Monthly Archives: September 2013

Big Picture: National Plug In Day gains a little bit of traction

National Plug In Day - Albany driversNational Plug In Day, now in its third year, is getting a little bit more popular – it took place in about 95 cities, up from 65 last year. Cupertino, Calif., saw about 2,000 attendees; overall somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 people showed up on Saturday across the US and participated in test drives, tailgate parties, brief speaker presentations by well-known advocates, and parades. It expanded outside the borders this year to Holland, Mexico, and Canada. Every single electric car that you can think of was on display, along with Brammo electric motorcycles. Long Beach, Calif., saw a well-attended event at the California State University Office of the Chancellor, where smart USA served as the lead sponsor and announced three new Level 2 EV chargers. Attendees saw 245 plug-in electric vehicles and “60 Minutes” was there to film it.

Nissan was the lead sponsor for National Plug In Day, and announced that sales of its Leaf electric car have passed the 35,000 mark in the US since being launched in December 2010. Schneider Electric was another leading sponsor, promoting its EVlink product. National Plug In Day was once again organized by Plug In America, the Electric Auto Association, and the Sierra Club. Many of the attendees at these events are EV owners who enjoy the annual car shows and chatting with their fellow colleagues about the nuts and bolts of operating their cars – similar to those attending festivals for owners of classic, vintage cars. EV owners have been thrilled to see the number of EV models coming to market and the sales figures growing at a strong percentage rate. Famous fans were present – Ed Begley, Jr., Robert F. Kenney, Jr., and climate change expert Bill McKibben, spoke at microphones along with mayors and other elected officials.

Texas study and California senate bill significant to those following fracking process
A University of Texas-Austin study released last month found that methane emissions from new wells being prepared for production, a process known as completion, captured 99% of the escaping methane—on average 97% lower than estimates released in 2011 by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It was thought to be the most comprehensive shale gas emissions study ever undertaken on methane leakage. The findings were criticized by two Cornell University scientists whose study released two years ago claimed catastrophic levels of methane were being leaked by fracking operations. Energy experts and environmentalists celebrated the finding that almost all the escaping methane could be captured by state of the art equipment.
In California Senate Bill 4 was recently passed and signed by the governor and has come under fire by environmental groups. It imposes new regulation on fracking in the state, and the bill’s author State Senator Frank Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) has said that criticism is coming from lawyers looking for the “worst case scenario.” Changes made in the final hours have been criticized by Natural Resources Defense Council and the California League of Conservation Voters. The new law requires California’s Dept. of Natural Resources to conduct an independent, peer-reviewed scientific assessment of fracking; it also requires would-be frackers to apply for a permit with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. There are other provisions in SB4 structured around reporting standards, and environmental groups think the amendments compromised the original bill’s constructive guidelines.

Automaker Roundup:

  • Along with rolling out its dimethyl ether (DME), clean heavy duty truck, Volvo Trucks has reached zero landfill status at its New River Valley assembly plant in Dublin, Va. All of the waste generated at the facility is now being recycled, composted, or converted to electricity. Volvo Group has been at it a few years – waste reduction started in 2003 that resulted in coordinated efforts in reuse, recycling, and composting.
  • Honda is looking for another supplier of lithium ion batteries for its new line of hybrid vehicles. The company thinks it can seal a deal within a year that would generate a better battery at lower costs; Honda is also interested in having access to a second supplier in case there are delivery problems with the primary supplier. Since 2009, Honda has been going with its Blue Energy Co., a joint venture with between Honda and Japanese battery maker GS Yuasa Corp. It’s gone into Honda’s Earth Dreams hybrid drivetrain. Honda is counting on hybrids like its 50 mpg Accord hybrid to see strong growth in sales.
  • Jaguar Land Rover will be opening a $160 million research and development center in the UK by 2016 for its next generation of vehicle technologies for electric vehicles and hybrids, plus other powertrains. Jaguar Land Rover is now owned by Indian automaker Tata Motors; the company said about 1,000 academics and engineers will be working at its National Automotive Innovation Campus at Warwick University. It will be a collaborative research project coming from Tata Motors European Technical Center, Warwick Manufacturing Group, and the UK government’s Higher Education Funding Council.
  • Fisker Automotive could get a second life on October 11 when the US Department of Energy (DOE) auctions off its loan to the automaker. Problems run deep for Fisker, and it’s yet to file for bankruptcy; but the extended range sports carmaker hasn’t built a car in more than a year. A few investors have expressed interest in buying Fisker. German investor group Fritz Nols sent a detailed plan to DOE this recently; and offered to buy the beleaguered starup carmaker for $25 million.
  • Automakers and suppliers are starting to talk about developing a single standard for autonomous, self-driving cars. Experts spoke about it recently at the Michigan Automotive Summit in Detroit. Companies need to come up with a “standard which would make the entire industry rise around it much faster,” said Jeffery Owens, chief technology officer at Delphi Automotive.
  • The 2014 Chevrolet Cruze may soon be available in a bi-fuel compressed natural gas (CNG) version, joining ranks with gasoline and diesel Cruzes. This one will be through an aftermarket conversion. IMPCO will offer a bi-fuel conversion for the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged Cruze engine. It will get 200 miles on natural gas and have some of its cargo space reduced by the CNG tank. It will be the only other EPA-approved 2014 car on the market competing with the Honda Civic Natural Gas, which is a dedicated CNG-only vehicle.

