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At the International Motor Show (IAA), climate protestors are calling for a change in transportation politics. © Kevin McElvaney / Greenpeace

Thousands of protestors marched in front of Frankfurt's International Motor Show (IAA) on Saturday to show their disgust with the auto industry's role in the climate crisis. The protestors demanded an end to combustion engines and a shift to more environmentally friendly emissions-free vehicles, as Reuters reported.

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April 5, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Eßlingen: An electric vehicle charging station stands on a parking lot in front of a site where a Daimler AG battery factory is to be built. Marijan Murat / picture alliance / Getty Images

Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler AG will make its entire passenger car fleet carbon neutral by 2039, the company announced Monday.

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Nissan Energy Solar

Nissan, the maker of the world's top-selling electric vehicle, officially rolled out on Thursday a seamless solar energy and battery storage system for homes in the UK.

The venture, called Nissan Energy Solar, allows homeowners to generate, store and charge EVs with their own renewable energy, which can reduce household energy bills by an estimated 66 percent, the company touts.

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Most people know Germany for things like its popular car manufactures Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, its annual Oktoberfest—fun fact: Germany has 1,300 breweries and 5,000 different brew brands—and all those brilliant composers (Bach, Beethoven and Schumann, anyone?). But did you know the country is also a clean-energy superpower?

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Felix Kramer / Wikimedia

By Jason Mathers

The high level of confidence that automotive industry leaders have in the future of electric vehicles (EVs) has been on full display recently.

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By Rory Christian and Larissa Koehler

Electric vehicles (EVs) don't make much noise on the road, but they're generating a lot of buzz about the future of this technology and what it means for business and the environment.

Cars, buses and trucks are the second biggest source of pollution in the U.S. after electricity production. They are responsible for more than 26 percent of emissions that adversely affect the health and well-being of the population, and put communities located close to highways and other major thoroughfares at risk. These communities, typically low-income, are often plagued by elevated asthma rates and other pollution-induced health conditions.

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On Jan. 29, 1886, Carl Benz—who had invented the first stationary gasoline engine seven years earlier—patented a "vehicle powered by a gas engine," which he had built in Mannheim, Germany. By 2030, the country may ban his invention.

The world's first automobile, invented in 1886.Mercedes-Benz

Germany's Bundesrat, its upper house of parliament, passed a bipartisan resolution calling for a ban on sales of new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, which includes both gasoline and diesel.

"If the Paris agreement to curb climate-warming emissions is to be taken seriously, no new combustion engine cars should be allowed on roads after 2030," weekly news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Green Party lawmaker Oliver Krischer as saying.

The shockwaves from this action, reported over the weekend, haven't quite hit the global auto industry or German manufacturers just yet. Germany has one of the largest automotive industries in the world, and it is the biggest industrial sector in Germany. Automobile manufacturing and related businesses employ 774,900 German workers and account for one-fifth of German industry revenue.

The country is also Europe's top automobile market, and U.S.-based manufacturers do big business there as well. General Motors sold 244,000 vehicles in Germany in 2015, while Ford is on track to sell 280,000 vehicles this year. The Ford Mustang is the most popular sports car in Germany. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sold 90,000 vehicles there last year, with its U.S.-built Jeep brand growing strongly.

The company that Carl Benz started, today's Mercedes-Benz, is investing $1.1 billion in battery production and plans to launch 10 new electric vehicles (EVs) by 2025. The company says that every model series will be electrified. BMW is expanding its EV lineup, while Volkswagen—reeling from its diesel emissions scandal—announced that it plans to sell three million electric cars by 2025. At the current 2016 Paris Auto Show, virtually every major auto manufacturer is showcasing new electric or hybrid vehicles.

The Bundesrat resolution would require only electric or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2030, and Germany's action is likely to precipitate wider European Union policy.

"We're ready for the launch of an electric product offensive that will cover all vehicle segments, from the compact to the luxury class," said Daimler AG Chief Executive Officer Dieter Zetsche at the opening of the Paris Auto Show in September. Daimler is the parent company of Mercedes-Benz. The company that invented the automobile now needs to reinvent itself.

Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the world's first big rig that drives without a drop of fuel.

The Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruckMercedes Benz

The new Mercedes-Benz Urban eTruck has an electrically driven rear axle and is powered by three lithium-ion battery modules. The zero-emission vehicle has an admissible total weight of up to 26 tonnes with a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles).

Although the range is on the low side, the model here is still a prototype. And, as Engadget pointed out, the "Urban" prefix implies that it's meant for use in the cities instead of, say, cross-country hauls.

As for noise pollution? Hardly a whisper, the German carmaker says.

"In the future, it will be necessary to transport goods in urban environments for increasing numbers of people—and with the lowest possible emissions and noise," Mercedes said in a press release. "By now large cities such as London or Paris are considering a ban on internal combustion engines in city centers in the future. That means: there will be fully electric trucks ensuring the supply of humans with food or other goods of daily needs."

Daimler, the company tasked with creating the vehicles, said their eTruck will be ready for the market by the beginning of the next decade. At that point, Daimler believes battery technology will be vastly improved and estimated that the cost of batteries will lowered by a factor of 2.5.

"We push the boundaries of what is technically feasible, very widely to the front," Wolfgang Bernhard, the CEO of Daimler Trucks and Buses, said.

Watch here as the eTruck whizzes down Germany's streets:

"To date the use of electric drives in trucks has been extremely limited," Bernhard added. "Meanwhile, cost, performance and charging time evolve so rapidly that we now see a turnaround for distribution: It's time for the electric truck."

He's right—this is a much-needed upgrade as heavy duty vehicles are some of the biggest polluters on the road. According to Slate:

Transportation is responsible for 28 percent of the nation's carbon emissions, second only to power plants at 31 percent. By nearly any measure, trucks play an outsize role in contributing greenhouse gas. They comprise just 4.3 percent of vehicles in the U.S., drive 9.3 percent of all miles driven each year, yet consume more than 25 percent of the fuel burned annually.

The Obama administration has made major efforts to slash truck emissions. Last year, in an effort to slash emissions and fight climate change, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed new fuel-efficiency and carbon-cutting standards for trucks and other large vehicles. The proposal is meant to cut emissions by 1 billion metric tons, trim fuel costs by $170 billion and reduce oil consumption by 1.8 billion barrels, U.S. News reported.

Mercedes might have beat him to it, but Elon Musk also has a vision of all-electric trucks. As the Tesla CEO wrote in his now-famous Master Plan, producing electric buses and heavy duty trucks are part of his vision of transitioning to a sustainable transportation future.

"In addition to consumer vehicles, there are two other types of electric vehicle needed: heavy-duty trucks and high passenger-density urban transport," he wrote. "Both are in the early stages of development at Tesla and should be ready for unveiling next year."

"We believe the Tesla Semi will deliver a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transport, while increasing safety and making it really fun to operate," Musk continued.

Incidentally, Musk even has some Daimler talent on his team to bring his vision to life. Jerome Guillen, a longtime Daimler engineer who helped develop the Cascadia truck, is in charge of the Tesla Semi program, Electrek reported.

Mercedes and Daimler also has the world's first autonomous bus to its name, so Musk and his Tesla team definitely have some friendly competition in this arena.

Could this be the future of public transportation? Mercedes-Benz has unveiled the world's first autonomous bus—and it actually works.

The "Future Bus" just completed its first 12-mile journey "without steering, accelerating and without brake pedal" on public roads in the Netherlands, according to Daimler Buses, the company working with Mercedez-Benz.

Using CityPilot autonomous driving technology, the full-sized bus successfully navigated through bends, passes, tunnels and traffic lights along the route between Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and the town of Haarlem.

Daimler said its bus drives up to 43-miles-per-hour and can recognize obstacles, especially pedestrians on the road, and brake autonomously.

Thanks to CityPilot, as Wired UK explains, the bus is connected to the city's wireless network, "so it can communicate directly with traffic lights and other city infrastructure for a smoother ride. The built-in camera systems can even scan the road for potholes and avoid bumpy areas the next time it travels on them, sharing that information back to the city."

