Navigant Research Blog

Fuel Cell Vehicles Join the Carsharing World

— May 19, 2016

CarsharingGerman hydrogen company Linde is experimenting with a solution to the infrastructure problem for fuel cell cars. This summer, the company will launch an all-fuel cell vehicle (FCV) carsharing service in Munich. For this trial program, Linde is partnering with Hyundai to provide the fleet of FCVs. The service, called BeeZero, will have 50 fuel cell-powered ix35 crossover SUVs (known as the Tucson in North America), Hyundai’s current entry into the fuel cell market and one of only two FCVs commercially available today.

Linde is in good company in offering a carsharing service with zero tailpipe emissions, as a number of carshare programs around the world specialize in battery electric vehicle (BEV) fleets. In its 2015 Carsharing Programs report, Navigant Research estimated that around 20% of all carsharing vehicles in use globally were plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs)—mostly pure BEVs. Most of these EVs are in a handful of programs where the EV is a part of the service’s brand identity. The most famous is probably Autolib’ in Paris, run by Bollore. The Kandi carshare service in China also uses a fleet of micro EVs. Both Daimler and BMW’s carsharing services have deployed the automakers’ EVs, but not exclusively. Daimler recently switched out all EVs for gas cars in its San Diego carsharing service; the reason given was a lack of charging stations. (It will be interesting to see if the cars are reinstated once utility San Diego Gas & Electric launches its EV charging pilot program.)

The Challenge of Charging

Charging is one of the challenges for battery-powered carsharing vehicles, and likely explains at least in part why few carsharing companies integrate BEVs into their larger fleet of gas cars. Even if chargers are available, there can be problems with ensuring they are properly plugged in and that the charge stays full.

FCVs operating in fixed areas have the advantage of requiring a relatively small number of strategically located refueling stations in a city while offering longer ranges than EVs. Navigant Research predicted the introduction of fuel cell carsharing services for this reason in our recent white paper on the future of transportation. This makes an easier pathway to market for FCVs than having to build a network of refueling stations to service private car ownership.

Longer Ranges

Linde is also promoting the advantages of the longer driving ranges offered by FCVs. The Hyundai ix35 has a range of over 350 miles on a tank of hydrogen. While this is indeed a key benefit of fuel cell cars, it will be useful to see how much of a benefit this is for a carshare user. Carsharing services have a few typical use cases: short inner-city trips (the kind being served by one-way carsharing operations); planned trips with slightly longer range needs; and long-distance trips, typically on weekends. The BeeZero service would presumably be used for the latter two cases, but long-distance travel might require use of a hydrogen fueling station at the destination.

Linde has said it will use BeeZero to gather information on “day-to-day fleet operations” of fuel cells and hydrogen that can be fed back into its hydrogen development efforts. BeeZero presumably also offers Hyundai not only with an avenue to deploy more of its fleet of fuel cell ix35s, which have seen limited uptake to date, but also a chance to take lessons learned into its FCV development efforts. In the long-term, it is possible to envision FCVs being deployed in carshare services sponsored by automakers and infrastructure providers in cities where only low carbon or even zero emission vehicles are permitted.

 

A New Business Model for Fuel Cell Vehicles

— May 11, 2016

CarsharingWith the first carshare program served exclusively by fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) set to open in Munich, Germany later this year, it is time to examine how FCVs might be able to transition from early commercialization to large-scale deployment. For close to a decade, FCVs have been inching forward along the path to broader commercialization. However, they are still vehicles that automakers only make available in limited production runs and are typically only for lease for limited periods of time.

Toyota is one car company that is making the leap to selling its fuel cell car outright. With a suggested retail price of $57,500, Toyota’s Mirai has been priced at a level that (when combined with incentives) could allow it to compete against luxury plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) in terms of price. However, the Mirai is being sold in an environment where battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are able to offer longer ranges and much lower prices than other long-range PEVs currently available.

Mixed Results

Toyota has said that it aims to have 3,000 Mirai models in operation in the United States by the end of 2017. As of the end of 2015, the automaker had around 2,000 orders in the United States alone, and Consumer Reports gave the Mirai a favorable write-up. However, Toyota is still closely managing sales to ensure that customers who may lease it have driving habits that match the limited availability of hydrogen refueling. Indeed, the company has been delayed in delivering some cars to its customers, citing the lack of fueling stations needed to serve their customers as the reason.

The mixed results of the Mirai rollout thus far—real interest followed by delayed delivery—highlights the problem OEMs will face in commercializing fuel cell technology. Although BEVs also faced limited public charging availability when they were introduced, early adopters were those that could charge up at home, an option not available for FCV customers. This hurdle is one reason why Navigant Research’s 2015 Fuel Cell Vehicles report forecast modest FCV sales over the next 5 years. Nevertheless, Toyota is forging ahead with its commitment to fuel cell technology. The company recently said it would introduce a new, lower-cost FCV ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there other ways to get around the infrastructure barrier? U.K. company Riversimple is looking to solve the problem by embracing the trend toward on-demand mobility, as is the previously mentioned Munich fuel cell carshare pilot. Riversimple wants to use the small city car segment as the entry point for FCVs in the commercial market. Instead of building a car for customer ownership, the company is developing a two-seater runabout (called the Rasa) that would operate within a region and fill local driving needs.

Riversimple’s business model is to place a fleet of cars into service in a locality and offer the use of the vehicles as a paid service, rather than selling or leasing the cars. This strategy helps bypass the need for an extensive network of refueling stations; instead, a few stations—perhaps even just one—could serve a single fleet of FCVs. Riversimple unveiled its rather unusual-looking car earlier this year and has also launched a crowdfunding campaign.

