Legislation and Policy auto news

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No steering wheels, pedals or horns in cars by 2035, survey says

07/17/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Emerging Technologies, Transportation Alternatives, Legislation and Policy

Google self-driving car

At what point does a car cease to be a car and start becoming a people-mover? One survey hints that we're less than two decades away from that eventuality. Whether auto enthusiasts think that's a good thing is another matter altogether.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE, polled about 200 people within academia, research and government agencies about the concept of self-driving vehicles and future automotive design, and got a sense of what people thought would become superfluous during the upcoming decades. Taken into consideration was rapid advancements in things like sensor technology, software, driver-assistance programs and GPS.

And with those advancements, the respondents said items like rear-view mirrors, horns and emergency brakes would be gone by 2030. And five years later, steering wheels, brakes and accelerator pedals would no longer be necessary, either. And by that time, at least three-quarters of US states will have laws on the books allowing for driverless vehicles. Nothing was mentioned about floor mats, of course.

The subject of autonomous driving continues to pick up relevance. In late May, Google unveiled its first self-driving car, which is sans steering wheel, brake pedal, gas pedal or gear shift and has a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Punch in an address and off it goes, theoretically. Stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out IEEE's press release below.

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Madrid's new parking meters cost more if you drive a gas guzzler

07/03/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Emerging Technologies, Etc., Legislation and Policy, Europe/EU

Madrid's Carabanchel Residents Celebrate The End Of Parking Meters

The parking situation in Madrid, Spain went through two big changes this week. In some areas, the meters have been updated to know what kind of vehicle is parked there and charge dirty vehicles more money while giving discounts to cleaner ones. In another area, all parking meters have been removed. We'll call it mixed messaging.

"Vehicles with lower emissions will be subsidized, and the most polluting will be punished." - Mayor of Madrid

In an effort to clean up Madrid's air, upgraded smart meters now require drivers to input their license plate number to validate the spot. The networked meters look up the vehicle information in a national database and then can charge more (up to 20 percent) for older vehicles and diesel models. It can also give discounts (again, up to 20 percent) for hybrids and other clean rides. Bloomberg reports that Mayor Ana Botella was pretty straightforward in a press release: "Vehicles with lower emissions will be subsidized, and the most polluting will be punished."

In another part of town, the suburb of Carabanchel, an eight-year battle against parking meters ended this week when the city simply removed the meters there. The suburb is around 5.6 miles from central Madrid and residents has been fighting the meters since 2006. On June 30, Mayor Botella simply got rid of them, which let to street celebrations (pictured).

But back to the connected meters. The first of the now 4,000 units were installed in 2006, but the database look-up feature wasn't turned before now. The meters can also raise prices when things get too congested. We can only imagine how popular a service like Monkey Parking would be when that happens.

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What's this, a bipartisan proposal to increase the US gas tax?

06/25/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Summer Gasoline Prices

It would be the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993.

One Democrat and one Republican senator are reaching across the aisle to try to solve an upcoming funding shortfall for US road improvements. Of course, it involves raising taxes, so this first step might also be the last in the journey. Early reviews are naturally mixed.

The issue is the federal road-improvement fund that's slated to go insolvent this summer. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) want to address this by proposing the first federal hike in gas taxes since 1993, Reuters reports. Specifically, the proposal is to increase per-gallon taxes on both gasoline and diesel fuel by six cents for two consecutive years. That'd bring federal gas taxes to 30.4 cents a gallon and diesel to 36.4 cents per gallon. After that, the gas tax would be tied to inflation.

Given that mid-term elections are taking place in November, there may not be much of a chance of such taxes being endorsed. Still, sources for the US Highway Trust fund have become progressively more of an issue because fleetwide fuel economy is at an all-time high. With nationwide driving plateauing, it's getting increasingly difficult for the feds to collect their pennies per gallon.

This spring, the Obama Administration sent a bill to Congress that would free up about $87 billion during the next four years for highway repairs. Late last year, a Democratic representative from Oregon, Earl Blumenauer, proposed a 15-cent gas tax increase. There is broad support outside of political circles for an increase, but his proposal went nowhere.

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Tesla's gains on the dealership status quo is freaking people out

06/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Green Culture, Tesla Motors, Legislation and Policy

Christie Appointees Ban N.J. Direct Sales for Musk's Tesla Cars

Tesla took two more steps towards being allowed to sell its vehicles as it chooses (that is, direct to customers) this week. Legislative efforts in New Jersey and New York both gave the California automaker legal permission (or near permission) to operate its stores. It's gotten so bad - or good, depending on your views, that other automakers are starting to speak up.

