Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Smog or Greenhouse Gas Debate - What Difference Does it Make?

According to Greenwire... EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that her 40-year-old agency is battling a new problem: Americans are taking a healthy environment for granted. When EPA was created in 1970, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire. Pittsburgh and Los Angeles were choking on smog on a daily basis. And the widespread use of DDT and other toxic chemicals was killing off bald eagles -- the very symbol of the United States. The nation's rivers aren't burning anymore, Jackson said. The air is clean enough that many people don't notice it. Struggling species have rebounded. But because younger people have no memories of those days, they might not realize why the agency was created in the first place, she said.

This got me thinking and ended up as part of my Letter from the Editor...

In the recently released Kelley Blue Book survey study on consumer’s lack of interest in buying electric vehicles, one particular response caught my eye. For those interested in alternative vehicle technology, 83% cited reduction in pollution, and 83% checked reduction in vehicle emissions as primary reasons. So what’s the difference between the two? To me, a simple definition would be: pollution = smog from the tailpipe; vehicle emissions = greenhouse gas or CO2 emissions (global warming). There’s a difference between the two.

There’s always debate about whether global warming and climate change are for real, and whether humanity could do anything to positively affect climate patterns. Whether or not that question can be answered, I do believe that air pollution is the core reason for bringing advanced clean technology to the auto industry. I’m reminded of being eight years old and going to the LA Zoo on a grammar school field trip when the smog was so thick, my eyes watered and my throat grew sore and thick. Today, even though there are more vehicles on LA freeways, the air pollution has been dramatically reduced and air quality improved. I’m all for that happening around the world and look forward to seeing green machines become a valid option for car shoppers.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Automotive News Tracks Greenage in OEMs, Supplers, and Dealer Networks

Automotive Digest is a good publication to read while covering the auto business, perhaps you can call it the car business bible. There are other pubs to follow, such as The Detroit Bureau, but AN goes more in depth with automaking and its supplier chain and dealer networks than anything else you can find. As for green machines, here's a few tidbits from the weekly edition:

In addition to electrifying half of its own fleet by 2015, General Electric plans to open two experience centers where fleet operators can learn about switching to electric vehicles. Deb Frodl, chief strategy officer at GE Capital Fleet Services, said educating fleet customers will help GE shape the future. 

At the experience centers, potential customers of commercial fleet vehicles will be able to test-drive electric vehicles, use GE equipment and meet with representatives from automakers and battery manufacturers. The first center will open in Eden Prairie, Minn., near the headquarters of GE Capital Fleet Services, by the end of March 2011. The other will open soon after that in suburban Detroit as part of a new technology center that GE announced last year. 

Entrepreneurs and established companies are using a range of resources to create a new industry: plug-in charging stations. They are selling the stations to go along with new plug-in EVs hitting the roads. Jim Blain, CEO of the suburban Detroit architectural firm James Blain & Associates Inc., saw opportunity last year when one of his tenants voiced an interest in buying a Chevrolet Volt. Blain created PEP Stations soon afterward to design a charging station ahead of the release of the plug-in hybrid Volt and electric Nissan Leaf sedans. 
Shocking Solutions, another suburban Detroit company, signed a deal to distribute charging stations in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio manufactured by Coulomb Technologies Inc., of Campbell, Calif. Another company jumping into the EV market is SPX Corp., traditionally a supplier of special tools and diagnostic gear. Its SPX Service Solutions unit has struck a deal with GM to supply and install 220-volt chargers for the Volt. For $490 and a home installation fee of about $1,400, Volt owners can charge their car at home in four hours. 
Wheego Electric Cars Inc. says it will begin selling its two-passenger LiFe across the United States in mid-December, although it doesn't have the EPA certification needed to begin. "We're confident that we'll have it in time," said Mike McQuary, CEO of the Atlanta startup. "The U.S. government is committed to encouraging EV use." 
EPA emission certification is largely a formality since battery-powered vehicles have no emissions. But the agency's formal approval has kept other would-be U.S. automakers waiting in the past. 

