Category Archives: Transportation

Five Ways Automakers Make Some Electric Cars Profitable

Big, gas-guzzling cars are often more profitable for automakers than are cars that drive on electricity, due in large part to the persistently high costs of batteries. So it’s not all that surprising that some automakers have spent years delaying more aggressive pushes into electrification.

But the world is changing, and consumers are increasingly interested in driving electric cars, while automakers continue to be required to meet environmental mandates. Battery costs are also steadily coming down, but it will still take many years for most competitive electric cars to have the lower manufacturing costs associated with traditional internal combustion vehicles.

The analysts at McKinsey recently published a report to help automakers that are struggling with the potentially expensive prospect of adding more electric-car models to their lineup. The researchers give a handful of suggestions for how automakers can adjust and adapt to offering electric cars, while also trying to turn a profit.

The tips seem mostly directed at big automakers that are still offering just a few electric car models. New figures out from EV-Volumes suggest that Tesla’s Model S and Nissan’s Leaf were the bestselling electric cars of 2016, followed by BYD’s Tang and GM’s Chevy Volt.

All of those automakers have been pretty aggressive about jumping into electric cars, but other manufacturers have produced a limited number of models that are largely being used as “compliance cars,” to meet stricter state regulations.

Currently, the overall electric car market is still pretty small — at 773,563 models sold worldwide last year — so automakers can still define, or redefine, their electric car strategies. However, they should act fast, before companies like Tesla, Nissan and GM corner the market.

Here are five suggestions from McKinsey for how to make the transition to electric cars more profitable for automakers.

1) Start by offering lower-range, cheaper urban electric cars: Even though Tesla started out selling expensive luxury electric cars, McKinsey analysts argue that automakers are currently missing out by not offering more low-cost, low-range electric cars. There are a variety of types of electric-car buyers, says the report, starting with early adopters that are willing to spend on the Model S or even the Roadster, Tesla’s first expensive electric sports car.

But the next wave of electric car buyers, referred to as “near-term electric car buyers,” are likely to more interested in electric cars that cost far less and are designed primarily for use in urban areas. Members of this demographic tend to live in cities and only travel 25 to 35 miles on average per day. These cars would be cheaper because they would have smaller battery packs and driving ranges.

Automakers focused on Europe and Japan already offer some of these electric models, which on the low end used to be called “neighborhood electric vehicles.” French giant Renault has been selling the small Zoe, which has a 22-kilowatt-hour battery pack, for some time now, while Nissan’s early Leaf models were low-cost and had relatively low range.

But these automakers are clearly caught in a bind when their cars have minimal range and are being compared to longer-range electric vehicles from the likes of Tesla and GM. Nissan and Renault subsequently launched their own versions of those cars with bigger batteries and higher costs.

2) Package competitive electric cars with new business models: If automakers plan to make electric car models that have big batteries, long ranges and high costs, they should start offering those types of higher-end cars today to new types of customers through alternative uses like ride-hailing and car-sharing, according to the report. Electric cars can have higher upfront costs than internal combustion cars, but their total cost of ownership, considering the cost of electricity versus gasoline and maintenance, can be lower.

The report contends that companies like Uber, which manages ride-sharing services, or Zipcar, which maintains car-sharing fleets, would be well served by buying up electric cars and using them in fleets. They could save money that way.

At the same time, automakers should be more creative in terms of both partnerships and new business models, embracing these new forms of “mobility,” a buzzword heavily favored these days by car companies. Automakers should be able to shift their electric-car launch strategies from selling a car, to selling services, to selling a package in between, depending on demand from customers, notes the report.

3) Education and communication: While between 30 percent and 45 percent of consumers in the U.S. and Germany say they’ve considered buying an electric car, less than 5 percent of consumers are actually buying electric vehicles, the report found, according to surveys.

That’s a large gap. It highlights how only about half of consumers say they understand how electric cars work. Through more education and marketing, that gap between interest and purchase could be made much smaller, and automakers should make efforts to create communication campaigns to figure out this problem.

Tesla seems to be well aware of this issue, because the notion is at the core of why the company insists on selling its cars out of its own Tesla stores. At Tesla stores, potential customers can learn about electric cars and battery technology, and have a hands-on experience with electric-car technology. Tesla doesn’t want its cars sold at traditional dealerships where electric cars are sold alongside traditional cars and often go ignored by dealers.

The report also found that consumers who are interested in electric cars are more fearful about range issues compared to consumers who have actually purchased an electric car. That implies that once someone owns an electric car, range anxiety is diminished. Communication campaigns explaining how charging works and where it’s available could be helpful in overcoming this barrier.

