• Battery Advances Needed for EVsWhile industry watchers may debate how quickly consumers will make the transition to electric vehicles, they generally agree this transition will require big improvements to the batteries that power these cars.

    In the near term, reducing the cost of the battery — and with it, the price of the vehicle — will come mostly from better manufacturing techniques and building more batteries. Improving durability and range will largely be the domain of researchers and scientists.

     Compared with the nickel-metal hydride battery used in the Toyota Prius, for example, a lithium-ion battery of the same weight and volume would increase energy density two to three times, said Venkat Srinivasan, manager of the Battery for Automotive Transportation Technologies Program, an Energy Department-supported program managed by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.

    Even as new advances move from the lab to the production line in the coming decade, in the near term most cost reductions for the battery pack will come from lowering manufacturing costs, according to Alex A. Molinaroli, president of the Power Solutions group at Johnson Controls, a company building lithium-ion batteries for BMW, Daimler and Ford.

    With the battery the costliest component of the car, automakers tend to be tight-lipped about actual prices, considering it competitive information. Even so, Mike Omotoso, an automotive power train forecaster for J. D. Power & Associates, estimated today’s cost at around $750 to $800 per kilowatt-hour. For electric vehicles to achieve parity with gasoline-powered cars, from a cost perspective, most analysts estimate that battery cost must come closer to $200 per kilowatt-hour.

    Mary Ann Wright, vice president for global technology and innovation in the Power Solutions group for Johnson Controls, estimates that this parity point is a decade away, but offers two caveats. “You have to consider that the gasoline engine will also become more fuel-efficient during this time,” she said. “This technology is not standing still.” And parity must be considered as the total cost of ownership over the life of the car. “So while the sticker price may always be higher, the electric vehicle will be less expensive to maintain and operate over the life of the car compared to a gasoline-powered car,” she said.

    [via The New York Times]

     

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  • When most people look at fleet safety, commercial fleets are the main concern, but public sector fleets need to pay attention to safety just as much as anyone else.  This week, a new law has been created to help with school bus safety.

    Bill Signed for School Bus Safety

     

    A bill that increases penalties for passing a stopped school bus, among other changes, was signed into law on Monday by Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

    The legislation was named for Nathan Key, a 5-year-old who was killed in December 2009 when a vehicle illegally passed his school bus as he was unloading.

     

    Under the new law, fines for stop-arm running will range from $350 to $750 for a first offense and $750 to $1,500 for a second or subsequent offense, which will also result in a driver's license suspension of 90 days.

     

    Nathan's Law makes several other changes related to school bus safety, including clarifying the offense of passing a stopped school bus and authorizing cameras on stop arms. It also requires that every driver's license examination ensures "adequate knowledge on the part of the applicant as to school bus safety requirements," according to the text of the legislation.

     

    A similar bill died in the 2010 legislative session. The new bill was introduced in January.

     

    [via School Bus Fleet]

     

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  • If you’re looking to buy new vehicles or offload old ones, take a look at this article from USA Today before making a move:

    Japan Production Slowdown Driving Used Car Values Up

     

    Used car prices — already rising — could soar as buyers are driven to seek alternatives due to a predicted shortage of some new vehicles in the wake of the continued disruption of Japanese auto production, experts predict.

     

    Price increases at the wholesale level already are being seen for the compact and midsize used cars from Japanese brands and of rival models that would be the closest substitutes for the more popular Japanese new cars.

     

    Over the past couple of weeks, the NADA pricing service says it has observed an 11% rise in the wholesale prices of 3- to 5-year-old compacts such as the Toyota Corolla and the similar Ford Focus.

     

    Midsize cars went up 8.5%, the service says.

     

    Trade-in values for smaller cars already were rising because of higher gas prices and could be even higher by the end of the month. Toyota and Nissan said this week that they don't expect to get back to full production in Japan until at least April 11, a month after the earthquake. Many Japanese plants remain closed, and several Japanese makers' U.S. plants are operating on reduced hours to conserve parts that are sourced from Japan.

     

    Though higher prices are bad for buyers, they're good for car dealers who have suffered through the recession.

     

    "It will help everybody in the used car business," says Terry Megee, who runs Floyd A. Megee Motors, a Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram dealer in Georgetown, Del.