More electric vehicle rentals come to market
Rental cars are always a great way to get “butts in seats” with new types of vehicles like hybrids and EVs. Hertz is now offering Tesla Model S rentals in select US markets as part of its “Dream Cars” program. For starters, it’s now at the San Francisco and Los Angeles airports. Renters can get behind the wheel of the Model S Performance that comes with an 85 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 416 horsepower motor. They probably shouldn’t tell renters that it can go 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.2 seconds. Hertz has been at its since 2010 when it started offering the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf plug-ins.
In India, Mahindra Reva Electric Vehicles is testing out EV rentals in New Dehli, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Mahindra Eva e2o electric cars will be available in these three cities. It will cost 200 rupees (about $3.20) to rent an e2o for two hours. The electric car has a driving range of around 62 miles when fully charged and has a top speed of 50 miles per hour. It will tie into about 100 free charging points being installed in these three cities.

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.

Vinod Khosla isn’t backing away from biofuels as a smart investment

Vinod KhoslaAlternative energies are having an extremely tough time of it lately – from alternative fuel vehicle fueling and charging infrastructure to development of renewable energies – public and private funding has been drying up for many projects. Biofuels have been going through the wringer – much of it tied into the struggle over corn ethanol being used as E10 in gasoline and potentially as E15 if it survives the political battle. Much of the controversy is also tied into the federal Renewable Fuel Standard, which many analysts think is quite unrealistic for bringing advanced biofuels into transportation at a large scale level of production. A few of the public companies have lost their market value as disappointed investors have pulled out and put their money into something else like smartphones and mobile applications.

Then there’s Vinod Khosla, one of the leading venture capitalists out there these days. Khosla hasn’t backed away from biofuels and is dropping down more cash on cellulosic biofuel producer KiOR Inc., He committed personally to fund up to $25 million in cash to KiOR, in addition to the $25 million that would come from his firm Khosla Ventures.

KiOR just announced that it will be doubling production at its Columbus, Miss., cellulosic fuels facility through setting up a second plant incorporating its own commercially proven technology. The company estimates that the development project will cost it $225 million; it will take 18 months to complete after breaking ground and the company is raising equity and debt capital to fund the construction project.

Khosla and other investors have seen biofuel companies take a deep dive on the market. Amyris Inc., Gevo Inc., and KiOR experienced collapse since their initial public offerings. Operational and technical delays have caused investors to pull away. It’s possible the Khosla could be part of bringing KiOR back and his company has made sizable investments in Amyris and Gevo.

Khosla believes biofuels could play a vital role in America’s economic prosperity and security. “The biofuels industry, if properly funded, is also capable of creating more jobs, with unsubsidized economics, than traditional fossil oil technology and putting every mill town in America with a shut down paper mill back in business as a thriving community,” Khosla wrote in the KiOR statement.

The US Dept. of Agriculture has played a key role in supporting biofuels and has now placed a new offering on the table. Farmers and rural businesses in 22 states are being offered incentives to help reduce energy consumption and increase the use of renewable technologies; a number of biofuels- and biomass-related projects are part of the federal program. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) program provides a grant for up to 25% of eligible project cost plus additional funding in the form of a loan guarantee.

Some of the available grants include those supporting flexible fuel pumps in California; E85 and biodiesel blender dispensers in Iowa; equipment to efficiently manufacture biodiesel and a biomass burner in Indiana; and two separate biomass boilers in New York.