Yesterday, Tesla got official permission to keeps it five stores open in New York thanks to the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo on a pro-Tesla bill that passed earlier this year. This is not a surprise. The bill also makes it difficult for any other automaker to operate its own stores in the state.

Other automakers are now saying that the dealers have too much power.

In nearby New Jersey, the state Assembly voted yesterday to allow EVs to be sold directly to the consumer. This vote follow an Assembly committee's vote earlier this month and the bill now moves to the New Jersey Senate and, if it passes, would need to be signed by Governor Chris Christie before becoming law. You may remember there's a bit of bad blood there. This is all quite a turnaround from mid-March, when the state legislature voted against direct sales. If passed, Tesla would be allowed to operate four stores in the state.

As you can see, progress is being made. And that's changing the battlefield. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) released a new package of pro-dealership information called "Get the Facts: The Benefits of Franchised Auto Dealers" to take the other side. NADA says that the "current franchised new-car dealer model has benefited consumers, manufacturers and local communities for nearly a century" and then lays out its reasons why. You can watch the NADA's short Get The Facts video below.

Perhaps most interestingly, other automakers - through the Auto Alliance - are now saying out loud that the dealers have too much power. In a statement to Automotive News, the Alliance said, " When we look at the big picture, we may be at a tipping point. If dealer groups continue their push for more onerous franchise laws, we will be forced to keep an open mind about how best to serve new-car buyers in the future." That was enough to scare the chairman of the Automotive Trade Association Executives, who told AN that, the Alliance coming out against the franchise system was a "recipe for disaster."

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Tesla gaining on dealership status quo is freaking people out

06/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Green Culture, Tesla Motors, Legislation and Policy

Christie Appointees Ban N.J. Direct Sales for Musk's Tesla Cars

Tesla took two more steps towards being allowed to sell its vehicles as it chooses (that is, direct to customers) this week. Legislative efforts in New Jersey and New York both gave the California automaker legal permission (or near permission) to operate its stores. It's gotten so bad - or good, depending on your views, that other automakers are starting to speak up.

Yesterday, Tesla got official permission to keeps it five stores open in New York thanks to the signature of Governor Andrew Cuomo on a pro-Tesla bill that passed earlier this year. This is not a surprise. The bill also makes it difficult for any other automaker to operate its own stores in the state.

Other automakers are now saying that the dealers have too much power.

In nearby New Jersey, the state Assembly voted yesterday to allow EVs to be sold directly to the consumer. This vote follow an Assembly committee's vote earlier this month and the bill now moves to the New Jersey Senate and, if it passes, would need to be signed by Governor Chris Christie before becoming law. You may remember there's a bit of bad blood there. This is all quite a turnaround from mid-March, when the state legislature voted against direct sales. If passed, Tesla would be allowed to operate four stores in the state.

As you can see, progress is being made. And that's changing the battlefield. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) released a new package of pro-dealership information called "Get the Facts: The Benefits of Franchised Auto Dealers" to take the other side. NADA says that the "current franchised new-car dealer model has benefited consumers, manufacturers and local communities for nearly a century" and then lays out its reasons why. You can watch the NADA's short Get The Facts video below.

Perhaps most interestingly, other automakers - through the Auto Alliance - are now saying out loud that the dealers have too much power. In a statement to Automotive News, the Alliance said, " When we look at the big picture, we may be at a tipping point. If dealer groups continue their push for more onerous franchise laws, we will be forced to keep an open mind about how best to serve new-car buyers in the future." That was enough to scare the chairman of the Automotive Trade Association Executives, who told AN that, the Alliance coming out against the franchise system was a "recipe for disaster."

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Ford made three big mistakes in calculating MPG for 2013 C-Max Hybrid

06/18/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Hybrid, MPG, Ford, Legislation and Policy

ford c-max hybrid 47 mpg

It's been a rough time for the official fuel economy figures for the Ford C-Max Hybrid. When the car was released in 2012, Ford made a huge deal about how it would beat the Toyota Prius V, which was rated at 42 combined miles per gallon, 44 city and 40 highway. The Ford? 47 mpg across the board.

How did Ford come to this place, where its Prius-beater turned into an also-ran?

