The Biden Administration is out with its big plan to reduce transportation emissions in the next decade and almost entirely eliminate them by 2050. There’s a lot of talk of prioritizing electric vehicles and sustainable aviation fuels. What’s missing? Hydrogen for light passenger vehicles.
That’s the focus of this morning’s dump, but we’ve also got more on the Tesla ‘Autopilot’ probe, and updated car sales numbers from luxury German automakers.
What Happened To The Hydrogen Cars?
It’s dangerous to base your theories on graphics on government reports, especially if the reports are of the wishful thinking variety. The report, which you can read here, is called “THE U.S. NATIONAL BLUEPRINT FOR TRANSPORTATION DECARBONIZATION: A Joint Strategy to Transform Transportation.”
I’m going to quote from the first paragraph of the executive summary, because it explains succinctly what’s going on:
The transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, responsible for one-third of all emissions. To address the growing climate crisis, and to meet the goal of net-zero GHG emissions economy-wide by 2050, it is critical to decarbonize transportation by eliminating nearly all GHG emissions from the sector.”
Maybe the “wishful thinking” part was a little harsh. The last administration’s wishful thinking about climate change was that it didn’t exist, so already this is a vast improvement.
This report covers everything from rail, to plans for off-road vehicles and long-haul heavy trucks (which account for 7% of emissions on their own). There’s a graphic, though, that really knocked me on my seat-filler this morning. It’s called Figure B and it shows up a couple of times:
It’s a touch weird the way they do this, but each little symbol indicates how likely something is to happen, from limited long-term opportunity to greatest long-term opportunity. For light passenger vehicles, the biggest opportunity is a move to battery electric powertrains. For aviation, sustainable liquid fuels is seen as the best bet.
There’s not even a “limited” ranking for hydrogen light duty vehicles! They didn’t even bother to toss in one “well, maybe” graphic for cars. It’s there for long-haul heavy trucks and even aviation. Cars, though? Nada.
Most of the focus of the report with relation to light passenger vehicles (the cars most of us drive) is on battery electric vehicles. Hydrogen is mostly reserved for freight and other uses:
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles can complement battery EVs for applications requiring longer ranges and faster refueling times, like long-haul trucking.
Many automakers (and whole countries) are focused on producing hydrogen vehicles, but I don’t personally find these offerings that persuasive. On the other hand, hydrogen-fueled trucks like the Quantron FCEV 60-2000, which has a reported 900-mile range, make a lot of sense to me.
In addition to discussions of alternative fuel sources, the government’s plan leads with transportation system design and land use:
Homes, workplaces, and services are often located far apart from one another. When people have limited transportation choices, or less accessible and efficient options, it can take them even more time to address their daily needs. The spatial mismatch between jobs, housing, and services is especially pronounced in disadvantaged communities.
I know there’s no one single strategy that’ll bring us to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, but as a closet NUMTOT, I think it’s foolish to ignore the humongous role that land use and transit system plays in our lives. The little tidbit I always like to share in these situations is that Los Angeles is twice as dense as Houston, which means that something as simple as collection trash requires twice as much energy in Houston as it does in LA (not exactly a new urbanist paradise).
All of this matters. For what it’s worth, I agree with the government’s subtle appraisal of hydrogen passenger vehicles.
Tesla Autopilot Probe Moving ‘Pretty Fast’
The big man, David Shepardson of Reuters, is here today with an update on the probe of Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ system that is, in reality, anything but. The headline of the story is:‘Extensive’ Tesla Autopilot probe proceeding ‘really fast’, U.S. official says. Here’s the money quote:
“We’re investing a lot of resources,” said NHTSA acting head Ann Carlson in comments to reporters on the sidelines of an event in Washington. She declined to commit to a particular timeframe on when the probe will be resolved. “The resources require a lot of technical expertise, actually some legal novelty and so we’re moving as quickly as we can, but we also want to be careful and make sure we have all the information we need.”
Tesla, as is the company’s standard practice, didn’t comment. This could be a big deal for the automaker if it gets slapped with a huge fine or, like in California, the company is banned from using the term “full-self driving.”
The German Luxury Brands Had A Good Q4, A Meh Year
Taken overall, the Germans had a decent time in a terrible year when it comes to car sales.
At the top is BMW which, like GM, had an increase in sales in the fourth quarter to end the year that propelled the company to 332,388 new vehicle sales overall in 2022. That’s a 1.3% drop, year-over-year, which ain’t bad when compared to the double-digit decreases for most Japanese automakers.
Mercedes actually managed to increase sales, likely due to supply chain issues easing in the fourth quarter, with a year-over-year increase of 4% to about 276,100, which puts still puts them behind BMW. Audi was at the bottom, with 196,038 vehicles sold in 2022, a y-o-y decrease of 5%, though the fourth quarter saw a huge jump of 63%.
Here are the links to the full sales reports if you’re interested:
Volvo Is Going To Try Subscriptions
People do not love buying a car and then having to pay a subscription to actually use its features. Too bad, Volvo announced at CES that it was working with supplier Qualcomm to make that the future, specifically calling out the new Volvo EX90.
From an Automotive News article about the Volvo-Qualcomm tie-up:
What would you pay a subscription for in a new car? Do you pay for one already?
Even CarMax’s CEO Thinks Used Car Prices Are Too High
The Auto Industry Thinks The Future Of Cars Is Everything But Driving
The Mazda CX-30 Plug-In Rotary Hybrid Is Coming And The Logo Is Amazing
Mercedes To Challenge Tesla’s Supercharger Network
Here’s What You Need To Know About Tom Zhu, Tesla’s New ‘Number 2’
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Photos: Toyota, U.S. DOT, Volvo, Tesla
I think sustainable liquid fuels are going to start to take off pretty big soon once governments start to realize the real costs of an all electric car future. Not just the cost of the cars, that’s going to come down eventually, but the costs associated with upgrading/maintaining the electrical grid and installing charging stations to support these cars.
Sure there will be rebates and subsidies but there won’t be enough to go around and do you really believe that the crappy apartment complexes or lousy landlords millions of people have to deal with are going to actually spend any amount of money to install charging stations for their residents. Or the lousy strip mall that your local grocery store is in. I know my landlord wouldn’t even consider installing a charger in the garage unless the government 100% paid for it all and he didn’t have to spend a dime and I’m sure many other landlords and property owners are the same.
Electric cars have a lot of advantages and are a good choice for a lot of people but I don’t think it’s wise to base seemingly 100% of our private transportation future on them.
The hydrogen fuel supply grid is nonexistent, whereas electricity is available at every location you listed.
The bmw hydrogen 7 came out in like 2001, and Toyota and Honda followed suit.
More than 20 years later, no hydrogen supply grid.
Meanwhile, there is steady investment in the charging grid, as it is a profitable endeavor.
*I think sustainable liquid fuels are going to start to take off pretty big soon once governments start to realize the real costs of an all electric car future.*
I wish them luck but so far it’s just “Been there, done that, got little out of it”:
As such in the US “biofuel”-> corn ethanol (and maybe some landfill/sewage methane)
One of my friends/neighbors is heading up the Daimler electric truck project. They said hydrogen couldn’t work out financially.
In regards to subscription services; does Sirius/XM count?