Research studies dig into the minds of green car drivers

green car shoppersAs a Toyota Prius owner living in Southern California, I’ve been invited a few times to share my opinions on the driving experience. I’ve participated in two onsite studies that have included walking around car displays and answering questions from different viewing angles; and sitting among other vehicle owners and responding to touch-screen survey questions. The research studies have been focused on owners of plug-in electric, hybrid, and fuel-efficient cars (like the Smart Fortwo). They appear to be funded by automakers looking for consumer feedback to refine their marketing campaigns.

In this year of declining plug-in and hybrid sales (and small cars losing share to pickups and SUVs), there’s been a lot of interest in exploring ways to reach consumers.  An study earlier this year looked at how hybrid and electric vehicle owners have been trading in their cars for SUVs at a high rate this year as gasoline prices stay down. Beyond today’s fuel prices, there are other motivating purchase factors that automakers are taking seriously – as are companies in other industries such as solar power and consumer household products.

A special report released last week by research firm Shelton Group delved into what’s working in reaching consumers with an interest in green products – marketing buzzwords that are effective with consumers. It’s been interesting to view the study’s findings, and to have first-hand experience with how market research firms are structuring their studies for automaker clients.

One study that I participated in recently delved into future vehicle purchase considerations, and why we chose the vehicles we’re driving now. The study focused on small-to-midsize cars; and small-to-compact multipurpose, sport utility, and crossover vehicles. For clarification in the questionnaire, vehicles like the Honda Fit, Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Volt, Kia Soul, and Ford C-Max were used as examples in various vehicle categories. As for OEM brands, Chevrolet, Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Volkswagen received most of the focus. Tesla Model S owners/lessors were included in the studies, but the studies do seem to be more focused on major OEMs competing with each other.

As for how owners chose these vehicles, and what we’re considering for the next one, key themes in the survey questions have been:

  • The latest and best vehicle technologies
  • Willingness to pay a premium for vehicles friendly to the environment
  • Advanced connectivity features like Bluetooth, telematics, Wifi hotspots, etc.
  • Strong fuel economy
  • Alternative technologies like hybrids and electric vehicles

Shelton Group just completed its eighth annual Eco Pulse study of American consumers, and this year delved into a topic critical to communications strategy: the effectiveness of green jargon. Words and phrases included in there study were:

  • Green
  • Eco-friendly
  • Sustainable
  • Recyclable
  • Recycled
  • Renewable
  • Compostable
  • Biodegradable
  • Low carbon footprint
  • Net zero
  • Low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound)

“Green,” “Eco-friendly,” and “Sustainable” were the strongest performers. “Green” goes back to the early days of environmental policies in the 1970s; “Eco-friendly,” started popping up in the late 1980s; and “Sustainable” has deep roots in the environmental movement, particularly with agriculture, but it’s become the leading terms in recent years – enough to make it to Ad Age’s “jargoniest jargon” list in 2010.

“Eco-friendly” did slightly better than “Green” in the study, though not significantly so. Both words performed well with Democrats and Republicans. “Sustainable” was slightly less impressive than the other two, but has been considered even more politically neutral than the other two. All three of them are considered to have a strong association with better health, though green hasn’t changed its reputation for being more expensive than other products.

CFA study shows that gas prices will continue influencing vehicle acquisitions and next-generation engineering

The per-gallon price of gasoline has a huge impact on the auto industry – sales of small cars, hybrids, and electric vehicles compared to trucks and SUVs; resale values of these segments; and capital expenditures by OEMs. Expectations of where oil prices will go in the next two years will play a big part in new vehicle purchases and what OEMs decide to place in their product pipelines. A new study says that US consumers don’t expect gas prices to fall as far down as they did in recent years – and that prices will be going up soon.

The latest national survey on consumer attitudes by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), reported that US consumers expect the national gasoline price average to rise by almost 50% in the next two years – from about $2.14 to $3.20 – and by over 80% in the next five years – to $3.90. While gas pricConsumer Federation of Americaes dropped dramatically in the second half of 2014, consumers are still building these price increases into their next vehicle purchase.

