About the Author

Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others. https://twitter.com/bradberman

March 27

A worker prepares a cleanroom to produce surgical masks at GM’s Warren, Michigan manufacturing facility.
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President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon said he signed a presidential memorandum directing the government to use “any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act” to require General Motors to make ventilators for hospitals to help patients with COVID-19.

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The season finale of the 2019-2020 all-electric Formula E Championship is scheduled to take place at a unique indoor/outdoor 2.4-kilometer circuit in London. But with several of this year’s venues postponed for at least two months ­— and the future of others uncertain — London’s ExCel center will instead be converted into a makeshift hospital to treat coronavirus patients.

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Electric vehicles were on a roll in Europe through February, before the coronavirus reached higher impacts on sales and production. JATO Dynamics, an auto market firm, reported this week that BEVs were up 92% to 38,700 units year-on-year, and plug-in hybrids were up 153% to 28,700.

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Rumors continue to swirl about Volkswagen facing major software problems with its ID.3 electric car. Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper yesterday cited internal sources declaring the situation as an “absolute disaster.” But Volkswagen tells us that the launch schedule for Europe is “fixed” for this summer. And the first units rolling off the production line will be “handed over to Volkswagen plant staff for far-reaching quality assurance.”

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March 26

In the past two years, more than 8 million households in Japan have experienced power outages due to natural disasters. In response, Nissan developed a system that uses vehicle-to-grid technology that allows customers to use the Leaf’s battery pack to power buildings.

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The new Wuling/GM electric car
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Wuling Motors, a joint venture with General Motors and SAIC Motor, revealed photos this week of its first all-electric vehicle. The company said that it’s inspired by Japanese Kei cars, among the world’s smallest highway-capable vehicles. It could give us a glimpse of the type of cars that GM will help fulfill the country’s promise of selling a million EVs a year by the middle of the 2020s.

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Asia still dominates for EV battery production, with North America holding a solid second place. But Europe is on the rise, where EV sales are growing the fastest. That’s evident from a flurry of news about new and expanded battery plants from Audi, BASF, Tesla, Microvast, and Volvo.

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When automakers tout big plans for electric vehicles, the key question is: How many will you produce and when? Specific numbers are seldom provided. But Reuters reports today that the total combined output in North America from General Motors and Ford in 2026 will be 320,000 electric vehicles. That’s based on internal planning information provided to suppliers by the automakers and obtained by AutoForecast, a sales planning analysis firm.

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March 25

Carlos Tavares, chief executive of Groupe PSA (formerly PSA Peugeot Citroën), was already ambivalent about EVs. A few weeks ago, he said, “We are selling our electric vehicles to green addicts.” Fiat Chrysler has also been reluctant to invest in electric vehicles. But the planned merger between the two would have allowed them to share EV-development costs ­— and finally deliver electric cars on a large global scale.

But it now appears that negotiations to finalize the merger are being threatened by the coronavirus.

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Transport for London (TFL) this week suspended charges for its Ultra Low Emission Zone. London Mayor Sadiq Khan asked TFL to make these changes to allow key workers, including the National Health Service staff and those delivering medicine and groceries, to get around “as easily as possible.”

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When you first glance at the Canoo EV, sexy is not the word that comes to mind. Richard Kim, the vehicle’s designer, describes it as minimalistic and zen. Detractors grant it all the excitement of a 1990s minivan — maybe an Oldsmobile Silhouette or Toyota Previa — except the Canoo doesn’t know which end is forward.

On the other hand, influential ultra-cool Los Angeles-based musician Lido knows a thing or two about cool. He featured the Canoo EV in the video of his new single, which was released today.

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Gas stations in Kentucky and Oklahoma became the first cities this week to see pump prices fall below $1 a gallon. Forecasters predict that many regions of the country, starting with the Great Lakes region, will also hit 99 cents a gallon or lower. The drop, due to the coronavirus, brings the price of fuel for combustion cars closer to what EV drivers pay.

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March 24

There is a ripple effect from Ford establishing its EV headquarters in Detroit’s Corktown, and GM dedicating its Detroit-Hamtramck plant for electric vehicles. America’s troubled automotive capital is taking on new importance as a center for EV engineering. That’s paying off in unexpected ways.

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Sales of electric vehicles in China were already in a slump after the government cut subsidies last year. The coronavirus is now resulting in a free fall for the overall vehicle market, including EVs. The drop in electric car sales is prompting Beijing to consider bringing back incentives, starting with local sources.

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In the wake of the coronavirus, overall auto sales in the US could drop to low levels not seen since the 2008 financial crisis. In hard-hit markets, like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the demand for cars already fell by as much as 22%. However, new EV-sales strategies are emerging to help revive the pre-virus momentum for electric vehicles.

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Inrix, the location-data company, reports that the volume of traffic in the US is down 30% in March. Late last week, it fell by 50% in San Francisco, the first region to shelter in place. Across California, and in New York and Michigan, traffic had the largest statewide drops at about 37%. As a result, vehicle emissions also fell. Sadly, this is likely to provide only short-term relief in auto-related emissions.

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March 23

Polestar, Volvo’s electric-car division, said on Monday that production of the Polestar 2 would begin this week, despite the coronavirus. The company reported that its health policies — such as taking the temperature of workers and the persistent use of masks — resulted in its China-based teams reporting zero cases of COVID-19.

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The US patent office last week published a new EV-related application submitted by Ford in September 2018. The application is so broad as to be almost generic. But it reveals a higher level of portability, flexibility, and modular daisy-chain charging so that multiple EVs and chargers with different technologies can create an effective system.

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Last June, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) said it would launch an electric XJ sedan using a new platform that could be used for other vehicles. According to a report today from UK’s Autocar, the company’s historic plant in Castle Bromwich will also produce two new electric crossovers – the Jaguar J-Pace and a Land Rover model dubbed “Road Rover.”

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The EV industry was already finding ways to reduce its dependence on cobalt before the coronavirus hit. Now the supply of the expensive metal is being disrupted as Congo imposes a two-day lockdown in Haut-Katanga, where two people tested positive for the coronavirus.

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