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.

My day at AltCar Expo and thoughts on what it takes to create a strong green vehicle event

AltCar ExpoI had mixed feelings about once again attending AltCar Expo at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and its outside parking lot. I’ve been attending since 2009 (it started in 2006 and just completed its eight year), and it’s always  been a must-attend conference – the most comprehensive ride and drive out there; excellent speaker panels with veteran experts in the field (government agencies, university research centers, automakers, infrastructure partners, consultants); display booths from automakers and organizations; and usually something very distinct you won’t forget (“Oh, I didn’t know the ports were using all-electric drayage trucks.”)

I’ve also had concerns about it. If you do a news search on AltCar Expo, you’ll see very little coverage of this significant conference. The attendance is also pretty light. I would think there would be a lot more people showing up (for example, on the fleet-focused sessions on Friday) in a city that’s considered to be a bellwether  for alternative fuel vehicles and EV charging stations – not to mention that it’s one of the trendiest, wealthiest cities on the west coast. There are a lot of residents who own electric vehicles and support the basic premises behind alternative fuel vehicles – not to mention that Southern California is usually one of the leading markets where automakers first deliver green vehicles.

As for this year’s AltCar Expo, a few moments really stood out – Terry Tamminen – former head of California’s EPA during the Schwarzenegger administration when AB 32 and the Low Carbon Fuel Standard were being implemented – gave a clear picture of what’s happening in policy; Jon Coleman, fleet sustainability and technology manager for Ford’s North American Fleet, Lease and Remarketing Operations, had some very direct comments to make about the value proposition that needs to be fulfilled for EV charging and CNG refueling stations to go beyond symbolic to practical; Genze is launching an electric motorbike in the first quarter of next year that should stand out as utilitarian and hip to Millennials; and the Cal State Los Angeles EcoCAR 2 team was on hand (and so far is in second place among 15 universities in the US and Canada in this EPA and General Motors sponsored competition), displaying its converted Chevy Malibu plug-in hybrid flex fuel version. It was interesting to hear how strong sales have been since the recent introduction of Ford’s new F-150 natural gas pickup (the first half-ton CNG-powered pickup to come to market). I’ve always looked forward to attending AltCar Expo, and have always enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal about this important, new industry. I’ve just wanted to see a lot more people show up and have their own experiences with the technology.

It’s not the only green vehicle conference that faces big challenges increasing attendance, sponsorships, and other revenue to cover costs and pay for promotional campaigns – and playing a much-needed role helping to set a foundation for business growth. The Green Fleet Conference & Expo is coming up, put on by Bobit Business Media, publisher of the flagship Automotive Fleet; but there are only a limited number of people likely to attend even though it’s an excellent conference. ACT Expo is the most successful, highest attended green fleet-focused conference, and has successfully filled the void that opened up when the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Institute annual conference ended in 2010. Plug-In 2013 is coming up soon in San Diego and has been influential; the Electric Drive Transportation Association annual conference has been essential for EV stakeholders for several years; and NGV America’s annual conference is the flagship natural gas vehicle event. Still, attendance is limited at all of them, and their influence in media coverage, government policies, public opinion, and vehicle buyer decisions is slim. For those wondering what it’s going to take for green vehicle sales to increase along with all the positive environmental, energy, and economic impacts that many people are quite articulate about, I would say that successful conferences, trade shows, and vehicle displays are the meat and potatoes that need to go on tables.

Here are my thoughts on what could raise the numbers….

