Solid used vehicle segment to reach: green cars

EPA used vehicle labelLooking for a profitable used vehicle market segment to reach? How about green cars – hybrids, electric vehicles, and fuel efficient vehicles? Franchised and independent dealers are seeing a lot of used inventory on the market today, and some of it, especially trucks, is seeing strong pricing. What we’re seeing though, such as in Manheim’s latest report, is that dealers are doing well by selling lots of used vehicle the right way. Prices might be down on small, fuel efficient cars and hybrids, but all things considered, they’re not bad – and selling a lot of them can be profitable.

There are two interesting announcements from last week that speak to the issue – one is that Nissan has added its Leaf electric car to its certified pre-owned vehicle list; and the other is an online tool for used cars rating fuel efficiency and emissions from the US Dept. of Energy (DOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Certified Leafs will get an extended warranty of seven years or 100,000 miles on both the electric system and powertrain. To be considered, the used Leaf must be less than five years old, have fewer than 60,000 miles, and have at least nine of 12 bars of battery capacity remaining on the gauge. It also needs to have a clean Carfax history report, and pass an inspection where 167 separate items are checked. Two warranties on the battery pack will remain in place – eight years or 100,000 miles, and five years or 60,000 miles, with a few performance indicators being checked on each warranty. The new certified program adds to the protections.

For the DOE and EPA offering, dealers and consumers can now place a used car label based on fuel economy and emissions performance. It’s a free online tool allowing for creation of a consumer-friendly label that lists gas mileage and CO2 emissions levels of used vehicles sold in the US since 1984.

Other indicators that used green cars is a viable market segment to reach include eBay’s Green Driving (which they say gets a lot of traffic); NADA Used Car Guide’s Plug-in Electric Vehicles: Market Analysis and Used Price Forecast; and ALG’s Alternative Powertrain Perceived Quality Study.

WEX whitepaper educates fleets on alternative fuel vehicles as demand increases

WEX going green saving green whitepaperWhile alternative fuel vehicles started noticeably showing up in fleets in the early 1990s, they haven’ t become significant in numbers or budgets until recently. Now fleets are acquiring all types of green vehicles, and that includes government fleets, corporate, service and delivery, utility, trucking, car rental, and car sharing companies. They’re also continuing to buy the most fuel efficient vehicles on the market, but alternative fuels have more importance now than 20 years ago when Clean Cities started up.

WEX Inc., formerly known as Wright Express, just sponsored a new whitepaper on the topic“Going Green, Saving Green: A Fleet Manager’s Guide to Alternative Fuels Best Practices.” WEX is the leader in fleet fueling payment cards systems, and is now bringing that over to electric vehicle charging and natural gas refueling stations.  It’s interesting to see a company like WEX release this type of whitepaper – the importance of alternative fuel vehicles has gained enough presence to inspire a whitepaper. It’s reminiscent of NADA Used Car Guide recently releasing a special report on resale value trends for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt – after having ignored the issue for quite a long time.

The WEX paper pro­vides fleets with best prac­tices for cost-effective imple­men­ta­tion of alter­na­tive fuels in a fleet. While media primarily focus on consumer behavior with green vehicles, this paper asserts that fleets are much better positioned to use alternative fuels – their choices are premeditated, unlike consumers’. They’re usually traveling along predetermined routes and can stop for recharging and refueling at given points. That makes it much more viable to plan strategically and contain costs. Here are five recommended tips on making it work….

#1: Know the station coverage in your area.
US government agencies have made significant infrastructure investments, bringing up the number to 11,800 stations – of which about 6,000 are charging stations. About 82% of alternative fueling sites are accessible to the public. The Dept. of Energy offers a comprehensive directory of charging/fueling sites around the country.

#2: Compare historical fuel costs.
Starting in 2008, the commonly used fleet industry terminology for spiking gasoline prices was “fuel price volatility.” It was quite volatile that year, which shot up fuel costs for fleets and hurt vehicle financing and remarketing programs. Switching over to alternative fuels can bring price stability to fleets, though they do have to build in the conversion costs and lifecycle costs of choosing hybrids and EVs over fuel efficient gasoline and diesel engine vehicles.

#3. Think in terms of total ownership cost.
While green vehicles tend to sell for a premium price over typical internal combustion engine vehicles, total cost of ownership can be very appealing – especially for fleets putting a lot of mileage on their vehicles. Fleets tend to study four cost categories: capital costs; maintenance costs; end of life recycling and replacement costs; and indirect costs.

#4: Find and use tax credits wherever you can.
It goes without saying that incentives like federal tax credits and state rebates are very attractive for fleets – and there are a lot of these offerings to choose from now. Calstart encourages fleets to stay informed on state voucher programs to reduce ownership costs. The DOE offers a useful site to find out about the latest federal and state programs. Keep in mind that you need to have good fleet reporting mechanisms in place to cash into these incentives.

