Clean Air

Toyota and Mazda are making a new company to develop electric cars

Both automakers are set to make future EVs off of Prius platform

More automakers are partnering in preparation for an electric car future. Mazda and Toyota are next, joining with Denso Corporation to form a new company that will develop electric vehicle technologies.

The deal, announced today, comes about a month after Toyota said it would take a 5 percent stake in Mazda and that the two would pursue electric vehicles and necessary research and development, along with other automotive strategies together. The new company is called EV Common Architecture Spirit Co Ltd., and Toyota will own 90 percent, while Mazda and Denso will each have a 5 percent share. Vehicles produced through the new company will also use Toyota’s modular platform architecture that’s being used in models such as the Prius and 2018 Camry. Everything from small cars to SUVs are planned, according to the news release.


While Toyota has been a gas-electric hybrid pioneer for two decades now, one of the world’s largest automakers has been surpassed by smaller rivals introducing fully electric vehicles for mass production. Its plug-in hybrid Prius Prime has just 22 miles of range on a full charge, roughly half of a Chevrolet Volt’s electric-only range.

Mazda has also pledged an allegiance to the internal combustion engine with its SkyActiv-X gasoline engines — promising diesel-like fuel economy with significantly reduced emissions — set to appear in their production cars over the next few years. But it needs a plug-in to comply with California’s zero-emissions vehicle mandate, as well as looming federal fuel economy average target. Mazda has said it will start selling an electric vehicle of some kind in 2019.

With major automakers pledging to make all of their cars electric in some form, and unlikely companies trying to get in the EV game, Mazda and Toyota’s new company is a likely pairing of two car firms that need to make up for lost time in this automotive field.



September 28, 2017 / 3 Comments / by / in
No more gas or diesel cars in California? State considers ban

Get ready to scrap your gas guzzler. And your gas sipper, too.

California’s chief air-pollution regulator said this week the state is considering a ban on cars fueled by internal-combustion engines.

While the ban would be at least a decade away, Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board, said putting California motorists in an all-electric fleet would help the state meet its ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Tailpipes generate more than one-third of all greenhouse gases, according to state data, and so far only a small fraction of California’s motorists drive electric vehicles.

Nichols made the comment in an interview with Bloomberg news, saying Gov. Jerry Brown has been asking her about a ban on gas- and diesel-powered cars announced recently by China.

“I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?’ The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California,” Nichols told Bloomberg.

Chinese leaders said earlier this month they plan to phase out internal-combustion cars at some point, although they haven’t set a date. The United Kingdom and France said in July they would ban such vehicles by 2040.

Predictably, Nichols’ comments sent the auto world buzzing, given California’s status as an automotive trendsetter and its aggressive push to crack down on air pollution and eliminate fossil fuels from everyday life. Regulations imposed by the Air Resources Board in California often become industry standard.

“That’s a pretty powerful statement,” said Rick Niello, who runs a chain of high-end car dealerships in the Sacramento area. “The devil would be in the details.”

Niello questioned how a ban would play out: Would California limit the ban to new models and let people drive their old cars? Could the state’s electrical grid handle everyone’s electric vehicles plugged in every night? How would the state deal with issues of affordability for the poor?

“How do you take care of the people that need transportation when you want to yank their car away from them?” Niello said. “I hope they’ve thought about that. Because if they haven’t, the backlash would be rather significant.”

Karl Brauer, an industry analyst with Kelley Blue Book in Southern California, dismissed Nichols’ prediction as simply unrealistic.

Electric cars “have come a long way” but still face enormous limitations, Brauer said. In particular, most vehicles can’t go much beyond 200 miles without having to be recharged, and having millions of cars on the road in California would simply overwhelm the available charging stations, he said. Brauer said he doesn’t expect that problem to be resolved for many years.

Automakers took a dim if somewhat measured view.

“We have been working with California on intelligent, market-based approaches to emissions reductions beyond 2025, and we hope that this doesn’t signal an abandonment of that position,” said John Bozzella, president of the Association of Global Automakers, in a prepared statement. “To reach our goals, we will need continued investment in new technologies, the infrastructure to support them, and, perhaps most importantly, consumers who will want to buy them.” The association represents foreign automakers’ U.S. divisions.

Dan Sperling, a UC Davis transportation professor who serves on the Air Resources Board with Nichols, said the chairwoman’s comments are roughly in line with other ambitious air-pollution goals and mandates established by California lawmakers and policymakers in recent years.

For instance, a law signed by Brown last year requires California to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The Air Resources Board has established an informal goal of having electric vehicles make up 40 percent of California’s cars by 2030.