McQuary said Wheego has 22 dealers standing by. And he said Wheego will sell and deliver cars in any U.S. market that is not represented by a dealer once sales begin. McQuary said the company plans to offer a five-passenger car in the fourth quarter of 2011 and a compact pickup based on that car in early 2012.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Comparing Prius to Leaf and Volt Dollar for Dollar

For years, the Toyota Prius has been topping the EPA mileage rating chart, most recently coming in at 50 mpg combined, with 51 in the city and 48 on the highway. (Perhaps this is true of the new 2010 Prius. My experience driving a 2006 Prius has seen a combined score more in the 47 to 48 range, which has involved much freeway driving.) Anyways, the Prius has been beaten by the Nissan Leaf getting an equivalent rating of 99 mpg. And the Chevy Volt was just announced -- 60 mpg "composite."

Here's the basic numbers on all three of these models:

                                      Base MSRP        Tax Incentive                  EPA Mileage Rating
2011 Nissan Leaf              $32,780                  $7,500                                    99

2011 Chevy Volt               $41,000                  $7,500                                     60

2010 Toyota Prius             $21,400                     0                                         50

So the dollar for dollar comparison looks like the Leaf competes most directly with the Prius, even though the incentive has expired on the Prius.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Stay Tuned for More Bad News on Oil Spill

According to Climatewire:

The companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill made several risky decisions to save time -- and consequently money -- ahead of the disaster, according to a document that was pulled at the last minute from a presentation of the president's oil spill commission earlier this month. The document obtained by Greenwire shows BP PLC, Halliburton Co. and Transocean Ltd. made a series of 11 unnecessary decisions that may have increased the chances of disaster. The findings paint a harsher picture than statements made by the panel's chief counsel during a recent presentation that workers onshore and on the drilling rig didn't cut corners on safety to save money. And it may be a harbinger of stronger findings in the panel's final conclusions due out in January.

This is being investigated by an Obama administration task force panel, which reminds me of the recent auto industry task force overseeing the GM and Chrysler bankruptcy bailouts. The White House and Congress don't possess ultimate authority over the economy or any megacompany like BP, not nearly as much as they used to. There are other power forces lurking such as banks in China and other parts of Asia that have a lot of investment/ownership in our federal deficit.

Still, BP's Gulf spill and its aftermath is the Rubik's Cube for gaining some control over the world's largest industry, oil. Their competitors are being very cautious and have been launching marketing campaigns with references to being responsible for the planet and being more than just oil companies.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Corn a Good Business to Be In

While following coverage of green regulatory decisions, two stood out:

1. Obama administration decision to put off E15 decision about adding 2001 to 2006 model year vehicles until later. E10 has been the standard across the country for years, and now that's moved up to 15% ethanol - E15 - on model year 2007 and newer vehicles. At first, the administration rejected anything older than 2007, but has recanted that move and is taking more time to decide. More vehicle tests need to be done, the EPA says.

2. California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved a resolution saying recent research had spurred a downward revision in estimated greenhouse gas emissions caused by changing land uses to plant more corn. With new rules for transportation fuel emissions scheduled to come into effect in less than two months, California regulators moved to revise their treatment of corn ethanol from being worse than gasoline to better, according to Greenwire.

If you're growing, processing, transporting, and selling corn, you're in a really good business these days. Every time someone pumps gas into the car, more corn is sold and that volume will probably be increasing. And if CARB says that corn ethanol has its benefits, that will open more doors.

Corn ethanol is transitional - corn and sugar cane ethanol are widely used in the US and Brazil, but they have their downsides for impact on the environment and raising animosity with industry groups that believe ethanol is creating unstable market prices that raise hackles for shoppers, sometimes causing riots around the world. The evidence of corn ethanol wreaking havoc on stores and prices is iffy, but its negative impact on the environment is more accurate. Yet until really good stuff comes on the market in advanced biofuels, we're stuck with corn ethanol.

Friday, November 19, 2010

An Exhausting Day at LA Auto Show

A fellow green car editor told me yesterday he was burned out after spending a day at the LA Auto Show. I asked him if it was about walking around the large complex nonstop, and for him it was about being overwhelmed by all the information. The LA Auto Show has become the leading auto show ever since moving from January to November - many launches with a lot of emphasis on green cars this year. The show was exciting and draining - there was so much going on it was hard to take it all in on one day. It would have been more like going to Disney World or Smithsonian Institute - it could have been done over several days.