4) Know your demographics: In the same way that there’s a lack of lower-cost, lower-range electric cars out there, the report contends that automakers need to target electric-car models to other types of buyers. There are a whopping nine types of buyers, say McKinsey analysts, including: status luxury enthusiasts, risk-averse greens, mainstream mobility seekers, mass premium seekers, low-cost performance, urban families, trendy families, high-tech status seekers, and feature-focused buyers.

If automakers can customize and sell to these different verticals, they could uncover major opportunities that their competitors are missing out on.

5) Don’t hide in the sand and ignore electrification: The auto industry is undergoing a huge shift, not just in terms of battery technology and electric vehicles, but also with autonomous car tech, car-sharing tech, and connected cars. All of these investments together mean that car companies could become very capital-constrained.

However, the report says that automakers can’t rely on just internal combustion cars for long. Electric car tech could be disruptive to internal combustion cars as autonomy, connectivity and sharing are all reinforcing electrification. For example, a connected or autonomous car could make it easier to charge a car efficiently.

At the same time, battery costs are coming down significantly, and by 2025 to 2030, electric cars will “reach true price parity” with traditional internal combustion engines, notes the report. That’s just under a decade in the future.

Key to Autonomous Electric Vehicles

There’s a lot of excitement around autonomous vehicles, and electric autonomous vehicles in particular. Many people envision a day when driverless EVs will chauffeur us around safely and emissions-free — while allowing passengers to work, read or take a nap instead of watching the road.

The less visible, but essential player in this autonomous electric transportation future is wireless charging.

For vehicles to be truly driverless, they need to be able to refuel on their own too. Wireless charging — though still in its early days of consumer adoption — is one reason why EVs are considered the preferred platform for autonomous cars. Wireless charging liberates vehicles from gas pumps and plugs, and allows for virtually limitless electric range if chargers are strategically placed.

This week, wireless charging took another meaningful step toward broad adoption.

Wireless power transfer company WiTricity announced a new partnership today with Nissan, building on existing partnerships with General Motors and Toyota. The news is significant, because it signals that EV stakeholders have successfully avoided the type of standards battle that burdened the EV fast-charging sector — creating additional hurdles for the nascent EV market to overcome.

In the case of fast chargers, European and American automakers insisted on using one charging standard, while Nissan and other Asian manufacturers insisted on using another. As a result, two different types of fast chargers are being built and paid for across the U.S.

WiTricity’s latest announcement shows that automakers have recognized how critical interoperability is for simplifying the EV charging experience and prompting broader adoption of EVs.

“WiTricity is partnering with Nissan to catalyze wireless charging in the EV market and move the industry forward to an interoperable future,” said WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen. “In order for us to realize a future of transportation that is electrified, shared and autonomous, we need a wireless charging solution that works for all vehicles.”

Why working with automakers matters

WiTricity saw a big win last month, when SAE International selected a circular coil design — the type of design WiTricity uses — as the standard all automakers must use for wirelessly powered EVs. These systems will now be tested to inform a global set of wireless charging guidelines, with buy-in from all automakers.

Because of the standards hurdle, the first vehicle-integrated wireless charging systemisn’t expected to come to market until 2018, with the Mercedes-Benz S550e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) luxury sedan. However, Gruzen believes there could be a product announcement this year.

EV owners don’t have to wait for in-vehicle technology. Aftermarket solutions for wireless charging already exist. Tesla owners, for instance, can buy an aftermarket system from Plugless Power for $4,120. But because automakers haven’t signed off on these products, they may not support them.

WiTricity doesn’t offer aftermarket products. Rather, the company licenses its technology to Tier 1 suppliers like Delphi, IHI and TDK who build products for carmakers. At the same time, WiTricity works directly with OEMs like Nissan, Toyota and GM to develop its technology further. It comes as no surprise, then, that Gruzen isn’t a big fan of aftermarket solutions.

“I think that this is a critical system. So you need to make sure that it’s integrated well from the mechanicals, to thermals, and proper shielding so that none of the car systems can be impacted,” he said, as well as “that the software and the physical connector interfaces are blessed and approved.”

There aren’t going to be autonomous Ubers without wireless charging

WiTricity was founded in 2007 to commercialize technology patented two years earlier by a team of physicists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, led by Professor Marin Soljačić. The company’s claim to fame is its magnetic resonance technology that provides highly efficient power transfer from the grid to a vehicle, regardless of vehicle type and with flexibility on how accurately the vehicle is positioned.

Gruzen said WiTricity’s technology is 91 percent to 94 percent efficient, and can be even more efficient than plugging in because it doesn’t need certain pieces of technology, like a DC-to-DC converter.

WiTricity’s DRIVE series of wireless EV charging pads come in 3.7 kilowatts, 7.7 kilowatts and 11 kilowatts — typical sizes for consumer vehicles. The company also plans to scale to 22 kilowatts and higher to power bigger vehicles like electric buses. By installing charging pads at bus stops and depots, buses may never have to plug in or fill up again.

