A familiar refrain you’ll hear in connection with the market for electric vehicles is that its success depends not only on the vehicles themselves, but also on building out the requisite EV charging network to a sufficiently large scale that it becomes useful.
While the choice of plug-in cars is widening, the infographic below represents just how rapidly that charging infrastructure is growing too. In the last two years alone, the deployment of charging stations has grown more than ten-fold in the USA, so it’s easy to understand why EV owners have come to rely on tools that ensure they are up-to-date as to where they can plug in. The two leading companies in providing such tools via their apps for EV owners, Recargo and Xatori, have just announced that they will merge to combine their resources to deliver a more powerful offering to their users.
In the world of motorized transportation, the global electric bicycle business is a pretty major concern. Navigant research recently published a detailed analysis of the industry, finding that in 2012, sales of e-bikes reached 29.3 million units worldwide, with 90 percent of the market residing in China. Here in America, the market is minute by comparison, with sales of only 53,000 – but manufacturers are increasingly taking an interest in the U.S. market, hoping to build on the potential growth in affordable transportation.
Last month we reported that major bicycle company Specialized was getting in on the action by launching its own e-bike, The turbo – while this month, established electric bicycle maker A2B, is relaunching its range of bikes under the new ownership of India’s Hero Eco Group.
On May 8th, Tesla published its Q1 results, announcing a profitable quarter for the first time ever in the company’s history. In a letter to shareholders, the company announced a profit of $11.2 million, along with record sales of $562 million – up 83 percent over the prior quarter.
The better-than-anticipated performance was on sales of 4,900 vehicles in Q1 which exceeded expectations by four hundred units, while the company’s outlook for 2013 predicts sales of 21,000 vehicles globally – an increase of thousand units over previous projections.
In a time when electric vehicle startup companies such as Fisker and Coda are either bankrupt or heading that way, Telsa’s performance is a shining light for the industry. However, overall financial performance was enhanced by a couple of extraordinary factors in Tesla’s favor which combined to tip the quarter into profitability.
Earlier this week, Shell Oil Company President, Marvin Odum, was hosted by Climate One at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco in an on-stage interview to discuss the subject of “Water Food and Energy.” The question at hand was how can innovation, technology and policy work together toward a clean and prosperous economy? In fact though, the discussion mainly focused on Shell’s position on climate change, what impact they they can have on reducing emissions, and how this all fits in with their core business – extracting fossil fuels. To be sure, little time was spent discussing water or food.
Still, the event offered insight into how one of the world’s largest energy companies grapples with the thorny issues of climate change and its own operations in the Canadian tar sands and the Arctic region as well as controversial extraction practices such as hydraulic fracturing.
Here’s a summary of Shell’s key positions.
Electric bicycles tend to have a reputation in the USA for being mundane commuter mules, and while there is a strong market in Europe and Asia for practical two-wheeled daily transportation, America’s bike market subsists to a greater extent on sports and recreational riders – to wit, enthusiasts. And there hasn’t been much out there on the market to get this group fired-up.
But that might be about to change with the arrival of Specialized’s new “Turbo” e-bike. After attending the press launch this week in San Francisco, I can say that their new machine sheds the utilitarian aura of the typical electric bicycle, and injects a huge measure of the company’s performance DNA into the genre – this is an e-bike the cycling enthusiast can enjoy.
A couple of weeks ago, The Economist ran a report on climate change stating that over the last 15 years, air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have remained flat despite greenhouse-gas emissions continuing to soar. They went onto draw attention to a recent report by James Hansen (the well known climate scientist who retired from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies this month) which asserts, “The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade.” The clear implication being that temperatures are not rising as fast as predicted.
The piece goes on to cite a study by Ed Hawkins at the University of Reading in the UK that tracks actual global mean temperatures against 20 climate models, and which finds the actual observed temperatures since 2005 are already running at the low end of temperature range projections of those models. If observed mean temperatures remain flat in the next few years, The Economist suggests, it would mean the Earth’s temperature would be below the lowest temperature range predictions.
So does this mean climate change is less of a problem than climate science has suggested? Not really.
Environmental considerations aside, probably one of the most appealing things about driving an electric vehicle is that as soon as you press the ‘gas’ pedal, the instant torque leading to peppy acceleration is accompanied by… near silence. The fact that you can join the flow of traffic without a cacophony of sound is a surprisingly pleasant experience. A selling point, no doubt.
Understandably, such silent operation is seen as a potential risk to the blind, who may not be able to hear an approaching EV, and back in 2010, the National Federation of the Blind backed the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 – which was signed into law on Jan 4, 2011.
The bill can be read here, but one specific requirement is that new electric or hybrid vehicles are “to provide an alert sound conforming to the requirements of the motor vehicle safety standard.” The bill itself didn’t stipulate what type of sound, how loud, or at what speeds it must be made, but the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) was charged to come up with the requirements, and in January of this year, made its recommendations.
Among those recommendations, EVs would have to emit a sound when traveling below 18 mph, while above this speed it would not be necessary due to tire-on-road noise becoming the dominant sound of an approaching vehicle. The law requires noise generators to be phased in, starting in September 2014, and in the lead up to this deadline, some groups have expressed concern.
Last year, electric bicycle company, EVELO made a two-person, 4,000 mile trans-America ride stopping in 10 metropolitan areas to help promote electric bikes as a viable alternative form of transport. The trip was a success; the bikes and riders held up to the challenge, and along the way, proved that for this type of electric vehicle at least, range-anxiety is of no concern.
