Wednesday, October 27, 2010

It Ain't Easy Being Green

While there's been lots of good news around green machines in the past couple of years, there are occasionally negatives and a few roadblocks. For the two items I read about today, these concerns have always been present...

J.D. Power found that people are interested in driving greener vehicles, but they don't want to pay extra to do so. These new technologies are more expensive to implement and will be until they reach mass market and economies of scale. Until then, they'll be more expensive than traditional engine counterparts. Other problems for widespread adoption of these green machines in the Power study: "stable oil prices" and the impact on gas prices, and worries about how to operate them.

TerraChoice, an environmental marketing company and part of Underwriters Laboratories’ global network, released a study claiming more than 95% of consumer products claiming to be “green” commit at least one greenwashing offense. The worst offenders are toys and baby care products, with 100% and 99.2%, respectively, guilty of some form of greenwashing.

So as automakers have found out for several years, for those interested in buying hybrids, plug ins, or alternative fuel vehicles, there will always be tire kicking concern over lifecycle costs that can tip the balance. And there's also a bit of skepticism about marketing claiming environmental sustainability and stewardship when that statement has not been verified.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Latest on Volt and LEAF

As the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF roll across assembly lines and get prepped for delivery at dealer lots, interest and enthusiasm abound in media coverage. One of my very favorites is The Detroit Bureau's coverage. At first I was annoyed about receiving a boatload of emails from them - one per story and several come out each day. Then I started reading them and getting swept up in their coverage of Motor City and all things happening in the business - with much attention on green machines. So here's a couple of summaries on the two most anticipated models...

California Air Resources Board ruled the Volt falls short of not only conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight but even the new diesel-powered Jetta TDI in a key test. As a result, Volt not only doesn’t get a coveted PZEV (for Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle) rating but misses the next-best SULEV category and slips into the rankings as a ULEV vehicle. But observers caution that the 2011 Chevy Volt may be taking hits because of its own efficiencies, ironically. And California regulators may take steps to modify their rules so vehicles like Volt, designed to run primarily in electric mode, get the technical benefit of the doubt.

As for the LEAF, some customers will be able to drive one home for $12,000, way below the sticker price. An array of state and local incentives, and even some incentives from green-minded employers, offer some great incentives, notes Mark Perry, the Nissan product planning chief overseeing the maker’s battery program.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Public Hearing on New EPA Window Stickers

There's a lot of debate going on about the EPA's suggested revised window stickers - A through D ratings, CO2 tailpipe emissions, annual fuel cost, etc. Tomorrow night I’ll be attending a public hearing that the Environmental Protection Agency is hosting on the new fuel economy label for car window stickers in downtown LA. Something is going to replace the City/Highway stickers we’ve been seeing at dealerships since 1980. There’s been much brouhaha about it from the car business especially from dealers who have to sell these cars – whether the grades A to D should appear, and if it’s clear enough for the typical car buyer to figure out when they’re shopping. I share some of those concerns, but I do understand that something needs to change with all the electric vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles coming to market. They’re considering different categories – electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid EVs, compressed natural gas, and flex fuel. And different structures for presenting the data on accurate miles per gallon and CO2 tailpipe emissions. I will be attending the meeting with a Flip camera and notepad. Perhaps there will be shouting and gnashing of teeth – can’t wait!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Concerns About Coal Power, Call for Flywheel Technology from Fleet Exec

Special thanks to former Dollar Thrifty fleet executive John Maus for sending a letter to the editor, and expressing his views on some of the challenges and opportunities faced by electric vehicles and hybrids...

You and most other writers refer to plug in electric cars "you get the zero emissions while its running on battery only," but in reality electricity isn't an energy source, only a conduit of energy, and about half of all this energy is generated by polluting coal and it is certainly not emissions free. Sure, more renewable energy sources are coming on line all the time, but they may never become much of a factor for several more years. If there is a plus side to coal, it is a home grown energy source, but plug-ins will be taxing the already overloaded grid in years to come. I'm not saying it is all bad to get away from gas/diesel, but I suspect the zero emission terminology will start to get challenged more in the near future and consumers may feel duped after the facts are known.

Secondly, I like hybrids because they do generate electricity from kinetic braking action, and I'm wondering if the 100% plug-in units do the same? In fact, do all hybrids take advantage of this truly wasted energy? Now I'm wondering why the manufactuers haven't figured out how to do the same with the basic gas powerplant. Come to think of it, there has been flywheel technology studied in the past, but the extra weight might not exceed the benefit.

Best Regards,

John Maus (retired Dollar Thrifty fleet exec)

Friday, October 15, 2010

What’s Good to Know about E10 and E15 in Your Tank

Did you know that 10% of nearly all the gasoline sold retail in the U.S. consists of ethanol? Not long ago, I thought that any of the Es – E10, E85, etc. – referred only to vehicles capable of handling that much ethanol, basically flex fuel vehicles. I did not understand that in recent years, our gasoline – not just in California, or some corn growing state like Iowa – became 10% ethanol. And now the EPA is cool with going up to 15% on 2007 model year or newer vehicles.

Boy, do I feel dumb. And I’m the editor of Automotive Digest Green. Here’s a few other things I’ve learned about E10 and E15…

E10 and other blends of ethanol are considered to be useful in decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and can reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 20% to 30% under the right conditions.