The fuel price volatility experienced in 2008, and again in 2010, has made a lasting impact on consumer attitudes. More than four-fifths (86%) of survey respondents said that gas mileage will be “important” in their next purchase, while over half (57%) say it will be “very important” in determining what vehicle to purchase.

Fleet acquisitions will likely be met with similar considerations. According to fleet industry coverage (such as articles in sibling publication Fleet Management Weekly), fuel prices and fuel efficiency are up there with telematics, vehicle safety, emissions, and functionality as key factors in making fleet vehicle acquisitions.

Major automakers, including commercial truck manufacturers, are going to continue to invest in alternative fuel vehicles and advanced vehicle technologies. Their executives predict that global demand for fuel from fast-growing economies like China, India, and Brazil, will push gas prices higher in the next two years and beyond.

In the end, financial concerns are driving interest in fuel efficiency. “Buying an inefficient vehicle during periods of low gas prices condemns the consumer to wider swings in monthly costs, much higher monthly peaks and a whopping overall increase in lifetime gas costs,” said Dr. Mark Cooper, CFA’s Director of Research, about the CFA study.

This Week’s Top 10: Gasoline prices are coming down and what it means, CALSTART announces keynote speakers for its annual conference and awards event

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

Exxon gas station1. Automotive News ran a lead article yesterday on how gasoline prices are softening and what it means, with a telling headline: “Falling gasoline prices make alternative-fuel vehicles a tougher sell.” The boom in US oil production, more fuel efficient new vehicles being offered to consumers, and a softening global demand for oil, seem to be reducing the price of oil and gasoline sold at retail stations. The US Energy Information Administration thinks that will continue into next year – from $3.45 this year down to $3.38 next year. Automakers are increasing incentives on alternative fuel vehicles to make up for reducing demand in hybrid and electric vehicle sales. Toyota boosted Prius incentives up to $2,300 per vehicle in September from $1,400 a year ago and Ford increased C-Max incentives up to $4,900 from $2,650 in September 2013. Consumer tastes have been shifting away from electrified vehicles toward SUVs and pickups, according to a Kelley Blue Book analyst. Green Auto Market has been concerned about the impact of softening fuel prices on green vehicle sales since coverage of the issue last month. Wearing my consultant/analyst hat, I would say that strengthening sales of alternative fuel vehicles will require clear messages from automakers, dealers, government agencies, infrastructure suppliers, and other stakeholders:
♦Fuel efficiency is still a big driver for car shoppers, says Mike Maroone, COO of AutoNation. Consumers remain vigilant about the risk of another oil spike, even as they gravitate toward trucks, he said. Consumers and fleets are prioritizing fuel efficiency in their purchase decisions. Alternative fuel vehicles have an edge over internal combustion engines on fuel costs during their ownership lifecycles. (I like getting 48 mpg in my Prius, no matter how much gasoline prices may drop.)
♦Federal and state incentives, and those offered by automakers and dealers, will be continuing for a while on electric vehicles, natural gas vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and propane autogas vehicles.
♦The infrastructure is getting better all the time in charging stations and alternative fuel pumps.
♦As mentioned in the article on working with environmental groups (running in its long version this month in Green Auto Market – Extended Edition), there are three strong arguments for supporting alternative fuel vehicles: emissions reductions, reducing dependence on oil, and economic growth with job creation. If you add in the pragmatic lifecycle fuel cost savings, that means there are four good reasons to purchase these vehicles
2. CALSTART has announced two keynote speakers for its Annual Meeting and Blue Sky Awards luncheon. Christopher Grundler, director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality for the US Environmental Protection Agency, and Dr. Cheryl Martin, acting director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) at US Dept. of Energy, will be speaking at the event on Tuesday, December 9, 2014, in Los Angeles. The CALSTART annual meeting will feature leading public policy officials, investors, and industry leaders with the sole focus of developing new plans and initiatives supporting clean transportation technologies. Leaders in the field will be honored; for over a decade, the Blue Sky Award has been presented annually to companies and individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the development of clean, sustainable transportation, and technologies. You can view the preliminary agenda here; and for more information, to review the agenda and register, you can email Susan Romeo at
