Alternative energy innovations emerged in a variety of ways in the news on Gas2 this week, some as examples of shining successes, others as reminders of how difficult it is to transfer R&D from a computer screen to the production line. We looked at California’s continuing fight to move toward higher vehicle emission standards, disappointments for Mercedes and Faraday Futures, and Elon Musk’s statements about the Model 3 and a tunnel boring machine for LA. Here’s all that and more in our Gas2 Week in Review.
The California Air Resources Board upheld its position to maintain the same vehicle emission standards through 2025 that it originally decided upon in 2012. While good for California citizens and the planet, the move also pushed the Trump administration to defend its plan to weaken vehicle emissions standards as enforced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Additionally, California will accelerate alternative energy vehicle incentives from around three percent now to about fifteen percent by 2025. These sources will include batteries, fuel cells, and plug-in hybrids.
Mercedes CEO Dieter Zetsche announced in Stuttgart this week that fuel cells will no longer be part of the company’s long-term focus. That reversal comes as fuel cell technology, which had been seen as the prominent alternative energy source over battery electric cars just a few years ago, has fallen in favor among auto manufacturers. “Battery costs are declining rapidly whereas hydrogen production remains very costly,” Zetsche acknowledged. Mercedes will continue production plans for a fuel cell–powered GLC SUV, but that car will have as its intended audience fleet operators with available hydrogen refueling rigs.
Catchy marketing phrases like “What if the back seat was the new front seat?” and “What if all those cars parked in driveways had more interesting lives?” were just not enough to sustain the electric car company, Faraday Future, backed by Chinese billionaire Jia Yueting. The alternative energy vehicle company, which was pitched as a direct competitor to Tesla, positioned itself as an automotive manufacturing disrupter by using an innovative new chassis that could be made wider, longer, or lower to meet the changing needs of the marketplace. Vacillating among apologies to shareholders, pledges to the Nevada state treasurer, and sudden infusions of Chinese capital, Faraday Futures took a final blow when it was forced to sell land in Silicon Valley to pay off debts.
In another of his famous series of Tweets this week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk answered questions about the upcoming Model 3’s information displays, explaining that drivers don’t need an instrument cluster on the dash because “the more autonomous a car is, the less dash info you need.” He added, “How often do you look at the instrument panel when being driven in a taxi?” Musk has always said that, one day, autonomous cars will be as common as self-service elevators; in doing so, he is, in effect, telling us that the Model 3 will be more transportation module than driving machine. With no instrument cluster, no heads-up display, the Model 3 will have just one center touchscreen. It seems that the next generation of “drivers” won’t need as much information as they co-operate automated vehicles like the Model 3.
Elon Musk’s plans to build a tunnel boring machine are apparently taking shape, with his engineers making advances that are due to be unveiled in about a month’s time. Original plan were for tunnels 30 levels deep as a solution to the intractable traffic problems that plague Los Angeles. Drilling into the earth’s crust has begun, it seems, with an initial tunnel conveniently situated outside the SpaceX headquarters, where Musk spends a great deal of time, with end target of Los Angeles international airport. “Traffic is driving me nuts!” he tweeted last year. If the project is successful, revolutionary tunnel boring equipment will drill holes in the ground ten times faster than present technology can. The article includes a video that helps us to imagine what the journey from SpaceX to LAX might look like.
Photo credit: new 1lluminati via Foter.com / CC BY