How AltCar Expo has become a workable event model

AltCar Expo logoChristine Dzilvelis, one of the partners who organizes AltCar Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., has a different perspective on what constitutes a successful community event than what I wrote about recently. For example, on Friday afternoon, September 20, during AltCar Expo, a speaker panel on electric vehicle charging stations at multi-family housing units led to action being taken by stakeholders. The intensive three hour discussion led to a planned installation in Santa Monica; key players like Schneider Electric began working out the details.

Dzilvelis said the feedback the organizers are getting is appreciation from local residents and from stakeholders such as automakers on hosting a grass roots, hands-on annual event. People are overwhelmed by all of the new technologies, and AltCar Expo makes it easier for fleets, industry, and the public to experience the vehicles and have their questions answered. “AltCar Expo is not a business to make money,” she said.

What seems to be working best is strong local/regional events. Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo and Electric Vehicle Symposium (EVS) have been receiving kudos, but other national events like Green Fleet Conference & Expo and Plug-in 2013 are only getting small-to-medium attendance that are very supplier-intensive. ACT Expo is getting better feedback, but there’s still a lot of concern that it’s dominated by CNG vehicles. AltCar Expo, now in its eighth year, gets positive feedback for playing a role in pushing alternative fuel vehicles forward by bringing together leaders in government, fleets, automakers, and infrastructure, along with local residents who are very interested and supportive of having this event each year. This year, they especially loved seeing and driving the Chevrolet Spark EV, Dzilvelis said.

Dzilvelis is part of two other events with similar goals for public education and bringing stakeholders together. The first annual Northern California AltCar conference will be taking place March 14-15, 2014 at the Craneway Pavilion (a former Ford plant) in Richmond, Calif.; it’s sponsored by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. On March 28-29, 2014, the fifth annual Texas AltCar conference will be held at the Irving Convention Center in Irving, Texas, and is being sponsored by Dallas Fort Worth Clean Cities. (Next year’s AltCar Expo will be taking place Sept. 19-20, 2014.) AltCar Expo organizers are being contacted regularly by stakeholders in cities across the country that want to get their own AltCar conference going. It does seem to be the most realistic event model for bringing the technology and experience to a lot more people.

Tesla-Mania: Eric Cartman cusses out Tesla Model S; Millennials can bring electric scooters to America

Cartman at gunpoint in Model SWhile it has taken awhile for the creative team at “South Park” to slap around the Model S, the plug-in car did get a few moments on screen. Tesla Motors joins the ranks of Scientology and the Toyota Prius in getting lampooned. In an episode inspired by a variation of the George Zimmerman court verdict (called “World War Zimmerman”), extremely angry young man Eric Cartman stops a Model S and its driver at gunpoint. He yells at her: “We’ve got about ten minutes before this entire country is up in flames! If you wanna live, you’d better step on the gas! Oh wait, is this a Tesla? Sh*t! Well press on the prissy pedal! We’re gonna die!”  
In more serious Tesla news….. Tesla was the top seller of zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) credits in California from Oct. 1 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013 (and Toyota led hybrid credit trades). Tesla transferred 1,311.52 ZEV credits during that time, according to a California Air Resources Board filing. The number two company was Suzuki and was far behind Tesla; Suzuki discontinued US auto sales in 2012 but was able to transfer credits accumulated in the past. Companies that acquired ZEV credits to meet their requirements included Chrysler, GM, Honda, Jaguar Land Rover, Subaru, and Volkswagen (though it’s not reported if they acquired their credits through Tesla or another automakers). California requires automakers to sell electric or other non-polluting vehicles in proportion to their market share in the state.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk spent $989,000 at a London auction on a Lotus Esprit used in The Spy Who Loved Me by the James Bond character. Bond drove the car off a pier in the movie as it transformed into a submarine by merely pressing a button. Musk had fun with it, telling the USA Today he loved watching it as a kid in South Africa. He was disappointed to find out you can’t press the button and make it happen, but plans to upgrade it with a Tesla electric powertrain so that it can transform for real.

Millennials can bring electric scooters to America
Check out this video interview Terry Duncan, chief of consumer engagement at Mahindra GenZe, a US startup that has backing from India’s Mahindra. GenZe is rolling out an electric scooter in early 2014 targeted toward Millennials in the US. The product and audience was chosen based on two premises – urbanization is happening in the world’s major cities and transportation is being heavily impacted; Millennials in their late teens to early 30s are the right market to start with, since they’re not buying cars as much as previous generations, are moving to cities, and want functional, practical transportation alternatives. In another video, you’ll hear him discuss the design decisions made on the bike; while these types of vehicles have huge sales numbers in countries like China, they need to be extremely pragmatic and, let’s say, cool, to make it in the US.

