Thursday, December 23, 2010

Climate Change Could Be Like Health Crisis

For those of us living in Southern California and used to having sunny days and pleasant weather, the past week-and-a-half has sucked. It rained, and then it rained, and then it rained, seeming like it would never stop. The expected landslides and washouts happened with road closings, traffic accidents, and bouts of depression. It felt more like being in the Pacific Northwest than in El Lay. If you're watching national weather reports, this seems to be part of a bigger picture - weather cycles are out of the norm and causing severe consequences.

Al Gore might be right about greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, and climate change. The main point of the movie "An Inconvenient Truth" was not really about hot weather being the norm (if you're confused by the term "global warming") - as the earth's climate warms and transforms, the usual weather cycles are thrown off kilter and Mother Nature is throwing tantrums - sometimes freezing cold and later hot as hell producing catastrophes. That started being more clear in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, and since then, many hurricanes, tornadoes, heat waves, and snowstorms have been experienced. As ice caps melt and storms wash across the planet, flooding will become the biggest problem, and this wreaks much havoc. It ain't easy seeing your house float away.

Some would say that weather patterns are changing, but that's normal in the history of this planet, and there's nothing we can do about it. I would say, what if you're wrong? I would say, let's see what we can do about it. It reminds me of going through my own health crisis with encephalitis, and having people in my life dealing with cancer and other fatal conditions. We all had decisions to make about how much we were committed to getting well. That means making changes in nutrition, exercise, medical care, testing, and trying out alternative methods such as acupuncture, herbs, and yoga. If we're stewards on this planet being held accountable by Mother Nature, perhaps it would be most wise and responsible to do all we can to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, embrace green machines and clean technology, and environmentally sound practices.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Top Green Car Happenings of 2010

I did put together top story/trend coverage for 2010 in Automotive Digest Weekly Green, but did not rank the stories in order. So here's my ranking of the events this year:

1. Gulf oil spill - that went on for quite awhile and wreaked havoc, much like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. It reinforced the freedom from oil addiction America needs to work on.

2. Delivery of Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt to first buyers, before the year ended. They did what they said they were going to do.

3. EPA strict standards for corporate average fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions for light duty vehicles, and then later in the year for heavy duty vehicles. There's a lot to it, and vehicles will become more expensive, efficient, and clean. And smaller and lighter.

4. Governments around the world are offering incentives and mandating adoption of higher mileage and lower emissions vehicles. This has been happening in Europe and Asia. It was fairly surprising to see how much is happening in China.

5. Tesla Motors had a very big year - NUMMI plant, going public, and having companies like Toyota partner to use its EV drivetrain technology.

6. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles got a shot in the arm with announcements from Toyota, Hyundai, and Mercedes Benz on fuel cell cars coming to market.

7. Natural gas vehicles are growing in popularity with fleets and there may be more heavy trucks on the road using this fuel. T. Boone Pickens was able to convince Senate Majority Leader on a $5 billion bill to convert heavy-duty trucks and buses to run on natural gas. It will have to be reintroduced in the senate, but is likely to pass next year.

8. Automakers started going green - Ford especially, with its sustainability officer, building cars with more recycled materials, and winning a Nielsen award on green marketing at the LA Auto Show. General Motors has been doing a lot in arena, too, as have many other OEMs. Fisker Automotive has been tying this theme closely to its marketing campaign for the upcoming Karma.

9. Electric vehicle product announcements were stunning, and eventually numbing. The number of announcements of all-new cars, or electric versions of existing models, was enormous. Some of it is fairly far into the future, or at least a few model years from now. But it was way more than I originally anticipated.

10. Electric vehicle industry coalitions were plentiful and ambitious as well - from Electric Drive Transportation Association, California Plug-In Electric Vehicle Collaborative, and Electrification Coalition are all worth learning more about as charging stations make their way across the country, and need as much support as possible in doing so.

Number 11 would deal with Renewable Fuel Standards that came out this year and will have much impact on what happens next with biofuel - ethanol, biodiesel, and advanced biofuels (such as cellulosic and algae). Very much connected to this is the decision by the EPA to increase ethanol's level in gasoline sold across the country to E15 for 2007 model or later vehicles. There are lawsuits and debates going on for both of these issues, and they will be getting sorted out next year and beyond.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Home Installation Tax Credit a Head Scratcher

Congress just decided to cut the tax credit for electric vehicle chargers from 50% to 30%, which goes from $2,000 to a maximum of $1,000. Home charging installations are costing people about $1,500 to $3,000. The tax cut means more comes out of pocket for the acquisition cost. 

I still want to find out how this will be worked out with the car purchase. If I buy a Nissan Leaf for about $32,800 and need to invest $2,500 for a home charger to be bought and installed in my garage, how does that play out int the loan? Let's say the federal tax incentive brings the charger cost down to $1,500. I would imagine I still need to pay $2,500 and get the $1,000 back as a tax incentive. But might it be included in the purchase price, such as the loan would cover the car and the home installation, and would the tax incentive affect the deal?

