Navigant Research Blog

Minimal Fuel Economy Impact from Regulatory Executive Order

— February 6, 2017

The presidential executive order that commands two federal regulations to be rescinded for every new rule enacted probably will not have a direct impact on US Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) mandates, but that does not mean they will not change. At this time, it seems highly probable that at the very least, penalties for failing to meet the standards to increase fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by 2025 will be significantly reduced, and those targets may be slashed as well. Even if that does happen, it may have only a minimal impact on the product development strategies of the auto industry.

Since the CAFE regulations were already in force, the fact that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reaffirmed the standards in the waning days of the prior administration mean they are not directly subject to the new order. In addition, section 5(a)(i) of the order also states that:

Nothing in this order shall be construed to impair or otherwise affect:
(i)   the authority granted by law to an executive department or agency, or the head thereof …

The current CAFE regulations were enacted under the authority of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, signed by President George W. Bush, which specifically called for a fleet average of at least 35 mpg by 2020. That would appear to make CAFE at least partly exempt from complete elimination without a corresponding repeal from congress. As of December 2016, the unadjusted fleet average in the US market was at 31.2 mpg. The auto industry would only need to get to 35 mpg to meet the congressional mandate.

Technology Development Will Continue, but…

If the new Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao opts to scale back the standards or penalties, the industry will still develop fuel economy and emissions technologies to meet standards set by California and the global market. The problem that the industry faces in the US market is an environment of low fuel prices and an increasing consumer preference for less efficient utility vehicles. Faced with the realities of the marketplace, manufacturers are finding it difficult to sell smaller, thriftier vehicles.

If the national standard were reduced while maintaining California requirements, it would provide automakers with the opportunity to meet market demand in regions such as Texas with higher margin products—such as the full-size pickup trucks and SUVs that are favored there—without resorting to incentives to stimulate demand for small cars. This would allow some subsidization of electrified vehicles in those markets that require them.

Uncertainty and Instability

Ford CEO Mark Fields has claimed that having standards that market demands will not support with sales could end up costing up to 1 million jobs. The CEOs of Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler met with President Trump days after he took office to discuss this. The industry would also like to see the elimination of separate standards for California, which are possible under a waiver granted by the EPA through a clause in the Clean Air Act.

Rescinding this waiver could prove problematic. It likely could lead to a battle that would end in the Supreme Court. If it became a state’s rights case, it is not at all clear how even a conservative majority on the court would rule.

This is a situation unlikely to be resolved quickly—and the resulting uncertainty creates instability in the business.


EV Market Needs More Practical Vehicles, Less Hype

— January 19, 2017

Please 2017, bring us more announcements of practical, production-ready, 200+ mile range battery EVs (BEVs), and fewer of the concept electric super cars or Tesla killers. Yes, these long-ranged, sleek, sporty thrill rides are pretty and may sell in small volumes to high-end buyers when (or if) they come to market. But startups that are seemingly overcompensating for inexperience by showcasing their engineering prowess and far-flung visions won’t provide the needed bridge to mass adoption.

Since Tesla found initial success with the Model S, the term Tesla killer is frequently part of the discussion around most new, long-range BEV introductions from both established and startup automakers alike. In 2016, one company that was the focus of such hype was LeEco, which invested billions in EV startups. These investments led to what was described as one of the more lackluster BEV debuts at 2016’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES): Faraday Future’s FFZERO1. Unfortunately, the company’s variable platform architecture and the way in which that architecture might advantageously position Faraday to achieve its lofty business goals received muted attention relative to the billboard-doubling tail fin.

As it is presented, the architecture should allow Faraday to expand and diversify its vehicle offerings beyond the initial flagship model with ease. Regardless of whether the platform accomplishes Faraday’s business objectives, maintaining focus on either this aspect or another business innovation would showcase the company’s pragmatism and flexibility—qualities desperately needed in a rapidly evolving market. Unfortunately, during Faraday’s attempt to debut its flagship model at 2017’s CES, there were wide reports of financial trouble as well as an executive exodus.

The Race Against Tesla

LeEco’s other two EV investments, Lucid and LeSee, have as of yet avoided some of the harsher skepticism surrounding Faraday. The cars presented by the company do look closer to being production ready. Given that, LeEco is playing catch-up alongside many of the established premium brands, as well as positioning to compete against Tesla. All are aiming to introduce their long-range, $100,000+ flagships sometime before 2020, begging the question: will there be room for all in the premium EV segment?

While these would-be competitors try to outdo each other and out-maneuver Tesla, Tesla continues to stress pragmatic business model innovations. This includes advancing electrification outside of costly premium vehicle segments, laying the groundwork for automated mobility systems, taking the lead in public infrastructure development, and expanding into home energy management. Moving quickly on all fronts is a tough ask for any company, but at least any stumbles Tesla makes are likely to be grounded in vision and not vanity. For their part, the established OEMs are less fallible of Tesla-killer glory and are moving quickly to deploy practical innovations in affordable long-range BEVs, ultra-fast charging developments, and new mobility services.


Autonomous Vehicles and Keeping Pets Safe on the Road

— July 1, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2With the Fourth of July rapidly approaching, Americans everywhere are revisiting their version of the American Dream. The traditional American Dream can be quantified: 2.5 children, one house, two green lawns, one cat, one dog, and one to two cars.