3. Tesla Motors may add franchised dealers into its retail chain to gain access to states like Texas and potentially Michigan that have banned Tesla selling directly to consumers. “We may need a hybrid system, with a combination of our own stores and some dealer franchises,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged during an interview with John McElroy on Autoline Daily. Michigan’s governor is scheduled to make a decision today on whether he’ll be signing into law the state legislature’s decision last week to ban Tesla from selling or operating a gallery. There are no details yet on how this distribution network would be structured, but it might also assist Tesla in building its presence in states with bans or others like New Jersey and Nevada that are allowing Tesla to sell in the states with limited presence.
4. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will issue revised guidelines by the end of this year on mpg ratings. Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, says it has much to with the agency’s “coast-down” test that has been the source of mistakes impacting Hyundai, Kia, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz to revise their fuel economy ratings since 2012.  During testing, vehicles are sped up to 80 mpg then coast to a step for readings on aerodynamic drag, friction in the drivetrain, and other data points. That data has been going into dynameters for simulations of the vehicle’s performance on real roads. New guidelines will come out clarifying how the test should be conducted, and more accurate audits of automakers’ testing results, Grundler said.
5. China will crackdown on automakers that fail to meet fuel economy requirements on passenger vehicles set to rollout in the 2015 model year. China has standards similar, but stricter, to those being adopted in the US, Europe, and Japan – requiring corporate average fuel economy of 34 mpg in 2015 and 47 mpg in 2020. The rule takes effect on Nov. 1. The Chinese government says it will publicly name automakers, both foreign and Chinese, who fail to meet the 2015 target; and there will be a ban on new vehicles that don’t meet fuel economy targets that will be determined by a special weight-based formula.
6. Kia has been slacking on joining the electric vehicle competition, but it’s got a very cool car, according to the New York Times. The 2015 Kia Soul EV got a rave review for a few reasons, one being its 27 kilowatt-hour battery pack. The EPA gives it a range of 93 miles on a charge, better than other EVs and especially significant for its small car size. The reviewer was able to reach just about 100 miles each time without resorting to extreme eco-maneuvers.
7. Clean Energy Fuels introduced a patent-pending product designed to help fleet operators sequester natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in their existing maintenance facilities. NGV Easy Bay  is the “lowest cost separation and vapor containment system available” for NGV maintenance and storage facilities, the company says. It was developed by the company’s facilities modification team, which has been helping potential operators solve problems faced in converting not only their vehicles but their vehicle support installations for natural gas using its code-compliant fabric barrier system.
8. LG Chem predicts it will be the giant in electrified transportation batteries in 2017 – 25% of a $5 billion global market in lithium batteries for battery electric, plug-in hybrid, hybrid, and microhybrid vehicles. Prabhakar Patil, CEO of LG Chem Power Inc., the Korean company’s North American division, thinks that LG Chem will continue to grow despite Tesla Motors’ decision to go with Panasonic at its upcoming “gigafactory” in Reno. Nev. Patil thinks the EV market will grow and is in talks with several automaker about supplying them with batteries. He also thinks it’s pretty questionable that Tesla and Panasonic will be building 500,000 electric vehicles a year.
9. US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz is impressed with a new biofuels plant in Kansas – he says it represents the future of ethanol production and next-generation biofuels, solar, and fossil technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The $500 million refinery in Hugoton, Kansas, is now one of three commercially sized facilities in that US that only use plant waste, such as stalks and leaves, for production. That would mean staying out of the “food vs. fuel” debate that plagues the corn ethanol used in E10 gasoline. Abengoa, a Spanish company, opened the plant in late September. The plant has been funded by an Energy Dept. grant and loan guarantee, and it has the capacity to produce 25 million gallons of ethanol per year.
10. General Motors has increased its number of landfill-free facilities up to 122 as 11 more manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations have made the list. These facilities in Asia, Europe, South America, and North America take waste from daily operations and recycle, reuse, or convert it to energy. Three of the 11 sites are in Michigan and one is in California; combined, the 11 added facilities help GM avoid more than 600,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions

Training program needed for dealer staff to answer questions from EV shoppers

dealer financeSales of electric vehicles (EVs) have been fairly impressive since their launch in late 2010, but the question of how to move those numbers up continues to plague the auto industry. A new working paper and brief by researchers at the Institute of Transportation Studies, UC Davis explores the issues. Aside from Tesla buyers, car shoppers and buyers of EVs are much less satisfied with the dealer purchase experience than are buyers of conventional vehicles. EV buyers have been dissatisfied with the level of support they receive from dealerships. The UC Davis team sees that EVs require innovation in how they’re retailed to customers during a time of change in what consumers expect from their car shopping and buying experiences. There’s a real need for a dealer training program to enhance the EV car shopping and buying experience – and Green Auto Market has a proposal on how to get that done.

Earlier this year, a Consumer Reports investigation came to similar conclusions. The magazine dispatched 19 mystery shoppers to 85 dealers across four states. One finding was that dealer staff knew little about the EVs they’re selling. In some instances, dealer staff discouraged EV purchases.  The UC Davis team conducted 43 interviews with six automakers and 20 new car dealers in California’s major metro markets for EV sales. They also analyzed national and state-level J.D. Power 2013 Sales Satisfaction Index (SSI) study data on customer satisfaction with new car dealerships and Tesla stores.

One of the challenges for EV success is that these vehicles need to be offered outside of California. Currently, 19 different EV models from 10 different automakers are available for purchase in California, but only three of these models are available nationally. While automakers have their part in getting national EV sales above and beyond 1% of all new vehicle sales, dealers play a very large part in meeting this goal. Legal battles between dealer associations and Tesla Motors present a real challenge for dealers to compete, but also an opportunity for franchised dealers to stand out. Nearly every automaker is offering an EV for sale now. It can be challenging for dealer management to get their sales representatives focused on selling EVs; they do need to spend more time these days answering car shopper questions on connectivity, infotainment, extended warranty coverage, etc. It might be attractive for a dealer sales rep to get the car shopper to focus on something other than EVs, especially if it takes a long time to answer their questions – and if the customer knows more about EVs than the sales rep.

Here’s what Green Auto Market and LeSage Consulting would like to offer automakers and dealer networks: a training model where dealer sales representatives can give a 10-minute presentation that answers questions car shoppers usually have about EVs. These questions might include:

  • Federal tax and state incentives and how they’re acquired
  • Home charging stations – how much they cost and how the building code inspection process and installation work
  • Driving range once the car is fully charged
  • Public charging stations and how they can be found on mobile devices
  • Cost of fueling compared to internal combustion engine cars
  • Maintenance process and services offered by the dealer

It would probably make the most sense to have a training program for dealer staff available on video with other presentation materials, such as a slide show and hand-outs. Whatever the method, it’s becoming more important now for the dealer experience to improve for EV shoppers – if automakers and dealers want to see those sale numbers increase and to build customer loyalty. For anyone interested in exploring this opportunity, I encourage you to send me an email.

This Week’s Top 10: Selling alternative fuel vehicles as gasoline prices dip, UN Climate Summit in New York revives push for global standards

by Jon LeSage, editor and publisher, Green Auto Market 

Here’s my take on the 10 most significant and interesting occurrences during the past week…….

