mobility. Look for high growth in smart cities. ACES brings us mobility that is safe, pollution-free, healthy and less expensive.
Congratulations to all who have made a difference these past 12 years. Engineers have dramatically improved drive systems. Software wizards have transformed cars into networks of supercomputers on wheels.
Congratulations to Michael Coates, who has been running Clean Fleet Report these last three years and to his team, which keeps you updated about today’s most efficient cars and tomorrow’s most intelligent transportation. Most important are all the readers from fleet managers and car owners who take the best information and ideas and put them into action.