In the video below, the driver does not touch the wheel as the bus whisks through the city streets and picks up passengers. The cockpit has a large screen that displays information the driver might need.

The Future Bus is equipped with a GPS system and about a dozen cameras that can scan the road and surroundings. A long and short-range radar systems constantly monitors the route ahead. It can even handle bus stops without driver intervention, as the doors open and close automatically.

"Connectivity plus camera and radar systems with data fusion are catapulting the city bus into the future," Daimler said.

As Wired UK pointed out, even though the bus can drive itself, regulations require a human operator in case he or she needs to intervene, like during an emergency.

As for its design, the 39-foot bus features a sleek exterior and open-plan interior inspired by the layouts of city squares and parks, the German automaker said.

Designer seats are loosely arranged along the walls to allow for open seating, grab rails branch upwards like trees and the ceiling lighting resembles a leaf canopy.

The bus even offers wireless charging.

Besides the obvious environmental benefits of public transportation, automated buses have a number of eco-friendly traits. A bus that's connected to a city's communication network could relay and receive information to operate more efficiently and with better fuel economy than perhaps a human driver can. It could also help alleviate city traffic in densely populated areas.

Europe is particularly friendly towards self-driving vehicles. This past April, the transport ministers of all 28 European Union member states signed the Amsterdam Declaration, in which EU member states and the transport industry pledged to "draw up rules and regulations that will allow autonomous vehicles to be used on the roads."

Daimler tweeted that it invest approximately €200 million to further develop its city-bus portfolio by 2020. It is currently unclear if or when these buses will become a reality or even if they will make it stateside but for a sustainable transportation future, these buses can not come soon enough.

Daimler Buses

By Ryan Schleeter

Have you ever thought to yourself, "I wish it were easier for fossil fuel companies to get their hands on public land so they can drill for oil and gas?" Yeah, neither have I.

Unfortunately, that seems to be what the Obama Administration was thinking when it announced it would move auctions for the rights to exploit public lands for fossil fuels to an online bidding process.

But if the fossil fuel industry and our government think they can hide from keep it in the ground activists by moving online, they're wrong.

Fracking on public lands in the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania.EcoFlight

How We Got Here

The switch to online auctions is a direct result of pressure built by the keep it in the ground movement over the past year.

Fossil fuel lease auctions—organized by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)—had been relatively dull events conducted in person for years. But recently, activists have taken the events by storm, converging on lease sales across the country in peaceful protest to make it clear that our public lands are not for oil and gas profit.

Since this time last year, the BLM has cancelled or postponed nine of 15 scheduled sales due to mounting public pressure.

In May, activists temporarily blockaded the entrance to a Holiday Inn in Lakewood, Colorado. Earlier this month, Gulf Coast climate justice activists rallied outside a lease sale at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome. And just last week, 13 activists were arrested after occupying the Department of the Interior building in Washington, DC to demand no new fossil fuel leases and an end to projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

But instead of hearing the concerns of the 1 million people who want the U.S. fossil fuels to stay in the ground, the BLM is listening to the fossil fuel industry and simply changing venues.

Enter today's online auction.

Why Today's Auction Matters

More than 4,000 acres of land will be made available across Missouri and Kansas, but what's at stake goes beyond this individual sale.

Fossil fuel executives see online auctions as a way to "end the circus" created by keep it in the ground activists mobilizing in the thousands at recent lease sales. Never mind that these auctions are for our public land and that this "circus" is what the right to assembly and freedom of expression look like in practice.

To make the switch online, the BLM has turned to a company called EnergyNet, dubbed "eBay for oilfields" by Forbes Magazine. EnergyNet has been in the business of auctioning private land for oil and gas exploitation for years, but this is its first foray into selling off federal land.

Starting today, fossil fuel representatives can follow EnergyNet's simple 8-step bidding process to lease the rights to drill and frack for as little as $2 per acre. If no else bids, a company could buy the entire parcel available for the price of a used Camry. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency found last year that inaction on climate change could cost the country $180 billion by the end of the century.

