News broke last Thursday that Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, was investing $1 billion in its Alabama plant to start building an electric SUV in 2020.
Many outlets said the investment was an obvious challenge to Tesla, a formidable competitor in the US’ electric space that plans to build its own compact SUV, the Model Y, in 2020. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, however, begs to differ.
“That’s not a lot of money for a giant like Daimler/Mercedes. Wish they’d do more. Off by a zero,” Musk said on Sunday on Twitter.
Musk has long welcomed competition in the electric-vehicle space, saying it will help speed the growth of sustainable transportation. He open-sourced patents in 2014 as part of that aim.
Musk’s comment supports his stance that automakers with a bigger cash cushion should do more to advance electric cars.
“It doesn’t really harm Tesla but helps the industry,” Musk said during a 2014 call, “And I think actually it will help Tesla, mostly with respect to attracting and motivating the world’s best technical talent.”
Daimler responded to Musk’s tweet, noting that it said in Nov. 2016 that it would spend $10 billion on next-generation electric vehicles and $1 billion on battery production.
You’re absolutely right @elonmusk. Here the missing zero: Investing >$10bn in nxt gen EVs & >$1bn in battery prod. 👉 https://t.co/Tk747isWAc
— Daimler AG (@Daimler) September 25, 2017
Musk replied with a simple “good.”
Daimler has been cutting checks to help advance divisions that go after Tesla’s core businesses, from home energy to electric vehicles.
In May, Mercedes partnered with Vivint Solar to sell smart solar ecosystems to California residents, a challenge to Tesla’s solar-roof rollout on its home turf.
France is joining a growing movement to force the extinction of vehicles that run on fossil fuels, saying on Thursday that it would aim to end the sale of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040.
The target is less ambitious than ones set by countries like Norway and India. Still, coming from a major car-producing country, France’s declaration gave additional momentum to efforts to fight climate change and urban smog by promoting the use of electric cars.
The timing of the announcement was also significant, a day after the automaker Volvo said it would phase out the internal combustion engine, and during a visit to Europe by President Trump. The announcement by Nicolas Hulot, the French environment minister, was an expression of European leaders’ determination to pursue an environmental agenda despite Mr. Trump’s repudiation of the Paris agreement on climate change.
“It’s a very difficult objective,” Mr. Hulot said Thursday. “But the solutions are there.”
The plan to phase out gasoline and diesel cars is part of a broader effort by France to limit global warming, which Mr. Hulot outlined Thursday. The country will also stop issuing new oil and gas exploration permits this year, and stop using coal to produce electricity by 2022, he said.
Mr. Hulot’s statement was the latest sign that the century-long reign of the internal combustion engine may be slowly coming to an end.
On Wednesday, Volvo said that all of its new models beginning in 2019 would be either battery-powered cars or hybrids that combined electric motors with diesel or gasoline engines.
The company, based in Sweden, said it will not introduce any new designs powered solely by conventional internal combustion engines — a first for a major carmaker. Mr. Hulot referred to Volvo’s announcement during his remarks in Paris on Thursday.
There was no immediate reaction to the government’s statement from France’s two major carmakers, Renault and the PSA Group, which makes Peugeot and Citroën cars.
Renault began selling battery-powered cars in 2011, and was among the first major carmakers to do so.
While electric cars still only amount to a sliver of the market, sales have been growing fast. Renault sold 17,000 of its battery powered Zoe compact cars in the first six months of 2017, almost as many as in all of 2016.
France faced some criticism that its plan was not ambitious enough. Norway plans to sell only electric cars starting in 2025, and India plans to do so in 2030.
Since cars usually last about 15 years, France’s target means that gasoline and diesel cars would be on the road until 2055. That is too long to meet France’s own climate change goals, said Greg Archer, director of clean vehicles at Transport & Environment, an advocacy group in Brussels.
But Mr. Archer added that France’s move “is absolutely the right direction to be taking.”
Such an expression of government resolve can prompt companies to devote more resources to developing electric vehicles, and encourage investors to put money into clean transportation start-ups. France’s move could also put pressure on Germany and other European countries to promote electric vehicles.
Mr. Archer said, though, that it was essential for France to follow up with incentives and regulations that encouraged the use of electric cars. Mr. Hulot gave no specifics about how the government planned to meet its target.
The German government originally planned to put one million electric vehicles on the country’s roads by 2020, but has admitted it will fall far short of that goal. The government was slow to offer financial incentives and build public charging stations.
