This week we’re talking a lot about hydrogen. First, we saw the largest plane ever powered entirely by hydrogen. This is a big deal, because many are skeptical that the battery-electric technology increasingly powering cars will ever work for planes. But speaking of cars…why isn’t there more focus on hydrogen-powered vehicles? Some lawmakers in California want to change this, and are reminding us that there are other routes to zero-emission travel besides EVs. Meanwhile, in D.C. a coalition of fossil fuel companies are hoping to get a piece of a $100 billion federal program for hydrogen, to the great dismay of environmentalists.
What will the post-pandemic downtown look like? It’s up to city leaders, argues the Washington Post, to ensure that vacant office buildings become something useful, ideally housing. If more people are living downtown, perhaps there would be fewer retailers shuttering their stores in favor of smaller outposts in the suburbs. The one thing cities definitely don’t need to do is build more parking. Despite what everyone seems to believe, we’ve already got plenty of it.
Finally, we’ve got two very interesting pieces of original content over at CoMotion NEWS: an explainer on why the tech powering ChatGPT still can’t be trusted to drive a car and an in-depth look at exciting trends in maritime mobility, including the prospect of more people living at sea.
Largest hydrogen flight ever? Universal Hydrogen, a Los Angeles startup, conducts a 15-minute flight of a 40-seat plane powered by liquid hydrogen. It is the largest aircraft to “cruise principally on hydrogen,” according to CEO Paul Eremenko, who argues that hydrogen is the only feasible way to decarbonize air travel.
DisEmbark: Autonomous trucking company Embark Trucks appears to be on the ropes. The once-promising San Francisco-based startup, which went public via SPAC in 2021, laid off 230 employees on Friday and is considering a number of potential pivots, including liquidating its assets entirely. Like many other SPACs focused on EVs and AVs, Embark may be short on cash without a clear path to delivering its envisioned product.
Scout Motors to build South Carolina factory: Scout Motors, the Volkswagen-backed EV manufacturer specializing in rugged trucks and SUVs, plans to invest $2 billion in a plant in Blythewood, S.C., about 20 miles north of Columbia, the state capital. It plans to eventually produce 200,000 vehicles a year there.
Ford to resume Lightning production: A few weeks after halting production on its signature EV, the F-150 Lightning, due to an unspecified concern about the battery pack, Ford will kick off production on March 13.
Who killed the hydrogen car? A number of political leaders and advocates in California are pushing for the state to do more to support hydrogen-powered cars as part of the state’s goals to decarbonize transportation. Right now, hydrogen cars share a key challenge with EVs: it’s tough finding a place to fuel them.
Another round of layoffs at Waymo: Alphabet’s autonomous driving subsidiary lays off 200 more employees as part of an organizational restructuring. Combined with the layoffs announced in January, the company has now cut 8% of its workforce. Unlike some other AV companies that are cutting costs and workers, there is no indication yet that Waymo’s existence is at risk. Not only has it been making steady progress with its robo-taxis, but it has a very wealthy parent company that is willing to play the long game on AV. So far.
The fight over hydrogen tax credits: Environmental advocates worry the $100 billion of tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act for hydrogen power projects will not be used for the intended purpose of creating zero-emission energy. Major oil and gas firms are lobbying for eligibility; they want to produce hydrogen power with fossil fuels.
Honda isn’t giving up on hydrogen: It’s been nearly two years since the Japanese auto giant ditched the Clarity, its only hydrogen-powered car, but now it’s putting those hydrogen fuel cells to work on other projects – including a backup power system for its data center in Los Angeles.
A sea change in mobility: For CoMotion NEWS, Andrew Snowhite, Senior Advisor & Head of NewCities’ Greenfield Cities Alliance Initiative, delves into the mobility revolution taking place on the seas. Technological innovation is poised to radically change how we move on water and will likely result in more people living on water full-time.
Why ChatGPT can’t drive: In a column for CoMotion NEWS, Olaf Sakkers, Managing Partner at BlueRed Capital, the mobility-focused venture capital firm, explains why the wonder of ChatGPT should not fool people into thinking that fully autonomous cars are right around the corner.
The death of American car dependence has been greatly exaggerated: The share of teens with driver’s licenses has dropped dramatically in the past quarter-century, but David Zipper warns against interpreting that as evidence that fewer Americans will drive in the future. A closer look at the stats suggests many youngsters are not driving because they can’t afford it, not because they don’t want to. Unfortunately, notes Zipper, they will eventually be forced to dig deep (and go deep into debt) to drive unless American cities start taking bold steps to undo decades of auto-centric planning.
The good news & bad news about retailers leaving malls and city centers: In Bloomberg CityLab, Olivia Rockeman notes that retail chains are increasingly opting for smaller locations in residential areas rather than big stores in malls or central business districts. On one hand, this bodes poorly for the revitalization of downtowns. However, it would be great to see more walkable commerce in more neighborhoods. One of the reasons that America has become so car-dependent is that commerce has been largely segregated from residential areas.
America has all the parking it needs: Writing in Strong Towns, Edward Erfurt describes the wrong-headed efforts taken by cities to provide more parking, either by mandating that businesses provide it or by building heavily subsidized public parking lots. Often this is done instead of a much cheaper solution: letting people park on the street.
The explosive growth of EVs around NYC: The New York Times looks into the rapid growth of EVs in the New York metro area. Yes, they’re most common in rich areas, but they’re becoming increasingly popular among middle class buyers now that the price gap between EVs and gas-powered cars is narrowing.
Cities need to get serious about turning offices into housing: The Washington Post editorial board argues that the shift to remote work poses an existential threat to downtowns across the country. The solution is for cities to act aggressively to convert now-vacant office buildings into residential and mixed-use buildings. If the 9-to-5 economy has left, it’s for cities to get more people living there 24/7. Even if it means offering developers some juicy incentives.
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