Navigant Research Blog

Brickyard City Hosts Carsharing Experiment

— June 10, 2014

Indianapolis, Indiana, is set to become the site of one of the biggest electric vehicle (EV) carsharing programs in the United States.  The Bolloré Group kicked off the “BlueIndy” carshare program, the company’s first in the United States, in May.  The Bolloré Group is large French conglomerate that, among other things, produces electrical components for capacitors and lithium polymer batteries.

Indianapolis is an odd choice for an EV carshare service location compared to a city like Paris, where Bolloré’s Autolib one-way EV service has been a huge success since its launch in December 2011.  Autolib was one of the first carshare programs to combine EV technology with the one-way carshare model, which allows users to drop cars off at any of the service’s designated parking spots.  The Autolib program has expanded beyond Paris and now has around 140,000 users across France.  According to Hervé Muller, the president of BlueIndy and vice president of Bolloré subsidiary IER, the cars in the Paris Autolib program are used an average of 7 times per day and the program is set to become profitable just 3 years after its launch. The company is now targeting the United States.

Charge Here

So why Indianapolis?   The city has limited public transportation, and its downtown, although quite suitable for hosting the Super Bowl, lacks the concentration of residential living that successful carsharing cities like Paris, Boston, and San Francisco have.  What it does have, though, is a mayor who made the carshare program one of his major priorities and an electric utility that stepped in to pay for charging equipment.

Setting up a public charging network fulfilled a key goal for Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard.  Indeed, this program demonstrates a creative way for a city to rapidly establish a charging network.  Bolloré will let other EV drivers use the stations, thus adding an additional revenue stream.

Bolloré has committed to bringing 500 Bluecar EVs and 1,000 public charging stations to Indianapolis. This represents a $35 million commitment from the company.  Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) has also partnered to support the charging deployment, although there is some question about whether IPL can secure a rate hike to pay for it.  In my conversation with him, Muller said Bolloré expects the BlueIndy service could take up to 6 years to reach profitability and noted that the company is taking a long-term view of developing its U.S. carshare business.

Students and Tourists

It will be instructive to track how this service is used.  Typically, public transportation can be a key ingredient for successful carsharing services, because it allows city residents to get around easily, with the carshare filling in the transit gaps.  In Indianapolis, BlueIndy may essentially take the place of a widespread public transit network.  This is an advantage of the one-way model, with cars being easily used for short trips across town, for example.

The Bolloré Group is also looking to draw membership from the city’s large student population, travelers using the Indianapolis airport, and local businesses that could use the carshare program in place of fleet vehicles.  It’s an ambitious plan. Bolloré has yet to deliver its first U.S.-approved EVs and the program could take several years to reach viability. But if it works, the Indy experiment could serve as a model for other similar U.S. cities.

 

The Coming Crack-Up on U.S. Highway Funding

— May 6, 2014

The White House has submitted its transportation funding proposal to Congress, where it immediately fell victim to the legislative rigor mortis that’s overtaken the 113th Congress.  The current lack of congressional activity is partly thanks to the November elections.  But it also reflects two broader trends in Congress that spell serious problems for the future of U.S. infrastructure.

First is the loss of bipartisan agreement on the importance of transportation funding.  Transportation used to be one of the few areas on which Republicans and Democrats could be counted on to pass legislation, even when they disagreed about broad policy objectives.  This is no longer true.  While transportation funding is not as contentious as some issues, there is less consensus on its importance than in previous eras.  That means that policy disagreements are more likely to prevent action from being taken.

Broke by Fall

The second, and related issue, is the divide over tax policy.  Although support for tax reform is strong, proposals put forward by the House Ways & Means Committee chair and the White House have not made much progress.  One ongoing area of disagreement is whether to use new revenue from eliminating tax breaks to fund other priorities, such as transportation, or whether any tax reform must be “revenue neutral.”