Top News of the Week:

  1. A group of Chinese investors based on Hong Kong and led by Richard Li are investing in Fisker Automotive for an unreported amount. This should finish the US Dept. of Energy’s loan to Fisker – most all of the $192 million loan needs to be paid back and the investor deal will probably only meet some of it, which the US government has been ready to accept. A small chunk of the payback will come through former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz. VL Automotive, a small Detroit company that has Lutz’ backing, will be converting 25 unsold Karmas from plug-in hybrid power to Corvette power. VL had to settle a dispute with an Asian investor that had prevented them from accessing codes operating the car’s infotainment system. Lutz says these converted Karmas will come out in 2014 for something close to $200,000.
  2. Clean­Fuel USA has installed 85 retail propane auto­gas fuel­ing sta­tions across 13 states. This was funded by a $12 mil­lion grant from the US Depart­ment of Energy’s Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act. Texas State Tech­ni­cal Col­lege – TSTC – served as the lead grantee. The major­ity of the 85 sta­tions are located near heav­ily traf­ficked road­ways, exist­ing fuel­ing sta­tions, major air­ports and home improve­ment stores, Clean­Fuel said.
  3. Don’t believe in climate change? What about lung cancer? The International Agency for Research on Cancer, based in Lyon, France, has released a study that formally declares air pollution is causing lung cancer. The research arm of the World Health Organization focused on diesel cars and trucks in operation around the world as a major source of the problem.
  4. ChargePoint is offering a lease-to-purchase program for businesses and cities to install its charging system. The systems usually cost between $6,000 to $12,000 to buy and can cost about $3 to $6 a day over five-to-seven years to pay off under the finance program.
  5. GM will be offering a bi-fuel version of the Chevrolet Impala that will be able to travel up to 500 miles on gasoline and natural gas.
  6. General Electric Co. is converting heavy-duty trucking fleets from diesel to natural gas. GE has partnered with Clean Energy Fuels Corp. and truck fleet operators can apply for loans and leases through GE Capital to make the conversions.
  7. Plug-ins missed the Green Car of the Year award nominee list. The winner will be announced next month at the LA Auto Show form the following list: Audi A6 TDI, BMW 328d, Honda Accord (though the plug-in hybrid was included with the hybrid and ICE versions of the Accord), Mazda3, and Toyota Corolla.
  8. Experts speaking at the annual ITS World Congress in Tokyo expressed concerns over issues that do tend to come up with self-driving cars – technical challenges, lack of industry standards, vague and minimal regulations, implementation costs, and liability issues. Toyota is being a little more optimistic, expecting that elderly drivers could likely make up a strong market segment for self-driving cars.
  9. A study by UK-based Kantar Media says that the BMW i3 saw huge media gains in the third quarter after its debut last month at the Frankfurt auto show. It was No. 2 in online news coverage from No. 60 during the second quarter. It came in 8th place in both Tweets and blog mentions during the third quarter versus being in low 100s rankings for both segments in the previous quarter.

Schneider Electric’s Mike Calise on what EVs and charging need to succeed

Calise_Mike_Schneider ElectricFor Mike Calise, director of electric vehicles at Schneider Electric, mainstream adoption of plug-in electric vehicles boils down to widespread deployment of the charging infrastructure everywhere – homes, workplaces, retail stores, carsharing, car rental, and public sites. When asked about California’s recently enacted Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act, Calise says he and his company support the open system for charging station access and payment. Calise says there are two larger issues to address than roaming – electric vehicle battery capacity and the number of charging stations out there.

The company would also like to see European Union countries adopt a consistent charge and plug standard, as it varies by which country you’re charging in now. Schneider Electric, a global company specializing in energy management, has been very involved in charging station installations across the US and Europe. Prominent recent installations have included Caesars Entertainment Corp. at its northern Nevada Casino properties, Red Cross Silicon Valley Chapter, and the Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton, Calif.

Hacienda Business Park serves Oracle, Kaiser, and Schneider Electric and offers an interesting example of a new business model using an electric vehicle car-sharing service. This collaboration between Schneider Electric, Toyota, City Carshare, and other business park tenants, allows employees at this location to commute to work by train and bike and have a rental car available for errands, lunch, and other short trips, through City CarShare, with the EVlink charging infrastructure from Schneider Electric.

Fleets that are bringing in plug-in electric vehicles and on-site charging stations are discovering a few key benefits of making the investment – one of them being strengthening employee retention, says Calise. “Drivers understand the benefits of EVs, including the dollar-cost benefits – and it gets replicated (among their peers),” he said.

