Navigant Research Blog

The Challenge of Being Mazda in the Mobility Transformation

— July 14, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2As automakers go, Mazda makes a fascinating case study in the challenges of being in the car business in the 21st century. In many respects, the company seems to have all the right pieces to be successful, yet at the same time the brand is struggling to find a path toward long-term success. Recently, Masahiro Moro, who took over as CEO of Mazda North America late last year, paid a visit to Detroit to chat with the local press corps about where Mazda has been and where it is going.

You might think that selling more than 1.5 million cars a year should be more than enough to build a sustainable business. However, in a world that is increasingly pushing for the adoption of expensive new technologies, even a company like Fiat Chrysler Automobiles with nearly twice as many sales is struggling to find a way. Funding the development of autonomous vehicles, mobility services, and electrification takes huge amounts of cash. Aside from stock market darling Tesla, which seems to be able to go back to the equity well at will to refill its coffers, this development usually requires strong profitability.

Revamping Strategy

Ever since Ford relinquished its equity holding in Mazda during the 2008 financial collapse, Mazda has been working to revamp its product strategy. The company developed a suite of technologies under the SkyActiv brand that included new engines, transmissions, and lightweighting that have enabled it to be the corporate average fuel economy leader for 3 years running without a single electric vehicle (EV) in its American lineup.

“Mazda’s product roadmap is set through 2021 and with our second-generation SkyActiv technologies, the company should be well positioned to meet fuel economy and greenhouse gas targets,” said Moro-san. “Meeting targets for 2025 will require further electrification.”

Unlike the Detroit-based automakers, Mazda is not a full-line manufacturer and doesn’t need to offset the fuel consumption of large trucks. Moro-san indicated that for the cars and utility vehicles that make up the Mazda lineup, mild hybridization using 48-volt electrification would probably be sufficient for fuel economy. However, that is only part of the puzzle that needs to be solved. An increasing number of regional markets such as California and Norway are mandating zero-emissions vehicles (ZEVs).

“When it comes to electrification, development is not the problem,” added Moro-san. “The question is how to sell it.”

Absent Profit Margins

While the lack of big trucks helps a brand like Mazda on the efficiency front, it also means that like Tesla, the high profit margins that can subsidize affordable EVs are also absent. Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecast projects global battery EV (BEV) sales of just 1.6 million in 2024.

Moro-san also serves as Mazda’s global chief marketing officer. During his remarks, he discussed Mazda’s shift in strategy from trying to grow volumes based on selling to a price to focusing on the customer experience. Rather than trying to build a brand image from the top down through advertising, Mazda is working with its retail network to build an image of more premium vehicles for those that actually like to drive through customer word of mouth. This is actually very similar to the strategy employed by Tesla. While the EV-exclusive maker has not yet been profitable, if Mazda can build the margins on its traditional vehicles, that would help to fund the sales of ZEVs needed to meet mandates.

Automakers of all sizes are trying to chart a course through the stormy seas that will be part of the mobility transition over the next several decades. Mazda is taking a different approach from some of its larger competitors, and it’s far too soon to know how the company will come out on the other side.

 

Utilities Rightly Taking Larger Role in EVs

— July 11, 2016

EV RefuelingWithin the span of a few short years, utilities have transitioned from being bystanders to becoming active participants in supporting the rollout of plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). Legislators and utility commissioners have evolved their view of the roles that utilities can and should play, particularly in incentivizing or operating electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure.

A few years ago, several states, including California, prohibited utility ownership of EV charging infrastructure. Today, utilities are not only encouraged to operate charging stations, but are also compelled to do so. Public utility commissions have recognized that switching from gasoline to renewably powered electricity for transportation is good for air quality and the local economy, and many have updated their rules to allow utility participation.

Since direct current (DC) fast charging (with power delivered at 50 kW-100 kW or higher) has the potential to affect grid operations, many utilities are focusing on ownership of these assets. For example, Hydro-Québec is expanding its Electric Circuit of fast chargers along Highway 20 in the province of Quebec in Canada. Meanwhile, AGL Energy is offering a flat $1 daily fee for unlimited residential EV charging in Australia.

