Category Archives: PGE

Portland Auto Show’s Dynamic Tension; Consumer Pull v. Dealer Resistance

 (Photo- Thanks to Joe Mayer.  On the right is Oregonian Reporter Scott Learn talking to Charlie Allcock of PGE.  The distinguished looking guy on the far left is me (ha) speaking to Cindy Laurilla, Manager of Real Estate for PGE.)

Okay, I’m tired. I just spent the last four days manning the ClipperCreek Booth at the Portland Auto Show, speaking to consumers, networking with dealers and industry insiders, breathing the air, taking the temperature, trying to keep my mind open to determine “the truth” about where we are as a going as but a small slice of the industry; in Zen Buddhism, this is known as exercising the beginner’s mind.  Before I quickly shift gears into the week, I need to share some observations that we all must process as we continue to promote this technology vociferously.

The first is we need to stop allowing ourselves to be pigeonholed as “green”.

The Portland Auto Show has put our technology in the “Eco-Center” for the past three years.  Our real name is the “Advanced Vehicle Technology Center.” If smoke comes out of your tailpipe in 2013, you are not driving an advanced vehicle.  You are driving old technology and reading yesterday’s newspaper.  To rephrase a Palinism, a putting lipstick on a pig does not make it less porcine.  I thought of this as I looked at the “new” Chevy Corvette.  We need to force our hand.  If we’re paying for exhibiting, we should drive the proper message.  We must be clear that these cars are not about being green, they are about superior driving experience, interactivity, and the future. Should we have booth babes? Ah, I won’t even go there.

The media.  We had an Oregonian reporter, Scott Learn, (whose name seems appropriate for someone in journalism) come to the Eco Center and speak for an hour to many knowledgeable people- including Charlie Allcock of PGE who was recently listed as one of the top one hundred electrifying leaders nationally.  Was he quoted in the article? No.  “Are Electric Vehicles Poised to turn Corner with Public?” was the title.  “Too Pricey.”  “Too much Plastic inside.”(?) “What if we run out of juice?” were all issues stated in theopening paragraphs. But the best line of all, from GM’s spokesmen Kevin Kelly, “The biggest issue here is cost, let’s just be honest.”  Then more than halfway through the article things got rosier and some follow-up comments were hopeful.  Kelly added,  that the cost is dropping and “we’ll see generational improvements and we’re working on those as fast as we can.”  He likened it to other new technologies like cell phones and the range and other performance metrics are ticking up as the costs fall.  So all is not doom and gloom, but we have a lot of convincing- of the media, consumers and dealers- to do.

Tesla needs to be at these shows.  Consumers demand to see the Tesla and the Auto Dealers refuse to let them into these dealer-sponsored shows because they are not part of the “franchise” network but do direct selling.  So what?  This show is about consumers, and the Tesla perfectly exemplifies advanced vehicle technology.  If the Dealers won’t allow Tesla to be present, we should have them (even if its only obliging Tesla owners) rent space at a neighboring parking lot and show people the cars there.  Seriously.

What really continues to frighten me is the fact that Auto Dealers do NOT want to sell these cars.  Walking the main floor, NOT ONE AUTO DEALER HAD INFORMATION ABOUT THE $7500 FEDERAL TAX CREDIT.  Excuse me?  They said such things as, well not everyone qualifies and so we can’t tell them about it. Huh? As someone versed in the art of persuasion, having litigated hundreds of cases in state and federal courts, and having been a consumer for over fifty years, since when is a huge potential savings on a product not critical information for decision making?  The only takeaway is that there is an ongoing force or forces at work the dealership level (and beyond) to NOT sell these cars.  What that source is and what is sustaining it in the face of consumer interest remains to be clearly defined, but it is clearly present.  We must work around the dealers recalcitrance whenever possible.

ECOtality no longer provides free charging stations in the Northwest- whether to promote furtherpublic infrastructure or to give to residential customers.  It happened.  The market is starting to shift and EVSE providers will now have an opportunity to enjoy open competition.  Dealers no longer have the luxury of pointing their customers to one source (because its easy to sell “free”) and the consumer and local electricians will win. Period.

People are infinitely curious about these cars.  The most common questions are- how long do they take to charge?  What is their range?  What do you think of your LEAF? How much does electricity cost?  People have reasonable questions and the dealers are not answering them, particularly about charging.  Members of the EVSE industry and public advocates need to fill this gap.  My main response to consumer questions is for them to drive the cars and see what they think.  Test drive a Volt and a LEAF.  Speak to other owners.  The public is tired of paying gas prices that tap $200-$600 per month of their income.  They are hungry for alternatives.  We should feed them!

Thank your local electric utility (if they show up at the car show with a booth). PGE had a booth all four days with people answering questions, showing customers the LEAF, sharing information.  Your electric utility is your new “dealer” when it comes to advanced vehicle technology.  They have nothing to lose and everything to gain- just like the consumer.  Thank them for putting resources into this movement toward electrified transportation.  They get it.

Comments?  What do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

ThinkCity- A Consumer No Brainer

Yesterday was a truly great day along the chronologic line of EV infiltration into popular transportation culture- along with some bittersweet aftertaste. Ten ThinkCity vehicles arrived from the now bankrupt Elkhart, Indiana company bound for Portland-Area owners, making our total allotment of cars at 100. This connection was fused through the efforts of PGE and its Business Development Director, Charlie Allcock, who convinced ThinkCity we could provide them all the buyers they needed- a prophesy borne out.  I enjoyed the chance to mingle with Jim & Liz Houser at their Hawthorne Auto Clinic, who has taken on the warranty and serving responsibility for the owners and wanted to host a special meeting with them.  My best estimate was that twenty of more arrived to visit and discuss the vehicle, plus others who were there to just check it out and see what they thought of it.