This year, EVELO founder, Boris Mordkovich, continues his quest to get the word out about electric bicycles, but is taking a different approach by kicking off the 30-day electric bike challenge beginning on May 1st. Applicants will have a chance to give up their car, receive an e-bike for a month, and in return, write a blog about their experiences on the company’s website.
A little over a year ago, we reported that cleantech accelerator Greenstart was distinguishing itself from other firms by specifically working with startups operating at the intersection of cleantech and IT, while the launch of their in-house design practice came from the recognition that great design wins. Twelve months later, rapidly iterating Greenstart is further distinguishing itself by leaving the accelerator model behind altogether.
Earlier this month, the firm confidently announced via email, “we killed our accelerator,” which, far from being a negative, instead represents a process of fine-tuning their model in order to capitalize on what was working best for them, and best for the startups they were working with.
The typical accelerator model of 90-day intensive mentorships has run its course for Greenstart, allowing them to instead re-brand as an early stage venture firm. I asked founding and managing partner, Mitch Lowe, what was behind this latest step in their evolution.
Boeing, American Airlines and the FAA are currently working together to test a number of environmentally progressive technologies with their joint “ecoDemonstrator” program. This entails the use of a pre-delivery test-bed 737-800 aircraft, loaned by American, that will ultimately be returned to standard specifications and delivered to the airline later this year.
In order to understand how this program fits into – or augments – typical research and development undertaken by Boeing, I spoke with Jeanne Yu, Director, Environmental Performance at Boeing Commercial Airplanes to learn more about the program.
In particular, I was interested in how American Airlines and Boeing came together to cooperate on such a program, and I wanted to understand what value is added by partnering with a customer such as American.
Cities are where almost all of our economic and cultural activity takes place today, and on an evermore crowded planet, inevitably, cities will continue to attract the majority of growth in human settlement and jobs. In turn, this will increasingly reveal a constrained urban resource – transportation – the ability of city streets to carry people around efficiently.
Such is the state of the urban world, as explained to me earlier this week by Michael Keating, CEO of San Francisco based start-up, Scoot Networks; and it led to Scoot devising a business (launched in public beta in San Francisco last week) that provides an alternative way to get around congested city streets.
Scoot will now rent you a zippy electric Scooter (by the hour) from one of four locations in the city’s South of Market neighborhood, providing an urban mobility solution designed to be easy, cheap and fast as well as fun and sustainable.
Here’s how it works.
It’s probably pretty safe to say that nobody really likes commuting. Whether you’re sitting in traffic or dealing with public transportation, it’s a waste of time, money and just plain stressful. Many large Silicon Valley companies recognize this and provide a company shuttle-bus to ferry employees to and from work.
Nathalie Criou was one such employee – a regular user of the company shuttle when she worked at Google. But after leaving the company, she was faced with a situation where there was no choice but to drive or take public transit to get to work – and that was unsatisfactory.
Recognizing a gap in the market, Nathalie co-founded RidePal a little over a year ago, with the goal of bringing company shuttle services to people working for smaller organizations, who are unable to hop on an in-house provided bus.
To make it work though, RidePal needed to be able to match riders, routes and vehicles to bring a critical mass of people together. Technology was the facilitator to make that happen.
Discussion on electric vehicles often seems to be polarized around two different worldviews. Advocates will point out they are the way of the future, a viable way to wean ourselves off oil, and with millions of miles driven in the hands of consumers already, a proven technology.
Detractors will assert they are an unworthy tax-payer subsidized experiment – as someone I know put it. Others cite manufacturers falling short of sales targets and the high expense and poor range of today’s EVs as reasons to doubt the technology’s longevity. In the case of the Chevrolet Volt, it has also become a political artifact – one which symbolizes the Detroit bail-out, and one which commentators often like to point out is struggling to gain traction.
The objective take on electric vehicles is a little harder to extrapolate. The “Charged: EV Symposium Silicon Valley 2012″ presented by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and hosted by SAP last month, helped to clarify the health of the industry, by bringing together leaders within the EV industry, and the broader EV industry ecosystem.
Here are the main takeaways about the state of the industry today and what can we expect going forward:
Last week, a team of two cyclists, Boris Mordkovich and Anna Mostovetsky, began a two and a half month, 4,000 mile ride across America on a pair of electric-assisted bicycles to promote awareness of electric bikes as an alternative form of transport, and to prove that their machines are a reliable and efficient way to get around.
The ride began in New York City on April 7th and will end at the end of June in San Francisco. Along the way, the pair plan to hold talks in 15 cities, and meet up with commuters, cycling enthusiasts and advocacy groups to find out what’s preventing people from cycling for the many short trips that they routinely make.
So, how did the whole trip come about?
March turned out to be a big month for auto sales in the United States. Reuters reported that total vehicle sales were up 13 percent for the month, ending the best quarter in terms of total sales since 2008.
The industry sees this as a sign of general economic recovery, but with high average gas prices prevailing at the pumps, hybrid cars and plug-in vehicles enjoyed a strong month, indicating fuel economy matters to many when making new car choices.
So what about plug-in electric vehicles? Without doubt, the sales figures for these vehicles are small by comparison with top selling vehicles today, but they could perhaps be a barometer reading for how these cars may do in the market over the next decade.