Change on a Global Scale

This is truly a global phenomenon. My recent travels have taken me to Honolulu, Munich, and Dubai—all of which have EV charging stations operated by utilities. In Hawaii, utility Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) is embracing PEVs as a method of helping to balance the power grid in the state. Hawaii has an ambitious goal of moving to 100% renewable power generation by 2045.

In many cases, PEVs are good load additions, as vehicle charging can be timed to balance intermittent solar and wind power production. Utilities are also launching pilots where PEVs are enrolled in demand response programs, as Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) and BMW are doing in Northern California. The new load from PEVs can help utilities replace revenue lost to the myriad of energy efficiency programs that are flattening or reducing power consumption. PEVs will also become more frequently accessed as part of the growing use of distributed energy resources (DER).

Navigant Research will discuss the many opportunities for utilities to derive value from using PEVs in demand response, as DER, and for load shifting and other ancillary services during a webinar on July 12.

 

BEVs Moving Beyond 200 Miles

— June 14, 2016

EV RefuelingBy the end of 2016, the first long-range battery electric vehicles (BEVs) for the mass market will finally become available. Over the next 3 years, the long-range BEV is expected to emerge as the market standard as BEVs with ranges below 100 miles disappear from automaker new vehicle lineups. The long-range BEV under $40,000 is a marked achievement in the industry that is expected to significantly increase plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) adoption past the 1% penetration rate it has struggled to surpass in all but a few global markets. But how far past 1% will the 200 miles/under $40,000 move penetrate?

Practical Limitations

The leap in range and affordability is a significant achievement, but BEVs still have to overcome significant hurdles before the tech can effectively replace the conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. For all its flaws (expensive fuel, upkeep costs, and emissions), the conventional option cannot be matched yet in terms of cost, fueling convenience, range, and capability. Parity across all these factors, among all light vehicle types, is a long way off.

Even at a 200-, 250-, or 300-mile range, a BEV is a hard sell to anyone without a place to charge their vehicle at their residence or at their work. For those without this specific access, charging needs are likely only met through fast charging when the BEV state of charge nears depletion. Unless one is so fortunate to have access to a Tesla Supercharger, charging a 60 kWh+ BEV from 0% to 100% on public fast charging equipment (around 50 kW) will likely be an hour(s)-long engagement, and the energy cost savings analysis is not encouraging in this scenario unless subsidized.

In the United States, the share of the market without access to workplace or residential charging is not likely a minority. Over 56% of respondents to Navigant Research’s annual Electric Vehicle Consumer Survey indicated they did not have access to an electrical outlet at their residential parking space.

Analysis of survey responses reveals that people without access to residential charging are far less likely to consider BEVs than those with access. Near 30% of those without access indicated they would not consider a BEV regardless of range, while 34% of those without access that would consider a BEV would only do so if the vehicle achieved a range over 300 miles. In contrast, around 17% of those with access would not consider a BEV regardless of range and only 22% of those who would consider a BEV would only do so at over 300 miles.

As of yet, BEVs play particularly well to two or more car households where one conventional car can be used for more demanding driving requirements and the BEV can be utilized for short driving needs. 200 miles will likely expand the number of households replacing one vehicle with a BEV, but it will likely make little headway in convincing the two or more car household to replace an additional vehicle.

Addressing the Gaps

Residential and workplace charging are fundamental to market growth, but speedy increases in development will never address all the needs of those limited to on-street parking at both their residence and workplace. Public charging infrastructure that can match the speed of a pump alongside an actual marketing campaign for PEVs from the established OEMs will improve conditions for all consumers. However, the only way such an infrastructure is developed is if a robust fast charging business model emerges for fuel retailers—and the only way that happens is via the steady increase in the long-range BEV population (or via additional government support).

This is not to say that the battery will not eventually replace the ICE; it’s likely it will. But adoption will not follow the same speed of the disruptive technologies BEVs are so often compared with. An all-electric future is highly probable, but it is not near.

 

Take Control of Your Future, Part VII: Merging Industries, New Entrants, and Colliding Giants

— June 13, 2016

Modern commercial premisesIn my initial blog in this series, I discussed seven megatrends that are fundamentally changing how we produce and use power. Here, I discuss how merging industries, new entrants, and colliding giants are changing our industry.