Some of the first applications of wireless chargers will likely be for luxury vehicles, like the S550e, until technology the technology scales and costs come down. Ditching the plug may seem like a luxury, but the convenience factor is actually considered an important draw to electrification in general.

Nissan is partnering with WiTricity because of “the potential of wireless charging to help advance widespread acceptance of EV motoring,” said Kazuo Yajima, global director of the EV engineering division at Nissan.

Enabling the use of EVs is an important goal, said Gruzen. Wireless chargers significantly improve the user experience and are theoretically capable of bidirectional charging and other applications that benefit the electrical grid. But the evolution of autonomous vehicles is what caused interest in wireless charging to really spike.

“It’s like there’s a holy trinity of electrification, autonomy and shared services…and in the middle of that is all the investment that’s taking place in lidar and in optical sensors like from Mobileye and Velodyne,” said Gruzen. “You’ve also got massive investments in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as optical processing and all of that decision-making. And, then, wireless charging.”

“Not as many people are talking about [wireless charging], but there just aren’t going to be fleets of autonomous Ubers…without wireless charging,” he added.

Different Reactions to Uber and Tesla by Trump

While Uber got shellacked for its link to President Donald Trump, the electric carmaker and sometimes-rival Tesla Inc. has comfortably weathered its association with a president who has lower approval ratings than any predecessor in his first days in office.

Uber Technologies Inc. lost customers and drivers and became the subject of a campaign on Twitter that encouraged people to delete their Uber apps. The opposition compelled Uber Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick to quit Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum. Meanwhile, Tesla faced relatively minimal backlash, and there’s been no comparable effort to boycott the carmaker’s products. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said he has no plans to quit the committee.

The contrast is viewed as a double standard within Uber’s headquarters in San Francisco.

Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday millions of jobs could be created in the United States if President Donald Trump embraced renewable energy sources such as geothermal, solar and wind power.

Carter, a Democrat who was the first U.S. president to install solar panels at the White House, said he hoped the Republican Trump would give it “deep consideration.”

“Sometimes there’s a philosophical objection to this by some — I’ll say right-wing Republicans — but he has a high priority of job creation,” Carter said in an interview with The Associated Press. “If they just remember the tremendous potential of creating millions of jobs in America just from renewable energy sources, that would be a very good counter-argument to those who oppose the concept of global warming being caused by human activity.”

Guardian: Electricity Market Operator Denies Being ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ During Blackout

The Australian Energy Market Operator says it was not asleep at the wheel after another electricity shortage in South Australia on Wednesday caused blackouts for 40,000 people.

Senior managers from the electricity market operator faced combative questioning about their management of the South Australian weather event during a Senate committee hearing in Canberra on Friday.

As other states battled extreme temperatures, and faced the risk of blackouts, and as political debate continued to rage about energy policy, David Swift, executive general manager of corporate development at Aemo, defended the performance of his agency despite admitting there had been an error in their forecasting on the day of the blackout this week.

“We certainly weren’t asleep at the wheel,” Swift told the committee.

Engadget: Researchers Make a Graphene Superconductor

Graphene is the miracle cream of the physics world, with scientists all across the globe looking to unlock its powers. Researchers at the University of Cambridge believe they’ve found a way to transform the substance into a superconductor. Superconductors are nothing new, of course, but they normally have to be cooled to very low temperatures to be effective. In this experiment, however, the materials were left at the current temperature. Now, like so many graphene projects, it’s still early days, but if it works, it could upend the way we build electronics forever.

All materials have a level of resistance, which is a measure of the fight it puts up to stop electricity passing through it. A copper wire, for instance, has quite a low level, which is why it’s used a lot to build electronics and computers. Wood’s at the other end of the spectrum, at least when it’s dry, which is why your smartphone isn’t hewn from trees.

The European Commission has proposed extending import duties on solar panels from China by 18 months, a shorter period than initially planned, and with a gradual phase-out, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said on Wednesday.

Anti-dumping and anti-subsidy duties have been in place on Chinese solar panels and cells since 2013 and are currently under review as to whether they should be maintained. A majority of EU countries last month opposed a proposed two-year extension.

Timmermans told a news conference that it was a sensitive issue. The commission’s proposal, revealed by Reuters on Tuesday, will be put to the EU’s 28 member states later this month.

The Energy Jobs

As GTM’s Stephen Lacey has reported, New York’s top utility regulator, Audrey Zibelman, is moving on from her position. Australia’s energy market operator announced that Zibelman will be taking over as chief executive. The organization, called AEMO, operates wholesale power markets, wholesale natural-gas markets, trading hubs and gas transmission systems throughout Australia. Zibelman leaves New York’s Public Service Commission at a delicate time. The state is two and a half years into Reforming the Energy Vision, the utility reformation plan announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014.

