Attending LA Auto Show to view green vehicle showcase

LA Auto Show 2014 5BMW’s award-winning electric vehicles and other automakers’ hydrogen-powered cars were the spotlights on Thursday at the LA Auto Show. Like all other car shows, new vehicle introductions and sporty concept cars were prevalent; USA Today’s Chris Woodyard thought the Lexus LF-C2 concept, Audi Prologue concept, and Infiniti Q80 Inspiration concept were memorable. The Infiniti Synaptiq race car took the People’s Choice Award in the 11th annual LA Auto Show Design Challenge. As for more conventional new vehicle rollouts, three of them stood out to observers: the 2015 Mazda CX-3, 2016 Cadillac ATS-V, and 2015 Honda CR-V.

Here were some of the more interesting green vehicle developments:

  • BMW’s new electric cars won accolades, with the BMW i3 taking the Green Car of the Year Award and, on Wednesday evening, the BMW i8 winning Autoblog’s 2014 Technology of the Year Award. The i8 had also won the Motor Press Guild’s 2014 Innovation Vehicle of the Year on Wednesday (along with the 2015 Ford F150). The lightweight carbon fiber and performance of the battery electric and plug-in hybrid systems impressed award judges. For Green Car of the Year, the i3 beat the Audi A3 TDI, the Chevrolet Impala bi-fuel CNG version, Honda Fit, and Volkswagen Golf.
  • Similar to last year, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles were highly visible on display and during the Green and Advanced Technology Ride & Drive. As for concept vehicles, the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen HyMotion and the Audi A7 Sportback h-tron Quattro were popular during the ride and drive; and the Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell and recently named Toyota Mirai were the production models to view during the show. Honda had unveiled a revised version of its FCV Concept in Japan a few days before the LA Auto Show; that car will be rolling out in 2016. For those of you interested in seeing a plug-in hybrid combined with an alternative fuel, the Audi h-tron can travel about 310 miles on hydrogen and about 31 miles on the battery.
  • The Ford Fusion Energi and Toyota Highlander Hybrid won the first-ever Green Fleet Car and Truck of the Year awards during a luncheon meeting. Readers of the Bobit Business Media publications including Green Fleet voted on the winners. The Nissan Leaf and Honda Civic Natural Gas were runners up in the car category, while the Ram 1500 Eco Diesel and Ford Transit T150 Wagon FFV finished in the top three for the truck category. Bobit Business Media had collaborated with, and received technical assistance from, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Argonne National Laboratory to determine the award nomination and selection criteria.
  • Henrik Fisker has left the extended range Fisker Karma sports car behind and has gone back to another passion – designing muscle cars. Fisker and partner Galpin Auto Sports unveiled the Fisker Rocket, a 725-horsepower reworking of the 2015 Ford Mustang that Fisker called the “ultimate American muscle car.” It has several exterior modifications to give it a distinct look that Fisker has a lot of experience creating.
  • I think the most visible car on display this year was the Nissan Blade Glider, a zero emission vehicle concept car. (See photo above.) Another good one was Volvo announcing its 2016 XC90 seven-passenger SUV during the show.
  • Honda unveiled the Honda Developer Studio, an online portal and open innovation workspace in Silicon Valley. It’s part of Honda’s connected car strategy and coincides with its new Connect system for infotainment and navigation. It’s Android-based but it’s not part of Google’s Android Auto, Honda said.
  • Through Hertz 24/7, the major car rental company’s carsharing division, Hertz was demonstrating its PIN-pad six-digit code system at the ride and drive. The idea behind it is that you can leave the car or truck in a parking lot and the next Hertz 24/7 user can open and start it from the door panel or from their mobile device. Drivers can use the NeverLost dashboard device to get directions anywhere they want to go. They’re testing out the system on pickup trucks with Lowes so that users without trucks can go by some large items that won’t fit into their cars and will have access to a pickup for a couple of hours.
  • Team Fuel Saver won the Ford Car-Connected City App competition. That came out a September hackathon competition with 70 entrants that were narrowed down to 10 finalists from the developer community. The Team Fuel Saver shows all kinds of data on fuel consumption, fuel prices, and oil changes and other maintenance activities. The 10 finalists showed their apps during Connected Car Expo and the winner will be demonstrated at the CEI convention in January.
  • David Cummins, senior VP and managing director at Xerox Services, talked about the urbanization trend in US cities and how it’s affecting the future of cars. Baby Boomers – about 50-to-70 years old, are showing more interest and appeal with driverless cars; as the generation ages and loses the ability to drive, the advanced technology is expected to gain support. Millennials in the 18-to-35 year old age range are showing a lot of interest in what he called “urban mobility networks” and their implications for getting through traffic congestion and reducing air pollution as more of them live and work in metro areas. The challenge for connected, autonomous vehicles will be building a platform between public and private providers. The cornerstone must be “open data,” and a flexible network that can meet new innovations, Cummins said.