What Is Happening?

The power energy industry (the generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity) is not the sole territory of the incumbent utility anymore. Several players from other industries, including oil & gas (O&G), technology, retail, telecom, security, and manufacturing, are trying to get into the game. Navigant sees many cross-industry movements, and one of them is increased crossover investments between the electric utility and O&G industries. Besides pursuing mergers and acquisitions, which I discussed in one of my previous blogs, we see investments in new areas of opportunity like renewables, distributed energy resources (DER, including distributed generation, energy efficiency, demand response, storage, etc.), transportation, smart infrastructure and cities, and energy management.

As an example, in April, the French supermajor Total announced the creation of a Gas, Renewables and Power division, which it said will help drive its ambition to become a top renewables and electricity trading player within 20 years. According to a statement by the supermajor, “Gas, Renewables and Power will spearhead Total’s ambitions in the electricity value chain by expanding in gas midstream and downstream, renewable energies and energy efficiency.” Other companies, like ENGIE and Shell, have made similar announcements.

A Total Gas Station in Paris

TOTAL

(Source: Reuters)

Fighting for Future Energy Positions

The large incumbent players in the energy industry are under pressure. And the way things are unfolding now, it doesn’t seem like this will change anytime soon. Time to make some minor tweaks? Change course more drastically? Or completely reinvent ourselves? These are discussions that are taking place more frequently at the board and executive levels of the incumbent players.

Electric utilities are under pressure because consumption growth is minimal and, in many cases, flat to slightly negative. The average consumption per customer (both residential and commercial) is declining due to self-generation, energy efficiency, demand response, etc. As a result, revenue is declining. Costs are increasing because of needed investments in a safe, reliable, cleaner, and more distributed and intelligent electric power grid. Utilities are identifying new revenue streams and thinking through new business models that will bring shareholder value going forward.

Oil companies are under pressure because of the continued low oil price. Ever since the oil price dropped to historic lows in 2014, the struggles of the industry have been daily news. Short-term hopes for a recovery were tempered significantly by the outcome of the recent OPEC meetings in Doha. Oil companies are looking for ways to survive by taking out costs, reducing their upstream capital investments, and shutting down unprofitable assets. They are also looking for new opportunities to grow revenue and future shareholder value.

Industry Giants Are Responding

In the last couple of months, I’ve attended several meetings with CEOs from large utilities and O&G companies. It is remarkable how their views on what is happening in the energy space are so similar. What is even more interesting is that their strategies to address the challenges and opportunities are almost identical.

Here is what they say is happening:

  • Energy consumption and gross domestic product (GDP) growth: Although population and GDP growth (at a slower pace) drive growing energy demand, the trend line between GDP and energy consumption growth has been broken. This is especially the case in developed countries. Energy consumption in the United States flatlined from 2014 to 2015 even as GDP grew by 2.4%. Since 2007, energy consumption has fallen 2.4% while GDP has grown by 10%, according to the 2016 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. At the level of individual utilities, we see this playing out. Utilities with no or limited customer growth see their overall revenue declining. Utilities that still see customer growth are reporting that demand (and revenue) is not growing at the same pace. This is creating an unsustainable situation, with flat or declining revenue, while the costs to serve their customers and investments in the grid are growing.
  • Impacts of climate change: In an earlier blog, we discussed the impacts of the growing number of policies and regulations to reduce carbon emissions. It is now clear that this impact is being felt. Beyond the COP21, Clean Power Plan, and other global or federal policies and regulations, many initiatives at the regional, country, state, and local levels are being designed and implemented in support of carbon emissions reductions. Sustainability objectives between government, policymakers, utilities, and their customers are more closely aligned than ever before. States and regulators will continue to discuss how sustainable targets can be met without affecting jobs and the access to safe, reliable, and affordable power. And utilities and O&G companies will continue to evolve to support cleaner, more distributed, and more intelligent energy generation/exploration, distribution, and consumption.
  • Big power to small energy and the rise of the prosumer: Customer choice is driving a large move from big to small energy. More and more customers are choosing to install DER on their premises. DER solutions include distributed generation, demand response, energy efficiency, distributed storage, microgrids, and electric vehicles (EVs). This year, DER deployments are projected to reach 30 GW in the United States. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, central generation net capacity additions (new generation additions minus retirements) are estimated at 19.7 GW in 2016. This means that DER is already growing significantly faster than central generation. On a 5-year basis (2015-2019), DER in the United States is expected to grow almost 3 times faster than central generation (168 GW vs. 57 GW). This trend varies by region because policy approaches, market dynamics, and structures differ. However, the overall move to small power will persist. In other words, the movement toward customer-centric solutions and DER will ultimately become commonplace worldwide.

