Navigant Research Blog

Honda Switches from NGV Civic to Supplying CNG

— August 28, 2015

For more than 16 years, Honda Motor Co. was one of the leading proponents of natural gas as a transportation fuel in North America. From 1998 through 2015, four generations of the compact Civic sedan were available with a factory-installed compressed natural gas (CNG)-fueled powertrain. However, despite being one of the best-selling cars in North America, the CNG Civic never caught on and was discontinued earlier this year. Fortunately, Honda has not given up entirely on CNG and has refocused its efforts as a supplier of CNG to its own parts suppliers.

CNG Refueling Station

Recognizing that the natural gas vehicle (NGV) market in North America consists primarily of fleet and commercial customers rather than individual car owners, Honda recently opened a CNG refueling station at its Marysville, Ohio campus. Marysville is the site of Honda’s first and largest North American automotive assembly plant, as well as the headquarters of Honda R&D America. With a capacity of 440,000 vehicles a year, the Marysville plant is one of the largest in North America, receiving hundreds of deliveries every day. This made Marysville an ideal location for the first CNG refueling station at any of Honda’s North America facilities. The fast-fill CNG refueling station was designed, constructed, and is being operated by Chicago-based Trillium CNG, one of the leading developers of CNG refueling infrastructure.

“We designed the station to accommodate 2.5 million gallons per year,” said Honda spokesman Eric Mauk. “It is currently fueling over 1.0 million gallons per year and that translates to 75-80 fueling events per day. At 2.5 million gallons per year we would expect to see roughly 200 fueling events daily.”

According to Navigant Research’s Natural Gas Refueling Infrastructure report, the total number of CNG refueling stations in North America is projected to grow to only a little more than 1,800 over the next 10 years from 1,560 today, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 1.7%. Globally, the number of stations is projected to grow at 4.0% over the same time period.

Benefits for Fleets

The drop in world prices and corresponding reduction in gasoline and diesel retail prices is expected to suppress interest in natural gas for personal use vehicles for the foreseeable future. However, fleet trucks that frequently accumulate 100,000-plus miles annually can still benefit from a switch to natural gas, something that Honda is hoping to stimulate by offering convenient and fast CNG refueling to its suppliers when they are making deliveries. Honda estimates that more than 100 suppliers in the area could make use of the facility, driving 20 million miles annually on CNG. That would save nearly 20 million pounds of carbon monoxide annually compared to running on diesel. This is particularly beneficial for smaller suppliers that may not have fleets large enough to support the investment in their CNG refueling equipment. The refueling station is also open to the public so that anyone in the Marysville area is welcome to use the facility.

Other companies that receive many deliveries daily could also help stimulate demand for CNG by installing refueling infrastructure for their vendor community. Depending on where they are located, they could even take advantage of landfill gas for further environmental benefits. BMW already uses landfill gas to provide half of the power needs for its Spartanburg, South Carolina factory. If sufficient gas was available, it could be used as transportation fuel as well. Innovative approaches like Honda’s CNG station will be needed to keep advancing natural gas as a transportation fuel.

 

In a Connected World, Cars Talk to Buildings

— August 20, 2015

It wasn’t so very long ago that communications were largely limited to living beings, whether it was birds, whales, dogs, or people. Our devices were largely mute, performing functions when requested by a button or switch, but otherwise isolated from each other. The development of high-bandwidth wired and wireless communications over the past 2 decades has led to a corresponding transformation with the development of devices that communicate and often act without human intervention. While we are still a long way from Skynet, ubiquitous connectivity is enabling a wide range of possibilities that can help reduce our energy demands in the coming years.

Connected Thermostats, Cars, and More

The old-fashioned set it and forget and even the newer programmable thermostats are being supplanted by wireless, cloud-connected versions like the Nest. In place of a simple mechanical thermocouple, these newer units include sensors to detect motion, light, and humidity, as well as Wi-Fi connections, to the Nest servers to take advantage of big data machine learning and remote control from smartphone apps. By tracking usage patterns and local weather conditions, these thermostats automatically create custom control profiles to provide optimum comfort and minimize energy use.

Ever since the advent of the modern plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) at the turn of the last decade, many of these vehicles have been able to connect to remote servers to get localized electric utility rates. When plugged in at night, they can delay charging until off-peak rates begin, reducing the load on the grid and saving costs for owners. Beginning in 2016, the first cars will start rolling out with vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems that enable cars to broadcast safety-related messages to other nearby vehicles. According to Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report, about 80%–90% of new light duty vehicles in North America and Western Europe are expected to be using the technology by 2025.

Researchers, including those at the Detroit technology incubator, NextEnergy Center, are working on new ways to connect these and many other disparate systems to leverage even more information and harness the energy storage in idle PEVs for additional savings. Among the numerous projects at NextEnergy are studies of vehicle-to-building (V2B) and microgrid systems. A small house at the center has been equipped with a direct current wiring system and appliances that enable easier and more efficient energy transfer between the rooftop solar panels, the interior of the house, and the battery electric vehicle parked outside. Another study is developing a model for how many PEVs would be needed to get an optimum balance between vehicle cost and energy cost savings from reducing peak demand for commercial buildings.

The NextEnergy Center will host a 1-day conference on September 9, 2015 called the V2B Mashup. The event includes panels and presentations with speakers from Cisco, General Motors, Visteon, the U.S. Department of Energy, DTE Energy, and more. Seating is limited and online registration is available at www.nextenergy.org/v2bmashup.