Mobility as a service is a growing trend; it will be interesting to see if this can be successfully combined with FCVs to help push the technology past the infrastructure barrier.

 

Using Open Data to Close Mobility Gaps

— April 13, 2016

Mass rapid transitCan the open data movement help create better access to high-quality transportation services not just for the urban elite but also for the underserved? That’s what the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is hoping will happen thanks to a new public transit data gathering initiative. In March, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx announced that the agency is seeking to create a national transit map using transit route data from operators across the country.

Many U.S. transit agencies have already joined the open data movement, driven in part by the opportunity to have Google Maps provide users with transit travel options. A 2015 report by the U.S. Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) on the state of open data in public transportation noted that between 2009 and 2012, many of the largest transit agencies in the United States created application programming interfaces (APIs) that third-party software developers can use to access real-time data feeds of bus and train location information. Many transit agencies have developed the GTFS (or General Transit Feed Specification) feeds that Google Maps uses to provide its transit directions.

National Snapshot

A new development is combining this data into a single map of transit in the United States. According to the DOT, its National Transit Map will provide a comprehensive, national snapshot of “where transit stops are, how frequent transit service is, and where transit routes go.” Note that this is all static information—this National Transit Map won’t take the place of real-time data used by smart phone app developers for individual transit systems. However, the DOT hopes that researchers and advocates will use the data to show where transit coverage is strong and where it is lacking. This is actually the kind of information that’s been available for years on U.S. roadways through the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The FHWA provides data on over 450,000 miles of U.S. highways that can be used to determine accessibility and usage rates.

The United States is joining just a handful of other countries that have open data on national public transportation services, rather than on a transit system level. The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to introduce a national public transportation database. The National Public Transport Data Repository captures every bus, train, and coach trip that occurs in the same week in October across the country. The repository has data from every year from 2004 to 2011, but has not been updated since 2011. When it was made public, the data was used for, among other things, an analysis of which parts of the country lagged in bus service. Sweden’s TrafikLab provides data on the country’s public transport systems. In Germany, transit data was pulled together by a group of activists, rather than the government.

Untapped Potential

There is still tremendous untapped potential in the data on transit services available to the wider public. The U.S. effort to collate this data and make it easy to access is an admirable step in this direction. While DOT secretary Foxx has expressly said his goal is to close the transit access gap, unstated is how this would occur. Presumably through encouraging additional investments in traditional public transit systems, but it would be an interesting exercise to overlay the transit coverage to data on shared mobility options. This data is largely held by private companies, however. There have been some initiatives to let cities access ride-hailing data, such as Uber’s partnership with Boston, but it is likely to be very difficult to access most of this information at a larger scale.

 

Ride-Hailing Is a New Tool in the City Planning Toolkit, but Can It Be Managed?

— April 6, 2016

CarsharingstandortWashington, D.C. underwent an accidental experiment in new mobility in March when the city’s subway system shut down for 24 hours for safety inspections. Usually the Metro only closes down in bad weather, but the D.C. system is in a rough state (a subject that could itself be the topic of a weekly series of blogs). Though service interruptions are now the norm with the Metro, shutting down the entire system for a day came as a shock and was only compounded by the short notice given to riders.

Riders had an array of alternatives, most of which are not new: private cars, buses, bikes, and telecommuting. But one thing the shutdown confirmed is that on-demand mobility services have to be seen now as an established modal option in a multi-modal city transportation plan. On-demand services reported significant increases in business on the Wednesday that the Metro shut down. Zipcar had a 50% increase in reservations compared to a typical Wednesday morning, and Lyft reported a 65% increase in ridership. Since carsharing has been around much longer than ride-hailing—and because setting up carshare services requires parking permission from the city—it is already integrated into many cities’ transportation planning. To some degree, working with public officials is built into the carsharing business model.

Flexibility Is Key

Ride-hailing businesses have grown astronomically in a short amount of time, and city officials and regulators have yet to catch up. In addition, ride-hailing’s DNA is that of a Silicon Valley startup that works outside the conventional government/industry nexus. This has fed these services’ rapid growth and helps make them dynamic and flexible. Indeed, Uber and Lyft responded to the shutdown in ways you’d expect from flexible, market-based transportation services. There was a surge in supply, with Uber saying it had 50% more drivers available for service during the morning rush hour than on a typical Wednesday morning. The expected spike in rates charged to riders was muted thanks to this increase.

This flexibility is something that city planning and transportation agencies should take into consideration when evaluating how to prepare cities for spikes in travel demand. Ride hailing will be an important new tool for cities in transportation planning. Of course, cities don’t control this tool, which leads to tension between city officials and the ride hailing companies.

Cities are also legitimately wary that ride-hailing simply shifts travel back to single-passenger vehicles, worsening traffic congestion. The D.C. Metro shutdown also illustrated how that might look, with reports of massive congestion outside Union Station due to taxis and pickup services. However, if ride-hailing affects traffic significantly, it will increase the cost of using the service for riders and make options like public transit and bikes more attractive. Carsharing will be affected by this as well, even though it’s less likely that carsharing could drive an exodus from transit. A hopeful sign of how increased demand may alter the ride hailing market: Uber reports that 1 in 4 customers used UberPool, the carpool version of its service, on the day of the Metro shutdown.

If ride-hailing is now a part of the city’s mobility landscape, it is not likely to remain outside the conventional regulatory system. In our upcoming Transportation Outlook: 2025 to 2050 report, Navigant Research predicts that ride-hailing will become a much more regulated industry over the next 10 years. This will make it less nimble and innovative but will help services grow by ensuring that companies act as good citizens in the cities where they operate.

 

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