  1. Exxon gas stationWhile there are several challenges to increasing electric vehicle (EV) and other alternative fuel vehicle sales, I would say that gasoline prices are one that don’t get mentioned enough. The uprisings in Iraq and Syria caused analysts to forecast increases through this year, but that is not the case today. A survey by analyst Trilby Lundberg reported that gas prices have been down 34 cents since the beginning of summer. GasBuddy is predicting the downward trend will continue. The US Dept. of Energy (DOE) estimates the national average gasoline price for all of 2014 will be $3.46 a gallon, its lowest annual average since 2010. The DOE predicts the average will fall again, to $3.41, in 2015. Survey researchers at Indiana University released an exhaustive study that found consumers are misinformed about EVs – with 75% incorrectly underestimating the benefits of the vehicles. Softening gas prices tend to hit hybrids the hardest in new vehicle sales and used vehicle values. With gasoline prices staying down for now, the challenge increases on how to inform consumers and fleets about the gains available through EVs, hybrids, natural gas vehicles, propane, and hydrogen.
  2. The UN Climate Summit took place last week at the UN Headquarters in New York City. It all started on Sunday, Sept. 21 with the People’s Climate March where more than 300,000 people took the streets in the largest-ever climate change rally. The purpose of the conference was to raise support for a worldwide climate agreement in Paris in 2015. In a speech at the summit, President Obama called for a more ambitious global approach to environmental issues; he talked about a new push to boost what the White House calls “global resilience” in the face of climate change. Environmental groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club were pleased to see the street march on the 21st, and have called on the White House and US Environmental Protection Agency to stay committed to reducing carbon at power plants and through energy and transportation policies.
  3. US Department of Energy’s Clean Cities issued a reminder on fleets earning credits on the Alternative Fuel Transportation Program. Covered fleets can earn credits for some vehicles that don’t meet the Energy Policy Act of 1993 definition of an alternative fuel vehicle (AFV). The new policy adds half credits for certain hybrid electric vehicles, plug-in EVs, and fuel cell vehicles; and one quarter credit for neighborhood electric vehicles.  Medium- and heavy-duty hybrids are also eligible for a half credit after a fleet has met its light-duty AFV acquisition requirements.
  4. Well, well, well………. Tesla Motors officially exists in the auto industry. Automotive News, the “bible” of the auto industry, has asked Tesla CEO Elon Musk to be a featured speaker at Automotive News World Congress in January. Now, if anybody boos and hisses at him from the audience……..
  5. Westport Innovations Inc. released its newest proprietary technology, the first generation of enhanced spark-ignited (ESI) natural gas system. The new natural gas combustion technology is designed to provide vehicle and engine original manufacturers (OEMs) with a “downsized” natural gas solution that is cost competitive while providing similar levels of power, torque, and fuel economy to a larger diesel engine.
  6. Stevens Creek BMW in Santa Clara, Calif., is offering a good deal on a BMW i3 lease. It’s offering a $369 per month payment on a 36-month lease with $3,995 due at signing. Sales of the BMW i3 were about $350 a month for its first three months on the market before being increased. Sales have been very strong – 2,082 units sold from May to August, and a spike in numbers during August at 1,025. The Tesla Model S now has a direct competitor.
  7. Hewlett-Packard, Lowe’s and Home Depot were among the 2014 winners of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay awards. Freight transport companies are honored for improving fuel efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and reducing air pollution. The award honors top truck, intermodal, and rail carrier partners that are setting efficiency benchmarks in how they move products and supplies.
  8. University of Michigan Energy Institute professor John DeCicco thinks that self-driving cars can make transportation much greener and more sustainable. Connecting cars to the infrastructure around them can make traffic flow much more efficiently, along with other gains. I think I might agree with him.
  9. Former GM vice chair Bob Lutz made another interesting statement: Tesla Motors will only be a “fringe brand” until it introduces the smaller and less expensive Model 3 in late 2017. Lutz also thinks Tesla stock is “grossly overvalued” for now.
  10. Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller’s heirs are divesting from fossil fuels. The $860 million philanthropic organization, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, will be divesting from stock in fossil fuels because of its harmful impact on climate change. The announcement was timed to coincide with the UN Climate Summit.