And here are the strategies of large utilities and O&G companies going forward:

  • Search for shareholder value: Both utilities and O&G companies are looking across the entire energy value chain for future shareholder value. Right now, that value is not in exploration & production or power generation. Yet, shareholders are still interested in natural gas pipelines and transmission that support the movement of natural gas and electricity.
  • Attempts to develop new solutions and businesses: There has been more than just interest from incumbent players in new energy solutions such as renewables and other alternative fuel sources (hydrogen, biofuels, etc.), DER, behind-the-meter energy management, electric transportation, smart cities, etc. With serious profitability and growth pressure on their core businesses, more serious attempts to build new, potentially transformational businesses in this space are increasingly evident.

For example, Total’s Chairman and CEO Patrick Pouyanné states, “The goal is to be in the top three global solar power companies, expand electricity trading and energy storage and be a leader in biofuels, especially in bio jet fuels.” To this end, Total announced last month that it is acquiring Saft, a designer and manufacturer of high-tech batteries for the manufacturing, transportation, and civilian and military electronics sectors. The company reported sales of €759 million ($856 million) in 2015 and employs more than 4,100 people in 19 countries. “The combination of Saft and Total will enable Saft to become the group’s spearhead in electricity storage,” Chairman and CEO Pouyanné said in a news release, “The acquisition of Saft is part of Total’s ambition to accelerate its development in the fields of renewable energy and electricity.”

Transportation and Smart Cities

Transport electrification, the increased use of biofuels (including bio-jet fuels), and the use of hydrogen to fuel vehicles are all on the rise. These alternative fuel vehicles will slowly but surely replace existing carbon-based transportation fleets, which represent approximately 35% of the global demand for oil. Now there are reports of 500,000 committed purchases of the Tesla Model 3. If Tesla can produce 500,000 cars a year, with models that are in the $30,000-$40,000 price and 200-plus-mile range, this will be another tipping point and game changer for EVs.

Meanwhile, as part of the smart city movement, cities are examining the sources and efficiency of their energy in order to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and energy costs. In the process, cities are becoming more ambitious and proactive in setting energy strategy. They are seizing opportunities to work with utilities and other stakeholders to create new urban energy systems. The emerging vision is of a smart city with integrated large- and small-scale energy initiatives, including major infrastructure investments, citywide improvements in energy efficiency, and distributed energy generation. As a result, both utilities and O&G companies are increasingly interested in becoming even more engaged with new transportation concepts and innovation (well beyond fuel) and smart cities.

So What Does This Mean?

Do the above examples represent some isolated, small adventures in crossover investments, or do they mark a trend toward two mega-industries (electric utility and O&G) colliding across the entire energy value chain and looking for shareholder value? Time will tell. What is certain is that there will be winners and losers.

There is a clear push for new revenue streams and growth opportunities given the current oil price situation. But we see also new, longer-term threats that will force the incumbent players to reinvent themselves and become broader energy companies. The industry giants seem to be in the best position to be the winners—and ultimately, they have no choice. After all, these are still the biggest companies in the world, and they have a huge shareholder interest that needs to be fed into the future. They simply are not going to declare “game over,” return the equity to the shareholders, and then advise them to go find new companies to invest in.

This post is the seventh in a series in which I discuss each of the power industry megatrends and the impacts (“so what?”) in more detail. My next blog will be about the emerging Energy Cloud. Stay tuned.

Learn more about our clients, projects, solution offerings, and team at Navigant Energy Practice Overview.

 

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