Nichols’ statement “is not far from the kinds of things California is proceeding with … albeit at the upper limit,” Sperling said.

He said a ban in 10 years probably isn’t realistic. But it could happen in, say, a quarter century.

“It’s not unreasonable to think about essentially having all light-duty (car) sales by electric vehicles by 2040,” Sperling said.

How California would impose such a ban wasn’t clear. Although the state has the power to set its own air pollution standards, it needs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s approval to do so. Nichols acknowledged that the Trump administration, which is already feuding with the Air Resources Board over greenhouse gases, almost certainly wouldn’t allow California to impose a ban on internal-combustion engine vehicles.

“I think we would be looking at using some of our other authorities to get to that result,” Nichols said.

A ban on gas and diesel vehicles could have dire implications for California’s oil industry, which is one of the largest in the country. California oil production is centered mainly around Kern County and parts of Southern California.

California has labored to increase the use of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, providing rebates of at least $1,500 for purchases or long-term leases of “clean” cars. Californians drive about 250,000 clean cars, or about half of all the clean cars on the road in America.

Nonetheless, the vehicles have struggled to gain acceptance, even in California. Electrics and plug-ins accounted for only 46,000 sales in the first half of 2017, less than 5 percent of the total, according to the California New Car Dealers Association. The increasing popularity of bigger cars and “light trucks” in recent years, including pickups, vans and SUVs, has frustrated California’s efforts to ratchet down greenhouse gas emissions. Transportation generates 37 percent of all greenhouse gases in California, more than any other source of emissions.

Nichols’ statement came at a pivotal moment in the war on carbon. California is fighting with automakers and the Trump administration over federal rules, put in place by former President Barack Obama, that will require automakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in new vehicles by about one-third by 2025.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is thinking of relaxing those rules. California has signaled that it will defy the EPA and stick with the mandates developed during the Obama administration. Because California represents such a large share of the U.S. market, automakers are trying to forge a compromise between Sacramento and Washington.

As much as California officials have pushed to phase out fossil fuels, the state has blinked at times. Notably, the Legislature this year failed to pass SB 100, which would have required the state’s electric utilities to use solar, wind and other renewable energy sources for 100 percent of their power by 2045.


September 27, 2017 / by / in ,
A 114-year old Mercedes has more in common with a Tesla than you think

I‘m extremely nervous to be behind the wheel of the 1902 model (built in 1903) Mercedes Simplex 40. The controls and open air sitting position remind me more of a John Deere tractor than the cars that currently fill our cities and interstates. After a quick tutorial, I got in, depressed the clutch, reached outside the cab to put the vehicle in first gear and nearly stalled an automobile that was the pinnacle of tech when it was built. 

Many of the design decisions made for the Simplex have ended up permeating most of the automotive world even up until today — including putting the radiator up front, spark plugs and more importantly not looking like a horse carriage without a horse. The Simplex 40 also became the vehicle that set the automaker up as a sport luxury brand after the Simplex was entered in, and won, multiple races at the time of its launch.

It was a trend-setting car for its time and while driving it was complicated (two brake pedals and a brake lever to bring it to a stop, plus you have to double clutch it to switch gears) it was hard not to think about how the world of the Simplex parallels the next big change in transportation: The switch to electric and autonomy.

For over 114 years cars have been powered by the internal combustion engine (ICE). The old adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” would work if it weren’t for the pollutants these cars spew into the air and that we’ll eventually run out of the fuel that’s powering these vehicles.

Now after decades of false starts, the electric (and to a lesser extent hydrogen fuel-cell) car is on the road. Like the first combustion engine automobiles, technology is ready to offer a new way to get around and it’s finally a viable alternative to ICE vehicles.

What pushed battery-powered cars to the foreground is Tesla. The company’s goal of selling high-end, fast cars to the well off with a goal to sell an affordable EV to the masses not only put that automaker on the map, it helped jump start an entire revolution. Currently, it’s hard to find an automaker that’s not introducing hybrids and pure electric cars or at least planning to.

When the Simplex emerged on the scene all those years ago, like the Model S, it was a high-end fast car. One that inspired others to make a car for the general public (namely Henry Ford). The Model T was the first mass produced automobile that regular folks could actually afford.

Today it’s more than just the drivetrain that’s evolving, the fundamental way we drive (or don’t drive) is undergoing a complete transformation.