This divide will make it very difficult to address the problem of dwindling gas tax revenue.  The transportation funding problem is better described as a revenue problem.  As we’ve noted before, the U.S. Highway Trust Fund – which comes from gas tax revenue – has been steadily dropping, creating a major gap between U.S. infrastructure needs and available funding.  This issue has been abundantly clear to Congress and the White House for years, yet there’s no solution in sight because of an unwillingness to make difficult decisions about new revenue schemes.

The problem may come to a head this summer.  According to the White House and the Congressional Budget Office, the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in August.

Pothole Puzzle

This creates problems for states looking to start major construction projects in the warmer spring and summer months.  A new report by advocacy group Transportation for America projects that gas tax revenue in fiscal year 2015 will not be able to fund any new projects.  And this problem will only worsen as the U.S. passenger car fleet becomes increasingly fuel efficient under stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations out to 2025 and urban areas continue to push alternatives to individual car ownership.

Congress could raise the gas tax, but this is extremely politically unpalatable.  New revenue could come from increased use of tolls.  Indeed, the White House has proposed allowing states to implement tolls on interstate highways for the first time.  It could come from greater use of privately operated, tolled highways – though early results on that have been mixed, with the highways garnering little revenue.  It could come from mileage-based taxing schemes, but these face hurdles due to privacy concerns.

Each of these options would continue to move the United States away from a long-term, national vision for the country’s transportation future and toward a patchwork of ad hoc solutions that rely more on city and state initiatives.  While localities do well as laboratories for innovations in transportation, the United States will not be well-served in an increasingly competitive global economy if it is not able to support a robust national transportation infrastructure.

 

Automakers Look to Stay Relevant in Rapidly Changing Mobility Landscape

— April 15, 2014

How fast is the urban mobility landscape changing?  Last year, when Navigant Research published its Carsharing Programs report, San Francisco, California-based rideshare company Lyft operated in around four U.S. cities and touted 30,000 members.  A year later, Lyft operates in 30 U.S. cities and, in April, the company raised $250 million in a Series D investment round.  Lyft immediately began making moves to secure greater market share by lowering its prices in all cities by up to 20%.  Meanwhile, Uber, the U.S. leader in app-based car services, continues to add new UberX service locations, including one in Singapore, after raising $258 million in funding in August 2013.

Granted, Uber and Lyft are not carsharing companies exactly.  They are mainly alternatives to taxi or livery services.  But they do share DNA with carsharing.  These companies operate somewhat like peer-to-peer (P2P) carsharing services, such as Relay Rides, which also serve as a way for non-professional drivers and those in need of a car to connect, as well as to maximize the utility of someone’s underutilized car.  And, P2P car services could compete with one-way carsharing, a business model that has taken off in the past few years thanks to companies like Autolib’, car2go, and DriveNow.  These services are all part of the new collaborative economy, which depends on a radically new attitude toward car ownership and the ubiquity of smart devices, apps, and software that makes the collaboration as seamless as possible.

Changing Times

The dramatic growth of P2P car services is just one example of how dramatically the transportation landscape is changing, with a clear shift away from the privately owned car as a primary transportation mode.  Yes, this change is still largely concentrated in major urban areas and in developed countries.  Meanwhile, rising car markets (like China) continue to show increases in sales to first-time car buyers, even as the pace of auto sales growth has slowed somewhat.  Still, in a world that is becoming increasingly urbanized, and with the rise of megacities (cities with populations of 10 million or more), this mobility transformation is going to spread.  In the world’s large cities, automakers will find their businesses increasingly squeezed by a range of other transportation options, including the P2P car services and carsharing.

How much of a threat will these options be to car companies?  Carsharing will cut into car sales to some degree, but based on Navigant Research’s forecasts, vehicle sales reductions directly related to carsharing will be tiny compared to the total passenger car market, which globally reached around 82 million in 2013.  But the broader transformation of urban mobility will have an impact on auto sales, as the many options for personal mobility make it easy to forgo buying a car during the time that fuel costs will be rising, along with the indirect costs of driving such as parking and traffic congestion.

