Thursday, September 30, 2010

Why You Should Go to AltCar Expo

1. You can check out one of the Automotive X Prize winners and talk to its designers - the Li-Ion Motors Wave II electric car. And hear what it's like to get through inspection at Argonne National Laboratory.

2. You can get video interviewed by me and Victor, the videographer on Friday. Victor and publisher Chuck Parker might also be there Saturday.

3. You can test drive long-anticipated cars, and ask corporate types any question you can think of.

4. Interesting speaker panels and all kinds of exhibitor booths to check out.

5. You get to hang out in Santa Monica, which is now THE town to go to in LA. Not only for the movie business, but many green car and renewable energy related companies have offices there or nearby, and host events in town. The name comes up a lot, and it's a great place to hang out.

6. $9 to park but free to get in.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sifting and Sorting through Text Barrage on Diesel, EVs, Biofuels, and All Sorts of Battery and Liquid Fuel Hybrid Combinations

Every day I sift and sort through a barrage of text - press releases, meeting announcements, and newsletters emailed to me; news articles (thank you Google News), green car blogs/sites... I set aside emails, and cut and paste links and text portions into a Word doc, to review for possible inclusion in Automotive Digest Weekly Green and Green Machine Digest. Sometimes I delete them as they gather dust. Anyways, what I'll offer now is a quick summary of things that caught my attention and stayed in the basket...

DIESELMANIA: Automakers will sell about 545,000 diesel-powered light vehicles to North America in 2016, up from 167,000 in 2009, a Frost & Sullivan analyst said. German automakers such as Volkswagen and BMW will boost the number of clean diesel cars they import to the U.S. in an effort to meet more stringent federal fuel-economy standards. Diesel engine vehicle sales are growing enough to get GM's attention. GM Vice Chairman Tom Stephens says the maker is planning to develop a diesel-powered sedan for American buyers. He didn't have details to give out but did note that there are plenty of diesels to draw from using technology developed by its European subsidiary, Opel AG.

FIRST EV IN SHOWROOMS: Wheego Electric Cars Inc. will soon be hosting a dealer summit meeting to add Wheego LiFe electric cars to their showrooms starting in October. They want to beat the Chevy Volt coming to dealers in November and the Nissan LEAF in December. The company called the White House to brag about it, however, "They told us they've never heard of us."

VOLT ADVISORY BOARD: Bill Nye, the science guy. Brian Wynne, the Electric Drive Transportation Association guy. Chelsea Sexton, the "Who Killed the Electric Car?" gal. And a whole slate of electric vehicle enthusiasts. They're all members of the new Chevrolet Volt Customer Advisory Board. They're getting a Volt before anyone else and will tell GM what's working and what isn't.

BIOFUELS IN CALIFORNIA: Propel Fuels recently held a grand opening at a biofuel station in Oakland and announced a plan to add 75 new stations in California by the end of 2011, according to earth2tech. State and federal grants will pay for some of it, and the company has raised $20 in investor funds. Its California stations offer E85 and biodiesel. California alone has nearly 500,000 cars that can take the ethanol blend; the nationwide number is about 9 million. California also has more than 500,000 of biodiesel cars on the road today.

HYBRIDS & EVs GROWING LIKE CRAZY: Within the next five years, it's forecasted that we'll be seeing more than 50 conventional hybrids, more than 30 pure electric cars, nearly 20 plug-in hybrids, and a handful of fuel cell vehicles. Those numbers come from Alan Baum, a Michigan-based auto industry analyst who has been running auto market forecasts since the 1980s.

ADD IT ALL UP: Okay, if we have 50 hybrids and 20 plug-ins on the road, and a lot of fueling stations that can run on biofuels, the odds are good for a lot of reduced emissions vehicles using less oil driving down the roads. There's other hybrid and plug-in hybrid fueling combinations that could occur, such as a car running on battery and natural gas. Or clean diesel in a hybrid. Or algae in a plug-in hybrid. The list could go on and on. There will be multiple solutions for this country to recover from oil addiction.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Evidence Green Machines Becoming Big & Mainstream

When I started writing about green cars in the early 1990s, it was very niche like – fleet applications, federal mandates that got washed out, state of California stuff (AQMD), methanol, etc. Flash forward to the future: Nowadays, each and every day it’s becoming clear this won’t be a passing fad once again.