The introduction of the car was the introduction of freedom. The ability to travel far and wide without booking passage on an expensive boat or train. Horses are great, but they get tired and because they’re live animals can’t go 30 miles per-hour for a sustained period of time. Plus, if the whole family wanted to visit a distant relative, now you needed to invest in a wagon. That doesn’t even take into account the people living in a city that had nowhere to store a very large animal.

Autonomous cars are set to do the same thing for portions of the population. Public transportation is wonderful when it works. But it doesn’t always offer door-to-door service. That leaves the elderly and disabled with only half a solution. If a self-driving car built with a low load-in for wheel chairs and folks with walkers can pick someone up and take them directly to the store or to visit family, it’s a ticket to a life that’s no longer confined to their homes when mobility becomes difficult.

While driving the Simplex I thought about the people that bought the car and vehicles that came after it and how those folks would experience the world completely different from their parents’ and grandparents’. We’re on the cusp of doing that again. Yes, a ton of work needs to be done to build out EV charging stations and publicly usable autonomous vehicles won’t be on the road for general use until the next decade, but getting around is going to get simpler and have less of an impact on the air we breath.

While driving along a golf course in Mountain View, I remarked how connected I felt to the Simplex. It was more like riding a motorcycle than a modern car. You feel and hear the engine change even during slight adjustments. It’s exhilarating and a bit nerve-racking. It’s a piece of art on wheels, there are very few of them on the road and I never mastered that clutch.

My first ride in a fully autonomous EV production car will be no less exciting and nerve-racking. It’s tough to give up control to robots, but after a few miles, I’m sure I’ll relax and think about how we’ve changed transportation forever. Again.



September 9, 2017 / 1 Comment / by / in
Cummins unveils an electric big rig weeks before Tesla

Sorry, Tesla, but someone just stole the thunder from the electric big rig you were planning to unveil this fall. The engine giant Cummins has unveiled a concept semi truck, the AEOS, that runs entirely on the power of an electric motor and a 140kWh battery pack. It’s roughly as powerful as a 12-liter fossil fuel engine and could haul 44,000 pounds of cargo, just without the emissions or rampant fuel costs of a conventional truck. There’s speedy 1-hour charging, and Cummins is even looking at solar panels on the trailer to extend range. It’s a promising offering, although Elon Musk and crew might not lose too much sleep knowing the limitations.

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For one thing, range is a sore point. You’re looking at a modest 100-mile range with that 140kWh pack. That’s fine for inter-city deliveries, but it won’t cut the mustard for longer trips. And while there’s talk of extending that distance to 300 miles with extra packs, that would only make it competitive with Tesla’s anticipated 200- to 300-mile range.

And more importantly, this is a concept, not a production vehicle ready to roll off the manufacturing line. There should be a production model in a couple of years, according to CNET, but that gives Tesla plenty of time to get its own EV semi on the road. Not that we’re going to complain about both companies having a fighting chance — more electric big rigs means more competition and fewer polluting trucks.


August 31, 2017 / by / in ,
Fuel Technology Competing To Clean The Air

The San Pedro Bay Ports comprise the largest port complex in the United States, the third largest port complex, and continue to be the number one single source of air pollution in the South Coast Basin. This is mainly due to the number of diesel powered trucks and cargo equipment that move in and out of the complex daily.

What if we could change that? Can you imagine all those trucks moving all that cargo without emissions?

“There’s 42,000 cargo containers that move through the port of Los Angles every day. They’re moved around by 16,000 largely diesel trucks,” according to Toyota Motor North America Executive V.P. Bob Carter.

Last November Toyota announced they would be exploring the potential of a Heavy Duty truck with zero emissions. Though companies like TransPower have been making electric trucks for years, this was the first time a company with the breadth and reach of Toyota decided to enter the market. The announcement was further boosted by Tesla’s announcement last week that it too would produce a zero-emission heavy duty truck.

The Port of Los Angeles “Project Portal” was unveiled as the next step in Toyota’s effort to broaden the application of zero-emission fuel cell technology that can serve a range of industries. It is a fully functioning heavy duty truck with the power and torque capacity to conduct port drayage operations while emitting nothing but water vapor. Heavy duty vehicles make up a significant percentage of the annual emissions output at the Port of Los Angeles, and the Portal feasibility study may provide another path to further reduce emissions. The feasibility study will examine potential usage of fuel cell technology in heavy-duty applications and will begin this summer.

Portal is powered by the same fuel cell stacks used in the Mirai. Has ability of 670 horse power and 1325 pounds feet of torque, gross combined weight capacity of 80,000 pounds and more than an estimated driven range of 200 miles per hydrogen fill which would work for short haul drayage.