Lots of questions I still need to get answered.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Car Sharing Cool Enough to Go Public

Car sharing is popular in Europe, but not in America. It does tend to violate our "constitutional right" to own our very own car, and just jump behind the driver's seat and do whatever we want (though you can get more tickets for things like cell phone talking than you used to). My prediction is that more gridlocked traffic jams and pollution will make Americans sweetly reasonable about solutions to the problem -- and it will affect elections and consumer choices.

Zipcar is the closest thing we have in this country to a successful car sharing business. Others are getting in the act (i.e, car rental), but it's a still a long way off from reaching a significant level. It is becoming substantial enough to inspire an IPO for Zipcar, though.

According to Automotive News, Zipcar is moving forward with an initial public offering worth as much as $75 million. In June, the company filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to become publicly traded. Zipcar declined to comment on timing of the IPO. Since 2000, it has grown into a fleet of more than 8,000 cars in cities including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, London, and Toronto. Today the company boasts 500,000 car-sharing members.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Moving Beyond Early Adopters

To go beyond early adopters sold on the environmental benefits of EVs, automakers will have to shift their marketing emphasis to dollars-and-cents pragmatism, experts say and Automotive News covers. Lower operating costs for both fuel and maintenance will be a key selling point. Speaking at the recent "Business of Plugging In" conference in Detroit, Consultant John Formisano, who retired this year as vice president for global vehicles at Federal Express, said EV makers have a good argument to make. Based on his experience running a fleet of EVs, Formisano estimates that long-term operating costs are around 70% less than for a vehicle with a conventional gasoline engine. That could help persuade consumers to shell out the higher purchase price for an EV.

Consumers looking for a good deal will be a big part of meeting ambitious goals automakers have for selling EVs. They will have to address the issue of consumers having charging stations installed in their garages for $1,500 to $3,000. They can get the federal incentive for a 50% cost reduction, but they still have to take into consideration the time and money involved in making this happen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Questions About Toyota Technology

According to Green Car Advisor: "Toyota appears to be making good on its promise, delivered at the Los Angeles Auto Show last month, to develop solid-state battery technology for electric-drive vehicles. Successful development of such batteries would be a big deal as they can store more energy - for longer range between charges - and cost much less to produce than the lithium-ion batteries now considered state-of-the-art.... Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President and CEO Jim Lentz said at the L.A. Auto Show that, in addition to an accelerated roll-out schedule for more conventional hybrids and the Prius plug-in hybrid electric, the company was working on solid-state battery advancements. The technology's in its infancy, though, and commercial production is still considered to be years away."

I've always wondered why Toyota has been resisting lithium ion batteries and staying with nickel metal hydrides for so long. And this delves into more questions I have: Why no pure electric vehicles in the product pipleline except for the RAV4 with Tesla? Why is the Prius Plug-in taking so long to come to market, and why does it only go 12 miles on battery alone?

Toyota takes its time adapting toward new technology and away from the habits under the hood of the award winning Prius. I do think that when Toyota brings solid-state battery technology to the market, it will be well made. And it probably helps explain why Toyota made the deal with Tesla Motors to build the RAV4 electric version together using the Tesla technology instead of doing it on their own. Doing it their own way is the normal Toyota modus operandi, so things are changing.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Rental Fleets Big Part of Green Machine Future

Two things to notice:

1. Want to see if you can live with an electric vehicle? Your first step may be to check the fleet at your local Hertz rental office, says The Detroit Bureau.. The nation’s largest daily rental company is charging into the emerging battery car market, and plans to add the new Smart Electric Drive model to its fleet, starting next week.

2. Supply & Demand Chain Executive Magazine selected Ryder as a recipient for its 2010 Green Supply Chain Award. Ryder was chosen as a provider of logistics solutions that is assisting its customers in achieving measurable sustainability goals.

Hertz goes neck-to-neck competing with Enterprise for the dominant global role in car rental. Ryder has fought it out with U-Haul for consumer truck rental, but has grown even more so in logistics transport. As mentioned before, fleets have become surprising early adopters for green machines and sustainability initiatives, and it keeps growing. Expect to see more announcements.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Great Year for Lord Drayson, Green Racer

For Paul Drayson, a recent Minister for Science and Innovation in the UK government, this has been a big year. Besides his day job, Lord Drayson has been a  successful race car driver for many years. Drayson Racing's ambition to be the world's leading green technology racing team made big steps towards that goal in 2010. The cornerstone of the Le Mans Prototype One effort was the American Le Mans Series' (ALMS) nine-race calendar, but the team added the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) events in Europe and Asia as well. 

Drayson Racing won its third Michelin Green X Challenge victory in the ALMS. Drayson and racer Jonny Cocker put in extra hours behind the wheel once the E85 bio-ethanol car was damaged the night before in a practice run and the third driver wasn't cleared by medical officials. Drayson Racing used an innovative flex-fueled, Lola CoupĂ© with Judd V10 Power capable of running on both second-generation, cellulosic E85 bio-ethanol and E10. In doing so, the privately-held operation proved sustainable motoring can compete head-to-head with traditional automotive technologies and win. We were fortunate to interview Drayson at the Long Beach Grand Prix's Race for the Green conference earlier this year. There's a lot of green technology innovation being tested out in the American Le Mans Series, and Drayson Racing is doing what Lord Drayson said they would do.