Here’s some informal market indicators that prove my point…

Industry bible Automotive News covers the topic a lot these days, and has had a couple of industry conferences on the subject. Not long ago, that wasn’t the case. Other stalwarts (, AOL, Wired) now have active specialty pubs. And the majors devote more and more space to it.

Lots of market reports keep coming out – Pike Research being the stand out, but there’s something new all the time. Sometimes including consumer or B2B surveys, and sometimes sponsored by an industry group attempting to get its message validated.

It is one hot topic in governments with big economies dependent on transportation, and affects legislation and regulation.

A lot of other industries are making bang for buck – technology suppliers, consultants, utilities, lobbyists, media folk striving to put food on the table, oil companies, and majors looking to dip in – Best Buy, General Electric, etc.

It’s getting tricky to find an OEM that doesn’t have at least one green car in the pipeline, whether that be hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in/pure electrics, flex/alt fuel, or space age technology (fuel cell).

People talk about the subject more and more these days – dinner parties, checking out at grocery stores, social media/blogging, career considerations, marketing opportunities, etc.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fleet Manager Paul Condran on Realistic Range, Propane Problems, and NGV Greatness

Paul Condran disagreed with some of the points I made in a newsletter last week on green car trends and realities. He offered his perspectives on the topic, and certainly has the credentials. Check out a video interview we did with him earlier this year on being recognized for his green fleet management. I met Condran, City of Culver City’s Equipment Maintenance Manager, when he hosted a daylong seminar for municipal fleet managers on how to understand and effectively comply with California’s emissions regulations. Here's what he has to say about range limitations, propane problems, how hybrids should be labeled, and the multiple benefits of natural gas vehicles.

The Chevrolet Volt is not an EV. It’s a version of a plug-in Hybrid using gasoline and battery for is propulsion systems. The Leaf, CODA and others are 100% EV Vehicles as there is no internal combustion engine. The industry still needs to do more in battery and electronics technologies to continue and overcome the range limitations. Albeit, the CODA claims to achieve over 100 miles, (as with all 100% EVs) much depends on the quality of the batteries, state and rate of charge, use of the heating or A/C systems, and vehicle loads. A plug-in Hybrid simply means you can plug in the car anywhere using a standard 115V outlet and recharge the batteries for additional battery power and range, thereby reducing the use of the internal combustion engine wherever possible. On acceleration, heavy loads, traveling up grades, etc., the engine is providing the primary power in these vehicles.

Propane: Propane as been around for 100 years. The auto industry has tried and failed to successfully bring these vehicles to market. Several reasons propane is not a viable option: lack of infrastructure, safety, petroleum based, fuel cost, lack of available vehicle options, tanks are very heavy, and engine technology-reliability has been terrible. Propane is also a very dirty fuel by itself producing considerable amounts of NOx. Although using catalyst technologies can reduce a lot of these bad emissions.

Hybrid vehicles (gasoline or diesel powered) are not alternative fuel vehicles. They all use fossil based petroleum fuels engines, and do little to remove us from oil dependency. They do achieve higher MPG (which is really good for fuel consumption and consumer costs, etc.), which I suppose can equate into moderated tailpipe emissions. I refer to these vehicles as “Fuel Alternates,” not as alternative fuel by any means. They are a pathway for the OEMs to receive federal tax and emissions credits because they help the total manufacturing allotment of all new vehicles produced by the OEM.

Natural gas powered vehicles on the other hand are true alternative fuel vehicles. There are no limitations in range (if properly specified), fuel is abundant, and there are over 2,500 CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) stations throughout California and more in Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and many, many other states. Natural gas has been around for over 150 years. It’s safe, viable, cost effective, extremely clean (96% cleaner that gasoline or diesel), and 100% removes us from oil dependency. CNG is also very safe; in fact, the U.S., Canada, and most of Europe have been heating our homes, drying our clothes, and using it to cook on for decades and decades. CNG - the clean, true, alternative fuel.

--Paul Condran

Friday, September 24, 2010

Strange Questions to Consider

Looking at three green car news stories, more questions popped up for me...

GM has been promising 40 miles in battery power alone on the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. Now the company says it will get between 25 and 50 miles before the gas-powered engine kicks in, instead of the flat 40. Reasons: how you drive, the temperature (outside and inside the car), hills climbed, and age of the lithium-ion batteries.