Much to take in with all sorts of new car launches, the Green Car of the Year awards show, the ride and drive, and massive automaker displays. I got a kick out of Ford's exhibit area with the EcoBoost robots performing together. The Yokohama Tires ecowall was pretty cool to look at.

I had a great interview with Electric Drive Transportation Association and Southern California Edison about an educational website called GoElectricDrive.com, and had some suggestions for additional information they should add to educate consumers (and utilities, OEMs, dealers, tech suppliers, etc.) about electric vehicles and charging. They're taking it into consideration.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

2 Stand Out Scenarios with CODA Sedan

Things are stretching out even more for the CODA sedan - it will be rolling off manufacturing lines in Q2 2011, a year later than originally planned. If you're in a small start-up electric car company, I'm sure that CODA's backsliding would make you nervous. There are two aspects of the situation that stand out:

1. The price is fairly high - about $44,000 retail versus a bit under $33,000 for the Nissan Leaf and Wheego LiFE. Why would you paying $11,000 more for a brand new car from a brand new company when you have no idea what the resale value will be, quality and reliability, etc.

2. The production is dragged out and questionable. It's typical for a new car to take about three years from concept design to showroom floor traffic, and sometimes even longer - the Japanese makers have been known for keeping it tight and the Detroit 3 have dragged it out in past years. Still when the product launch is announced, then delayed, then delayed again, it ain't lookin' good.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Carbon Credits Could be Viable Lobbying Option in Washington

An Electrification Coalition report says that public policies need to come out of Washington to boost fleet purchases of electric vehicles. Recommended public policies include tax credits for light-duty PHEVs and EVs deployed in fleets as well as for medium- and heavy-duty PHEVs and EVs, clean renewable energy bonds for infrastructure, guarantee of residual value for the first generation of lithium-ion batteries, and federal fleet electrification including the Postal Service.

What about carbon credits? The climate change policy is probably dead in Congress now that Republicans are taking the House majority and committee positions are changing. However, there are those who think carbon credits might be a way to make all of this work. Carbon credits are a component of national and international attempts to mitigate the growth in concentrations of greenhouse gases. Certainly this issue is much bigger than specific policies encouraging fleets to bring in more EVs, but it does speak to the larger arena of policies going through Washington affecting renewable energy and alternative technology, all part of making fleets greener. And perhaps the clean renewable energy bonds will incorporate carbon credits.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Who's Actually Going to Buy Electric Vehicles?

According to a survey by leasing residual value tracker ALG, 55% of 2,200 people polled said they are unwilling to pay any more for an electric vehicle with a range of 100 miles than for a gasoline-powered vehicle. And even if they were interested in purchasing an EV, more than four in 10 respondents said they would be unwilling to pay to install a charging station where their vehicle would be stored.

In other recent coverage form Automotive News, columnist Dan Guilford wrote, "China's desire to leapfrog traditional automakers with electric vehicles is filling up the order book at A123 Systems. The Watertown, Mass., battery maker last week said it had won a contract from Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp. to supply lithium ion batteries for a 2012-model EV. A123 already sells battery technology to SAIC for several vehicles. Jason Forcier, vice president of A123's automotive unit, says the company initially will build cells in Livonia, Mich., but will shift production in 2013 to a plant in China. The cells will be integrated into packs at a Chinese joint venture between A123 and SAIC. China expects its annual production of electric-drive vehicles to hit 1 million units by 2020, Forcier notes."

So my thoughts are - How accurate are the forecasts, and if they are, who will be buying? While JD Power and Associates say it will be less than other reports on the market claim it will be, we're still talking about millions of EVs being on the road.