  1. Get connected with major car shows. What about moving AltCar Expo in front of the LA Auto Show? Sure, it might be competing with the Green Car of the Year award, but it’s likely that efforts could be combined – such as continuing to have the ride and drive at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium parking space; but what about having the speaker sessions at the LA convention center during the media days or during a dedicated event promoted by the auto show? There’s going to be a very interesting connected car event at LA Auto Show in November – maybe it could have been fused together as a broader topic? Smart transportation?
  2. Coordinate the event with trade groups, research centers, and exhibitors. Last year, it was very productive to attend a pre-conference hosted by the Luskin Center for Innovation prior to the global EVS26 conference (put on by Electric Drive Transportation Association) at the LA convention center. It was fascinating information offered during presentations, but to a very limited audience. A much larger number attended EVS26, but once again, it was pale in comparison to many other events at that conference center. Organizations and businesses want to make gains in marketing exposure, public education, and through supporting technologies and sometimes controversial issues. I would think they should be included in the event planning process way ahead of time – and that could be one to two years out.
  3. Get connected with fleet managers and Clean Cities coordinators. NAFA is doing a lot of it now through its relationship with Calstart and US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities leadership. But fleet managers and Clean Cities coordinators are down in the trenches and bring a lot of experience and expertise to the table. Put them on your conference planning committees.
  4. Get celebrities to show up. Certainly, it would be tough to get big names to be placed on conference brochures – I doubt Elon Musk would be willing to be a keynote speaker; Neil Young and Willy Nelson support biofuels but are unlikely to put on a concert; T. Boone Pickens might show up and speak, but is likely to charge a hefty speaker fee; Tom Hanks was proud to drive an EV1 but would be very hard to get ahold of unless you’re a Hollywood insider. Ed Begley, Jr., is passionate about electric vehicles but might not be willing to speak at a conference in Chicago. Still, there are a lot of interesting and somewhat famous people out there who advocate and drive green vehicles – and could be convinced to come support the cause. Celebrities could include politicians, newscasters, experts (such as authors of influential books in the field), academics, actors, singers/musicians, athletes, and leaders of advocacy organizations. They might not be widely known, but could be icons to a sophisticated audience. And let’s be honest about it – we live in America, and celebrities are as big it gets. You might find that superficial, but just about every cause I can think of utilizes celebrities in their promotional campaigns whenever they can, and it tends to grab attention and conversation.
  5. Location, location, location – and timing. Some markets usually deliver higher attendance than others, and it’s probably best to not have these types of conferences scheduled too close together.
  6. Find sponsors willing to monetize the event. They’ll want a lot in return, but how unreasonable would that really be? All of the major conferences have a handful of large backers and sometimes a long list of companies willing to pay their dues to get on the list and perhaps exhibit at booths and host gala events – product unveilings, award shows, keynote speakers, etc.
  7. Work together with organizations looking for such an event. The automotive and transportation sectors are chock full of organizations striving to better serve their memberships. Many are chomping at the bit to host an annual conference that elevates their importance and influence and brings together key stakeholders for valuable networking and education activities.
  8. Make the ride and drive and vehicle displays distinct. One measure of an influential conference is the number of unveilings that happen during press conferences. There is a difference between what’s referred to by the conference planners as a product introduction and the actual launch of something. And if there’s no major unveilings to be announced, there are other ways to go – introducing a new mobile app; an upgrade to a vehicle’s features and color options; engine and powertrain enhancements; and infrastructure launches. If it’s been displayed at five conferences already, don’t claim it to be an introduction. As for ride and drives, there are ways to make it unique for that location – and user friendly for people standing in line waiting for their turn. Automakers sometimes offer incentives for car shoppers to earn when they show up at the ride and drive and go buy one of the new cars soon after.
  9. Get lots of media coverage before, during, and after. Some conferences are good at getting media sponsors and offering perks for them to show up and create valuable content in articles, videos, podcasts/radio, and photo galleries. Targeted trade, professional, and special interest publications are critical to draw and reach important niches, but don’t forget about mainstream media. Getting reporters from Bloomberg, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, major media from the hosting city, and business publications, is a given for the big auto shows. Getting them to show up at niche conferences is a tough sell, but it becomes more newsworthy if a governor or a championship-game-winning coach are scheduled to drive up in their plug-in cars (or hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, natural gas vehicle, propane-powered truck, biodiesel bus, or hybrid vehicle) and say great things about the cause. Blogs and social media will also play a vital role in getting the word out.
  10. Hold the speaker panels somewhere nearby that upgrade the professionalism and appeal of the event – such as at a nearby hotel where business conferences are popular these days.

Automakers are willing to send newly launched vehicles to car shows all over the world. They’re spending lots of money to reach eager consumers who love attending annual car shows and conferences. Green vehicles are unlikely to see anything of this size and scope, but the sales numbers are slowly inching up; and at some point, we’re going to see millions of them on the roads. To keep these vehicles running safely and efficiently, it will take a lot of people skilled and experienced in the field to be networking with and educating each other at significant industry conferences.