Is any OEM being honest and accurate about the actual driving range of these pure electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles?

From Green Car Advisor: "Almost all gasoline in the U.S. is now an E10 blend, the ethanol added as an oxygenator to help improve gasoline combustion." I had heard something about this before, but didn't realize that 10% of our gasoline consists of ethanol.

How did this come to be, and how powerful is the corn growing business in this country?

Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway will be visiting Chinese carmaker BYD Co. next week. Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s $232 million investment in Shenzhen-based BYD grew substantially at first then dropped after BYD's shares plunged 21% this year. Sales in the fast growing Chinese car market have dropped. BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu also may not deliver electric cars to California this year as promised.

Will China really become the leading global electric vehicle industry, as it's aspiring to be?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Random Thoughts on Scooters and Charging Takeovers

...BMW is showing off its Mini Scooter electric motorbike at Paris Auto Show. In other recent occurrences, BMW started the StreetCar car sharing service in the UK. Its German luxury car competitor Daimler has also accessed car sharing in global markets, and will be launching an electric motor scooter. What does that tell you? Scooters and car sharing can bug car dealers, sales/marketing departments, shareholders, union workers, and others whose financial future depends on traditional car sales. Looking at alternatives such as scooters, car sharing, hybrids, EVs, and alt-fuel vehicles, is taken more seriously now than ever. My, how things are changing.

...The GE WattStation for EV charging was unveiled in July. Residential versions will cost between $1,000 and $1,500, while the commercial models seen in its ad will run between $3,000-$7,000 depending on order specifications (installation is extra). The first residential WattStations should be available before the end of 2010. The stand can handle Level 1 or 2 charging. Charging stations are being supplied by fairly new technology companies - Coulomb Technologies, AeroVironment, Clipper Creek, Better Place, ECOtality, etc. Now some big companies are taking it seriously, like Best Buy and General Electric. The game is changing, and partnerships, mergers, alliances, takeovers, and gone-out-of-business will occur.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CODA Ain't Cheap, CNG Civics Sort of Popular

The CODA Sedan will be selling for $44,900 or $37,400 after federal tax credits. Consumers can reserve a CODA with a fully-refundable $499 deposit at The first deliveries will begin at the end of 2010. The pure electric sedan will be able to go 100 to 120 miles on one charge of its lithium ion batteries. It will cost a bit more than $10,000 over the price of the Nissan LEAF, a competitive all electric sedan. The start-up company CODA Automotive will not be working through dealerships - it's starting with an online ordering system. Perhaps it will work with a limited audience.

In other alt car news...

Honda confirmed that its natural gas Civic GX model would still be offered when the next-generation Civic debuts for the 2012 year. The company is considering doubling sales of the CNG Civic in the next two-to-three years. However, that doesn't mean very much. Last year, about 2,000 were sold, so this means 4,000 could be the goal. That's more then test runs for concept cars, but way off from mass market. It's the only one like it out there in the retail market. A lot of fleet managers are true believers in natural gas conversions of their trucks, vans, and buses. They have a lot of positive results to share on the subject.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Monthly Newsletter on Green Cars & Transportation

Tomorrow, I'll be launching a monthly email newsletter through my side business, LeSage Communications (which uses the phrase, "Getting the word out on green cars and transportation." And features a cool logo image with a tire swing hanging from a tree -- thank you, brother-in-law Dennis.) And a month from now, there will be a freebie whitepaper available with the working title, "10 Things You Should Know About Green Machines." Doing my homework has been educational -- have to know something about what you say you know something about, right? Articles in this month's edition include: "Four Green Car Buyer Segments to Reach," "The Greenest Oil Company," and a table showing off "They’re Heeeerrrrre! Electric Vehicles Entering Dealer Lots by Year’s End." If you'd like to be put on the newsletter list, let me know... And I also call on readers to consider posting stuff on Green Machine Digest, so don't forget about that one too, -- there are comments you can post after any article, and you can be a guest commentator, with whatever title and topic of expertise you choose. That's the beauty of blogs.

Friday, September 17, 2010

AutoWeek's Virtual Green Car Show Says Something

Crain Communications produces Automotive News, essentially the bible of the auto industry, and its weekly edition, AutoWeek. Not long ago, Automotive News held another green car OEM summit near Detroit, and is devoting more space to coverage of these vehicles and their technology.

