By Andy Balaskovitz and Kari Lydersen

Advocates pushing to expand electric vehicle adoption across the Midwest are “a little disappointed” in the selection of U.S. cities to receive funding for EV infrastructure under last year’s Volkswagen settlement.

Chicago was among 11 major U.S. metropolitan areas — and the only one in the Midwest — selected to receive money under a federal consent decree as a result of Volkswagen’s cheating on emissions tests and deceiving consumers about its diesel engines. The plan will be overseen by Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary established to oversee the $1.2 billion that will be spent over the next 10 years on zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and education.

While they applauded Chicago’s selection, clean energy groups are underscoring the importance of the Midwest in a national transition to electric vehicles, and the importance of collaboration between utilities and other investors in this transition.

The $1.2 billion will be spent in $300 million increments over four 30-month cycles, and it’s possible more Midwest cities will receive attention in the coming years.

Major highway corridors in the region — including interstates 80, 75, 94 and 90 — were also selected to receive EV charging stations under the first funding cycle, though details about where those will be located are not yet available.

“We made the case that a number of cities in the Midwest — the Detroit area, Columbus (Ohio), Minneapolis/St. Paul and arguably some others — have been doing significant work around promoting electric vehicles and would have been other good places for Volkswagen to invest,” said Charles Griffith of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Ecology Center.

A new front

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago, described electric vehicles and transportation more generally as the most important new front in the battle against climate change, since so many coal plants including two in Chicago have shut down in recent years.

“Because of the transition of the electricity sector with coal plants shutting down and more wind power, solar power and energy efficiency coming into the market as well as lower-priced natural gas, transportation is now the largest sector in terms of carbon pollution in the U.S.,” Learner said.

“It’s time for those of us who are interested in accelerating carbon pollution reduction to focus more attention and get more serious about the opportunities for progress in the transportation sector,” he added. “The advent of hybrid vehicles and electric cars is potentially as transformative to the transportation sector as wireless technologies have been to telecommunications and as solar and wind plus storage have been to the electricity sector.”

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By Robert Duffer

April 14, 2017

A surge in electric vehicle charging is coming to Chicago thanks to the record settlement in the Volkswagen diesel emissions cheating scandal.

Chicago ranks third (behind New York City and Washington, D.C.) in an 11-city pool that will split $1.2 billion of VW money over the next 10 years. The funds will be used to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure and educate the public on the benefits of electric vehicles.

“The VW investment award to Chicago is terrific news for a city that has taken many steps towards clean transportation,” Robert Kelter, senior attorney at the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, said in a statement. “The VW funds will accelerate the shift away from traditional gasoline vehicles to a new generation of electric vehicles that will mean lower costs, cleaner air and less dependence on foreign oil — a real step towards keeping Chicago at the forefront of great American cities.”

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By Sarah Jindra
April 14, 2017

The Chicago area is set to benefit from a costly Volkswagen mess-up. The city is going to see new charging stations for electric vehicles along as part of a legal settlement.

Last year, the courts ordered Volkswagen to invest 2 billion dollars in zero emissions vehicle infrastructure and education over the next 10 years after it was caught cheating emissions tests. Today it announced its plan to build more than 300 charging stations in 11 cities across the country including Chicago.

It will also fund 240 charging stations along highways across the country and work to educate the public about zero emissions vehicles. The average charging station will be able to charge five vehicles at once. Volkswagen hopes to have more than 450 stations operational by mid-2019.

It is not yet known where exactly in the city the charging stations will be located. They hope to have that determined later this year. ​

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High prices are a big reason for low electric vehicle sales volumes, which finally reached 1% of the U.S. market for the first time in June 2016. That hasn’t been the case on the used auto market, where plug-in vehicles have dominated this year. However, there are numerous other factors at work in the slow adoption of first-generation EVs.

According to a study released in May 2016, confusion reigns among consumers with regards to the segment. Most don’t know the basics about electric car range, hybrid or not, and a shockingly small percentage of those surveyed knew about available incentives. In other words, many consumers aren’t aware a car listed at $30,000 costs $22,500 or less after credits and may come with single-occupancy HOV lane access.

That sounds like more of a deal, and some of these cars are great buys. Here are the five cheapest electric vehicles on the market in 2016.

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Mired in a self imposed malaise composed of equal parts diesel exhaust and corporate malfeasance, Volkswagen is trying desperately to reposition itself as an electric car company and put the stink of its emissions cheating scandal behind it. During an interview near the company’s factory in Chattanooga, Tennessee recently, Hinrich Woebcken, the newest and latest head of Volkswagen’s US operations, confirmed the German auto maker plans to build electric vehicles in North America by 2020. “We believe that this country, especially in urban mobility, will have a very strong shift from petrol engines into hybridization and electric cars,” Mr. Woebcken said. “We are heavily investing in this one—including production in this North American region.”

Woebcken was short on details. He did not specify which models the company would build or where they would be built. In addition to the factory in Tennessee, Volkswagen also has a large production facility in Mexico. It would be good politics to build electric cars in the US to help mollify regulators who are threatening the company with billions in fines. The company has already agreed to pay nearly $15 billion to resolve legal claims brought by federal and state authorities.

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The White House on Thursday announced an array of new initiatives aimed at clinching one key goal in a transition away from burning fossil fuels — switching the nation’s millions of drivers from gas guzzlers to electric vehicles.