     

    [via USA Today]

     

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  • Cost of Owning Vehicles Up, Says AAAAAA released the results of its annual “Your Driving Costs” study, which revealed a 3.4-percent rise in the yearly costs to own and operate a sedan in the U.S. The average costs rose 1.9 cents per mile to 58.5 cents per mile, or $8,776 per year, based upon 15,000 miles of annual driving.

    “Despite seeing reduced costs for maintenance and insurance this year, there is an overall increase in the costs to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. this year,” said John Nielsen, AAA National Director of Auto Repair, Buying and Consumer Programs. “The 2011 rise in costs is due to relatively large increases in fuel, tire, and depreciation costs as well as more moderate increases in other areas.”  

    The cost of tires had the largest percentage increase, rising 15.7 percent to 0.96 cents per mile on average for sedan owners, according to AAA.  Although several vehicles included in the ‘Your Driving Costs’ study had increases in fuel economy, it was not enough to offset the rise in gas prices which caused fuel costs to increase 8.6 percent to 12.34 cents per mile on average for sedans.

    The 2011 AAA study also found a 4.9 percent increase depreciation costs, averaging $3,728 yearly for sedans driving 15,000 miles annually.

    Maintenance costs dropped 2.2 percent to 4.44 cents per mile on average for sedans, which reflects a trend by automakers to include some portion of scheduled maintenance in the purchase price and extending recommended maintenance intervals. All categories had lower costs for maintenance, but the minivan category had the largest drop with a 7.4 percent decline to 4.5 cents per mile. Average insurance costs for sedans fell 6.1 percent (or $63) to $968 yearly.

    In-depth findings of this year’s study, including a breakdown of specific costs for each category of vehicle and costs at different annual mileages are available at select local AAA branch offices or may be downloaded at AAA.com/PublicAffairs.

     

    [via Business Fleet]

     

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  • More Employees Using Company VehiclesLeaseTrader.com has released data based on transactions in its online marketplace showing that individuals are getting rid of personal vehicles with leases because of company-issued vehicles.

    LeaseTrader.com cited the 8.8-percent national unemployment rate, which has fallen over the last few months due to a gain of 194,000 jobs in February and 216,000 jobs in March.

    “On the surface, the jobs outlook is brightening, which creates an environment for rising confidence among drivers and households,” said Sergio Stiberman, CEO and founder of LeaseTrader.com. “What’s more, the increase in jobs creates more company-issued vehicles, and in these cases people look to shed their personal car leases.”

    Many of the personal vehicle lease transfers are taking place in states such as California, Texas, Florida and Michigan, which all showed growth in jobs during March, according to LeaseTrader.com. During the recession and much of the economic recovery, drivers would escape vehicle leases out of need. Since January, a growing percentage of drivers have been escaping to shop for a new vehicle lease deal at retail, or choosing to drive their company cars instead now that they have more confidence in keeping their jobs.

     

    [via Automotive Fleet]

     

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  • Traffic deaths on the nation's roads fell for the fifth consecutive year in 2010 to 32,788, the lowest level since 1949, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

     

    Traffic Fatalities Lowest in Over 60 Years

    The decline — down 3.2 percent from 2009 — came despite a significant rise in the number of miles Americans traveled last year, according to early projections. Americans drove about 20.5 billion miles more in 2010 than they did the year before, the agency said.

     

    However, three areas of the country, including New England and the Midwest, saw an increase in fatalities. They were up 18 percent in New England and 3.9 percent in the Midwest, which includes Michigan. Final figures will be released this summer but typically don't deviate much from the projections. NHTSA believes weather may be to blame for the rise.

     

    NHTSA estimates the 2010 fatality rate will be the lowest recorded since 1949, with 1.09 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from the 1.13 in 2009.

     

    "The decrease in traffic fatalities is a good sign, but we are always working to save lives," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "NHTSA will continue pressing forward on all of our safety initiatives to make sure our roads are as safe as possible”.

     

    Despite the decline, NHTSA pointed to an area of concern: traffic deaths, the agency said, were up nearly 2 percent in the second half of 2010 as drivers logged more miles.

     

    [via The Detroit News]

     

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  • Court Rules for Toyota in Acceleration CaseToyota has won a case in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York. After deliberating for approximately 45 minutes, according to the automaker, a jury reached a defense verdict in favor of Toyota Motor Sales, in an alleged unintended acceleration case, brought by Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla, who claimed an unsecured driver’s side floor mat was the primary cause of the crash of his Scion vehicle in August 2005.