Last Thursday, FERC Chair Norman Bay announced his early resignation. He broke the news after President Trump chose Cheryl LaFleur to serve as the new chair next year. Carolyn Elefant tells NPR: “I think [Bay] was perhaps disappointed that Commissioner LaFleur was elevated above him. The resignation could mean costly delays for some major pipeline projects.”

Energy storage provider Sunverge named former Nexant CTO and GM Martin Milani as its first COO. The company also named two new members to its board of directors:John Di Stasio, former CEO of Sacramento Municipal Utility District and current president of the Large Public Power Council; and Elisabeth Brinton, executive GM of Australian energy retailer AGL Energy.

Sheldon Kimber and Todd Johansen, both previously with Recurrent Energy, have founded Intersect Power, “an infrastructure development company bringing clean power to wholesale markets.”

Aclara Technologies, a supplier of infrastructure solutions to electric, gas and water utilities, named Aaron Merkin as its first CTO. Before joining Aclara, Merkin was CTO of ABB Enterprise Software (formerly Ventyx) and chief software architect of its grid automation practice. Aclara is owned by an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners.

Boris Schubert, previously with previously with ET Capital, is now GM of solar operations at Shell.

Solar tracker vendor Array Technologies named Jeff Krantz, previously VP of sales at SMA, as senior VP for North America.

Energy storage provider Alevo named Peter Heintzelman, previously with T5 Oil & Gas, as group CFO. Alevo, a battery manufacturing aspirant with mysterious sources of big funding, has moved a little closer to commercial deployment of its sulfur-based inorganic lithium-ion electrolyte chemistry. The first commercial deployment for the big battery is in the city of Lewes, Delaware, where it will enable the “repurposing of a retired oil-fired generator building once operated by the Lewes Board of Public Works.” Alevo is hoping to sell ancillary services into the PJM regulation market.

ExxonMobil announced that Dr. Susan K. Avery was elected to its board of directors. Avery, an atmospheric scientist, is the former president and director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Her appointment is in response to a longstanding request from shareholders to appoint a climate expert to its board.

John Berdner has joined HiQ Solar, a builder of commercial 3-phase inverter technology, as VP of regulatory compliance. Berdner most recently was with Enphase, and before that SMA and SolarEdge. Berdner is active with IEEE 1547, UL 1741, National Electrical Code, and the Calif. Smart Inverter Working Group.

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Enertech Search Partners, an executive search firm with a dedicated cleantech practice, is the sponsor of the GTM jobs column.

Among its many active searches, Enertech is looking for a Distributed Response Operations Manager.

The client is one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies aiming to expand the team for an internal startup. The parent company is expecting to invest about $1 billion into this early-stage business focused on distributed energy for large energy users. By combining traditional and renewable power, energy efficiency, demand response, generation, advisory services and big data and other digital assets, they help their customers capitalize on the new and more flexible energy landscape and move from consumers to prosumers and even grid service providers.

This client is currently seeking a Demand Response Operations Manager who will reside on the Customer Success Team. They are looking for an individual who will lead the North American team responsible for demand response retail operations in utilities and all ISOs, including PJM, NYISO, ISO-NE, MISO and ERCOT. This will include oversight of all post-sale customer interactions and operational steps and is responsible for the ongoing customer experience.

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Elise Hunter joined flow battery developer Primus Power as director of business development. Previously Hunter was an expert analyst of energy storage at PG&E. Primus has raised more than $60 million from Anglo American Platinum, Chrysalix Energy, DBL Investors, I2BF Global Ventures, KPCB, DOE, ARPA-E and the CEC. Primus uses a single-loop flow battery design, plating zinc on titanium-based electrodes to perform the key energy exchange function, rather than running electrolyte through membranes.

As reported by GTM, “According to the Department of Energy’s latest report on jobs in the energy sector, employment in the electric power sector rose 13 percent in 2016 as utilities and developers built new power plants, replaced aging equipment, and invested in new technologies to manage an increasingly complicated distribution grid. There are now 860,869 people employed in the electric power sector, an increase of more than 101,000 jobs from 2015. Workers in the construction industry building solar, natural gas and wind power plants accounted for most of the increase, reported DOE.”

The new members of the Advanced Energy Economy board of directors are Roger Flanagan, managing director, Lockheed Martin Energy; Mike Garland, CEO, Pattern Energy; Arjun Gupta, executive chairman, Nexant; Paul Kaleta, EVP and general counsel, First Solar; Dan Shugar, CEO, NEXTracker, a Flex company; and Aziz Virani, CEO, CLEAResult.

The confirmation hearing of Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to be the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), started in mid-January.

Pruitt’s LinkedIn page describes him as “a national leader in the cause to restore the proper balance of power between the states and federal government. […] Scott filed the first lawsuit challenging the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, is a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda, and is leading a multistate lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Dodd-Frank financial law.” Pruitt joins Ben Carson at HUD, Rick Perry at the Department of Energy, and Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education in having rather unorthodox views regarding the direction of the government agencies they could potentially lead.