Who will buy them? At first, you can expect to see three targeted, guaranteed audiences: 1. Early adopters, who will brag about being among the very first to drive a Nissan Leaf or another competitive electric model. 2. Greeniacs, or those with environmental concerns and activist tendencies, i.e., people who belong to Plug In America and can't wait for "Revenge of the Electric Car" to come out. 3. Fleets - such as General Electric and Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which are buying a lot of EVs. Perhaps there should be another segment added: 4. Overseas markets - China, India, Japan, Korea, Great Britain, France, Germany, Brazil, etc. Overseas governments are passing mandates and incentives to get citizens behind the wheel of an EV.

So it will happen - millions will be sold in the next 10 years, along with millions of hybrids, flex fuel vehicles, NGVs, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Once the four core buyer segments are thoroughly reached, the issue will be how to elevate and expand the markets and increase the production chain effectively. Then the profits start rolling in. Long before that, OEMs are lined up to play this game, and there's multitudes of technology suppliers making much needed contributions.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Reducing Congestion & Smog Prior to Catastrophe

As China and several other emerging nations have been experiencing, rapid population and economic growth translates into gridlocked traffic jams and heavy layers of air pollution, not to mention other damaging after effects. The 2008 summer Olympics in Beijing provided an obvious example of this trend, even after the Chinese government had previously spent months downsizing vehicle traffic before the Olympics to clear the air; it didn't help that much - the layers had already grown quite thick.

Reducing vehicle traffic and tailpipe emissions has been in the works for year in the European Union, North America, Japan, and other economic powerhouses, and is being taken on in China, India, and elsewhere. To make this happen, here's what I think needs to be adopted into a substantial, effective method to clear the air and roads:

1. Advanced vehicle technology - this of course speaks to fuel efficiency, clean fuels and technology, and onboard diagnostic technology. In the future, it will also transfer over to traffic control management and communications technology. Perhaps we will all own a "smart car" tied into public transportation organizations that manage traffic flow, road safety, and highway repair, such as Caltrans in the state of California. And tied into onboard technology that can take over driving the car. Perhaps we'll get in the car, voice activate the telematics and choose our location, then sit back and read or watch a movie, and/or make phone calls, as we're driven safely and efficiently. This would reduce traffic and collisions, increase fuel efficiency, reduce idle time, and relieve much of our stress. Unfortunately, we're years away from this goal, but technology advancements are moving forward in leaps and bounds. Every year you buy a car, there's something new and interesting - some of it merely for entertainment, but it is tied into the future of advanced vehicle technology.

2. Mass transit improvements - the US is behind other countries when it comes to mass transit, especially train systems. Some US cities are better than others, and support for this growth is slow and has hurdles to overcome in federal and state funding. As traffic gets worse and public transportation gets better, voters probably will become unwillingly supportive (i.e., sweetly reasonable) about mass transit solutions. In the transitional period, this can also be improved by buses - including public transportation and private transportation companies - integrating natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell, biofuels, and battery power into the fleet.

3. Architectural design and housing development - there are several leaders in the environmental/sustainability sector who believe urban centers need to redesign their landscape in order to survive and thrive as global population grows, buildings are built and expanded, and more vehicles clog roads across the world. A lot of architects believe cities need to be restructured with housing, workplaces, transportation centers, shopping, and services fused together into space-efficient and attractive models. A lot of people want to leave the burbs and live in stylish cities, and want access to good stuff all around them. This means less driving, land development, wastefulness, etc., at least in theory. It's a tough one to implement as the population continues to grow, developers keep building new tract housing, and consumers prefer to live farther away from traffic, mobs of people, scary neighborhoods, their annoying family, etc. Yet there will always be city lovers, or at least those who prefer living in a major metro area rather than miles and miles away - so building new, or remodeling existing, urban centers, is part of the strategic plan for some leaders.

4. Car sharing - is not yet popular in the US, but is growing in Europe. It's likely to expand in America, but does go against our sense of the "constitutional right" to own your own damn car, drive all by yourself, and get stuck in traffic while listening to your own stereo, talking on your own cell phone as loud as you want without getting a ticket, go wherever you want whenever you want, jump on the highway and go to Vegas baby Vegas, etc. That is a common, popular illusion in America, the land of the free. As traffic and smog get worse, people are becoming sort of sweetly reasonable about alternatives - taking your bike to the library, riding the bus to work, walking to the store with your wife, carpooling to work, etc. Car sharing fits into this mindset well - your neighborhood or apartment/condo building can do sort of a time share on a car - costing you much less than that second car you thought you needed to buy, but wouldn't use much anyways and get particularly resentful about when your annual car registration bill comes in the mail followed by your car insurance bill.