Why the Cadillac ELR TV commercial is a very bad idea

Cadillac ELR commercial 2Rex Parker, professor of transportation design, at Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, called me last week and expressed distress and frustration with Cadillac’s “Poolside” ELR TV commercial prominently featured in the Winter Olympics (and in the photo to the left). Parker, a former designer with major automakers, had a lot to say about it being misunderstood overseas, fueling more tension and misunderstanding during a time when US TV commercials go global and viral through Youtube and social media. His comments speak to what I see as being the most significant trend shaping the near-term future of the auto industry – globalization. As I’ve covered and commented upon many times in Green Auto Market, automakers and suppliers are now truly multi-national conglomerates serving markets in North America, Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Chinese OEMs and suppliers are the most obvious example, as Fisker Automotive, Volvo, General Motors, BYD, Tesla Motors, and others would tell you. It’s not a good time to be bragging about the US being No. 1 in everything, nor is it accurate; and it rubs against ideals that a lot of people still have about this country – a land of equality in all things regardless of where you live.

The main issue Parker has with the Cadillac ad is that many people around the world won’t get the satirical, humorous angle – and will likely see it as an extreme symbol of stereotypical American arrogance and wealthy lifestyle perks. As you can see here, Parker doesn’t hold back on expressing his opinions on auto industry trends. Here are a few points he made on the phone last week……

  • Americans traveling abroad will usually tell you this type of TV commercial is a very bad idea. Parker was in France when this commercial hit the airwaves, and it inflamed French viewers. This type of message hurts Americans traveling abroad.
  • Parker, who is half Brazilian and half American, was in Brazil last summer when a street riot in his US hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif., got a lot of media attention (which I can attest to, being stuck on Pacific Coast Highway while attempting to drive through Huntington Beach during this unexpected debacle). Brazilians were informed about it while it was going on – which is ironic given that it was a modest riot without casualties. But the internet gave them instantaneous information – and what happens in the US is taken very seriously in Brazil and around the world.
  • The Cadillac commercial conveys “American arrogance and sets us back generations,” Parker said. The days of 1950’s US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles explaining US foreign policy are long gone, he said.
  • I would also add, having been raised by a World War II vet with plenty of lively tales that I heard while growing up, that the days of post-WWII gratitude to the US are long gone. US traditions for individual rights, personal freedom and expression, holding elections, having open markets for developing industries, technology breakthroughs, and enjoying multi-media entertainment, will continue to influence what people around the world perceive and value; but toying with images and messages of what others resent, and sometimes hate, about the US, is not a good way to sell cars or improve international relations.
  • You can certainly make the case that the US government is dominated by an autocracy of interest groups who’ve stuffed pockets with lots of campaign contributions; and that the US has serious social issues to deal with – such as the brutal impact crystal methamphetamine is having in a lot of communities. You can also talk to people who’ve lived in or visited other countries around the world that are quite unstable and struggling – they’ll explain why they live in the US and probably won’t be leaving. Those are better images to convey in a TV commercial, as you can typically see watching TV lately. If you were watching the Winter Olympics, you probably saw Chevrolet’s new campaign called “The New Us.” It shows a diverse range of families under the theme, “What it means to be a family hasn’t changed; what a family looks like, has. This is the new us.”
  • Sell the car:  The best performing and most memorable car commercials show off the car – it might be driving up a hillside at peak performance, or featuring a young couple or family traveling together and feeling good. General Motors’ Cadillac division has done a great job for about 20 years now in selling the product in its ad campaigns; the ELR has what people are impressed about with GM’s Voltec drivetrain, and with what Cadillac designers have placed into platforms and dashboard panels. The Cadillac ELR “Poolside” commercial only shows the car being charged and its dashboard control panel for a few seconds. The commercial’s agenda looks like something else besides marketing the product.