“Republicans only need 50 votes to confirm [Pruitt], and there have been no signs of GOP defections,” according to political news website The Hill.

Now Arab Gulf’s Biggest Airlines Reveal Impact

President Donald Trump’s travel ban on immigrant visa holders from seven Muslim nations has had little impact on travel, at least at the major Arabian Gulf carriers that control much of the airspace between the U.S. and the Middle East.

“A very small number of our passengers were affected by the new U.S. immigration entry requirements,” Dubai-based carrier Emirates Airlines said in a statement.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) followed an executive order by Trump on Jan. 27 to ban travel from seven countries, including war zones like Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. The move was immediately called a “Muslim ban” on social media, leading to protests against the order in Washington, New York City, and at airports throughout the country. A little over 1,100 people were reportedly denied boarding this week because of the ban, CBP said on its website. But William Cocks, a spokesperson for the State Department’s Bureau of Conslar Affairs said Friday that “roughly 60,000 individual visas were revoked”.  A Federal judge in Seattle ordered a stay on the ban later in the day on Friday. It is unclear how Homeland Security will respond to the injunction.

Major Muslim nations like Saudi Arabia as well as United Arab Emirates were not part of the ban.

Two green card holders were stopped at the border during that time frame, but one was from Canada and he decided to go there instead of continuing onto the U.S., according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Initial rules to ban green card holders were scrapped following harsh criticism from U.S. family members. Green card holders are one step away from citizenship. Tourist and H-1B worker visas were also banned.

Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways said their flight crews were unaffected, but that a number of passengers were not allowed to board. Qatar Airways from Doha did not comment on its Tehran to New York route, which leaves daily from JFK International. Iranians without diplomatic visas or green cards are banned from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

A State Department spokesperson said that the executive order does not effect refugees already vetted for travel to the U.S. Others may be let in on a case by case basis while the order stands. Some 900 refugees from around the world were in transit when the order was released and will be admitted to the U.S. by the end of this week, including a small number from the seven countries. The State Department did not say which countries or how many were coming.

The Trump Administration says the ban gives Homeland Security a chance to retool vetting procedures of passengers coming from countries known to be hotbeds of anti-American terrorism. Critics of the ban argue that a number of jihadis fighting in the seven countries carry passports from places unaffected by the executive order.

The World’s Longest Flight Is Now A Matter Of Dispute

Qatar Airways says its Boeing 777 200-LR has completed the longest commercial flight in the world – by time.

Measured by distance, the honor of operating the longest flight in the world is now a matter of a global dispute.

Qatar’s first Doha, Qatar to Auckland, New Zealand flight took off Sunday and covered 9,032 miles before landing on Monday.

Air India’s flight between Delhi and San Francisco connects cities separated by 8,264 miles. But Air India elects to fly a circuitous route of 9,389 miles because the flight encounters fewer headwinds and takes less time than it did previously. It is also operated with a Boeing 777-200.

Qatar’s flight QR0920 was scheduled to take 16 hours and 20 minutes. But it arrived in Auckland 15 minutes early, according to The New Zealand Herald.

The return flight was scheduled at 17 hours and 30 minutes, the longest flight in the world, with the added length attributed to headwinds.

The Doha-Auckland flight surpasses the 8,819-mile flight between Dubai and Auckland that is flown by Qatar rival Emirates, also using a Boeing 777-200 LR. Dubai-Auckland had been listed by some as the world’s longest flight.

In terms of distance, neither route surpasses the 9,389 miles covered by Air India’s Delhi-San Francisco flight.

Air India previously flew a shorter Artic route, which took it over the Atlantic Ocean and totaled 8,264 miles. It switched to trans-Pacific in October.

The trans-Pacific flight takes 14.5 hours, almost two hours less than trans-Atlantic.

“Flying Delhi to San Francisco over the Pacific Ocean instead of the Atlantic, as it had done till last week, has earned Air India the record of operating the world’s longest nonstop flight,” The Times of Indiareported in October.

Although the Pacific route is longer, “the flight took almost two hours less thanks to tailwinds — winds that blow in the same direction as an aircraft and thus make it go faster,” The Times said.

“The Earth rotates from west to east, and winds flow in that direction too,” according to an Air India official quoted by the newspaper. “Flying west means facing strong headwinds (that decreases an aircraft’s actual ground speed), and flying east means getting strong tailwinds, which does the opposite.”

OAG, which periodically compiles a list of the world’s longest flights, “measures flights by distance between point A and point B,” a spokesman said. By that measure, the Qatar flight is the longest in the world. “As the crow flies” is OAG’s preferred standard of measurement.