 

Security Flaws Are Safety Issues, and They Need to Be Fixed

— August 7, 2015

Connected vehicles hold tremendous potential for improving road safety while simultaneously reducing energy consumption and road congestion through data sharing over the next 10–15 years. Unfortunately, that potential may never be realized unless there is a dramatic change in the way automakers and suppliers handle cyber security. The recently revealed security vulnerability in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) products with Uconnect telematics systems demonstrates some of the flaws in the current landscape.

Wired.com recently ran a report highlighting a flaw in the Uconnect telematics system discovered by noted white hat security researchers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek. The pair worked out how to remotely connect to the vehicle’s cellular modem, a key component of Uconnect and all other telematics systems. From there, they were able to access a port in the vehicle network that provided entry to vehicle control systems, including steering, braking, and other functions. The article noted that Miller and Valasek notified FCA and waited until a fix was developed before publicly disclosing the flaw. So far, so good.

A Bloomberg Business story claims that FCA was actually notified of the vulnerability in January 2014 and waited a full 18 months before notifying the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, according to FCA spokesman Eric Mayne, “Prior to last month (July 2015), the precise means of manipulating a vehicle as demonstrated for the media was not known.” FCA notified NHTSA, developed a fix to eliminate the attack vector, and subsequently issued a recall for 1.4 million vehicles. Despite determining that the vulnerability didn’t constitute a safety defect according to current regulations, FCA and NHTSA decided to conduct the campaign as a recall to protect customers.

Potential Safety Defects

Cyber-attacks on banks and retailers can be annoying and costly, but they are unlikely to ever prove life-threatening. All potential automotive cyber security flaws should be treated as potential safety defects until proven otherwise. While the information FCA officials had in early 2014 may not have represented a safety defect, we need a standard mechanism for reporting and tracking potential vulnerabilities.

Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report projects that by 2025, 80%–90% of new vehicles in North America and Western Europe will be equipped with vehicle-to-external (V2X) communications technology, a market with potential revenue of more than $36 billion globally. Automakers and suppliers have claimed that they take security seriously, but with few exceptions—notably Tesla Motors, and to a lesser degree, Hyundai— they seem more intent on keeping information out of the public eye.

General Motors (GM) in particular joined John Deere earlier this year to push for protection of their vehicle software under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). GM has not publicly stated why they were seeking protection, but since the DMCA prohibits tampering with or removing protections from software, it seems likely that at least part of the rationale is to keep researchers from legally investigating these systems.

Design for Security

If automakers and suppliers continue to suppress information about automotive cyber security, they will erode both consumer and regulatory confidence in connected vehicles. Software security is an extremely difficult problem, especially for networked systems. It’s best to design the architecture for security from the start rather than patching it in later. However, product development lead times last 3–5 years or more, and legacy systems need to be protected as well.

Automakers need to acknowledge that cyber security vulnerabilities are indeed genuine safety issues now, and they need to be open to both responsible disclosure and prompt updates. If not, we are at serious risk of missing out on the benefits of both connectivity and increasing levels of vehicle automation.

 

Cybersecurity for Self-Driving Cars Needs a Confidence Boost

— July 29, 2015

Highly detailed and accurate mapping data will be critical to the technical success of future autonomous vehicles. However, in order for consumers and regulators to accept vehicles that pilot themselves to a desired destination, they will need to have a great deal of trust in the technology. That trust is currently in serious danger of being eroded by an ongoing series of computer network attacks, including one demonstrated recently on Wired.com. The need to bolster automotive cybersecurity is one of the factors driving Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW to jointly acquire Nokia’s Here mapping division.

Nokia was an early leader in the field of bringing high quality maps to mobile devices with its 2007 acquisition of Navteq, but the world of mobile cartography has shifted dramatically since then. With mapping apps from Google and Apple joining incumbents such as TomTom and Garmin, along with the rapid development of autonomous driving capabilities, the expectations for map data has increased exponentially. Cartographic data needs to be kept continuously updated through fleets of camera and sensor-equipped vehicles, in addition to crowd sourcing for real-time information. Unlike traditional automotive navigation systems that might get updated annually at best, this fresh data will need to be pushed to automated vehicles as soon as it’s ready.

The big three German premium brands are all expected to be on the leading edge of introducing level 2 automation capabilities and are likely to ramp up automation as soon as  technology and the market allows. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report projects that nearly 50 million vehicles with some form of autonomous capability will be sold globally by 2030. One of the key drivers for the move to automation is the desire to reduce accidents to near zero by taking humans out of the driving control loop.

Gaining Trust

Before that can happen, everyone will need a much higher degree of confidence in the security the software and electronic systems, something that is getting more difficult by the day. For several years now, computer security researchers have been demonstrating increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks against vehicles, with the most recent coming from Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek. Miller and Valasek were able to remotely take control of a 2014 Jeep Cherokee through its telematics system, manipulate the audio system, wipers, steering, and even shut down the engine as it was driven by Wired reporter Andy Greenberg. These attacks are not trivial and are not yet widespread, but as we’ve seen from recent attacks against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management and retailers such as Target and Home Depot, the more attackers learn about the systems, the more attack vectors they find.

Automakers are hiring some of these same security researchers and creating teams solely focused on securing their in-vehicle networks. When automakers outsource control systems or data such as maps to suppliers, they often get only a black box that they can hook into without access to source code. Recognizing that they will be increasingly liable for the performance of advanced systems, they are now bringing some of the work back in-house where they can control it. Daimler AG CEO Dieter Zetsche recently acknowledged that security concerns were one of the reasons his company was partnering with its chief rivals to purchase Here maps. Similar concerns have prevented numerous automakers that have been approached by Google from adopting its autonomous driving software and developing their own code instead. Unless Google is willing to give up control of its software to automakers, it may only get adopted by lower tier companies without the resources to develop their own autonomous systems.

 

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