5. Green machines - this is an obvious one, or why would Green Machine Digest even exist, right? There will certainly need to be enough green machines to be on the road to make a difference in reducing tailpipe and CO2 emissions, but the projections do point to impressive possibilities and benefits. And there are jobs being created, business/investment opportunities, government taxes and fees, reduction of oil dependency, and positive vibes connected to it. And to repeat myself once again, these green machine benefits are occurring through growth in pure electric vehicles, hybrid electric vehicles, plug in electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, biofuel powered vehicles (such as ethanol and biodiesel), and natural gas and propane powered vehicles.

I suppose substantial solutions to smog and traffic will need to fuse all five factors into a public/private partnership backed enough by voters and consumers. Here's to hoping for the best.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why I'm Convinced Natural Gas Vehicles Are Here to Stay

Ways you can tell natural gas vehicles are catching on…

•Fleet managers are becoming true believers. Natural gas vehicles are being brought into fleets all over North America in passenger cars, cargo vans, medium- and heavy-trucks, and specialty application vehicles.

Paul Condran, equipment maintenance manager for City of Culver City in California, and 2009 winner of the best green fleet award, had this to say about NGV benefits: “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 US, Canada and most of Europe have been heating our homes, drying our clothes, and using it to cook on for decades and decades.”

•Harry Reid and other U.S. senators are listening to oil-tycoon-turned-natural-gas-icon T. Boone Pickens’ advocacy for adopting the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Accountability Act. This bill would bring rebates between $10,000 and $64,000 for the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles, grants of up to $50,000 to install natural gas refueling stations, and other provisions benefiting the NGV industry. The word is, this bill could adopted by the end of this year or into next, as one of the alternatives to the gone by-by climate change bill.

•T. Boone Pickens is one of the owners of Clean Energy, a Seal Beach, Calif., based company that is laying out the fueling station infrastructure across the country, station by station. These usually involve contracts with municipalities, airports, transit authorizes, and public agencies to make sure accessible natural gas stations are available for commercial accounts. This will take a while to make its way cross country, but the company regularly has announcements on new contracts signed.

•There’s a $4,000 federal tax credit on alternative fuel vehicles through the end of this year (though that could be extended later on). CNG vehicles are the only “commercially available alternative fuel vehicles that qualify for the incentive,” according to EPA and DOT. That means flex-fuel vehicles are not eligible, even though there’s many of them on the road.

•Landi Renzo, an Italian company that started in 1953 and now has 33% of the alternative fuel global market, decided to set up shop in the US this year. While visiting them, I asked how this happened. Andrea Landi, president of Landi Renzo USA described how his grandfather started the company in 1954 when gasoline was hard to find in the postwar environment. It wasn’t until this year that the need for natural gas and propane powered vehicles, especially NGVs, grew enough to make it worthwhile to enter the U.S. market, and Torrance, California, made much sense to reach key fleet and OEM clients, Landi said. The company is working with clients such as OEMs to build advanced NGVs for use in fleet applications. Not long after the gas price spike in the US, the company started getting a lot of calls asking them to move to America.

•Global Industry Analysts, Inc. says the world will see 28.7 million units of natural gas vehicles on roads by the year 2015. Primary factors fingered to drive this growth include economic and promotional support extended by governments, volatility in oil prices, technology innovations that further the practicality of NGVs as an alternative fuel vehicle technology, and focus of the automotive industry on cleaner vehicle concepts.

Stay tuned for a few of my concerns about NGVs...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

CODA Automotive Keeps Losing Top Players

As CODA Automotive gets ready to launch its much anticipated electric sedan, it was quite surprising to hear about CEO Kevin Czinger resigning nearly a week ago. And he wasn't the first. Michael A. Jackson, Senior Vice President of Global Sales, Marketing and Distribution, resigned his post at CODA right before the Czinger announcement. Something very similar happened with Kerri Martin, who if memory serves, held the marketing post that Jackson took over. She had unexpectedly left for a marketing/advertising firm.