Green Vehicle Marketing: Logic is one thing, but feelings and personal viewpoints are more important

emotional car shopperThe smartest way to increase sales and market share for electric and other green vehicles is proving that they can deliver three benefits: being cost effective; convenient for the user’s lifestyle; and reducing emissions along with petroleum dependence. Just take a look at websites and ad campaigns on Youtube for the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, Tesla Model S, and other models. Those making the vehicle acquisition decision must be convinced on all three levels – but sometimes it’s not enough to nudge the purchasing decision.

The question always comes up: What’s the best way to make the case that buying a green vehicle instead of a fuel efficient gasoline-engine model is the best way go? As several marketing experts have stated, logical reasons for making the purchase decisions will ride in the backseat. The emotional, personal decision will drive the decision; and that’s the case for personal, business, and fleet vehicle acquisitions. Personal opinions and viewpoints will vary.

Here are two examples from recent discussions…………

  • One colleague thinks clean transportation is an honorable cause. He believes the debate over whether climate change is for real is meaningless; air pollution is certainly a problem, he said. He thinks of himself as being a good steward for future generations. He’s a fly fisherman and practices conservation tactics, and gets very frustrated with irresponsible fishermen. Two topics that he’s very interested in, and passionate about, are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and healthy foods. Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont are being irresponsible pushing for GMOs. McDonald’s and Nestles should be boycotted. “Look at where the subsidies go,” he said. “Agricultural subsidies are based on junk food.”
  • An environmental group leader that I know is proud to drive a Tesla Model S, has native plants in her front yard that need little water, and believes it’s important for government and industry to take environmental issues seriously. She’s very concerned about the harmful effects of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas and its impact on the environment. On the other hand, she thinks that natural gas vehicles utilized in a fleet is a very good, clean way to go.

Both of these people were passionate in sharing their opinions on sustainability issues, though their assumptions have been different. Diversity in opinions on environmental and sustainability issues is another marketing theme that needs to be addressed. For example, while speaking out against GMOs (and Monsanto) is top priority for a lot of people, for others it’s not a concern – or for them it’s so pervasive in most of the food we buy at grocery stores that you’d have to go to extremes to avoid GMOs, such as growing all your own food or only buying organic foods.

Other Americans will prioritize the Keystone XL pipeline as the leading issue, and for others fracking must be stopped. Consumers most concerned about climate change generally have strong opinions on some or all of these issues. For other consumers in the US, environmentalists are seen as being extreme and too far to the left; they may value conservation, clean air, and job creation, but don’t support an all-encompassing paradigm such as climate change.

Authenticity and social responsibility seems to be valued by most consumers. As covered recently by experts during a GreenBiz webinar, transparent, honest, and accurate reporting is being expected by consumers and in the business-to-business (B2B) environment. As panelists discussed during “Understanding the B2B Green Marketing Landscape,” B2B companies are especially demanding – requesting unprecedented amounts of information about products’ environmental and health attributes. Sustainability is one of the top values influencing opinions by individuals and businesses (according to several studies in the past five years), and it’s been tied firmly to ethics and social responsibility.

The point being made here is that frequently-asked questions about alternative fuel vehicles need to be addressed by salespeople and through educational materials. It’s probably a good idea to take a broad viewpoint on sustainability and environmental issues when marketing these vehicles.

It’s even more important to offer a hands-on, emotional experience to vehicle shoppers. That’s likely to come to them while test driving the vehicles, having conversations with experienced owners of these vehicles, and connecting the vehicles to environmental and economic issues that they’re passionate about. If buying and driving an EV, hybrid, or other alt-fuel vehicle brings feelings of community service, fulfillment, and practical gains, a lot more of these vehicles will be sold.

Earthgarage Certified Dealer program offers a way to reach greenest consumers

earth garageFor those of you reaching out to consumers (and fleets) with interest in “green” issues like air quality, fuel efficiency, recycling, and protecting natural resources, you may want to consider the Earthgarage Certified Dealer program. The Shelton Group, a market research firm, has reported that the greenest consumers make up 24% of Americans. They make for a very desirable target audience – affluent, early adopters, and the most brand-loyal segment. They prefer to purchase greener products from greener companies.