Workplace charging is definitely an amenity – an employee perk – and has been part of several companies strengthening their images in the community, he said. “Installing a $10,000 charger, and having HOV lanes in certain states, has employees bragging about it and the company they work for,” he said.

EVlink is a complete electric vehicle charging solution that delivers flexible, safe, reliable, and compatible charging of electric vehicles. Schneider Electric’s EVlink charging stations are used in public and private locations such as residential, retail stores, restaurants, resorts/hotels, hospitals, office buildings, universities, apartment complexes, and destination centers.

In late September, Schneider Electric announced its “Charge the World Change the World” initiative, a philanthropic program to give EV drivers an opportunity to have a meaningful impact on global sustainability when purchasing an EV charger. For every EVlink home charging station sold in North America, Schneider Electric will donate a solar powered, battery operated LED lamp to a family without access to electricity. Here’s a video to share with others – for every 100 views of the video, Schneider Electric will donate another light to a family.

Six bills signed in California that should help deploy EVs and charging

Gov. Jerry Brown signing billsCalifornia Governor Jerry Brown celebrated National Plug In Day his own way – by signing six bills promoting electric vehicles and alternative technologies in the state. There was some very good news for those building the charging infrastructure – one of them being Senate Bill 454 (SB 454), which adopts the Electric Vehicle Charging Stations Open Access Act. This means that the architecture is open for charging infrastructure deployment. While companies like ChargePoint have been pushing hard for proprietary networks to be the standard, California is adopting an open system for electric vehicle charging payment. Drivers will be able to pull up at any charging station and use their credit card to fuel their car; they’ll no longer be required to search for the limited number of charging stations that they have an account with.

Assembly Bill 1092 (AB 1092) addresses another tough issue for expanding the charging infrastructure – multi-family dwelling and non-residential development. The California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Developments are now required to develop standards for installing the charging stations.

Fans of the carpool lane stickers were probably thrilled to hear that the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) extends access for low-emission and zero-emission vehicles until 2019; AB 266 and SB 286 extend white HOV lane stickers for battery electric vehicles and the green stickers for plug-in hybrids, respectively.

AB 8 will be funding $2 billion in green initiatives such as Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Program. It offers incentives for scrapping the dirtiest cars – along with $20 million to fund 100 hydrogen fueling stations. Fleets are being offered incentives through SB 359 that includes $20 million for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project; $10 million for the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project; $10 million for the Heavy-Duty Vehicle Air Quality Loan Program; and $8 million for the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program.

Some of these signed bills appear to be influenced by the state’s ambitious target of having 15.4% of new vehicles sold in the state to be zero emission (battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell) or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. The state thinks that will bring more than 1.4 million zero emission and plug-in hybrid vehicles onto California roads by that year. A study by the state’s Air Resources Board is even more optimistic than that – the agency expects nearly 100% of all light-duty passenger vehicles sold in the state to be zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

Big Picture: GM takes on Tesla, How to market green vehicles to nerds

GM CEO Dan Akerson’s strategy to wipe Tesla Motors off the map
GM CEO Dan AkersonThere’s more information coming out on General Motors’ agenda taking on competitor Tesla Motors. It seems to be based on the historic trend of a giant automaker wiping out a small startup. GM is willing to become the loss leader, and has the deep pockets to make up for it long term. GM CEO Dan Akerson told The Detroit News: “We’ll sell more (Chevrolet) Volts and lose less money on the Volts than they’ll lose on the (Tesla) Model S.” GM’s executive management wasn’t happy with the findings from a market study conducted during the summer and led by GM vice chairman Steve Girsky. Akerson is also skeptical that Americans will ever buy plug-in vehicles in large numbers. (Detroit News Reporter David Shepardson wrote that Tesla’s profits came entirely from California’s zero-emission vehicle credits and other credits – though many would disagree with that statement.) GM’s strategy to knock out Tesla seems to be based on a three-fold plan:  1. Flood the market with cheaper Chevy Volts.  2. Launch and flood more with a soon-to-be released $30,000 200-mile range electric car. 3. Go head-to-head against the Model S with the extended range, and comparably priced, Cadillac ELR. “But I do think when the (Cadillac) ELR comes out late this year, early next — it’s certainly in the same postal code as Tesla, but now we’re going to move up,” Akerson said. “It’s not going to be a mass-produced car.”