Inside the minds of car shoppers: The latest on green car surveys and branding trends

Leaders in alternative fuel vehicles - AutoTrader studySales of plug-ins, hybrids, natural gas vehicles, and other alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) are comparatively small when looking at overall new vehicle sales in the US. Still, they’re grabbing a lot of attention from media and marketing analysts lately, especially if you add in diesel-engine vehicles. While some will scoff at the idea of “clean diesel,” these cars are growing significantly in US sales numbers; diesel is about 55 cents more expensive than gasoline at retail stations, but the cars (especially from German automakers) are getting great mileage and performance. Here’s the latest coverage on how car buyers are perceiving AFVs……

Follow the money:  A recent survey by says that the top reasons shoppers would consider purchasing an AFV are less emotional and more practical, with three of the top five being related to saving money. “Better fuel economy” came in first at 70%, followed by “Cost of savings on gas” at 56%, “Cleaner emissions” at 37%, “Better for the environment” at 28% and “Federal Tax Credit” at 24%. The survey measured consumer attitudes on a range of fuels and technologies including diesels, hybrids, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. The study also found that perceptions about battery life/range are working against hybrid and plug-in vehicles. Diesel is facing concerns about the fuel expense, the cost of the vehicles, and potentially high cost of maintenance.

Luxury buyers: Phoenix International’s recent finding on AFVs found that luxury SUV consumers and non-luxury car consumers have the most interest; hybrid and electric vehicles are in the non-luxury car category, so that wasn’t a surprise in the survey findings. What about luxury SUVs? Diesel SUVs have been growing in popularity, which seems to have opened the door for car shoppers to consider alternatives, along with the perception that AFVs partially embody the latest in automotive technology. Phoenix International finds it very interesting that Tesla Motors is going after all of the luxury market by adding its upcoming Model X – an electric SUV – to its model lineup next year.

As for branding: In the AutoTrader study, for all the automakers who offer AFVs, seven had high awareness among survey respondents: Toyota, Honda, Ford, Lexus, Chevrolet, Nissan, and Volkswagen. When asked which automakers they would identify as leading in the space, Toyota came out on top with 48%, Honda came in second with 28%, and Ford made third place with 25%.

As for sub-brands: Green Car Reports made a very convincing point that the way automakers are marketing green sub-brands aren’t clicking very well for name retention. The article gives readers a test – to read a list of sub-brands for automaker green technology offerings, then scan a list of automaker brand names, and then accurately connect the dots. Here’s the correct answers: BlueEfficiency – Mercedes-Benz; BlueMotion – Volkswagen; Drive-E – Volvo; EarthDreams – Honda; EcoBoost – Ford; EcoTec – GM; EfficientDynamics – BMW; Hybrid Synergy Drive – Toyota; PureDrive – Nissan; and SkyActiv – Mazda. Ford’s EcoBoost has stuck with many minds along with Mazda’s SkyActiv; Honda’s EarthDreams and Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive stand out a little bit. The other ones seem pretty forgetful (at least for this writer).

What will it take? The latest on getting car shoppers to take green cars seriously

car shoppersIf you’ve spent time with advocates pushing for mass adoption of alternative fuel vehicles, the question always comes up: What will it take? Here’s a few new studies and media reports to consider…….