“It’s great to have a vision,” Mr. Archer said. “We have to now see the policies put in place to deliver on that vision.”
India has floated an audacious plan to turn every car, bus, truck, and everything in between, into an electric vehicle (EV) by 2030.
To get there, according to a recent report (PDF) by India’s NITI Aayog and the Rocky Mountain Institute in the US, between six and seven million EVs will have to ply on Indian roads by 2020. But that’s a tall order considering that a mere 22,000 such units were sold in the country in the 2016 financial year.
So, to build scale, which’ll be essential to jumpstart EV adoption, the Narendra Modi government plans to roll out an EV-based public transport system with auto-rickshaws and buses running on batteries that can be swapped after a certain distance.
“We’re looking at some time towards end of this year (for the) launch,” said Ashok Jhunjhunwala, a principal advisor to the ministry of new and renewable energy who is helping with the project. He declined to provide details of the possible size of this proposed EV fleet or the cities where it could be piloted.
Jhunjhunwala, on a sabbatical from his professorship at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Madras, explained that the government asked him to scale up EVs within 2017, and without any subsidy. “It looked impossible. I was almost ready to pack my bags and go back,” he said, speaking at a Shell Lubricants global lecture series event at IIT-Delhi on June 07.
The primary roadblock was the high cost of batteries for EVs, which could not be offset without subsidies, he explained. But interacting with the automotive and EV industry, Jhunjhunwala realised that there was an opportunity to build volumes if EVs could be separated from the single most expensive component: batteries. “We said we’ll start buying vehicles without battery,” he said. “For example, if I want to buy a bus or a three-wheeler, I’ll buy it without (the) battery but with enhanced (vehicle) efficiency.”
This arrangement, Jhunjhunwala said, brings the cost of EVs (without battery) at par with conventional vehicles. By focusing on higher efficiency vehicles and batteries that can be swapped at regular intervals, the cost per kilometre can be brought down to levels comparable with diesel, petrol or CNG vehicles. Compared to larger batteries used in EVs, which typically aren’t interchangeable, these swappable batteries are smaller, cheaper, and take less time to charge. “Suddenly the whole economics was working. And once the economics work, one can scale,” he said.
With the hardware sorted out, these systems can be integrated into an urban transport system to create an EV-based network. Auto-rickshaws, for instance, travel between 80km and 130km daily, which meant that batteries could be swapped at around the 40km-mark.
When Jhunjhunwala took the idea to auto-rickshaw drivers in Delhi, the first question was how long will it take to swap batteries. “The next question they asked, how many stations will be there where I can swap? I said about 100 station in Delhi,” he said. So, the drivers figured that the blueprint could work if the infrastructure is in place.
Already there are over two dozen manufacturers ready to supply these electric auto-rickshaws and batteries, Jhunjhunwala said. Some 10 other firms can build charging units at under Rs1.5 lakh. “Everything other can than battery cells, we can make in India,” he said.
Similarly, a swappable battery-based system is being designed for city buses. Jhunjhunwala’s research found that some 95% of these buses in the country travel less than 30km per trip, which allows batteries to be swapped at the terminal point where the bus turns around for the return journey. “In 10 minutes, we can swap the battery,” he said.
Some owners of electric cars have made it a habit to use charging stations as parking spots well after their charge is complete, and other electric car drivers are getting sick of it.
One took the problem straight to Tesla CEO Elon Musk last week when he tweeted to him, “The San Mateo supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their tesla for hours even if already charged.” Within minutes, Musk replied: “You’re right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.” Six days later he did, and while some are debating the merits of his solution, others are applauding his fast response, as strategy consultant Richard Jhang did when he wrote on LinkedIn: “Idea to execution in 6 days. Copy that.” To remedy the problem, the company is “introducing a fleet-wide idle fee that aims to increase Supercharger availability,” per a Tesla blog post.
“For every additional minute a car remains connected to the Supercharger, it will incur a $0.40 idle fee.” If the car is moved within five minutes, the fee is waived.
(An app alerts Tesla owners when the charge is nearly complete.) Inc.com calls it exemplary customer service, while Loic Le Meur, the man whose tweet got the ball rolling, writes on Medium that it was Musk’s personal response that won him over.
“That is one of the reasons he is so successful,” he writes. “He manages a 30,000 employee public company like an agile startup.”