The key to this transition? Installing a widespread national network of electric vehicle charging stations that will allow potential drivers to get around a key psychological problem: “range anxiety.” At present, many people are justifiably afraid that they’ll run out of charge on their EV far from a station where they can repower its battery. We know it’s easy in most places to find a gas station, but we don’t know as much about charging stations. And without that assurance, EV sales will continue to be held back.

To change this, the White House announced a new designation of up to $4.5 billion in Energy Department loan guarantees to support new types of EV charging infrastructure, plans to designate and develop key electric vehicle “charging corridors” across the country, plans for the government itself to procure large numbers of electric vehicles and research initiatives at the Department of Energy and its laboratories to improve EV charging technologies.

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One of the more disheartening electric vehicle stories of the year was BMW pulling back on its plans to be an EV leader, rather than announcing a knockout, Tesla-Model-3-competing BMW i5 or other fully electric car. It was a bit of a shock since BMW made some exciting, gung-ho presentations about electric vehicles in the past few years as it rolled out its first i-brand cars, and it has been a leading seller of plug-in electrics. In fact, plug-in electric cars accounted for 15% of BMW’s passenger cars in North America last I checked.

So, where did BMW go wrong? Why is it shifting away from its plug-in leadership goals?

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Samsung Electronics is on the verge of making a substantial investment in BYD, a Chinese manufacturer of electric cars and batteries.

The Samsung investment comes as its chief rivals are investing in car tech and the market for car battery technology continues to grow.

The investment was first reported by the Korea Economic Daily, which said Samsung will pay 3 billion yuan ($450 million) for a 4 percent share of BYD. BYD later confirmed the two are in talks but did not confirm the investment size.

“Going forward, the parties will jointly seize opportunities in the rapid development of the global electric vehicles industry and promote sustainable development of the parties’ electric vehicles related businesses,” BYD said in a regulatory filing.

BYD is a well-known name in China and sold more than 60,000 electric cars last year. It’s hoping to double that this year.

Samsung is far from the only tech company looking to gain a foothold in the automobile market.

Apple recently spent $1 billion to buy a stake in Chinese ride-hailing service Didi and is widely rumored to be developing its own car.

Nearby in Silicon Valley, Google is developing self-driving car technology and its prototype vehicles are a common sight on the streets around its Mountain View headquarters.

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All driverless cars should be electric, greens tell DOT
By Ariel Wittenberg

Published: Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Environmentalists are urging the Obama administration to use self-driving cars as vehicles for greening U.S. transportation.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Environmental Law & Policy Center and Southern Environmental Law Center asked the Department of Transportation and U.S. EPA to “evaluate ways for autonomous vehicle fleets to accelerate the transition to zero emissions, electric-drive vehicles and allow for further integration of renewable electricity.”

“While some autonomous vehicle pilot projects involve electric-drive vehicles, automakers will also deploy technologies to vehicles that rely on fossil fuels,” the groups wrote. “Exploring zero emission options for autonomous vehicles will help ensure that the technology reduces pollution.”

The push for electrification of autonomous vehicles comes in a letter expressing concern that DOT has focused on the safety implications of driverless cars to the exclusion of considering other aspects of the technology.

Under Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, DOT has been bullish about getting out in front of emerging autonomous-vehicle technology and has begun taking steps to determine how best to regulate it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released an assessment in March of how current standards would consider autonomous vehicles, a move many consider a first step toward rulemaking (E&ENews PM, March 11).

While the environmental groups said they agree safety should be the top priority in regulating autonomous vehicles, they argue that DOT should not have tunnel vision when it comes to the technology.

By leaving regulations to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the groups write, DOT “may be missing some of the bigger policy concerns that must be taken into account before any deployment of these technologies.”

The letter asks DOT to work with EPA and the National Economic Council to “carefully consider the potential greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts — both benefits and detriments — that result from accelerating autonomous vehicles.”

Environmentalists have applauded companies like Google that are using electric cars in their pilot programs (Greenwire, Feb. 16).

The group’s letter describes the possibility that shared autonomous vehicles could help ease congestion, but it also warns that autonomous vehicles could have the opposite effect, attracting passengers to take longer trips more frequently, crowding roadways and increasing urban sprawl.

“Many potential impacts of autonomous vehicles are unclear, including impacts on vehicle miles traveled, vehicle emissions, public transit, and land use, which in turn can have significant positive or negative impacts upon our environment,” the groups wrote. “We urge USDOT to carefully consider the wide variety of potential impacts that can arise from this valuable new technology.”

The letter also asks DOT and EPA to study how different rates of autonomous vehicle deployment could affect traffic congestion and how using autonomous vehicles for freight delivery could help limit emissions nationwide.

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As more electrical components enter vehicles with hybrid and EV drivetrains, it’s hard to tell where the parts are coming from in your car. Are the battery cells manufactured in a U.S. plant or have they been imported from a foreign factory? When you see a badge from a Detroit automaker on a vehicle nowadays, you can’t take the origin of any components for granted.

Fortunately, we have the work of Frank DuBois, professor at American University’s Kogod School of Business, to help break down what elements of today’s vehicles come from where. DuBois and his team publish the Made in America Auto Index every year to let consumers know which cars can justify the label of “American-made.”

Each car gets a score based on the following categories: engine and transmission production (21%); body, interior, chassis, and electrical (50%); R&D (6%); profit margin, based on site of corporate headquarters (6%); labor (6%); and site of inventory and capital expenses (11%). Kogod then ranks all automobiles on the market based on their U.S.-sourced content.

Here are the five most American-made electric vehicles of 2016.

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