ARI’s Brian Matuszewski on what fleet managers are doing on the sustainability front

Matuszewski_Brian_ARIDoes your organization have a sustainability officer on staff? The last time I counted, there were 19 of these filled management positions at US-based vehicle manufacturers; nine at automotive supplier companies; 16 at transportation companies (including fleet management, cargo transport, and delivery companies); and 12 in the energy sector (and that includes NPOs and research centers). Not all of them have the word “sustainability” in their job titles. They’re typically responsible for carrying out environmental and energy efficiency initiatives for their organizations; it tends to cover the end result of the entity (such as manufacturing clean, fuel efficient vehicles) and internal processes such as energy efficiency, recycling, and waste management. Sustainability has to do with what gets handed over to future generations.

Brian Matuszewski is one of the few sustainability officers, so far, in fleet management. He serves as manager – strategic consulting, sustainable strategies at ARI, one of the top fleet management companies based in the US. Matuszewski spoke to me last week about his duties at the company – and what it’s like to be among the growing movement of management professionals focused on sustainability issues. ARI’s clientele includes fleets in the corporate, government, and NPO sectors. The Cornell University graduate previously served at the US Environmental Protection Agency, as an analyst at P&L in Mexico City, and joined ARI earlier this year.

He’s primarily focused on supporting clients’ efforts to operate sustainable fleets with alternative fuel vehicles, fuel efficiency, and research and consulting services. Fleet managers are interested in implementing organizational targets to reduce carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, supporting their country’s energy independence, and maximizing operational efficiencies and cost reductions. Matuszewski starts out by assessing fleet data and working with clients on integrating what makes the most sense for them.

Along with green vehicle acquisition decisions, Matuszewski said that ARI’s Environmental Management System helps clients monitor energy efficiency, manage waste going to landfills, implement recycling programs, and track baseline data globally. These days, fleet managers wear a lot of hats – their duties go way beyond fleet management; ARI assists fleets in reducing emissions and increasing efficiency in different facets of fleet management duties. Some fleet managers are working closely with sustainability managers within their organizations. “Fleet managers are getting some pressure from sustainability officers – buy more hybrids, etc.,” Matuszewski said. “The fleet manager’s job is a lot more comprehensive.”

European fleets are dealing with taxation on emissions, and in the US, several government and large corporate fleets are implementing sustainability initiatives – generally designed to meet carbon emissions targets. Smog emissions are not a priority for fleets these days due to advanced technologies that are commonplace in new vehicles; reducing CO2 emissions is a top priority for a growing number of fleets. Diesel powertrains are being tracked, too, and a lot of that is being dealt with effectively by regulatory compliance including diesel being sold now at fueling stations that “combust fuel in a clean way,” Matuszewski said.

As for alternative fuel vehicles, that varies fleet by fleet – plug-in electric vehicles, hybrids, natural gas vehicles, propane autogas, and biodiesel are being looked at. “Alternative fuels are not the only way to go green,” he said. “They’re optimizing fuel efficiency, and gasoline and diesel engine vehicles can be pretty clean.” At the end of the day, fleet managers have to meet their organization’s goals when making fleet vehicle acquisitions. “Whether you believe in global warming or not, you need to make a strong business case,” Matuszewski said.

You may notice that quite a few Millennials (along with Baby Boomers and Gen Xers) can get pretty fascinated and passionate about sustainability – and might end up choosing to travel down that career path, as did Matuszewski. “At the university setting, it’s become a hot topic and not a fad,” he said. The terminology now includes cleantech, clean transportation, and sustainability. Whether it be students majoring in engineering, architecture, public policy, or business management, a lot more of them are adding it to their degrees and are becoming active in campus in organizations such as Net Impact. “A lot of people coming from college see it happening and feel good about it,” he said. It makes a lot of sense to them – in creating economic growth and innovation. It was a hot topic at Cornell University while he attended, and he’s been seeing a lot of topical conferences taking place across the country.

Matuszewski also emphasized that automakers are not getting enough credit for embracing sustainability. For example, Ford’s Rouge plant now utilizes a zero emissions building, and soybeans are being used inside Ford vehicle interiors, he said. Fleets are going in that direction, too, and are making a solid contribution to sustainability through the volume of vehicles they’re purchasing, setting up onsite alternative fueling, and are part of building the infrastructure. ARI works with clients to extract and analyze data and “customize sustainable solutions,” he said.