  1. Three out of five (62%) consumers want to see more hybrid models offered over the next decade; two in five (43%) want to see more electric vehicles; 34% want to see more fuel cell electric vehicles; 31% want more natural gas vehicles to show up; and 31% want more flex-fuel vehicles. This comes from a study by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC. Consumers are more motivated by economic incentives than environmental issues. Economic factors such as increased fuel efficiency or tax breaks are more important than environmental factors. The point:  Emphasize economic benefits as much as environmental.
  2. BMW is making its i3 electric car from carbon fiber that’s very light and tougher than steel. BMW knew that the car needed to be lighter to extend the range, reduce the size and cost of the power pack, and improve handling. The point: Lithium batteries will be much more lightweight, small, and efficient in 10 years, but for now, lightening the car’s body and components is the best option.
  3. BMW continues to be quite creative in marketing its i3 through test projects and marketing alliances (think megacity mobility). SolarCity and BMW have partnered to offer owners of BMW i vehicles exclusive access to SolarCity’s most affordable solar service option. The partnership will make it possible for many BMW i owners in SolarCity’s territories to power their cars with clean electricity for less than it would cost with electricity provided by their utility company. The point: Tell the story through the entire lifecycle process of the car – what goes into making it and how it’s going to be powered.
  4. As Schneider Electric’s Mike Calise recently told Green Auto Market, this charging supplier company is participating in a collaborative effort in Silicon Valley. It’s bringing together stakeholders such as employers, a carshare service, and Toyota to set up train stations with EV charging, carsharing, and bike stands allowing for full integration of transportation needs and concerns. The point: Work with community stakeholders to share the cost and carry the message to groups such as commuters, EV owners, bike riders, transportation providers, and employers.
  5. A new study by Navigant Research found that interest among consumers in battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles still remains below the 50% mark. The study concluded that consumers are interested in EVs but want to be won over by the features and price points. The point:  Forget about high-end electric vehicles being marketing by Tesla, BMW, and Cadillac. Consumers want more affordable prices and attractive features like charging station driving directions paired to their smartphones and a plentiful and easily accessible charging infrastructure.
  6. Indiana University researchers surveyed more than 2,000 drivers in 21 of the US’s largest cities about electric vehicles. They discovered that 95% of respondents didn’t know about state and local subsidies, rebates, and other incentives. The point: Simplified education methods are needed.

Big Picture: Hydrogen FCEVs facing rite of passage; Dates announced on two alt-fuel vehicle conferences

Toyota FCVTo paraphrase the Kevin Costner movie, “Field of Dreams” – If you build it, they will come.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles continue to struggle with “chicken or the egg” quandary. There’s only a slim hydrogen refueling infrastructure in the US, and the questions of how much fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) will be priced for and how serious car shoppers will take the products and pricing are far from being answered. Plug-in electric vehicle loyalists like Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk tend to scoff at FCEVs. Yet, other automakers seem to be taking these vehicles seriously.

Hyundai is preparing to launch a fuel cell crossover in the US next year. Hyundai’s president of research and development Kwon Moon-sik thinks cost factors are pointing the company in the direction of FCEVs instead of batteries. Several of his auto industry colleagues share that perspective. Kwon says that advanced lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles remain expensive, and he sees few opportunities for cost reductions coming soon. He thinks hydrogen fuel cells offer more hope for volume savings. The zero emissions part of FCEVs also offers appeal to automakers. Executives at Toyota, Honda, Daimler, General Motors, Ford, and Nissan are mapping out FCEV launches between 2015 and 2020; some of them share Kwon’s perspectives about the cost of FCEVs falling. It’s all part of the partnership alliance formed earlier this year on fuel cell systems between GM and Honda; and another, similar alliance between Nissan, Daimler, and Ford.

The process does require patience. Hyundai already started production of a hydrogen-powered version of its Tucson crossover; the company plans to produce only 1,000 units for sale globally by 2015. Toyota just offered a sneak peak at its FCV concept hydrogen-powered vehicle that it plans to roll out in 2015 (see photo above); the company is hoping to use it to popularize FCEVs as the Prius did for hybrids. “We think it could be the best zero emissions solution that hits the market,” said Bill Fay, general manager of Toyota’s US sale division.

Honda has helped car show attendees gain enthusiasm for FCEVs after driving its limited production FCX Clarity. Another FCEV will be joining the Honda lineup; the automaker just put out a sketch that hints at what will be shown at the upcoming Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says the new FCEV Concept expresses a “potential styling direction” for a next-generation FCEV due in 2015. Honda appears to be preparing for competition from Toyota’s FCEV being launched that same year.