The ThinkCity is a two door hatchback with a range of 100 miles using an advanced lithium ion battery of 24kWh (the same size as the Nissan Leaf’s).  It has body panels and interior trim components made of 100% recyclable plastic parts whose color is molded into the material eliminating harmful paint emissions.  It costs 2-3 cents per mile to operate and comes with a three year warranty.  It has a maximum power of 45 hp and a highway capable speed of 70 mph.  It comes with ABS and airbags and has undergone and met all applicable US Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and has a three year warranty.

Oregonians can purchase it (after applying the federal tax credit) for $8500.  Yes.  You read that right. $8500.  Of course there is a sad part of this story fueling this pricing- bankruptcy.

The ThinkCity has been available for several months here, and has thus far shipped forty units, and with these additional shipments coming to the area, they will boost our PEV residential fleet by nearly one percent!  I also like their distinctiveness as advertising for electric drive technology needs to be made more conspicuous for the public to become aware of its burgeoning use.

My company, ClipperCreek, has provided the portable charging unit for many of these vehicles and, out of enthusiasm for their dispersement, I have offered a 15% discount on our residential Level 2 charger- the LCS-25 to those buyers who want one.  A recent California consumer study released this week, shows, among other interesting data, that over 90% of PEV owners opt to have home charging stations put in.  For an all battery electric vehicle (BEV), such as the ThinkCity, it is more likely necessary to have a level 2 charger.  A common question I have heard is whether it is necessary for the proper maintenance of the battery.  Speaking to some of the ThinkCity sales folks, I was told that they prefer that owners use a level two charger for baseline charging and reserve the level one for emergencies; this is actually referenced in the Owner’s Manual. I certainly suggest folks with this battery concern flesh it out more directly with the manufacturer.  I do believe, from my own experience, that most drivers will find that level 1 charging is too slow to handle normal usage (18 hours of charging time) and a level two charger allows the vehicle to charge at its fastest rate of 3.3 kw/per hour- nearly double the rate of a level one charger.

So, if you have purchased a ThinkCity and are interested in getting our ClipperCreek unit, call or email me, Barry@clippercreek.net, and I can get you a promotional code that can be entered during the purchasing process from our online store at www.clippercreek.com.  This brings the cost down from $795 to $675.75 and you get the best residential charger on the market!

Enjoy the celebrations of National Plug In Day-2012!  Get out and test drive an EV! And consider how an electric vehicle can meet your transportation needs and budget!

(Special Thanks to Joe Mayer for the Photo used of the Car Transporter)

Dirty Electricity; The New Oxymoron

A recent Headline from the NYT Sunday paper-How Green are Electric Cars? Depends on Where You Plug In.  suggests that EVs may not be the cleanest form of transportation available and cites a soon to be published Union of Concerned Scientists study.   As an example of the tone- “[W]here generators are powered by burning a high percentage of coal, electric cars may not be even as good as the latest gasoline models — and far short of the thriftiest hybrids.”

(Portland General Electric’s Boardman Coal Fired Plant, now slated to close.)

I re-raise this issue of whether an EV from well to wheel is the greenest transportation alternative because we are now parsing it down region by region, yielding some very interesting variations. See the national graphic found at Carbon In, Carbon Out, Sorting out the Power Grid. For example, Buffalo, NY’s electricity has THE highest per mile equivalency of any region in the country, which means that its kWh generation is the cleanest in terms of carbon emissions and it would take an ICE vehicle having 86 mpg to equal the carbon emission of a Nissan Leaf charging in that region. (Thank you, Niagara Falls) Which zipcode(s) are the worst? Hmm. Think Red States- a swath that cuts from the Dakotas to the midwest to the Southeast.  These are regions heavily reliant on coal generation.  Perhaps most interestingly, Hawaii had one of the worst carbon equivalencies- it would only take a 37 mpg vehicle to equal the carbon emission of a Leaf in Hilo, HI.  Apparently Hawaii needs to accelerate its transition away from non-renewable, imported oil and coal if it is to truly benefit from BEV’s zero emission potential.  And I believe that will happen, as it has adopted several progressive laws incentivizing consumers to buy EVs and landowners to get charging infrastructure in place.  [Note- Denver apparently has a coal problem and is the dirtiest electricity in the country, needing only a 33 mpg vehicle to equal a Leaf.]

But back to the point.  I see that even a 37 mpg ICE is a high efficiency engine compared to the national average, which in 2008 was 25 mpg.  So, even in a region hosting the most dirty electricity out there, in order to beat the emission savings of a Nissan Leaf,  a consumer would still have to buy a small economy car capable of very high mileage.  In most other jurisdictions, few mass marketed vehicles exist (other than a hybrid Prius perhaps 53/46 city and highway mpg) that are capable of attaining the 50 mpg range equivalency.

The transition to renewable energy and away from coal burning plants will continue to raise the mpg equivalencies, region by region. It will also mean that EVs will get cleaner the longer you drive them.  Consider the other benefits.  All the money we spend on electricity, in even the dirtiest jurisdiction, stays in the United States and gets fed into a virtuous loop of economic activity.  Electricity  is domestically produced, comes from diverse and renewable resources and has traditionally been viewed as a quasi-public resource such that it’s pricing structure is extremely stable.  Charging station infrastructure uses an existing electric grid and utilities already have built in excess capacity to meet the load demands of millions of EVs.

We just need consumers (and National newspapers) to start recognizing that clean coal and dirty electricity are both oxymorons.