Toyota going very direct in its marketing of RAV4 EV
Marketing strategies used by automakers are changing at a consistently fast pace these days as unexpected trends and opportunities continue popping up; for example, what was initially a DVD rental company – Netflix – now produces and promotes its own TV series. Toyota has one of its own – marketing the all-electric RAV4 to go after tech-savvy early adopters who subscribe to DirecTV’s satellite service in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego. The TV ads are ending up on the TV screens of this micro-niche audience through what’s called dynamic advertising. Marketing data firms provide DirecTV with consumer information from credit cards and other sources to identify the most likely prospects that would have interest in the electric RAV4. These are consumers likely to buy new gadgets.

Already maxed out selling to early adopters? Don’t forget about nerds
Check out my post on Autoblog Green covering the launch of RideNerd.com. This could be the ultimate car shopping site for those consumers demanding detailed information on new car choices based on fuel economy, smog and greenhouse gas emissions, and cost of ownership. Nerds are hardcore researchers and analysts – and do comparison shopping to the nth degree.
Here are a few other points I would make about this unofficial market segment that could be of interest to those marketing new vehicles….

  1. They’ve loved gaming from an early age – Dungeons and Dragons, Playstation, X-Box, and Nintendo.
  2. They tend to have expertise in what’s being displayed at Comic-Con.
  3. They tend to have an odd sense of humor – enjoying gallows humor, social satire, and bizarre movie scenes such as the Knights of the Ni demanding shrubbery in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”
  4. They’re generally strong in mathematics and science during their school years.
  5. Being right about something is a very big deal; debates go over well unless the nerd can be proven wrong – then it doesn’t go so well.

If you’re wondering how I’ve become so well informed about the lifestyle habits of nerds…. Let’s just say I only performed above average in math and science classes, but I’m good at asking engineers (aka “engi-nerds”) and scientists to explain, in layman’s terms, the nuts and bolts. I’ve never been too interested in gaming and haven’t purchased graphic novel superhero biographies. I do watch the Monty Python movie whenever I get a chance.

Tesla-Mania:  Tweeting for engineering staff to deliver self-driving cars
Of course Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk couldn’t let self-driving cars slip away as major automakers have announced plans to roll out autonomous cars by 2020. Musk and his company have covered it all – Tesla’s own branded version of fast chargers, battery swapping, the fastest commuter rail line concept ever conceived, customized lease packages, fashionable retail stores and service centers, Model S road trips, and chumming with loyal Twitter followers. Musk recently tweeted a “help wanted” ad on the social media site. He’s calling it an “autopilot system” for the Model S. Engineers who’d like work on that project for Tesla should contact the company at autopilot@teslamotors.com.

Car sharing is here to stay, and growing to large numbers
Navigant Research thinks car sharing is set to fly – from the current number of 2.3 million subscribing members around the world to more than 12 million by the end of the decade. Global revenue is expected to be growing by a large volume – from $1 billion this year to $6.2 billion in 2020. Automakers and car rental companies have jumped in the pool, taking on Zipcar (owned by Avis) and a few other upstart brands.

Chesapeake leaves natural gas vehicle market
Chesapeake Energy Corp. has eliminated its seven-member natural gas vehicle team, which had been responsible for part of the Oklahoma City-based oil and natural gas company’s efforts to develop additional markets for gas usage. Chesapeake has played an important role in adoption of NGVs and development of the infrastructure, and these vehicles play a major role in its own fleet, as Tim Denny, Vice President of Administration, explains in this video. Rich Kolodziej, president of Natural Gas Vehicles for America, said Chesapeake has been an important player, but other companies and organizations have taken on that role now.

Ford employees gaining access to workplace charging stations
Ford Motor Co. is joining ranks with what a few competitors have been doing – installing electric vehicle charging stations – at more than 50 of its US and Canadian offices and manufacturing plants. It’s being done to offer employees a perk – making workplace charging available. The automakers will start installing its 200 chargers in November and will continue rolling them out next year. Employees will be able to charge free for the first four hours on any Ford vehicle.

Lithium-ion batteries see much brighter days for Asia-based battery makers

LG Chem battery researchNot long ago, Navigant Research identified what it considers to be the top 10 most significant lithium-ion battery makers active in the electric vehicle market. Its top 10 ranking is based on systems integration, safety engineering, chemistry performance, geographic reach, manufacturing and product performance, pricing, and overall corporate financial health. Here’s the top 10 list with a bit of company background information….