    During the course of the week-long trial, Dr. Sitafalwalla’s primary expert, Dr. Anthony Storace, withdrew his assertion that the Electronic Throttle Control System in the Scion could also have been a cause of the accident based on his acknowledgment that he had no basis to support that claim.

    Toyota released the following statement in response to the favorable verdict:

     

    “Toyota is pleased that the jury found no merit to this unintended acceleration claim, refused to accept testimony about possible pedal entrapment by the Scion’s floor mat, and rejected arguments that Toyota was liable for the absence of a brake override system in the vehicle. Importantly, plaintiff’s expert could identify no electronic defect in the vehicle’s Electronic Throttle Control System (ETCS) and offered no scientific proof of any electrical or mechanical malfunction in the throttle control or braking systems of Dr. Sitafalwalla's vehicle.  

     

    “Toyota's ETCS has been extensively tested, most recently in an exhaustive 10-month study by NHTSA and NASA, and has multiple fail-safe systems to shut off or reduce engine power in the unlikely event of system failure. We believe that this case sets an important benchmark for unintended acceleration litigation against Toyota across this country, as it clearly demonstrates a plaintiff’s inability to identify, let alone prove the existence of, an alleged electronic defect in Toyota vehicles that could cause unintended acceleration.”

     

    [via Automotive Fleet]

     

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  • Nissan Experiencing Production Delays in JapanNissan is aiming to resume normal operations at all of its Japan-based plants save for the Iwaki engine plant by mid-April. The company has been producing vehicles using its remaining supplies but said its operational levels will be limited depending on parts delivery status from suppliers.

    The company said it is suspending operations for five of its plants between April 4 and April 8. In addition, another plant that produces parts for overseas manufacturing and repair is shut down until April 4, after which the company plans to resume production.

    Nissan stated that since the earthquake, it estimates the production impact at 55,000 units when compared with its original production targets.

     

    [via Automotive Fleet]

     

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  • President Obama Announces Clean Fleet InitiativePresident Obama announced the National Clean Fleets Partnership this Friday, to cut gasoline consumption by fleet vehicles nationwide.

    UPS, AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo and Verizon, five of the nation’s largest fleets, will purchase more than 20,000 alternative vehicles as a part of the program, which aims to cut the nation’s dependence on foreign fuels.

    "As owners of some of our nation's largest private fleets, these companies are leading the way when it comes to building clean fleets, and we need to make sure all our businesses are following their example," Obama said during his unveiling of the program.

    President Obama plans to reduce U.S. oil imports by one-third by 2025.

     

    The Department of Energy will assist in supplying the alternative-fuel vehicles for fleets participating in this new initiative. Participating companies also will be able to make group purchases of vehicles, allowing smaller companies to join larger ones to purchase vehicles in bulk.

    [via CNN]

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  • Used Fleet Vehicles Becoming ScarceFleets seeking late-model, low-mileage used trucks as a way to inexpensively replace older vehicles in their operations are going to have a tough time doing it as supply continues to tighten...

    Bob Glenn, director of remarketing for Penske, told Fleet Owner that a year and one-half ago, the company’s used-truck inventory included just over 10,000 units listed for sale. By the fourth quarter of last year, however, that inventory had fallen to 2,800 units and remains at low levels. Altogether, Penske sold approximately 23,000 used trucks in 2010.

    “Pent-up demand started in the first quarter last year and hasn’t stopped,” Glenn said, with tandem and single axle Class 8 day cab tractors displaying the most strength, though all models of used trucks in Penske’s inventory are selling well.

    Glenn added that fleets of all sizes – from large national and regional carriers on down to small operators – are in the market, looking primarily for trucks with under 400,000 miles.

    Steve Clough, president of national used truck dealership chain Arrow Truck Sales, noted at FTR Associates 2010 Transportation Conference that the used-truck shortage now occurring is due to the record low production rates of new trucks experienced during the past few years.

    Glenn noted that while some fleets are still looking to make 10 and 12 vehicle used truck “buys,” getting a group of such trucks together with similar specifications and with the right mileage is tougher and tougher to do. “It’s a struggle to find those kinds of vehicles in inventory now,” he added.

     

    [via FleetOwner]

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