As for the limited number of hydrogen refueling stations, California plans to open 68 more of them by 2015. There are only nine open in the state now; 19 are in development and another 12 private or demonstration stations are operational. The governor recently signed a bill offering funding for 100 hydrogen fueling stations in the state. California is also thinking about changing its tax credit system so that it would stop favoring plug-in electric vehicles over FCEVs. The US Dept. of Energy continues to make amends with the hydrogen and fuel cell communities through its H2USA program launched in May. It’s a public-private partnership with Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, and Toyota to promote development of the hydrogen refueling infrastructure. The Obama administration just announced a $4 million grant for research into hydrogen fuel storage systems. Then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger might have aided the skeptics with his campaign nearly 10 years ago for the “hydrogen highway” to come soon; but steps are being taken forward these days.

Northern California AltCar Expo and ACT Expo release dates
Two significant alt-fuel vehicle conferences have been scheduled. AltCar Expo is seeing its partnership with Bay Area Air Quality Management District come together. The Northern California AltCar Conference & Expo will take place on Friday and Saturday, March 14-15, 2014, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, Calif. Check out the event’s website to stay current on the schedule.

The Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo is looking forward to seeing its record attendance numbers go up yet again. Next year’s conference has been scheduled May 5-8, 2014, back at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, Calif. It will be co-located with the 14th biennial NGV Global Conference and Exposition. “Merging North America’s largest clean fleet expo with the world’s leading natural gas vehicle conference will result in the largest gathering of clean transportation stakeholders that North America has ever seen,” Erik Neandross, CEO of event manager Gladstein, Neandross and Associates, said in the press release.

Clean Cities offers AFLEET tools and mobile app for stations
Argonne National Laboratory has developed the Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool for Clean Cities stakeholders to estimate petroleum use, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutant emissions, and cost of ownership of light-duty and heavy-duty vehicles using simple spreadsheet inputs. The US Dept. of Energy’s Clean Cities Program enlisted the expertise of Argonne to develop a tool to examine both the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles. You can download the AFLEET tool in Excel and user guide in PDF free of charge at this website.

The tool provides three calculation methods depending on the user’s goals. The Simple Payback Calculator examines acquisition and annual operating costs to calculate a simple payback for purchasing a new alternative fuel vehicle as compared to a similar conventional vehicle, as well as average annual petroleum use, greenhouse gases (GHGs), and air pollutant emissions. The Total Cost of Ownership Calculator evaluates the net present value of operating and fixed costs over the years of planned ownership of a new vehicle, as well as lifetime petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions. The Fleet Energy and Emissions Footprint Calculator estimates the annual petroleum use, GHGs, and air pollutant emissions of existing and new vehicles; it takes into consideration that older vehicles typically have higher air pollutant emission rates than newer ones.

For those seeking information on more than 15,000 charging and alternative fuel stations within the US, Clean Cities and National Renewable Energy Laboratory now have a mobile app for iPhone or iPad users. You can quickly find out where EV public charging stations, and fueling pumps for B20 biodiesel, compress and liquefied natural gas, E85 ethanol, hydrogen, and propane, can be found.

But wait, there’s more!……..