Big Picture: OEMs getting into driverless cars; Don’t even think about spamming this blog, but please leave some opinionated comments; Tesla competing with BMW in its homeland

GM and Mercedes-Benz join Nissan in race for driverless car launch
Nissan autonomous driveNissan made a splash recently showing off its Autonomous Drive concept car (a driverless Leaf) that it says will come to market by 2020. Laser scanners, Around View Monitor cameras, as well as advanced artificial intelligence and actuators, have been installed in Leafs to enable them to negotiate complex real-world driving scenarios. General Motors is testing out Cadillac SRX prototypes at its Milford, Mich., proving grounds. GM is working out the kinks in its Super Cruise feature that it wants to launch by 2020. Mercedes-Benz demonstrated what it calls a “self-piloted” car at the Frankfurt auto show. Its S500 “Intelligent Drive” concept car drove autonomously along a 62-mile route in Germany last month. As for the year it should be available: 2020, which sounds like a very big year for driverless cars.

Spam attack defeated!!! Now, please leave your reader comments…..
For those of you who have written for a blog, you probably have experienced the extremely annoying scam of bot engines placing deceptive reader comments on the site. Green Auto Market was attacked by bots recently, where up to 50 fake reader comments a day were posted. However this works, there does seem to be some connection between certain trendy products and green cars (I can’t say which product it is, since that might place this blog once again on another bot’s list). A lot of the comments were in Japanese – WordPress does offer a translator software function if needed. The other common thread in the comments was someone hawking their services to increase SEO on Green Auto Market – thanks but no thanks. They might approach that by throwing out a series of compliments on how awesome Green Auto Market and its writer/editor are. Well, shucks…. but, thanks but no thanks. We used a plugin product called Simple Comments to alleviate the spam attack – so far, so good. That being said, this is a very good time for you to leave a comment – see the “Leave a reply” link at the top of each post. I will review it, post it, and occasionally write a reply to the comment. Another suggestion is to forward the newsletter email or a link to the blog website, encouraging peers to post their name and email address to join the subscription list. You’ll find that box in the upper right corner of the blog. Some readers are sharing articles from this blog in their newsletters, websites, and blogs. Together, we can stop spammers from dominating the internet!

Tesla-Mania! Tesla setting up stores in Germany
I might have been wrong: Maybe it was Tesla going after BMW and not vice versa. Tesla is setting up sales centers in Germany and will be able take on BMW directly. BMW has rolled out its i3 luxury electric car and showed off its i8 plug-in hybrid supercars at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Tesla is focusing on the German market to sell its Model S luxury electric car by setting up six stores. Four are in place – three sales centers are in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and Munich; two more stores are being set up Berlin and Stuttgart. “The European home turf belongs to the likes of Daimler, BMW and Audi,” said Bryan Batista, Tesla’s European sales director. “We’re confident that we have a product that stacks up very well.”

More bodacious claims from Mazda on its Skyactiv system
The Mazda CX5 with its Skyactiv technology is being compared to Thomas Edison and all his innovative inventions. Okay, so we have the surfing legend Laird Hamilton and Thomas Edison comparisons for Skyactiv – very impressive. How about Henry Ford? Or Albert Einstein?

Fuel cell vehicles get some good news in California
California Assembly Bill 8, which will fund at least 100 hydrogen stations in California, passed through the state legislature last week and is on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk; the governor indicated he’ll signed it during a news conference this week. AB 8 will provide funding for at least 100 publicly available hydrogen stations, with a commitment of $20 million a year (or 20% of available funds) until January 1, 2024. UK-based ITM Power, a fuel cell energy storage and clean fuel products company, just took its first US order for $1.4 million to support hydrogen refueling stations. ITM Power turns renewable wind and solar power into hydrogen gas using electrolyser technology, which creates on-demand clean fuel for cars, cooking, heating and welding. The company will supply an electrolyser-based unit for Hyundai’s hydrogen energy and fueling station in Chino, Calif.

Toyota gets into carsharing game in the US
Toyota Motor Sales USA is getting into the carsharing business through an alliance with City CarShare, which is considered to be the largest nonprofit carsharing organization in North America. The relationship has started with the Dash carsharing program in Pleasanton, Calif., for an employer’s needs and for their carpool, vanpool, and public transportation commuters. It’s a three-year pilot program that will delivery Scion iQ electric vehicles that were designed specifically for the carsharing market. Navigant Research just issued a report projecting that carsharing services will have more than 12 million members worldwide by 2020, up from the current level of 2.3 million.