  1. LG Chem – formerly a subsidiary of LG Group, the South Korean company went public in 2001 with LG Group remaining a significant investor.
  2. Johnson Controls – a US-based company offering products and services to optimize energy and operational efficiencies to several industries including automotive.
  3. Automotive Energy Supply Corp. (AESC) – a joint venture between three Japan-based companies – Nissan, information technology company NEC Corp., and electronic device company NEC TOKIN Corp.
  4. Panasonic – a Japanese electronics company.
  5. Samsung SDI – a subsidiary of South Korea-based Samsung Electronics.
  6. SK Continental E-Motion – a joint venture between South Korea’s largest oil refiner SK Innovation and German automotive parts supplier Continental AG.
  7. Hitachi – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  8. Toshiba – a Japanese engineering and electronics conglomerate.
  9. GS Yuasa – a Japanese company known primarily for automobile and motorcycle lead-acid batteries.
  10. BYD – Chinese BYD Company is a major battery maker and also owns BYD Auto Co.

You might notice a pattern here – of these 10 companies, only one is US based and nearly all others are in Asia and bring many years of success in automotive, engineering, and electronics to their battery divisions. The US has its share of electric carmakers, but the battery packs haven’t gone well for US-based manufacturing. A123 Systems went bankrupt and is making a few batteries now for its Chinese company owner; EnerDel came from Ener1 and its troubled partnership with Norwegian electric carmaker Think. EnerDel is struggling with lack of business and just cut its Indianapolis-area workforce by one third. Coda Automotive has pulled out of the electric vehicle market and filed for bankruptcy. Management is now focused on building its battery energy storage system through its Coda Energy division, which it started in 2011, and it’s focused on markets outside of electric vehicles.

LG Chem has done very well in the global li-ion battery market, but the US has been a bad experience for the top-ranked company. LG Chem finally began producing li-ion batteries in July for the Chevrolet Volt at its Holland, Mich. plant, but that’s been stopped again in the past few days. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has raised questions about how the cells are being made. The EPA has issued a subpoena on LG Chem to find out what chemicals have been used in production. The company says that it’s still confident it can get production ramped up once this investigation gets wrapped up.

LG Chem had received $151 million in US Department of Energy funds, but had not built any Volt batteries from Holland, Mich., until very recently – only from its South Korean facilities. It got fairly ugly earlier this year when the Office of the Inspector General reported that LG Chem employees were sitting around doing nothing but playing games and watching movies while being paid from these federal funds. LC Chem was instructed to return $842,000 as a result of the report.

Lux Research reported that electronics giant Panasonic’s lithium-ion battery division earned about $40 million in profits during Q2 2013 – much better than in Q2 2012 when the company lost $20 million. The company is expected to invest over $200 million during the next year to expand its li-ion production lines in Japan. Panasonic has supplied nickel-metal hydride batteries to Toyota and Honda hybrid models, but more recently has invested more in its li-ion division. Tesla Motors is a major client – Panasonic has been producing 60 kilowatt hour to 85 kWh battery packs for its Model S electric car. Lux Research reported that Panasonic has overtaken LG Chem and AESC in US li-ion sales. The US market is competitive for li-ion EV battery market share, but it’s now coming from companies based overseas.

Workplace charging is taking off, but what does it take to succeed?

For car shoppers to take plug-in electric vehicles seriously, Level 2 and fast chargers should be installed at four locations:

  1. Homes
  2. Workplaces
  3. Starbucks
  4. Trader Joes

In all seriousness, analysts say that the workplace is the leading charging location for now. According to statistics from Ecotality, workplace chargers are used three times as much as typical public chargers. A recent survey by the charger company found workplace charging grew by leaps and bounds in the first half of the year – an increase of about 61% in the first six months of 2013.

The sales figures play into the interest and use at the workplace. There were more than 8,600 plug-in hybrid/extended range and battery electric vehicles sold in the US in June 2013 versus about 3,300 in June 2012.

workplace chargingAs of late July, there were 7,849 public and private non-residential charging stations in the US; 1,579 were located in California, according to the US Dept. of Energy. Workplace charging plays a significant role in the non-residential charging station networks in California, where Google and other employers are taking them very seriously. Google sees them as a key perk for keeping skilled technologists on their payroll and not losing them to a nearby tech company in Silicon Valley.

In its guide for employers interested in setting up workplace charging stations, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency presented eight steps to take for a successful workplace charging infrastructure….

1. Survey employees on their interest in a workplace-charging program.
2. Discuss findings and EV charging needs amongst employees and company’s decision-makers.
3. Examine different types of EV charging equipment options and compare the benefits and costs (Level 1, Level 2, and fast charging).
4. Determine who will own the EV charging equipment – employer, parking lot owner, or third party.
5. Look for any existing incentives that might be available for workplace EV charging.
6. Create a company policy on workplace charging.
7. Contract with a certified electrician to determine ideal locations, comply with local permitting, and install the equipment.
8. Install signage and alert employees.