  • Brett Hauser, a founding member of the Open Charge Alliance (OCA), a global consortium of public and private electric vehicle infrastructure leaders, and president of Greenlots, had a few things to say about the solutions offered by open standards for electric vehicle charging stations instead of proprietary networks. Here’s a little bit of what he wrote in Greentechmedia….. Charging networks based on open communications standards are an excellent alternative to proprietary networks and have been future-proofing Europe’s EV networks for close to four years now. The open model provides site hosts the freedom to switch network management providers without having to purchase new charging stations. It also stimulates technical innovation by allowing free market competition to push down the costs of both charging station hardware and back-end software, while dramatically derisking the hardware purchase for site hosts.
  • Pricing is coming out on Cadillac’s extended-range ELR$75,995 as a starting price and there’s a marketing deal with the famous department store. For $89,500, you can buy the 2014 Saks Fifth Avenue ELR. You get a White Diamond exterior finish, a Jet Black or Light Cashmere interior shade, a 240-volt charger thrown in the deal, and a relationship with an “ELR Concierge Representative.” These are only available to 100 people, and General Motors only expects to sell a limited number of ELRs anyways.
  • Nissan/Renault chief Carlos Ghosn is backing off big numbers for electric vehicle sales targets. The global automaker was going to sell 1.5 million EVs by 2016. So far, it’s only been about 120,000 units, primarily Nissan Leafs. At the current speed, it’s going to take about five years longer than initially anticipated, he said.
  • Energy Vision is now offering a new publication, “Turning Waste into Vehicle Fuel.” Funded in part by Clean Cities, it’s a first-of-its-kind roadmap for cities, communities, farms, and other generators of organic waste to develop renewable natural gas.
  • Kia is planning on producing an electric version of its Soul crossover subcompact to arrive next year in the US. It will be Kia’s first EV sold outside South Korea and is expected to travel 120 miles on a single charge.

Colors on Parade brings green, cost effective auto paint to dealers and fleets

Cox_Jeff_Colors on ParadeFor dealerships, fleets, and body shops following environmental sustainability strategies, reconditioning vehicles with waterborne paints has become a resource offering cost and time efficiency and compliance with new industry standards. Years ago, the US Environmental Protection Agency adopted a volatile organic compound (VOC) standard, encouraging industries such as automotive to switch over from solvents to a cleaner element, with waterborne paint making the most sense to paint suppliers. Air quality management districts within California adopted stricter standards years later, and similar rules have been adopted recently in Maryland and appear likely to come soon to Virginia.

Jeff Cox, president of Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Colors on Parade, says that regulatory compliance gets companies to save money using waterborne auto paints and to make the process more efficient than it had been in the past. Colors on Parade serves fleets, car rental companies, dealers, and body shops, by showing up in cargo vans onsite ready to recondition vehicles. The company’s trained and certified technicians repair everything from dents and dings to scratches and interior repairs using proprietary and patented systems, as well as original manufacturer products.

Some of the company’s dealer clients are using clean, waterborne paints as a selling point for marketing to car shoppers interested in green sustainability issues. It’s also become a cost effective strategy for dealer management. Fleets like that it reduces service work downtime and contains costs. “Waterborne is great compared to solvents, and we’re using less paint than body shops,” Cox said. While repairing and reconditioning a vehicle, an auto body shop might be spraying a lot more paint than is needed. Colors on Parade finds that clients are appreciating the environmentally responsible practice along with the cost and time savings.

Colors on Parade recently celebrated its 25 year anniversary; the franchise network is located in 25 states and 52 metro markets and is continuing to grow. The company works closely with its paint supplier, PPG, on following regulatory and industry standards being adopted. Colors on Parade has been active in discussions with PPG and government regulatory agencies to stay informed on adoption of waterborne paints. An informal alliance between 13 states in the Northeast section of the US is getting these states to move toward adopting reduced VOC requirements, with waterborne being the most commonly considered paint solution, Cox said. The state of Virginia looks like it will be adopting a clean paint standard soon.

“When Maryland passed their waterborne paint law, it was obvious to me that Virginia would do the same soon,” said Glenn Buck, owner of a Colors on Parade franchise in Manassas, Va. “There are a lot of good reviews of the product, and so by switching early we can ease ourselves into it, really get to know waterborne paint and how it works. Sooner rather than later we’ll all have to switch over, and by then we’ll be experts.”

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.

Ethical dilemma Part 2: Clean transportation has its own hills to climb

Volt driving up mountain
“Monsanto is the whipping board for every person that has limited agricultural knowledge and is fearful of what they don’t understand. They are probably credited with saving more lives than any corporation. Without their technology there would be many more deaths because of starvation. I know I will not change anyone’s mind about the company because it takes a lot of time to understand how GMOs and their efforts are good for populations.”
Reader comment posted last week.

“There’s certainly a lot we don’t know. I had very mixed feelings about voting for the GMO labeling in November. We’ve been eating these genetically modified foods for many years and I’ve yet to find out about any real negative consequences. The main reason I wrote this post is that it symbolizes our tendency to find Darth Vader, and what it might mean for other companies out there.” Editor’s response to blog post, “Monsanto beats BP as ‘Most Evil Corporation’ and adds Climate Change to its list along with GMOs.”