#5. Think holistically about fleet fuel costs.
This is where experience will come to play. It depends very much on the regional location of the fleet – in some areas like California, the infrastructure is more solidly in place for natural gas fueling and EV recharging than in most other states. A fleet might have very limited routes with plenty of downtime, making EVs with Level 2 chargers a good buy. Other fleets may choose hybrids and fuel efficient cars and crossovers, depending on their mileage and coverage area and the available infrastructure in that area.

Stay tuned for more specialized reports on green vehicles and infrastructure to be released.  These reports are likely to focus on the US and other key economic markets – China, India, Japan, Korea, Brazil, European Union, and Canada being the most important. Eventually, the economic impact of green vehicles and fueling will grab more attention as the numbers grow and the industry adds more layers to operations.

Green and alternative fuel vehicles aren’t ready to take over new vehicle sales. What’s next?

Electric vehicle verus hybrids in salesWhile reviewing the state of the US auto industry in new vehicle sales, it’s easy to get depressed about the condition of electric, hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles. Hybrids and EVs were a little bit over 4% of about 1.3 million new vehicles sold in the US market in July. Sales and of new and converted natural gas vehicles, propane autogas, hydrogen fuel cell, and biodiesel vehicles ran in small numbers (maybe 0.5% of the total). Tracking flex fuel/E85 numbers are not worthwhile since the adoption rate for fueling them on E85 ethanol runs pretty low. The grand vision commonly expressed by government officials and advocacy groups of green/alternative fuel vehicles making up 50% of new vehicle sales by 2050 seems insurmountable at times.

But it’s good to keep things in perspective. Energy & Capital put out one of its usual snarky stock market analyst pieces on plug-in electric vehicles; yet managing editor Jeff Siegel did have some fairly positive things to say about their potential. Federal and state tax credits play into it and will be around for a few more years.

He makes the point that EV sales are impressive so far compared to hybrid sales in their early phase. Approaching 25 months on the market, EVs are hitting the 110,000 total new vehicles sold so far. At that same period of 25 months after market introduction, hybrids were only at about 50,000 units sold. So after another 10 years, EVs should be making up a larger percent of total sales. Hybrids are at about 3.5% of new vehicle sales and EVs could be around 5% to 6% of total sales in about 10 years at its growth current rate. Both numbers are expected by several analysts to be wider going forward. Maybe they’ll both be about 10% of new vehicle sales by 2025 reaching 20%? It’s all possible and other segments could be part of it, such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Maybe other advanced fuels and technologies will take hold and see some substantial numbers as well.

Making it to 50% of all new vehicle sales would make for a massive transition. It could be that looking at the numbers will have to change. What if the US and other major markets hit their targets for highly fuel efficient vehicles (or somewhere near the mark – 45 miles per gallon may not be 54.5 mpg but its way better than 24 mpg). If green/AFV numbers made up to 25% of new vehicles sold and internal combustion engines were reaching 40+ mpg, it would be a much better environment.

Toyota had an especially good green car sales month in July

Toyota Prius - Sea Glass PearlHere’s how US green vehicle sales fared during the month of July….

  • Toyota had a very strong sales month overall with a 17% increase over June, bumping out Ford’s place on the ranking list for the first time since March 2010. The Prius family played a big role in the outcome with a 40% increase and sales of 23,294 units for its best sales month ever.
  • Plug-in electric vehicle sales were fairly strong during the month and are moving closer to the 100,000 units sales mark for the year – they’re averaging more than 7,000 a month but were down to about 5,900 in July.
  • The Nissan Leaf beat the Chevy Volt in sales volume – 1,864 units sold for the Leaf versus 1,788 for the Volt.
  • They’re running neck-to-neck so far this year with the Leaf slightly out in front – 11,703 for the Leaf and 11,643 for the Volt.
  • The Leaf has shot way up in sales this year – more units sold in the US in 2013 than during all of 2011 or 2012. The Volt has been keeping pace with last year but moved ahead – it’s now nearly 1,000 Volts ahead of last year’s 10,666 units sold in the first seven months.
  • The Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid is still ahead of Ford – 817 units sold in July versus 433 of the Ford C-Max Energi and 407 of the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids.
  • The Chevrolet Spark EV sold 103 units in July in California and Oregon only. It’s doing a little bit better than other “compliance cars” in sales – the Mitsubishi i-MiEV sold 46 units, the Smart Electric Drive hit 58, and the Honda Fit EV had 63 units leased out. The Spark was behind two other electric vehicles – the Ford Focus EV at 150 units and the Toyota RAV4 EV at 109. Yet, the Spark was only in its second month on the market and only in two markets.