Recent developments have made this dream change somewhat. The tiny house movement has driven some household footprints to 500 square feet and smaller. Lawns go unwatered thanks to drought and water conservation efforts. Cars are increasingly technologically advanced—everything from alternative powertrains and carsharing programs to autonomous driving. In fact, Navigant Research forecasts that carsharing programs will grow sixfold by 2024. It seems the only things that haven’t changed are the nuclear family’s propensity toward having pets. So how does Fido fit into the New American Dream? It turns out that the answer may be in the increased protective services of self-driving cars.

Autonomous vehicles are rapidly becoming a divisive subject. There are people who are absolutely gung-ho about the idea, promising to never touch a gas pedal again as soon as the vehicles are available to the public. On the other side are those who would never entrust something as difficult and variable as driving to the mind of a machine. However, there is no denying the fact that human drivers are a massive risk on the road. Of the 20 accidents in which Google cars have been involved, only one was caused by the autonomous vehicle. The rest? All caused by the carelessness of distracted and slow-reacting human drivers. Human-caused car accidents are a threat to lives, human and animal alike.

Keeping People (and Pets) Safe

In 2014, Tesla Motors posted a parody article for April Fool’s day, claiming that pet-driven cars are safer than autonomous vehicles. The best-driving pet was voted to be the goldfish. This was due to their calm, meticulous nature, and having no propensity to drive off cliffs (as cats do) or drive the car after squirrels (credit: dogs). Computers are in many ways like goldfish in these capacities: they are inherently unbiased except as designed in their programming, require minimum feeding, and display a calm and calculating decision-making ability. Fortunately, computers also have a memory longer than 30 seconds.

It is ridiculous to think of vehicles being driven by our furry and scaly companions rather than by complex algorithms, because self-driving cars do present many potential benefits for our many-legged friends. By reducing the number of all types of accidents and collisions, the number of pet injuries and deaths due to cars is also greatly reduced. In the United States, around 1.2 million dogs and 5.4 million cats are killed on the roads every year. In addition, distracted driving was the cause of 5,474 human deaths and 448,000 injuries in 2009. It is difficult to say precisely how many of these distractions were due to pets in the car, but pets are counted among other distractions to drivers, a category encompassing disruptive passengers, misbehaving children, and drivers that put on makeup or read in the car. While a human or their furry companion can become distracted from the road, autonomous vehicles are solely focused on the task of safely navigating the roads and avoiding collisions with vehicles, people, and other mammals.

The American Dream has certainly changed, but autonomous vehicles are doing their part to protect us and our animal companions. Aside from shooting off fireworks while grilling hamburgers on the hood, there is nothing a vehicle could do to be more American.


Initial Quality Study Highlights the Commercial Risks of Vehicle Automation

— June 29, 2016

Connected VehiclesFor many years after J.D. Power and Associates began conducting its Initial Quality Study (IQS) 3 decades ago, most problems reported by customers in the first 90 days of vehicle ownership were either defects or non-functional features. However, in the past decade, the nature of reported problems has shifted toward what J.D. Power calls design-related issues. This could pose a serious problem for manufacturers as they rush to introduce autonomous driving technology.

At a recent meeting of the Automotive Press Association in Detroit, J.D. Power vice president Renee Stephens presented the 2016 IQS results. The industry as a whole improved by 6% in 2016 to just 105 problems per 100 vehicles, the best improvement in 7 years. Among the reported problems, those that fall into the audio, connectivity, electronics, and navigation areas continue to represent the largest category of complaints.

Voice recognition and connected devices still befuddle consumers. Numerous manufacturers including Ford have seen ratings decline in past years as a result of difficulties using infotainment systems. “Expected reliability remains the most important consideration when purchasing a new vehicle, cited by 49% of owners,” said Stephens. “It’s critical that technology be implemented correctly or consumers lose trust.”

Potential Problems

An increasing number of new vehicles now include advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping aids. However, if features don’t work as expected by the consumer, they often get turned off after a few false positives or surprises. This highlights a potentially serious problem for the auto industry in the coming decade as semi and fully autonomous systems are increasingly rolled out in the marketplace. Navigant Research’s Autonomous Vehicles report forecasts that nearly 5 million autonomous vehicles are expected to be sold in 2025, a volume that is expected to grow to more than 40 million in 2030.

Regardless of current ADAS and whether future autonomous systems work as the engineers intend them to, it is absolutely imperative that they work as consumers expect. Autonomous capability will add significant cost to vehicles, and until there is a shift toward on-demand mobility services, consumers will have to absorb that cost. If their experience with the stepping stone technologies is excessively negative, the market will reject these technologies.

Contradictory Views

This will be particularly true if consumers realize that autonomous systems don’t work at all in the scenarios where they are most likely to want to hand over control, such as in poor weather. A major market force for automated driving is improving safety. Related to the general functionality of these systems is the problem of ethics where, as is often the case, the public has contradictory views. A new study by MIT professor Iyad Rahwan shows consumers want autonomous vehicles to minimize casualties in the event of unavoidable crashes. However, that only applies if that person is not the potential casualty. It comes down to protect everyone—but protect me first.

If society as a whole is ever going to benefit from the potential of autonomous vehicles in reducing collisions, congestion, and energy use, much will have to change in society. Consumers will have to be educated in how these systems work so that expectations can be set appropriately. If the bar is not adjusted, consumer complaints in IQS and other studies will skyrocket, and this technology could die on the vine.


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