Boulder Electric demonstrates V2G at three sites
Electric truck manufacturer Boulder Electric has successfully demonstrated its Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) all electric trucks in three separate locations including Michigan, Colorado and California.  With 60 kilowatts of power going in and coming out of the vehicles, Boulder EV reached a new milestone and became the first EV truck manufacturer in the world to successfully demonstrate V2G bi-directional charging at its first testing site at Royal Oak, Mich., back in June. The second project took place at the US Army Corps of Engineers and SPIDERS project in Carson, Col. Most recently, at Boulder’s plant in Los Angeles, the California Energy Commission award the company a $3 million grant to support opening its second plant.

National fuel economy number goes up to 24.9 mpg
Corporate average fuel economy is inching upwards each month. The University of Michigan Transportation Institute says that the August number for light-duty cars and trucks sold in the US reached 24.9 mpg, up 0.1 mpg from the previous month. It’s gone up 4.8 mpg since the university began tracking the numbers in October 2007.

ClipperCreek brings smallest Level 2 EV charging station to market
Veteran EV charging station maker ClipperCreek has announced the availability of what it claims to be the smallest cord and plug connected, 20Amp, Level 2 EV charging station on the market.  Based on the company’s LCS-25, this new product features a plug in connection to make installation inexpensive and fast.  With a standard 25 foot charge cable, there is no need to juggle cars to plug in. Customers with existing outlets can purchase the LCS-25P and install it by attaching it to the wall and plugging the LCS-25P into a 240V outlet.  It’s for sale at a retail price tag of $549, with a 3 year warranty.

DOE may be settling for small chunk of Fisker’s debt being paid for
Fisker Automotive may have a buyer take care of its large debt with the US Dept. of Energy. Fritz Nols AG, a German investment company, appears to have placed its $25 million offer to the DOE, and its sounds like it could be moving forward. The parties signed a letter of intent for its restructuring plan. It might be a partial solution for the DOE to resolve some of the $193 million that the agency made available as a loan and which the extended range automaker has yet to pay back. Fritz Nols AG may not close the deal, though; other bids are being considered by the feds including one from Chinese auto parts maker Wanxiang Group (and owner of previously-named A123 Systems); and a Hong Kong-based investment group. It sounds like all of the bids are lower than the US government had been hoping for; yet, they may settle for less and walk away from Fisker.

Dark days ahead for Ecotality
Ecotality has a swirl of class-action lawsuits being filed against the electric vehicle battery charger company. Pomerantz Grossman Hufford Dahlstrom & Gross LLP has filed a class action lawsuit against Ecotality, Inc. in US District Court, Northern District of California. It’s been filed on behalf of a class consisting of all persons or entities who gained securities of Ecotality between April 16, 2012 and August 9, 2013. This class action seeks to recover damages as a result of alleged violations of the federal securities laws.

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.

Frankfurt Motor Show looks electrified but how real is it?

Frankfurt Motor ShowThe German auto show is going full steam ahead and has been getting plentiful media coverage describing electrified vehicles as the central theme. There certainly have been a lot of displays, but the typical question arises – how much of this will really reach production lines, what will the volume look like, and when will they show up at dealer lots? Here’s a few highlights from last week…

Volkswagen took center stage – claiming to have 40 new hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electric vehicles in the works to roll out by 2018; the company plans to roll out 14 vehicles with alternative powertrains by next year. Coming soon will be electrified versions of the Up! city car, Golf compact, Audi A3 Sportback plug-in hybrid, and a battery-assisted Porsche 918 supercar. Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn says that his company will become the world’s largest producer of battery-based vehicles in the world.

VW also said that it’s considering rolling out natural gas-powered cars in the US. The automaker is urging the Environmental Protection Agency to do more to get a broader natural gas refueling network set up across the country.

Land Rover will be offering a diesel plug-in hybrid Range Rover SUV. It’s expected to pair a 288 horsepower turbodiesel engine with a 47 hp electric motor, and will get 44 miles per gallon.

BMW officially unveiled its i8 plug-in hybrid, which gets 362 hp that comes from a three-cylinder engine and an electric motor. BMW is also showing a Concept X5 eDrive at the show – a plug-in hybrid based on a four-cylinder engine.

Big Picture: August a hot sales month for green cars, $45M more in DOE funding, EV rentals in vacationland, the latest from Tesla-Mania!