The longest flight by a U.S. airline is San Francisco-Singapore, which United serves with a Boeing 787-9. United first operated the 8,446-mile flight in June: The flight is now tied for the fourth longest in the world. In October, Singapore Airlines began a competing flight aboard an Airbus A350.

On Sunday, Auckland became Qatar’s first New Zealand destination: the carrier serves more than 150 destinations from its Doha hub and is a member of the oneworld alliance.

Qatar operates its Boeing 777-200 LR with 42 seats in business class and 217 seats in economy.

“The launch of our new service to Auckland is an important milestone for Qatar Airways as we expand both in the region and globally,” CEO Akbar Al Baker, a passenger on the first flight, said in a prepared statement.

At one time, Singapore Airlines flew non-stop from Singapore to both Newark and Los Angeles using an Airbus A340. Both flights were discontinued in 2013, partially because the four-engine aircraft was a gas guzzler.

Singapore Airlines plans to resume both flights in 2018, using an Airbus A350-900ULR.  At 9,534 miles, the eighteen-and-a-half hour Singapore-Newark flight would once again become the longest flight in the world – by any measure.

News about Solar Power And Electric Vehicles To Halt Growth In Oil And Coal

After a terrible couple of years, this looks like a good time for the fossil fuels sector. Oil prices are on the up again, President Donald Trump promises to sweep away many of the restrictions the industry had imposed upon it during the Obama Administration, the former head of ExxonMobil is Secretary of State and there is even talk of watering down fuel economy requirements.

Trump has pushed through executive orders to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines and he has even promised to revive the moribund US coal industry, causing shares in coal miners to soar. But a new report suggests that demand for coal and oil could peak by 2020 thanks to dramatic falls in the cost of solar power and electric vehicles.

The report, Expect the Unexpected: The Disruptive Power of Low-Carbon Technology, co-authored by the Grantham Institute for the study of Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College, London and the Carbon Tracker Initiative, says that the big energy companies are seriously under-estimating the speed at which low-carbon technologies are advancing and they could be left with stranded assets unless they change their approach

The growth in sales of electric vehicles could cut demand for oil by 2 million barrels per day as soon as 2025, the report says – the same amount that caused the oil price to collapse in 2014-15. The market for EVs is currently growing by 60% year-on-year and there are already more than 1 million on the roads. Battery costs fell by 73% to $268/kWh in the seven years to 2015 according to the US Department of Energy, and Tesla, the electric car maker, predicts they will reach $100/kWh by 2020.

Carbon Tracker says that EVs will be cheaper than conventional internal combustion engines from 2020 and could have a fifth of the road transport market by 2030. Add in growth in hydrogen cars and petrol/electric hybrids, and conventional ICEs could account for less than half the market. By 2050 EVs sales could hit 1.7 billion (69% of the market) while ICEs would make up just 12%.

This could displace 25m bpd of oil by 2050, in stark contrast to the continuous growth in oil demand the industry expects. BP’s 2017 outlook expects EVs to make up just 6% of the market in 2035.

Meanwhile, Carbon Tracker says that solar PV could supply almost a quarter (23%) of global power generation in 2040 and 29% by 2050, entirely phasing out coal and leaving natural gas with just a 1% market share. By contrast, ExxonMobil sees all renewables supplying just 11% of global power generation by 2040.

The cost of solar PV is 85% lower than it was seven years ago and the study suggests that it will become “materially cheaper than alternative power options globally” leading to the addition of more than 5000GW of capacity between 2030 and 2040. “In such a scenario of rapid change, the mass stranding of downstream fossil fuel assets is highly likely,” it says.

The report argues that the use of Business-As-Usual scenarios should be retired and that scenarios should now apply, as a minimum, the latest cost reduction projections for solar PV and EVs, along with emissions commitments nations have made in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Climate Agreement, to reflect the current state of the low-carbon transition.

“This new “starting point” scenario more accurately reflects the current state of play and finds that coal demand could peak in 2020 and fall to half of 2012 levels by 2050. Oil demand could be flat from 2020 to 2030 then fall steadily to 2050,” the report asserts. Most major oil and gas companies do not expect coal to peak before 2030 and none see peak oil demand occurring before 2040.

But Luke Sussams, senior researcher at Carbon Tracker, says: “Electric vehicles and solar power are game-changers that the fossil fuel industry consistently underestimates. Further innovation could make our scenarios look conservative in 5 years’ time, in which case the demand misread by companies will have been amplified even more.”

The report’s authors say that the speed of technological changes means that PV and electric vehicles could take 10% of fossil fuels’ market share within just 10 years. “This may not sound much but it can be the beginning of the end once demand starts to decline,” they write. “A 10% loss of power market share caused the collapse of the US coal mining industry and Europe’s five major utilities lost more than €100 billion in value from 2008 to 2013 because they were unprepared for an 8% growth in renewable power, of which solar PV was a big part.”