This helps explain automakers’ interest in offering carsharing, which has the potential to provide substantial revenue.  BMW and Daimler in particular each came roaring into this market in the last 18 months, capturing significant market share in the European cities where they operate.  Daimler reports having 600,000 members in its car2go service, while BMW reports 215,000 members in DriveNow.  In the Navigant Research report Alternative Revenue Streams for Automakers, revenue from original equipment manufacturer (OEM)-owned carsharing services is forecast to be in the billions as overall demand for collaborative car ownership grows and more OEMs enter this market.  Carsharing represents a prime opportunity for automakers to ensure they play a central role in the changing mobility landscape.

 

U.S. National Parks and Electric Vehicles: A Match Made in Heaven?

— April 8, 2014

The U.S. Clean Cities program and the National Park Service (NPS) recently announced nine new projects to deploy clean vehicles at U.S. national parks. These projects are part of the Clean Cities National Park Initiative launched in 2010. The nine projects mainly feature plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs).  Around 21 vehicles will be installed through the funding, including some low-speed electric vehicles (EVs).  The projects also include the installation of EV chargers for park visitors. While any move to make the U.S. parks cleaner is welcome, the relatively modest ambitions of this funding effort reflect the challenge that parks present in the adoption of EV or HEV technology.

Parks have long been an attractive target for greener transportation. This is not only for symbolic reasons, but also for practical reasons. Diesel and gas vehicles are noisy and disruptive. Park vehicles may spend time idling, which is both an emissions problem and a cost concern given the large amount of fuel essentially wasted during idling. These factors would seem to make PEV and HEV technology a good option, but to date, deployments have largely been pilot or demonstration programs and there has yet to be a full-scale shift toward electric drives at the U.S. parks.

A Building Barrier

One major barrier has been the lack of truly commercial vehicles available. As discussed in the Navigant Research report Hybrid and Electric Trucks, most of the traditional truck original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are offering hybrid versions in the larger trucks classes that are not applicable to the park service. In the truck category, parks would primarily utilize utility trucks, pickup trucks, or vans and trucks outfitted to transport passengers.  These would be vehicles in the Class 2b light duty category or medium duty Classes 3-5, where, until recently, there was more attention focused on producing electrified vehicles for delivery service.

Even though pickup trucks are among the top-selling vehicle in the United States, U.S. OEMs have tailed off production of hybrid pickups and only ever offered demonstration models of plug-in trucks.  However, in the past 18 months, there has been an uptick in companies focused on these class levels and in applications with some applicability to national parks. In January, U.S. startup VIA Trucks announced a major commitment by Canadian company SunCountry to place VIA’s plug-in vans into passenger transport services at Best Western hotels. VIA also develops plug-in electric utility trucks, which will be used at several electric utilities in a pilot project funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). U.S. company Odyne Systems will be delivering 120 utility trucks through the same DOE funding; the plug-in system allows utility workers to avoid engine idling by running equipment off of the battery.

Looking at the larger class of passenger buses that are used in national parks, the biggest push is coming from China’s BYD, which has been targeting parks and transit agencies. While most of the company’s orders are outside of the United States, BYD is making a strong push for the U.S. market. After winning bids in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, the company began to face major backlash from activists and its U.S. competitors. The Long Beach order was recently canceled, although, evidently, the reason was simply a paperwork glitch. In any case, this environment would make it difficult for the NPS to adopt these buses until BYD becomes more established in the United States through transit deployments like the one in Los Angeles.

While increased vehicle availability will help make electric and hybrid options more feasible for any park looking to convert, the issue of the price premium still looms large. With hybrids costing well over 25% more than conventional vehicles and electric buses often reaching a 100% price premium, cash-strapped public services like the NPS will likely find themselves unable to make the switch even if they want to. Lower-cost options, like propane, continue to see uptake in national parks for this reason. This also explains why the Clean Cities National Park Initiative is still necessary to move these vehicles into U.S. parks.

 

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