Green Automotive Alliance yesterday announced the Earthgarage Certified Dealerprogram, which helps independent repair shops and tire dealers service the environmentally-savvy driver – and provides them with a good opportunity to stand out in the marketplace. It’s a win-win for customers – selecting repair shops that have joined the Earthgarage Certified Dealer program can offer consumers a lineup of aftermarket parts and services that have a lower impact on the environment and save money on routine maintenance.

The program includes branding, marketing support, and staff training. “We’re changing the way drivers think about maintaining their car,” said Bob Inzitari, Store Manager at Karl Auto Service in Greenwich, Conn., “being green also means you can save money, too.”

Customers also have the option of choosing environmentally responsible products to service their vehicles. One of them is G-Oil, the first bio-based motor oil; it’s synthetic oil with carbon emissions two-thirds lower than conventional motor oil. Another aftermarket product being offered is the micoGreen oil filter that extends oil change intervals out to 30,000 miles; it comes with a patented filter technology that makes for cleaner, longer lasting oil.

Green Automotive Alliance recently revamped its website, The site offers pertinent information on products and resources that help motorists improve gas mileage, reduce emissions and lower the environmental impact of their vehicle.

The revised website also includes a store locator for participating Earthgarage Certified Dealers. “The Earthgarage Certified Dealer program allows independent shops to stand out in a crowded marketplace,” added Bob Leonard, CEO of Green Automotive Alliance, the marketing company that developed the program.

Check out the “Give Water a Brake!” campaign on the Earthgarage website, which seeks to ban copper in automotive brake pads. Every time a driver steps on the brake pedal while driving, copper in the form of brake dust is worn off the pads. This eventually winds up in the environment, contaminating our precious water resources. As Colors on Parade has discovered, choosing environmentally responsible standards and practices is paying off with customers and regulatory agencies such as the US Environmental Protection Agency. Regulatory compliance gets companies to save money by switching over from solvents to waterborne auto paints. Offering clean waterborne paint, and making the process more efficient than it had been in the past, is gaining a lot of traction, the company said. Consumers and fleets like to stay informed on these issues, so the Earthgarage Certified Dealer program may meet their financial goals and could be inspiring for many of them concerned about eliminating copper that wears off brake pads and damages the environment.

Breaking through range anxiety and other EV stumbling blocks

For those of you championing the benefits of plug-in electric vehicles, here’s a few points you may want to mention…..

  • Nissan is sharing real-world experience from Leaf owners on its website. Those interested can submit questions that will be answered by Leaf owners who drive the electric cars every day.  Range anxiety continues to be the leading concern; owners say that the Leaf’s EPA rating of 84 miles on a charge is more than adequate for suburban or urban commuting. Two Leaf owners did run out of energy while driving – one of them was stranded by a closed charging station and the other admitted not having learned how to read the car’s range meter.
  • US electric vehicle owners saved themselves $100 million last year by not having to buy gasoline. The Union of Concerned Scientists said that 160,000 Americans saved that much by not having to go to gas stations and buy 45 million gallons of gasoline last year. Carbon reduction is another point to make; for example, California EV drivers were able to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 140,000 tons last year.
  • A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates one of every eight deaths around the world can be traced back to exposure to air pollution.  WHO estimates that in 2012 about seven million people died as a result of air pollution exposure. Government agencies around the world are expecting EVs (along with other zero emission vehicles such as plug-in hybrids and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) to play a significant role in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
  • As I’ve discovered talking to stakeholders in alternative fuel vehicles, being able to effectively answer questions from consumers, fleets, company executives, and regulatory agencies, is essential for growth in adoption of EVs and other fuels and technologies. Education and public awareness programs are very much needed. Some of the issues that typically come up during conversations include:
  1. Where the electricity comes from – coal versus cleaner energy.
  2. Lifecycle ownership costs, price comparisons to similar gasoline-engine cars, maintenance, and resale values.
  3.  Safety issues for EV owners and first responders in the event of a crash.
  4. Where the EV battery technology is going – becoming lighter, longer range, and less expensive.
  5. Charging infrastructure – how many charging stations are being installed, how available and reliable are the chargers, and the cost of charging.
  6. What will it take for fast chargers to become more widely available.