James Leaton, head of research at Carbon Tracker, adds: “There is no more business as usual in the energy sector – so it is time that scenario was discarded. There are a number of low-carbon technologies about to achieve critical mass decades before some companies expect.”

Info The Cheapest-To-Own Cars And Trucks

All but the wealthiest car buyers compare sticker prices when shopping for a new ride, but we’d guess far fewer consider how much money a given vehicle will actually cost to own and operate over the course of several years.

The sharpest car shoppers work the bottom line like an accountant to determine which models under their consideration will prove to be the most financially advantageous in the long run. This includes comparing the costs of depreciation – how much the vehicle will have lost in value at trade-in time – fuel, insurance premiums, maintenance charges, state fees, and out-of-warranty repair bills.

“­­New-car shoppers typically give more consideration to the cost of a car upfront, but sometimes other factors, such as depreciation, maintenance and fuel costs, can significantly increase total ownership costs,” says Mike Sadowski, vice president of operations and general manager for Kelley Blue Book.

To help consumers find the best overall deals, KBB just announced its annual 5-Year Cost to Own Awards in 20 separate vehicle classes. The kbb.com website tracks new vehicles’ depreciation, fuel costs, insurance costs, financing, repairs, maintenance, and average state sales taxes and registration fees over a five-year ownership period, and even computes a per-mile expenditure for easy comparison. We’re featuring the 20 vehicles cited by KBB for low ownership costs in their respective classes in the accompanying slideshow.

20 Cars And Trucks With The Lowest Ownership Costs

The cheapest-to-own vehicle among all models for 2017 is the Chevrolet Spark microcar, which starts at around $15,000. It’s not for everybody, but in its base form (with an automatic transmission) KBB predicts the Spark will cost an average owner $27,577 over five years, which comes to $5,511 a year, $459 a month, or 36 cents a mile.

Among automakers, Subaru was cited as having the lowest overall ownership costs among mainstream makes for the second year in a row; KBB notes the brand’s low rate of depreciation and stalwart fuel economy as helping keep expenditures affordable across the model line. Meanwhile, Acura took top honors among luxury brands, placing its vehicles either first or second in better than half of the aforementioned ownership cost factors. Among individual models, the Chevrolet Impala was cited as having the lowest costs among large cars for the sixth year running and is the only car to fill that slot since KBB initiated the awards in 2012.

Generally, the more expensive the vehicle, the more important differences in certain ownership costs become over time – particularly depreciation – simply because there’s more money at stake to lose. For example, the costliest model in KBB’s survey, the Lexus LS 460 – a 5-Year Cost to Own winner in the High-End Luxury Car category – is estimated to lose $47,493 of its original $73,495 MSRP after five years while the above Chevy Spark, starting at a far more affordable $14,975, is expected to cost an owner just $10,440 in depreciation.

Checking long-term vehicle expenses is great way to help consumers budget for all-inclusive car costs. It can also help tell whether a hybrid-powered version of a given vehicle is a good deal compared to a gas-only model, or for comparing the cost differences between a plug-in hybrid to a conventional self-charging hybrid. For example, the projected five-year ownership costs of a base-model Toyota Prius hybrid are predicted to run an average $34,409, according to KBB, while the plug-in Prius Prime version (which can run for the first 25 miles on a charge solely on battery power) is estimated at $32,553. That’s a five-year savings of $1,856 despite the Prime initially costing $2,415 more.

The fine print: KBB’s 5-Year Cost to Own awards are based on estimated average costs for depreciation, fuel, maintenance, insurance premiums, state fees, and out of warranty repairs. Figures cited are for base models from the 2017 model year with standard powertrains and equipment (except where a manual transmission was standard, we chose the optional automatic for the sake of consistency). KBB calculates total ownership costs for new vehicles by applying a sophisticated valuation methodology along with critical financial data from third-party providers; depreciation costs are based on KBB predicted residual values. Be aware that specific ownership costs will vary from one area of the country to another based on local gas prices, insurance premiums (based on location, driving record and other personal factors), per-hour labor charges, and other variables.

The Unionizing Tesla

Some Tesla factory employees are turning to the United Auto Workers to help them improve pay, safety and workplace conditions at the company’s massive San Francisco Bay Area auto-assembly plant, according to a blog post by an individual identifying himself as one of those employees.

A move to unionize workers at the plant comes at a critical time, as Tesla targets exponential production increases with the rollout of its $35,000 Model 3 electric sedan starting late this year.

In a post on Medium.com titled “Time for Tesla to Listen,” Jose Moran said he’s been a “proud” team member at the Fremont, Calif., facility for four years, but that more needs to be done to improve circumstances at the fast-growing operation.

“Most of my 5,000-plus co-workers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies,” Moran wrote. “Preventable injuries happen often.”