Much of this stems from the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, where the Renewable Fuel Standard program was expanded to increase the volume of renewable fuel required to be blended into transportation fuel from nine billion gallons in 2008 to 36 billion gallons by 2022. Corn ethanol can make up much of this volume, and other sources will include advanced biofuels possibly coming from cellulosic ethanol and algae biofuel.

Environmental groups have voiced strong opposition to the effort to increase use of ethanol because production of the fuel – made from corn in the U.S. and from sugar cane in Brazil – is environmentally damaging and can lead to a reduction in land devoted to growing food crops.

Archer Daniels Midland, the top publicly-traded ethanol maker, is supportive of higher ethanol blends, and its shares rose to near a record high last week after the EPA’s E15 announcement.

The EPA’s decision, for the time being, to limit E15 usage to 2007 model year or older vehicles has been criticized by the Renewable Fuels Association, a major trade association for the US ethanol industry. The association accused the EPA of missing an opportunity to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and create new economic opportunity.

Exxon Mobil’s vice president of government and public affairs, Ken Cohen, blogged and said the E15 decision could have unintended consequences. He noted that federal Renewable Fuel Standards require eventual use of up to 36 billion gallons of biofuels (versus about 12 billion produced and consumed today) and said that to meet those goals by 2022, the blends of ethanol might have to be extended as high as 20 to 25 percent.

Critics of the higher blend E15 have said it would cause damage to older motor vehicle engines, as well as small engines used for motorcycles, tools, lawn mowers, and outboard marine motors.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is GM Really Out to Trick You About Volt?

“(AutoObserver editor Bill) Visnic also points out – and we agree – that the blow-up over whether the extended-range plug-in Volt is all-electric all the time really is much ado about nothing insofar as the driving public is concerned.” This statement was made Tuesday in Edmunds’ Green Car Advisor, one day after a hullaballoo occurred between and General Motors reps to determine whether GM was telling the truth and delivering an accurate specification. The Volt is getting positive reviews from journalists who’ve waited a long time to test drive one, and the debate has simmered down. As I read through coverage of the Leaf brouhaha, questions came to mind… Will buyers truly understand what distinguishes the Chevy Volt from the Nissan Leaf (pure electric) and the Toyota Prius (hybrid electric vehicle)? Will that matter to them? What will GM and Chevrolet dealers need to do to adequately educate the public about what the Volt is, and the benefits of having one?

Monday, October 11, 2010

3 Good Stories I Read This Morning

So if you're writing about green machines, it's a good idea to start your day sifting through coverage. What I like about it is that I start linking the dots - recurring themes, different versions of the same stories, visual displays I would have missed elsewhere. It's kind of Green Car 101, or Green Cars for Dummies. Sometimes I can qualify for such ratings, and to prove my point...

Automakers are trying to stop an EPA ruling that would allow gasoline to contain 15% ethanol, up from 10% now. They're getting bi-partisan support, and their argument is that this could harm engine durability and have other bad effects. So here's my dummy issue: I always thought this EPA ruling only affected flex-fuel vehicles - those that are built to run on gasoline only, or a mix of gas and ethanol - E10, E85, etc. I seriously did not know that 10% of this nation's gasoline now consists of ethanol, and that could go up to 15% based on EPA rules. Duh!

If America wants to reduce its addiction to oil, you have to start looking far and wide - it's way more than what you pump into your gas tank. Asphalt, which covers all our roads, consists of lots of petroleum. According to Gas 2.0, researchers from Iowa State University have come up with a bio-oil made from corn stalks, wood waste, and other bio-mass that could one day replace oil in asphalt. Whoah!

When you hear the commonly used word EVs, your mind immediately pops over to Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt (though yes this is a plug-in or extended range vehicle), or Tesla Roadster. The truth is there are a lot of motorbikes out there running on battery power. We got to check out the cool cycles that Brammo is selling over at AltCar Expo, and their Enertia and Empulse models made the top two listings of an article in earth2tech. The only well known name brands are the Smart E-Scooter and MINI Electric Scooter. It's a great market for start-ups to access and build high performance EVs. Cool!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are You a Greenwasher?

The Federal Trade Commission is looking into calling out companies guilty of "greenwashing," or making claims about their sustainability and environmental responsibility that sound good, but don't merit the claim. Under a set of environmental marketing guidelines that were proposed by the FTC, businesses would soon have to tread more carefully when calling their products "green" or "eco-friendly," according to Greenwire. The FTC would like for companies to be restricted on making unqualified environmental benefit claims. There are many companies out there who had no intention to improve their conservation, energy efficiency, and environmental stewardship a few years ago. Now it's a way to get attention, look good, and attract buyers who have these concerns. To stand out against competitors.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Car Rental Companies Not Just Jelly Bean Counters

Car-rental company Avis Budget Group ordered 500 electric vehicles from Renault, taking to the next step the companies' February agreement to increase the number of EVs that are available for rent to the public. The EVs will be available to customers in certain European countries by the end of 2011. Avis joins Hertz and Enterprise Rent-A-Car in bringing EVs to their fleet. Hertz will add Nissan Leaf EVs by early next year, and Enterprise will add 500 Leafs by the fall. Having covered car rental companies during the 1990s, it's interesting to see these companies looking at more than their usual fleet acquisitions - available and affordable jelly bean cars with very little in the way of amenities. That is changing - now you can get navigation systems, satellite radio, electric cars, and other options. Things have changed.