Volt dealer salesAugust witnessed a hot sales market for plug-ins and hybrids
Plug-in electric vehicle sales nearly doubled year-ago figures to 9,431 units in August. The Chevrolet Volt reached its highest ever monthly sales figure – 3,351 units sold in August reaching just under 15,000 for this year. June 2013 had seen its best June ever at 2,698 units sold and July had dropped to 1,788. So August was a win-win for GM and incentives have been helping. The Nissan Leaf sold 2,420 units in August and made it to a little over 14,100 for the year. Previously, March had been the best sales month of the year for the Leaf, at 2,236 units sold. Atlanta has been a new and strong market for the Leaf. Tesla brought in sales of 1,716 Model S units, for a total of 13,330 for this year. Toyota had an even better month, setting a monthly record of 1,791 of its Prius Plug-in Hybrids. The RAV4 EV did well, too, reaching a record 231 units sold. Overall, the Prius saw a strong month with 27,358 units sold in all four variants – 28% over last year.

Ford did very well, almost quadrupling its green car numbers from last year at 8,292 vehicles sold. The Fusion Hybrid reached 3,694 units sold, C-Max Hybrid reached 2,411, the Fusion Energi hit 600 sold, and C-Max Energi made it to 621 sold. Revising the mileage rating on the C-Max hybrid on August 15 didn’t seem to hurt sales. Ford announced the EPA combined fuel economy rating was dropping from 47 to 43 mpg. The automaker thinks it still has a very strong selling point against its chief competitor, the Toyota Prius V, which has a combined mileage rating of 42 mpg.

DOE investing $45M in advanced vehicle technology projects
Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, General Electric and Caterpillar are among the 38 companies, universities and national labs to receive more than $45 million in US Department of Energy funding for projects that accelerate R&D of vehicle technologies to improve fuel efficiency, lower transportation costs, and protect the environment. While similar to the Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing program, this new DOE project fund is a separate project tied into President Obama’s Climate Action Plan that was launched in June of this year. The US Army will be contributing an additional $3 million to support projects based on lightweighting and propulsion materials, batteries, fuels, lubricants.

Coalition bringing electric drive experience to tourists visiting Orlando
Drive Electric Orlando (DEO) is bringing the electric vehicle driving experience to a lot of tourists visiting the city famous for its massive theme parks. DEO is bringing together car rental, charging stations, hotels, theme parks, and other stakeholders into the coalition. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is playing the leading role and working with Nissan on bringing Leafs to customers. Other participants include Disney, Sea World, Universal Studios, Duke Energy, Visit Florida, Peabody Hotel, and the University of Central Florida; Electrification Coalition is also part of the network. Renters can get a Leaf for as low as $30 a day that includes GPS navigation and overnight charging at hotels. Customers will be able to have free use of the Clear security lanes when leaving the city’s airport.

Siemens leaving EV charging business
Siemens AG, a German multinational engineering and electronics conglomerate, is leaving the electric vehicle charging market. Demand and market development has been weaker than expected in Germany and in the US. It will continue offering wall boxes for recharging electric vehicles at home, and will continue research on wireless charging. Siemens has played a very visible role at conferences such as Plug-in 2012.

Republicans in Congress likely to oppose DOE advanced vehicle loans
The US Dept. of Transportation’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program is facing Republican opposition in Congress. The DOE recently announced an active outreach campaign for the loan program to deliver more than $15 billion to potential applicants. U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the head of the House oversight committee, previously said the auto loan program was a “perfect example of government waste.”

Tesla-Mania!:  Combat with dealers, Musk family road trip
 After mixed results in state-level battles with dealers over its non-franchised dealer business model, Tesla Motors is ruminating over taking it to Washington. Tesla had fought the fight most intensely in Texas to overturn state franchise laws – and lost to dealers. Texas is considered to have the toughest state laws benefiting dealers over automakers. Dealers are watching it very closely with fear that Tesla gaining victory in Washington or any of the states would open the door to automakers from developing countries coming to the US to carve out market share. There’s also fear of what major OEMs might gain if Tesla gets away with it and they decide to switch over to company stores. They do tend to find Tesla CEO Elon Musk extremely irritating, but recognize he can pull a lot of sway.

In less dramatic news, Musk will be taking off on a cross-country road trip in a Model S with his five kids in the car. Musk will have to figure out the best way to drive 3,200 miles and make charging time most efficient at Tesla’s Supercharger stations. He thinks it will take up to 90 minutes a day to get the needed charging done during the five-day trip.