Friday, January 15, 2010

Talking to Texans

What do Texans know about electric cars? Quite a bit it turns out.

I spent Friday and Saturday in Austin at their Climate Protection Conference and Expo. Fellow Plug In America board member, Marc Geller, and I set up our booth and spent two days talking non-stop to Texans about plug-in cars and renewable energy. We also spoke on two panels, Marc spoke about the cars themselves and I spoke on a panel about charging infrastructure.

Having grown up in San Antonio, I remember how conservative Texans were in general, so I fully expected to encounter some push back on our positions regarding EVs. On the contrary, with one notable exception*, everyone we met was as hungry for EVs as we were. The only difference was that they had not yet learned about the coming plug-ins. It was our job to inform them. Once told of the auto industry's rapid move toward electrification, you could feel their excitement grow.

I was struck with the pervasive desire to quash our addiction to oil and replace it with a healthy reliance on renewable energy. The demand for plug-ins is not just on the two coasts, Americans everywhere want them.

My previous statements, that the market for plug-ins is much larger than the automakers think, were borne out in our conversations with these Texans. To a person, they were desperate to move away from oil. Granted, we were in Austin, the most liberal city in the state, but not everyone at the conference was from Austin. We met people from San Antonio, Dallas and Houston and they were all the same. They couldn't wait for the opportunity to drive on electricity.

"We can now see a clear path to having thousands -- even hundreds of thousands -- of zero-emission vehicles on Texas roads in the next several years," said Jason Few, president of Houston-based Reliant Energy. The local utility, Austin Energy, has been a leader in wind energy with the nation's highest percentage of wind in a municipal utility grid mix. Their understanding of the benefits from plug-in cars goes back many years to the inception of their Plug In Partners program. Using that strong west Texas wind and the plentiful sunshine to replace the 60% foreign oil in every gallon of gas makes sense to everybody.

The only downside here is that most Texans are going to have to wait a bit longer to get the cars because the GM Volt roll out will be limited to California, at least for the first few months, and Nissan's announced plans for the Leaf are mostly for a West Coast roll out with some cars going to Arizona and Tennessee. I recently heard that Nissan has agreed to supply Houston with a few Leafs from the initial manufacturing run. This is a good idea since Texans are hot for EVs. Marc and I told them repeatedly to contact their local GM and Nissan Dealers in Austin and request they get them as soon as possible. From a marketing viewpoint, getting these cars in the hands of outspoken early adopters will go a long way toward preparing the ground for others. Word of mouth will be strong.

I think the nervousness from the OEMs about the market for plug-ins is misplaced. What we're seeing in Texas and elsewhere seems to be prevalent. I honestly think their problem will be keeping up with demand.

I want to personally thank Chad Schwitters of Seattle, Brett Conrad of Santa Monica and Peter van Deventer of the Netherlands for their generous contributions to help defray the costs of my trip. Our membership continues to grow, allowing Plug In America to further educate info-hungry drivers on the benefits of going electric and preparing them for the change.

Also, thanks to Renee Nguyen of Texas Is Hot for taking the picture of our booth at the top. And Marc Geller gets credit for the picture below.

* The notable exception mentioned above is my very own brother, Harrel, who lives a short drive from Austin. He drove up to see me on his motorcycle, instead of his giant SUV. I took that as a good sign:~)

I'll consider my work done when he is driving on electricity.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Almost a Bevy of BEVs

The Detroit Auto Show opened yesterday amid a flurry of stories about electric vehicles. The LA Times reported this morning on Ford's confirmation of the electric Focus hitting the market early in 2011.

This is good news for consumers since we now have a viable American entry into the race for an affordable compact battery EV. Nissan's Leaf will beat it to the market, but not by much.

Ironically, the adjacent story in the LA Times business section was of the recent rise in gas prices in spite of higher reserves and lower demand. This should be a huge story, but will probably get little coverage.

If you read the story, you'll see that the money manipulators are reaping huge profits just by betting on the future prices of oil. They're stealing your money because you have no choice!

Our country desperately needs to raise taxes on oil-based fuels to cover the health, environmental and national security costs this dirty fuel inflicts on our society. Whenever the subject is raised, however, a cry erupts from all sectors saying there is no way we can raise taxes in this time of economic turmoil.

It'll kill jobs, they say. What about the poor, they say.

Well what about the jobs and the poor now that the oil companies are raising the price of our fuel? What are you going to do? Nothing?


We have no leadership when it comes to this problem. The politicians, even the "good ones", are deathly afraid to touch the third rail of gas taxes. It's up to us.

The one big thing you can do is buy a car that doesn't use oil as a fuel. NO PLUG - NO DEAL!

There is a great way to prepare for the coming plug-ins. From now on, when you buy gas for your car, double the price you pay. Take the second half and deposit it in a separate account that you don't touch for anything but your first EV. If you need service, like an oil change or tune up, double that as well and stash it away. This tough love saving exercise will highlight how expensive oil-burners are to operate while providing you with a fat accumulation of cash to add to your trade in on the new plug-in car.

Then, when the plug-in of your choice hits the market, you'll be ready to kiss those gas pumps goodbye!


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Think lands in Hoosierville

The Hoosiers won out over the Ducks of Oregon and the Michiganders for the right to manufacture Think City EVs.

I love the Think! It's the car that hooked Plug In America board members Marc Geller and Sherry Boshert into the EV world when Ford was trying to meet the CARB zero emission vehicle mandate of the past decade.

Norway based Think has changed hands a few times among various groups that tried to get it going. This latest iteration is up and running in Finland, finally rolling EVs off the line for the Euro market. Now they've decided on Elkhart, IN as the location for their U.S. manufacturing.

Building EVs will bring much needed jobs to Indiana where, not coincidentally, EnerDel, Think's battery maker of choice is located. No sense shipping those heavy batteries too far.

The Think is a "city car", a classification that's quite popular in Europe. With a top speed of 60 mph and a range of 100 miles, it's ideal for the commuter. Small and light, it'll go many miles on just a few kWh.

Best of all, the Think will be a great entry level EV. I don't have pricing info yet, but the small size should enable them to get away with a small pack, I'm guessing somewhere around 20 kWh.

It should be quite popular as a first car for your high schooler, can't go too far or too fast.

The Indiana choice is interesting as it's just 137 miles from Anderson, IN, home of Bright Automotive, the maker of the most innovative plug-in hybrid work van I've seen. Here's hoping this will be the start of a center of EV innovation in the heartland.

Indiana, Thinking of Bright Ideas!


Monday, January 4, 2010

The first of a new wave in EV adverts

Renault, the French partner to Japan's Nissan, has produced the first ad of what will become a steadily growing genre depicting the benefits of driving on electricity. (Be sure to click on the 3rd little square in the lower right corner of the site for the full spot)

I've been saying for years that once the creatives at the ad agencies get the chance to develop marketing and advertising campaigns for EVs, we'll see them comparing and contrasting this clean technology with the dirty fuels. This ad does that in a very soft and subtle manner, although this line implies the stakes are serious: "Does enjoyment for some have to cost the lives of others?"

Oh, and watch for the nod to Renault's sister company, Nissan, toward the end when the little boy watches the "leaf" fly by.