What’s more, hourly pay at the plant ranges between $17 and $21 – below a national average of $25.58 an hour – and doesn’t cover the cost of living in pricey Alameda County, Moran said.

A living wage in the area, home to Silicon Valley, “is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two). Many of my coworkers are commuting one or two hours before and after those long shifts because they can’t afford to live closer to the plant.”

As a result, Moran said, “many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support.” While the company did offer to raise base wages in November, Moran said Tesla also began asking workers to sign a confidentiality agreement, attended to prevent them from publicly discussing wages and working conditions.

That move drew a letter from five members of the California Assembly members in January, asking Tesla to revise the language of its confidentiality policy, which the members said didn’t adhere to state and federal labor policy rules.

“We are concerned that the over-broad language in the confidentiality agreement violates these provisions and has resulted in a chilling effect on workers’ ability to engage in protected activity,” according to the letter from Assembly members Tony Thurmond, Bill Quirk, Kansen Chu, Rob Bonta and Ash Kalra.

Tesla didn’t directly comment on Moran’s post or his specific claims.

“As California’s largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this,” the company said in a statement. “The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us. We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”

CEO Elon Musk later responded more bluntly, telling website Gizmodo that Moran “doesn’t really” work for Tesla. He also defended Tesla’s pay policy for factory workers and said overtime hours are dropping at Fremont.

“Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union,” Musk said, via direct messages to Gizmodo. “He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW.”

The plant is the only large-scale auto factory on the West Coast, and has been a source of pride for California since Tesla took it over in 2010. For most of its life, starting in the early 1960s as a General Motors plant and then from 1984 until 2009 as joint-venture factory New United Motor Manufacturing, or NUMMI, shared by GM and Toyota, the Fremont facility was a UAW factory.

In May 2010, at a joint press conference with Toyota President Akio Toyoda and then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announcing Tesla’s purchase of the plant, Musk was non-committal on whether employees would once again have union representation. In response to a press conference question at the time, he said only that such a decision would ultimately be up to plant workers.

In May 2016, UAW President Dennis Williams said the union was watching Tesla “very closely,”according to USA Today. “We just believe workers ought to have a voice in the workplace, and they ought to have collective bargaining rights.”

Musk told Gizmodo he finds Moran’s comments “morally outrageous.”

“Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high. The UAW killed NUMMI and abandoned the workers at our Fremont plant in 2010. They have no leg to stand on.”

Tesla is racing to ready both Fremont and its massive Gigafactory battery plant in Nevada to start production of Model 3 cars, along with the current Model S and Model X. By late 2018, Musk has said Tesla wants to be able to build as many as 500,000 vehicles annually, or more than five times what it made in 2016. By 2020, the goal is to achieve a production pace of 1 million electric vehicles annually.

In January, Tesla said it built about 84,000 of its premium electric vehicles in Fremont. The company will release its full-year and fourth-quarter results on February 22.

News Expedia Misses Earnings Expectations But In Recent Acquisitions, Orbitz And HomeAway, Are Starting To Pay Off

Expedia missed quarterly earnings expectations on Thursday but said its recent acquisitions of Orbitz and vacation rental platform HomeAway have begun to pad its bottom line.

Expedia, the parent of Hotels.com and Travelocity, reported profits of $183 million, or $1.17 per share, in its latest quarter. That missed analyst estimates of $1.36 by a wide margin. However, revenue increased 23% to $2.09 billion, just beating estimates of $2.07 billion.

Shares of the online travel giant ticked down 4% before recovering  to its market close price of $123.3 in after-hours trading.

During the quarter, travelers spent $16.1 billion on bookings (up 8% from the same quarter last year) and stayed 15% longer in the hotel rooms they booked. Investments in mobile have driven part of this growth, with app users returning to the site twice as many times as the average user. Nearly 1 in 3 transactions booked last year occurred on a mobile device and 45% of online traffic was on mobile.

Expedia’s recent history has been marked by a series of acquisitions of big names in travel, including Orbitz Worldwide and vacation rental marketplace HomeAway. These new subsidiaries contributed $764 million and $689 million in revenue, respectively, last fiscal year.

Trivago, which Expedia IPO’d in December and maintains a 65% stake in, finished 2016 strong with revenue increasing 65% from the same quarter the year prior. Trivago’s stock was up 17% to $13 in after-hours trading on Thursday.

Hotels still make up the bulk of Expedia’s business and accounted for 61% of worldwide revenue last year. Yet, its packages and tours arm has been growing quickly, up 35% in bookings. This was followed by flights and car reservations, which  grew in bookings 32% and 30% last year, respectively.

Expedia is the largest online travel company by bookings and accounts for 13% of the total U.S. travel market. It has operations in Europe, Asia and Latin America and competes mainly with Priceline and TripAdvisor.

The company shelled out $436 million for four million shares last year as part of its buyback program.