Online or Offline, Keep It in the Ground Activists Will Be There

The venue might be different, but our call is the same: To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need keep fossil fuels in the ground.

This is the last lease sale of the year, which means we can't let it go by quietly. No matter how the industry tries to insulate its auctions, the climate is still changing—and we will not remain silent.

Tell the Bureau of Land Management and EnergyNet that they can't silence the climate movement—it's time to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Could Uber and Lyft make the dream of futurists for personal rapid transit come true?

Since the 1950s, thinkers such as city transportation planner Donn Fichter began to envision an automated public transit system for low-density areas where rail and even buses were not practical. Even in denser urban environments, it has always been a challenge to get people to leave their cars at home when mass transit cannot offer point-to-point and schedule on demand service.

The 1960s through 1990s saw research studies and a handful of demonstration projects in the U.S., Europe and Japan. In 1999, I visited the Honda R&D facility in Tochigi, Japan, where I could summon a self-driven minicar to take me to specific spots around the campus. The vehicle would then return to its home base on its own. Other proposed systems used guideways, separating the vehicle from existing road or rail systems but offering less flexibility.

The automotive industry is investing heavily in autonomous vehicle technology, some aspects of which are already available in mass-market vehicles from major manufacturers. Two major industry suppliers, Delphi Automotive and Mobileye, are teaming up to produce off-the-shelf autonomous vehicle technology that will be shown at the International CES in Las Vegas in January. This will enable automakers to more quickly introduce self-driving cars and spend less on their own research and development.

Uber has just started a pilot program in Pittsburgh involving up to 100 self-driving vehicles in partnership with Volvo. The company has also acquired Otto, a start-up company headed by autonomous vehicle engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Uber's modified Volvo XC90 for its Pittsburgh self-driving fleet.Uber

Earlier this year, General Motors announced a $500 million in investment in rival Lyft. This month, Ford said it would have a fully autonomous vehicle on the road for ride sharing by 2021. Google's 25-mph prototype vehicle is also testing on public roads.

Uber and Lyft are looking beyond competition with traditional taxi services. They may be creating the first practical, affordable personal rapid transit (PRT) systems that will compete with buses. In 2014, Uber launched UberPool, enabling multiple parties to share a ride along similar routes. The following year, the company announced uberCOMMUTE in China, which they described as " carpooling at the press of a button." In the U.S., it's being tested in Chicago. Then, in December, Uber launched uberHOP in Seattle, which operates along pre-selected commuters routes.

Virtually all mass transit systems are publicly subsidized. Farebox revenues rarely cover more than 50 percent of expenses, which are labor and capital-intensive. In Pinellas Park, Florida—a Tampa suburb—has just replaced two bus lines with Uber service, subsidized to the tune of $3 per ride. It's cheaper than running the buses. The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority budgeted $40,000 a year. Running the two bus lines cost four times as much.

In the Denver suburb of Centennial, Lyft launched a program this month providing free rides to the Dry Creek light rail station. In this case, the program is designed to encourage mass transit use by enabling commuters to get to the station without having to park a car there all day. A self-driving bus is already being tested in Washington, DC.

A key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency. The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking.

There are concerns, however, that self-driving cars will encourage more driving. That remains to be seen, but if the technology is accompanied by more car-sharing and greater use of electric vehicles, that may act as an offset.

A KPMG/Center for Automotive Research study stated, "The new technology could provide solutions to some of our most intractable social problems—the high cost of traffic crashes and transportation infrastructure, the millions of hours wasted in traffic jams and the wasted urban space given over to parking lots, just to name a few. But if self-driving vehicles become a reality, the implications would also be profoundly disruptive for almost every stakeholder in the automotive ecosystem."

Personal rapid transit is no longer a pipe dream; it's a business.

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By Josh Goldman

Choosing a vehicle is tough.

Sunroof or moonroof?

Front wheel drive, rear wheel drive, or all-wheel drive? Do I even need a CD player? And what about color? Burnt orange is nice, but so is cashmere metallic and squid ink (hint: always get squid ink). Considering a hybrid or electric vehicle adds another factor into an already difficult decision. Should you go with a standard hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric or fuel cell? What is the difference between these types of vehicles anyway?