AutoWeek will soon be hosting its first Virtual Green Car Show with exhibits in a digital hall featuring the latest on green power systems and new hybrid and electric vehicles, fuel cells, and diesels. The show will also provide attendees with access to experts for Q&A and opportunities to network with other green consumers.

The Crain publications tend to reflect the thinking of the Detroit auto industry, which has begrudgingly been infiltrated by foreign automakers, many of whom have set up shop in Detroit metro, California, Tennessee, etc. It's also taken a lot of forward motion for the publications to devote more space to green machines, but it is definitely happening. And these publications offer more rich details for how all this affects the automotive supply chain and dealer networks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Figuring Out the Plug-in Prius

On Monday, Toyota executives announced that the plug-in version of the Prius will be the cheapest green car of its kind when it comes to market by 2012. Sounds good, but there are a few questions I've never had cleared up about the plug-in Prius. Call me stupid, that's okay. What’s not clear to me is exactly how it works. It’s battery-powered range is limited – 12 to 15 miles, which doesn't sound like much. It will differ from the hybrid Prius with its lithium-ion battery. Otherwise, they’ll be very similar with the same electric motors and internal combustion engines. I’m interested in hearing how Toyota will describe the plug-in Prius’ distinctions and benefits. I think it's essentially a hybridized plug-in, a surgically joined twin. I look forward to being less stupid about it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Toyota Dealers Going Green with LEED Certification

Taking on a green sustainability initiative is paying off for the Caldwell Toyota-Scion dealership in Arkansas. The dealership moved to a larger facility in 2008 that uses a lot more electricity for operations, so the idea of saving money on monthly utility bills sounded very good when Toyota corporate suggested they go that route.

Whenever a dealer considers building or renovating a store, Toyota talks with the dealer about the benefits of getting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Toyota now has nine dealers with LEED certification.

LEED certification and green sustainability programs offer dealers a few options - operating cost savings, energy efficiency improvements, community alliances, and a solid marketing platform to enhance green cars - hybrids, EVs, and alt-fuel vehicles. You can expect to see more of it happening.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Car Sharing Part of Megalopolis Traffic Solution

As mentioned, there are those who have little interest in the benefits of green machines and believe the problem is much bigger - overpopulation and more people every year moving to cities, becoming one of many "megalopolis" regions around the world. Getting cars off the road is part of their solution, along with public transit, biking, and having people live closer to work and shopping to get there by foot. Car sharing is attractive to those concerned about destruction of urban centers, and that would include architects and city planners. There's a good article in Earth2Tech about people using the internet, especially social media, to manage their own car sharing experience. Zipcar is the largest brand in car sharing so far, and others are getting into the game, including car rental. There are a lot of nonprofit groups in neighborhoods that users are putting together for their own car sharing network. Expect to see more growth in this area. The auto industry may need to support this trend, too, even though OEMs don't like it since it means less cars sold per year.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Everything Green Has its Pros and Cons

According to ClimateWire, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates is releasing a report that argues the success of electric vehicles will be held back, in part, by shortages of recharging stations for urban motorists. Another problem: in a number of urban areas where wind or hydro power is not readily available, electric vehicles are likely to be recharged by coal-fired generating plants, whose carbon emissions will substantially undercut the vehicles' climate benefits.

So if you were to look at every type of alternative fuel vehicle, there is something getting in the way of its acceptance and support. For example...

Some environmentalists say electric vehicles are not really a solution. With all of the environmental impact of manufacturing and charging all those new EVs, they're not the answer - we should only be increasing bicycling, mass transit, and walking.

Natural gas and liquid petroleum gas (propane) are popular with fleets, but the critics say they're not as legitimate as renewable energy sources, and can create emergencies and disasters during drilling for the fuel. And some don't like the large tanks they take for storage onboard and wonder if they're worth the conversion costs.

A lot of investment is being made into biofuels through government funding, research and development, and corporate mergers. While flexible fuel vehicles are common across the country now, the corn ethanol that fuels them continues to be a sticky subject. Cellulosic and algae biofuels appear to be the next generation, but they're still far away from being in fuel stations.