Well, after hearing customer complaints and issuing a software update in mid-2013, then discovering a real problem with the numbers last fall and then making a big announcement last week that the fuel economy ratings of six different 2013 and 2014 model year vehicles would need to be lowered, the C-Max Hybrid has ended up at 40 combined, 42 city and 37 highway. In other words, the Prius trumps it, as daily drivers of those two vehicles have known for a long time. The changes will not only affect the window sticker, but also the effect that the C-Max Hybrid (and the five other Ford vehicles that had their fuel economy figures lowered last week) have on Ford's compliance with greenhouse gas and CAFE rules for model year 2013 and 2014.

How did Ford come to this place, where its Prius-beater turned into an also-ran? There are two technical answers to that question, which we've got below, as well as some context for how Ford's mistakes will play out in the bigger world of green vehicles.

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China about to unleash massive anti-clunker policy

05/29/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: Legislation and Policy, Asia, China

Some of the world's most notoriously smoggy cities are hoping for relief in a new plan taking aim at what's coming out of their tailpipes. In response to serious air pollution problems and an attempt to meet emissions standards, China plans to decommission more than 5 million aging vehicles by the end of 2014. 330,000 of the cars being retired will come from Beijing, which sees some 31 percent of its PM2.5 particulate matter coming from vehicle emissions. In all, 20 percent of the vehicles being scrapped will come from Beijing, Tianjin, and the surrounding Hebei province. China also plans to remove up to 5 million additional cars next year.

Exactly how China plans to remove the offending vehicles remains unclear.

China's State Council says that due to failing to keep up with pollution targets, the country now needs to work even harder to cut emissions over the next two years. The problem is quite serious, after all. A big part of this plan is removing the "yellow label" vehicles that don't meet China's fuel standards. Exactly how China plans to remove the offending vehicles remains unclear, but past projects suggest the possibility of offering cash subsidies to some drivers. Previously, Beijing has paid drivers who voluntarily gave up their older vehicles, but the incentives weren't given to owners of the yellow label cars. China has trouble enforcing emissions standards, and Li Kunsheng, an official at the Beijing municipal environmental bureau doesn't see fining drivers as a viable option for solving the pollution problem. It'll be interesting to see how China decides to implement this new plan to get rid of old clunkers. Similar, smaller scrapping plans have been tried before.

In addition to controlling the number of cars on the road and scrapping the worst polluters, China will focus on upgrading fuel quality, closing coal-powered heating systems, updating power stations, steel mills and cement plants, and reducing energy consumption in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions and alleviate its pollution problems.

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Why are all US-bound BMW i3 EVs with range extenders stuck at port?

05/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Hybrid, BMW, Legislation and Policy, USA

BMW i3 for delivery

The first BMW i3 EVs have been delivered in the US, but in a quirk of the rules, none of them have been the range-extended versions. Long-time BMW electric vehicle driver Tom Moloughney discovered this fact the hard way. His i3 REx has been sitting at a New Jersey port for over a week and he's getting impatient.

The problem is something Moloughney calls a "Monroney Hold."

So, instead of sitting there fuming, Moloughney did a bit of research and discovered that the problem is something he calls a "Monroney Hold." He says that "the EPA certification has not been completed so BMW doesn't have a Monroney label (window sticker) to post in the window before the car leaves the port, which is required by law. The range extender option changes (shortens) the car's electric range, and also requires an official MPG rating so BMW couldn't use the same Monroney label as they did for the all electric i3." You can read more on his website, but it turns out that the story isn't so simple.

For one thing, the EPA testing has been finished. Washington State representative Chad Magendaz told Moloughney that he asked the EPA for an official statement and got the following from Linc Wehrly, Director of the Light-Duty Vehicle Center Compliance Division: "EPA tested the i3 REx and provided the results of that testing to BMW on May 13th. EPA is not aware of anything that would prevent BMW from importing the vehicles since May 13th."

Then there's the official word from BMW. Spokesman Dave Buchko told AutoblogGreen that:

We are moving as quickly as possible to release the first BMW i3 Range-Extender models to BMW i Centers. Receipt of test data from the EPA is one step, but not the final step, in the process of receiving certification from the EPA. Rules do not permit the release of vehicles for sale until EPA labels are finalized, produced and affixed to any vehicle. Barring any unforeseen delays, we expect that to happen by the end of this week.

We have never certified a vehicle like this before. We are taking every precaution to make sure that everything is done in a timely, but more importantly correct manner. In that Monroney labels cannot be produced until the EPA certification process is complete, the characterization [of a "Monroney Hold"] is not technically incorrect, but there is more to it than that, as is often true in life.