Also significant is that the third iteration of the San Pedro Bay CAAP demands more true zero emissions. This demonstration of hydrogen for now is a short haul feasibility study. The societal benefits that this can have on the quality of life of people and the environment considering the heavy amount of truck traffic that exist could be monumental.

Hydrogen fuel cells are not a new technology. Using compressed hydrogen as their fuel and releasing only water vapor as an emission have been in development for decades. It is only until recently that they have attained performance and range numbers good enough to replace an average driver’s gasoline-powered car.

I’ve heard the term “game changer” recently as examples of what fuels are driving the trucking industry to consider alternatives. What will truly be a game changer is what will be a commercially viable reality. We desperately need this otherwise Port communities will continue to suffer the disproportionate burden.

We need this technology and others like it to be a success. When they do this will change everything.


April 21, 2017 / by / in ,
Clean the air for our children

The most common causes of child deaths in low- and middle-income countries used to be diarrhea, pneumonia, and malaria. The first two are actually preventable. But these health hazards are being quickly replaced by a far worse, less manageable threat – air pollution.

Today, up to 300 million children live in areas—mostly urban centers—with extremely toxic levels of air pollution, and approximately 2 billion children reside in areas where pollution levels exceed the minimum air quality standards set by the World Health Organization, stated in UNICEF’s latest report on the issue. These are global figures, but it’s easy to assume that two-thirds of the children exposed to bad air quality live in Asia, where the world’s most polluted mega cities are located.

If you believe that air pollution causes only respiratory diseases in children, and that your children are safe as long as they don’t develop these illnesses, you are wrong. Pollution is a silent killer that can lead to cancer, many other chronic diseases, and even impact infant brain development.

PM 2.5, the most dangerous particle in air pollution, can cross the lung-blood and blood-brain barrier and damage children’s cells. Harm starts even before birth, since PM 2.5 particles can penetrate the placental barrier and target the growing fetus when the mother is exposed to toxic air. When I see the long queues of people waiting for transport along Manila’s roads in the morning, including many pregnant women, I worry about their unborn babies’ health, especially in a country where health care facilities for pre-term born babies are completely insufficient.

Unfortunately, it seems that the situation needs to reach alarming levels first before decision-makers initiate policies to address the problem. Right now, some Asian cities already experience the worst kind of air pollution. In the last few weeks, the population of Delhi had to breath air that was so bad that schools closed, and doctors advised parents to leave the city with their children. More residents than usual decided to wear face marks to deal with the smog, formed as a result of crop-burning smoke, the Diwali festival fireworks, dust and vehicle emissions, and insufficient action from the city authorities.

Given these facts and the urgency of the problem of air pollution and its long-term impact on our children’s health and their development potential, which will ultimately impact the economy, what can Asian governments do to tackle the issue?

First, increase investments in evidence generation. We must generate better data on air quality and on populations’ health status in cities. Both would need to be correlated in urban data dashboards, which can be presented to decision makers and shared with civil society. This would also require developing and building consensus on children’s environmental health indicators, with a focus on urban environmental health. Data would also need to be improved from the health service side, including low-cost tools for disease diagnostics (pollution-related respiratory diseases, and for brain development issues) and for real-time data sharing of diseases. Based on this improved data availability, local governments should actively disseminate health warnings so that people can better protect themselves, and their children, from air pollution.

Asian governments should also introduce policies on clean air that require cities to comply with national air quality standards, with tough sanctions for urban centers that don’t comply. A good example is the US Clean Air Act, which mandates national ambient air quality standards and regulates toxic emissions, with stiff penalties for violators. Likewise, governments should allocate financing for healthy urban planning, demanding that cities invest in mass transport systems, green public spaces, and industrial zoning. Singapore is of course the best case study, but Jakarta has started to invest in mass public transportation to reduce pollution from car emissions and in urban greening.

Awareness raising programs inform the population about the harmful effects of pollution. By doing so strengthen, they strengthen the popular demand for positive change. Cheap portable C02 measuring devices linked to smartphones share real-time pollution data through social media. This can leverage new forms of information sharing to increase awareness.

It’s also time to for Asian governments to do much more to improve overall urban health. Many children don’t have access to good health services in cities, and are thus more vulnerable to pollution-linked diseases. Primary health centers need to be able to offer treatment for chronic respiratory diseases, which include providing oxygen treatment and recognizing that certain diseases are clearly associated to pollution. Infant health, growth, and development depend on both controlling the root environmental causes of poor health and clinical responses.

Finally, start with yourself – be conscious about your own air pollution footprint.


November 15, 2016 / by / in