There are no easy answers, and there's much at stake - global warming, or at least air pollution if you don't believe in global warming, economic growth and jobs, energy independence and global stability, the future of renewable energy... the list could go on. It certainly keeps things exciting.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Autobytel Study Says Consumers Anticipating Green Cars in Showrooms

What consumers think about green cars is a very big deal this year and beyond - by December, the Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Coda sedan will be in dealerships and other anticipated products are in the pipeline. Autobytel just released its most recent What's Hot Now report, which found out more than half of consumers in the study are interested in buying a green car in the next 12 months.

In the wake of the Gulf oil spill and concerns about the environment and the (Great Recession) economy, consumers are interested in vehicles that can contribute to a greener earth as well as lessen the impact on their pocketbook. Biggest reasons: economics and better gas mileage, followed by being environmentally responsible and reducing dependence on foreign oil. As I've looked at other buyer surveys and studies that have come out this year, and interviewed industry leaders, I’m seeing four key potential buyer categories, with crossovers between them: Early Adopters – first to buy iPad and other cool tech toys; Green – concerned about tailpipe emissions and sustainability; Energy Independence – dislike foreign oil and offshore spills; and Pocketbooks – with a tipping point being gas prices, fuel efficiency, and lifecycle ownership costs.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

7 Green Car Marketing People to Know

According to Advertising Age, there are seven marketing chiefs making big decisions about successful initiatives propelling green car launches later this year:

Ian Robertson - BMW Megacity
Joel Ewanick - Chevy Volt
Mike Jackson - Coda
Marti Eulberg - Fisker
Jon Brancheau - Nissan Leaf
Elon Musk - Tesla
Michael Lock - Think

Might want to put them in your rolodex.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Supplier Making Big Deal with Utility for Solar Panels

So the buzz I heard today is that one of the major utilities is cutting a deal with a big component supplier to the auto industry. This one is about setting up fields of solar panels to source more of their electricity from renewable energy instead of coal and other typical power plant fuels. It's happening in California, where some say the green industry is based, and I would go along with that opinion. While living here and making a living in the business of green, I just love to hear about such deals being made.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Greenpeace Slapping Facebook with its Facebook Page

Enviro-activist group Greenpeace has done something clever to get influence and attention - 500,000 Facebook users are telling Facebook corporate to get out of coal-powered electric. Greenpeace sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to cut ties to coal-fired power at its new data center in Oregon. Greenpeace calls its campaign "Unfriend Coal," and it's getting lots of friends.

Very, very clever. Facebook is now the elephant leading the path in social media - if you look at Nielsen data, the numbers have become staggering. Twitter has grown exponentially but its visitor volume is way behind Facebook. So playing David and Goliath is a very sharp move for Greenpeace.

That said, social media is still in a newborn, vague, head scratching space for most users. Most of the marketing reports I've seen for the past year and a half have been obsessed with social media and making the most of it. Part of the confusion is how to make it work for your business - in terms of marketing spend, customer loyalty, and dealing with controversial stuff. What happens if your business gets lambasted online? Well, it seems to be that companies have to join in the conversations and find out what's working and what's not working.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

KBB's Top 10 Green Cars for 2010

Once again, Kelley Blue Book has released its Top 10 Green Cars of the Year awards. This is up there with Green Car Journal's Green Car of the Year award, through that magazine does a lot of effective promotion for it, and has added to its list of awards. KBB is doing a lot in that field, too, though not so much in green cars. That said, here's this year's list:

1. 2010 Toyota Prius
50 mpg (51 city, 48 highway)

2. 2010 Honda Insight
41 mpg (40 city, 43 highway)

3. 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
39 mpg (41 city, 36 highway)

4. 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI
34 mpg (30 city, 42 highway)

5. 2010 MINI Cooper
32 mpg (28 city, 37 highway)

6. 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid
32 mpg (34 city, 31 highway)

7. 2010 Honda Fit
31 mpg (28 city, 35 highway)

8. 2010 BMW 335d
27 mpg (23 city, 36 highway)

9. 2010 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
26 mpg (27 city, 25 highway)

10. 2010 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid
22 mpg (21 city, 22 highway)

No big surprise to see the Prius win again. It's third generation improvements help as do high fuel economy. Five of these cars are hybrids, one clean diesel. The rest are fuel efficient regular gas engines.