Conventional Hybrids

Jetta Turbo Hybrid. Photo credit: Sam Beebe/Flickr Creative Commons

Conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius, combine both a gasoline engine with an electric motor. While these vehicles have an electric motor and battery, they can’t be plugged in and recharged. Instead their batteries are charged from capturing energy when braking, using regenerative braking that converts kinetic energy into electricity. This energy is normally wasted in conventional vehicles.

Depending on the type of hybrid, the electric motor will work with the gasoline-powered engine to reduce gasoline use or even allow the gasoline engine to turn off altogether. Hybrid fuel-saving technologies can dramatically increase fuel economy. For example, the 2014 Honda Accord hybrid achieves a combined 47 miles per gallon (mpg) compared to a combined 30 mpg for the non-hybrid version. At 12,000 miles a year and $4 per gallon of  gasoline, that means saving over $575 each year.

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs)

A Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid. Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns/Flickr Creative Commons

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are similar to conventional hybrids in that they have both an electric motor and internal combustion engine, except PHEV batteries can be charged by plugging into an outlet. So why opt for a PHEV instead of a conventional hybrid? Well, unlike conventional hybrids, PHEVs can substitute electricity from the grid for gasoline. The 2014 Ford Fusion Energi, for example, can go about 21 miles by only using electricity, and the 2014 Chevy Volt can go around 38 miles before the gasoline motor kicks in.

Though this doesn’t sound like a far ways, many people drive less than this distance each day. In a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) survey, 54 percent of respondents reported driving less than 40 miles a day. Moreover, using electricity instead of gasoline is cheaper and cleaner for most people. The average cost to drive 100 miles on electricity is only $3.45 compared to $13.52 for driving 100 miles on gasoline.

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)

This 2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class offers up to 115 miles of estimated range on a single charge thanks to a battery built by Tesla. Photo credit: Union of Concerned Scientists

Battery electric vehicles run exclusively on electricity via on-board batteries that are charged by plugging into an outlet or charging station. The Nissan LEAF, Fiat 500e, and Tesla Model S fall into this category, though there are many other BEVs on the market. These vehicles have no gasoline engine, longer electric driving ranges compared to PHEVs, and never produce tailpipe emissions (though there are emissions associated with charging these vehicles, which UCS has previously examined).

The BEVs on the market today generally go around 60 to 80 miles per charge, though a Tesla can travel over 200 miles on a single charge. A recent UCS survey found that a BEV range of 60 miles would fit the weekday driving needs of 69 percent of U.S. drivers. As battery technology continues to improve, BEV ranges will extend even further, offering an even larger number of drivers the option of driving exclusively on electricity.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs)

Toyota recently unveiled this 2015 FCEV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo credit: Union of Concerned Scientists

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) use an electric-only motor like a BEV, but stores energy quite a bit differently. Instead of recharging a battery, FCEVs store hydrogen gas in a tank. The fuel cell in FCEVs combines hydrogen with oxygen from the air to produce electricity. The electricity from the fuel cell then powers an electric motor, which powers the vehicle just like a BEV. And like BEVs, there is no smog-forming or climate-changing pollution from FCEVs tailpipe – the only byproduct is water. Unlike BEVs or PHEVs, however, there is no need to plug-in FCEVs, since their fuel cells are recharged by refilling with hydrogen, which can take as little as 5 minutes at a filling station.

But just as producing electricity to charge a plug-in vehicle creates emissions, producing hydrogen also generates emissions. Hydrogen made today from natural gas produces about the same total emissions per mile as charging a plug-in vehicle with electricity generated from natural gas. But when made from renewable sources like biomass or solar power, hydrogen can be nearly emission free.

Moreover, hydrogen fueling infrastructure, like public electric vehicle charging stations, is still ramping up—and mostly available in California. With increased state and federal policies aimed at helping get more of these vehicles on the road, FCEVs can become a large part of our future transportation systems.

Visit EcoWatch’s TRANSPORTATION page for more related news on this topic.