According to coverage, Czinger will be replaced by CODA's board co-chairman, Steven Heller, on an interim basis, pending a search. Czinger and Heller are both former Goldman Sachs executives, which helped CODA raise money. We were able to interview Czinger last year during a day of test driving the upcoming CODA sedan, and learned much about the global supply chain relationships and joint ventures being created in China and throughout the US. Czinger was new to the auto industry, but could explain in great detail the organizational dynamics required for CODA to succeed. The transition has been in the works for a while, according to the company, and Czinger will continue to be a substantial investor.

As the company gets ready to take on the EV market, stability and credibility will be very important to restore.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lawsuits Filed Over EPA's E15 Rule

The American Petroleum Institute and nine food and farm groups have sued EPA over last month's ruling that E15 - a blend of 15% ethanol and 85% gasoline - can be used in 2007 or newer cars, light trucks, and SUVs. The suits contend the EPA decision violates the Clean Air Act. The recent EPA waiver does not mandate the use of E15 in these vehicles, but rather it gives the green light for its use in them.

For years, ethanol has made up 10% of most gasoline sold in the US and has been used as a gasoline additive to increase combustion. The ethanol industry has been putting a lot of pressure on EPA to increase the level to 15%, but these groups were upset when the ruling said 2007 model year of newer vehicles.

Nobody's happy, and much to clean up.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Luxury Green Machines Hip, Slick & Cool

According to Environmental Leader and Greenbang, Land Rover is investing more than $1.3 billion to develop environmental solutions, giving the automaker the leading position in terms of UK automotive “green” technologies. The automaker expects to deliver its first 2WD SUV, the Freelander 2 eD4, at the start of 2011, which also is considered to be the company’s most economical vehicle in terms of carbon emissions, according to the article. Land Rover also is partnering with ClimateCare to offset CO2 emissions from all of its manufacturing assembly operations.

Land Rover going in this directions points in a couple of directions - one being strict emissions rules in Europe and other markets Land Rover does business. Another is the brouhaha Tesla Motors is creating with the splash its making by partnering with major OEMs for its technology innovation, and the appeal of its $110,000 Roadster. The early adopters are the early buyers of products, and for green machines, the appeal appears to be the cutting edge technology, the ability to play first with a new toy, and the image it creates for the buyers. It's all good.

Friday, November 5, 2010

More Random Thoughts

Facebook has launched a new “green” page as an environmental resource for individuals and organizations that details what the company is doing in the environmental space, along with providing environmental news from around the Web. At the same time, the company has joined the Alliance to Save Energy. The Alliance-Facebook partnership includes the donation to the Alliance of $500,000-worth of advertising on the Facebook platform, and other projects. My oh my, could this have anything to do with an effort to get Facebook to power its planned data center in Prineville, Oregon, with renewable energy instead of coal? In that move, Greenpeace gained support from 500,000 Facebook users under its “Unfriend Coal” campaign against Facebook.

Of all places, Detroit will host the 15th Annual Urban Wheel Awards during the upcoming Detroit Auto Show, and no Detroit manufacturers will be recognized. Instead, the winners will be:

Subaru: "Greenest Manufacturing Plant in America."
Honda: "Greenest Car Lineup."
Nissan: "Most Practical Zero Emissions Product" (for the Leaf).
Toyota: "Worldwide Leadership in Hybrid Technology."

Subaru? Wow, never have heard that name mentioned for any green accomplishments.

McKinsey and Company reports that Europe is ripe to bring in commercialization of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Car manufacturers mentioned as potential players in the growth process: BMW AG, Daimler AG, Ford, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan, Renault, Toyota, and Volkswagen. The report says that fuel cell electric vehicles is the best electric vehicle option for medium and larger cars and longer trips.