So, let’s take this further…..

  • Mother Jones’ Josh Harkinson analyzed Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company taking the US Dept. of Energy grant to help bring the Model S electric car to market – how hypocritical it is for Musk and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to espouse libertarian politics and then take federal funding. The link to my post in Autoblog Green isn’t working now, but if you go there, scroll down about four articles to find and read my take on it.
  • A biographical PBS documentary on Henry Ford details his accomplished life as the father of the modern automotive manufacturing plant with the Model T, but also digs into his moral quandaries including his antisemitism and how he treated his son Edsel Ford, the second Ford Motor Co. chief executive.
  • Or Thomas Edison, developer of the phonograph and the long-lasting light bulb, for staging and filming electrocution of and elephant to demonstrate the danger of alternating current (AC) and why direct current (DC) should have been adopted by electric utilities. Edison was at war with AC leaders such as Nikola Tesla (sound familiar?), Westinghouse and General Electric. He didn’t win that fight, but DC is still around (DC faster chargers, for example).

These moral quandaries permeate the business world, not to mention politics, albeit in much more sublime and tedious methods than chosen by the legendary Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Corporate ethics has become a mainstream topic in recent years and is the subject of conferences and professional networks. Along with adopting a sustainability policy, many corporations are investing heavily in improving their image in community service and donations and endorsing organizations dedicated to human health and other worthy causes. Yet there’s no getting away from taking on aggressive, and occasionally manipulative and questionable, tactics for companies to surpass their competitors and to navigate through the regulatory environment.

Public image and facing condemnation by activists skilled at tarnishing that image is one thing, and pragmatic reality is another. Alternative fuel vehicles and technologies each have their own walls to climb to reach widespread adoption. Many of these issues have shades of ethical debate behind them, along with huge challenges to overcome. For example…..

  • Plug-in electric vehicles and the “dirty coal,” nuclear, and fossil fuel natural gas powering electricity plants – plus not enough renewable energy like solar producing electricity; range anxiety and the time it takes to charge EVs can be troubling questions, too.
  • Natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other shale and methane field extraction dilemmas; plus the higher cost of converted vehicles compared to gasoline and diesel-engine vehicles – and the need for more natural gas fueling stations.
  • Hybrids being more costly and competing with cheaper fuel efficient models, which gets trickier if gasoline prices soften.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles offering zero emissions but being too expensive and having hardly any fueling stations; plus the question of where the hydrogen is extracted from and the safety of the vehicles; pins and needles can still be raised for some people by mention of the infamous explosion of the Hindenburg hydrogen-powered aircraft.
  • Propane autogas is many times not taken as seriously as natural gas – including federal lobbying by T. Boone Pickens and colleagues for NGV commercial vehicle incentives. There’s resentment that propane is being treated as sort of a step cousin to natural gas while its fuel stations are all over the country and it offers clean fuel much cheaper than gasoline and diesel.
  • Biofuels:  The corn ethanol E15 battle and Renewable Fuel Standard clash (see lead story for this week). Not long ago, the Detroit 3 had been pushing flex-fuel vehicles and building a bunch with few people finding stations to put E85 into the tank or even trying to; and then there’s the food versus fuel battle – and the struggle of advanced biofuels ever scaling up and being consumed at that same level.
  • Fascinating alternative fuels like Volvo Truck’s DME, Rentech’s synthetic fuels, methanol coming back, renewable natural gas (see coverage of Clean Energy’s Redeem), and algae fuel – but they’re in very early stages and need a ton more backing to go anywhere and deliver their true offerings and benefits. It sure sounds good, but……..

The point being:  It’s a very big topic, but here are a few things to start thinking about…. Tell a great story and stick to it; tap into every funding source and incentive you can find; partner with stakeholders to build the infrastructure; get butts in seats at ride-and-drives and get fleet managers to test them out; and stick to it – that’s what Musk, Ford, and Edison would probably agree upon when offering advice about succeeding.

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 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

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.