On a lighter note, BMW donated a loaded i3 to Brad Pitt's Make It Right charity foundation as a fundraiser. Read about that below.

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FTC staff comes out in favor of Tesla, direct vehicle sales

05/20/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: EV/Plug-in, Tesla Motors, Legislation and Policy

Tesla Motors' showroom in Short Hills, New Jersey.

On the subject of Tesla Motors and its efforts to legally sell its electric vehicles directly to consumers without franchised dealerships, the FTC has taken aim at Missouri and New Jersey. The Commission hasn't made any nationwide decision on the subject quite yet, but in a May 16 statement it encouraged the two states to reconsider policies that would further prohibit automakers from selling directly to consumers. And the FTC didn't mince words, calling such laws an example of "protection that is likely harming both competition and consumers." This is much further than the FTC has ever gone before in support of direct vehicle sales.

FTC didn't mince words, saying such laws were "likely harming both competition and consumers."

The statement follows an April blog post from three FTC officials, who wrote that the anti-direct sales mandates were "protectionist" and "bad policy." Tesla has been doing battle with a number of states as well as lobbying efforts from the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), which represents 16,000 new car and truck dealerships representing about 32,000 domestic and international franchises. The NADA has been supporting dealers who oppose Tesla's direct sales for years.

In fact, Jonathan Collegio, vice president of public affairs for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), maintained that the states need to retain the right to regulate the automobile sales distribution channel.

"These arguments ignore the fact that fierce competition between local dealers drives down prices both within and across brands. When three Ford dealers compete for the same customer, the customer wins, period," Collegio wrote in an e-mail to AutoblogGreen. ""Finally, it's a major fallacy to compare buying cars with buying other goods, like books or computers. New cars are major purchases that require licensing, insurance, complex financing involving trade-ins, contain hazardous materials, and if operated incorrectly can cause serious bodily injury."

Tesla representatives didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from AutoblogGreen.

New Jersey and Missouri have both been in the news lately. Garden State politicos have created a bit of a grey area, first voting in mid-March to stop Tesla stores from selling cars starting April 1, then extending the deadline to April 15. Tesla appealed the ban with the state Superior Court last month, and the FTC says the " limited, selective set of exceptions" are "very likely anticompetitive and harmful to consumers." In Missouri, Tesla appears to be winning the on-the-ground fight, but if a proposed bill against direct sales there becomes law, it will "amplify the adverse effects of the current prohibition" and "discourage innovation," the FTC says. Read more below.

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EPA says automakers ahead of schedule for 54.5 MPG by 2025

04/27/2014   [Original: Autoblog]
Category: MPG, Legislation and Policy, USA

Worst Traffic

Remember, the target is 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Today, the CAFE level is a little over 30. How we get from here to there is something the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is monitoring closely. Thus, the EPA just released an annual flash report on how the auto industry is progressing towards meeting the nation's fuel economy goals.

Overall, the industry is doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require.

The good news is that the industry is a bit ahead of schedule. In the report (see page iii), the EPA breaks things down by automaker based only on MY12 numbers. Tesla is at the top of the list (which is ranked by over-compliance with 2012MY CO2 standards), but for our money, the real leader is Toyota. The Japanese automaker built the second-highest number of vehicles (2,020,248, after General Motors' 2,364,374) but racked up the most net 2012 over-compliance credits (13,163,009 metric tons). That's an average of over 6.5 metric tons per vehicle. The next closest is Honda, with just over five metric tons of credits per vehicle. Given the MPG fiasco with Hyundai and Kia, the EPA says, "we are excluding Hyundai and Kia data because of the ongoing investigation into their testing methods," but overall, the rest of the industry has credits worth 25,053,168 metric tons of CO2, which means it's doing almost 10 grams per mile (equivalent) better than the rules require. Go team.

For now, the numbers in this report (and there are a lot more of them - get the 59-page PDF for yourself here), can't really be used to understand everything from the first year of the new CAFE program. The EPA writes, "Because the program allows credits and deficits to be carried into future years, at the close of the 2012 model year no manufacturer is considered to be out of compliance with the program. ... Compliance with the 2012 model year standards can't be fully assessed until the end of the 2015 model year."

There are a more interesting tidbits in the report, such as the fact that Fisker produced 1,415 model year 2012 vehicles, Tesla made 2,952. Remember, too, that CAFE numbers don't equal the fuel economy you see in your daily drives. In the real world, the 54.5 CAFE level will be about 40 mpg, and the average fuel economy today is around 25 mpg, so we have a ways to go, no matter how you measure it.

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