According to Sue Cischke, Ford's sustainability officer, Ford has launched a new website -- www.fordvehicles.com/technology/electric/ -- offering the basic information consumers need to understand electrified vehicle and technology choices. The site is part of Ford's efforts to educate consumers about the range of electrified vehicles and ultimately to help potential buyers determine which electrified option might best suit their specific driving habits and needs. Yes, educating consumers about what PHEV means, and the difference between hybrid and hydrogen, is a lot of work now.

According to a southern California paper, the city of Corona may offer $2,000 for buying a new green car and $1,000 for buying a used one. Buyers must live within the city, buy a compressed natural gas, electric or non-diesel hybrid vehicle, and purchase the car from the city's list of dealers and brokers in Corona. Aha, interesting... combining green with green - cleaner air and healthier city coffers and dealerships.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Volvo's Trucking Division Goes Green

The Volvo Group will be the world's first vehicle manufacturer to join the World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Climate Savers Program. As a WWF partner, the Volvo Group's truck companies undertake to reduce the CO2-emissions from vehicles manufactured between 2009 and 2014 by 13 million tons.

That's an interesting announcement and probably has something to do with the EPA's heavy duty truck ruling, which the American Trucking Associations was preparing for long before it happened. I wouldn't think of a trucking OEM joining a climate savers program, but the incentives for doing so are there - standing out, looking good, and if you have any guilty concerns over what you're building and putting out there, this can take off some of the pressure. That's the whole idea behind carbon trading and cap and trade programs - make it all balance out somehow.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Largest Electric Vehicle Order in History

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said on Oct. 30 the company plans to order "tens of thousands" of electric vehicles in about a week which he described as the largest EV order in history. The initiative calls for about half of GE's 45,000-person sales force to drive electric vehicles. Immelt didn't reveal which automakers would be involved.

JD Power and Associates isn't convinced that sales of battery electric vehicles, plug-in electric vehicles, or hybrid electric vehicles will reach the high levels others have been proclaiming - only 7.3% of global new car sales in 2020. The real trend is yet to be seen as most of these new product launches are yet to happen. However, selling green machines may not be as big and bountiful as some would like it to be, and certain buyer categories will reign in importance. Early adopters and those with environmental concerns will be buying cars, and fleets will probably be a bigger segment than might have been expected. If GE is going to invest that much into EVs to drive sales reps, that says a lot. A sales force will have range anxiety since long car trips are normal for them. So if a company like GE is already committing to such a mass early adoption, you can expect to see other fleet buyers go that route.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Listening to Passionate Complainers

After reading my Letter from the Editor last week mentioning a visit from an odd neighbor complaining that Ford and EPA didn't step forward to resolve problems with his CNG flex fuel sedans, lots of emails got sent back to me. There seems to be much interest in commentary on the public attitudes of people - politics, government, business, social issues, etc. Interestingly enough, you can't write or read anything about green machines without touching on some of it. It's about global politics and economics, energy and national security, environmental catastrophes, or global climate change humanity has no say over, and much more.

As for my angry neighbor's visit, here's what Mike Velemirovich, owner and general manager of Hillcrest Volkswagen in Halifax, Nova Scotia, had to say: "I've worked on the retail side of the business for 31-years and have met many passionate complainers. To dedicate one's life to complaining to the government about a specific piece of technology, be it intermittent wipers, ABS, or alternative fuel systems is..... well, it's just plain nutty."

"Just plain nutty" boils it all down to what occurred (thanks Mike). But I want to be a safe and reasonable neighbor, so physical descriptions of the neighbor or his dog will be constrained.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sticker Price More Important than Range Anxiety

Companies that want to sell electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids spend a lot of time talking about how they can diminish range anxiety with lots of numbers on miles driven per charge. Most likely, they're focusing on the wrong number, says Dave Guilford, enterprise editor at Automotive News. "As important as driving range may be, the key number in consumers' minds will be the one in the lower right corner of the price sticker," he wrote.

The price premiums for various forms of electric and hybrid vehicles are likely to turn off car shoppers, according to a new study by JD Power and Associates. Sellers of hybrid electric vehicles have known this for several years - Why is this hybrid $5,000 or $10,000 more than this comparable model sitting nearby in the dealer lot? What's in it for me? Questions like are common for dealers. Coming up with answers ahead of time will be critical for selling them.