Car dealers are getting better, but there’s still a ways to go

Toyota Prius - Sea Glass PearlEver since the economic collapse of the auto industry that started in 2008, dealers have been undergoing changes in how they do business. Dealers understand that they’ve got to become stronger in customer service to build loyalty and can’t just stick to old upselling methods. They’re accepting that women make the majority of family car purchase decisions; that young people are holding off purchases longer than Baby Boomers did after first getting their drivers licenses; and that there’s a lot more car shopper interest in green cars such as hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs). There has been a lot of concern expressed that dealer staff haven’t been supportive and informed enough about EVs – mainly because it’s a longer selling process and isn’t as profitable as typical gasoline-engine cars. Those sales reps are very tied into closing sales quickly in how they make their living – and they could use more training and education in answering consumer questions.

As I wrote about not long ago in Green Auto Market (and its then-sibling blog Green Machine Digest), I was one of those green-interested car buyers. Well, a few days ago, I had a painful reminder about what I don’t like about the dealer experience and what does work for me.

Last year, I said yes to an aftermarket car alarm system for my 2013 Toyota Prius. Was I duped into it? Not necessarily – the Prius is an attractive car in California and there’s probably thieves looking for them as profit center, or so I thought. Actually, they’re not appealing to car thieves, according to a study by the National Insurance Crime Bureau – the Prius theft rate is much lower than the typical car. There’s a couple of reasons for that – one is that the Prius has several unique parts that can only be used in other Priuses, which cuts down the stripped parts market potential (and which makes for a big part of the car theft market). Another reason is that the Prius doesn’t have a key – it uses a remote fob to open its doors. That also cuts down the appeal to car thieves who usually don’t get their hands on the Prius key fob.

I discovered the problem with my alarm system while attempting to start the parked Prius on Friday afternoon. As I pushed the start button, the left and right turn indicators simultaneously flashed and the engine wouldn’t start. I attempted to open the door, and the alarm went off – loud enough to get stared at by several people wondering why I had jumped out of the car desperately attempting to stop the alarm by pressing buttons on the key fob. Somehow it did stop, and I tried it again only to find the same thing – flashing lights on the panel and loud honking when I opened the door.

I called the dealer where I’d bought the car and had gone to for routine service a few times. The alarm system guy was gone and wouldn’t be back until sometime Saturday. I explained that I couldn’t start my car and drive home; all I received from the service department staffer was a phone number for the vendor who provides them with the alarm system. Nobody answered the phone at that office. So, I called Toyota corporate roadside assistance. They sent out a tow truck who got me to another Toyota dealer close to where I’d gotten stalled out. My choices were explained to me by the service department – have their service technician dismantle the alarm control box or go to my original dealer and have them deal with it. I told them to unplug the alarm system and I would have it fixed later or just live without it. Strangely enough, after the alarm control box was removed the beeping sound quieted down a bit when locking and unlocking the doors – another annoyance I can live without.

The customer service experience was positive at this Toyota dealer – including offering me a free shuttle trip home so that I wouldn’t have to wait around at the dealership for the repair to be completed. The service department assistant manager was very knowledgeable about the security system and about the Prius overall – which is one of the benefits of working with automakers and their dealer networks who have years of experience to go by.

The original dealer sales rep was very good with me about sitting in the car and answering my questions last year while I was shopping for the car – and giving me all the time needed to make the acquisition decision. The problem started with going to the Finance & Insurance rep and having to sift through the sales tactics. I do regret the alarm system purchase decision, but not the other ones. I do love my Prius and will look at the plug-in hybrid version later on. I do want to own an all-electric or plug-in hybrid EV, but the ownership costs and charging station accessibility need to improve. I would hope that the dealer experience goes in a similar direction.

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).