Tag Archives: Disruptive technology

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?

 

 

 

 

 

PHEV/BEV 2012 YTD Domestic Sales- Reaching 50,000!

While Obama’s goal of one million EVs on the road by 2015 seems unrealistically ambitious, we are seeing signs that these vehicles are ticking off good sales numbers this year. We should reach 50,000 if December sales stay on track.  Note that these numbers do not reflect Tesla, Fisker and ThinkCity electric vehicle sales.  Portland has received 125 ThinkCity vehicles to date. These figures also do not reflect other types of electric vehicle manufacturer data- such as electric motorcycle sales, light duty trucks and electric vehicle conversions- which all have a bearing on the health and growth of charging infrastructure.

What do you think of these numbers?

Volt Mitsubishi Ford Focus Prius PlugIn Rav4 Nissan Leaf Honda Fit C-Max Energi PHEV
2011 7671
January 603
February 1023
March 2289
April 1462
May 1680
June 1760
July 1849 12
August 2831 403 6082 4228 12
September 2851 36 1652 54 984 12 5589 Sept
October 2961 30 346 1889 54 1579 12 144 7015 Oct
November 1519 42 172 1766 32 1539 26 1259 6355 Nov
December 0 Dec
2012 20828 511 518 11389 140 8330 74 1403 43193 YTD
YTD Total – reported 20828 511 518 11389 140 8330 74 1403
Total Since SoP 28499
Numbers taken from all these sources http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1078919_august-plug-in-electric-car-sales-volt-surges-leaf-static
http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1079543_september-plug-in-electric-car-sales-steady-as-tesla-sells-200-or-so
http://www.usatoday.com/story/driveon/2012/10/01/fisker-karma-tony-posawatz-electric-car/1607095/
http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1080805_november-plug-in-car-sales-volt-falls-by-half-leaf-steady
http://green.autoblog.com/2012/12/04/november-alt-fuel-sales-stay-solid-with-higher-ford-c-max-nissa/

The EV Project- It’s Time to Grow Up

We had lived in a world of petroleum-based energy for so long that we could not see the horizon through its particulate-laden fog- until President Obama diverted part of his ARRA-funding and solicited bids for overseeing the first national scale investment into electric vehicle charging infrastructure promising deployment and data collection- the EV Project.  Enter ECOtality, the winning grantee. What followed has been nothing short of the jumpstarting of a new transportation technology and the construction of a foundation for this technology–the beginning of this immense national transformation of our transportation/energy system.  And we must be grateful for ECOtality’s efforts to seed public infrastructure into various politically receptive ecosystems. This has been a tremendous start on the path to the future.

Now that the 2012 Presidential election has been held, and energy independence will NOT mean fracking, pipelines, and drilling, what is the best path forward for EV infrastructure?  Well, its time to grow up.

We need to stop providing unilaterally allocated federal subsidies benefitting a narrow slice of the industry (i.e. ECOtality, Coulombe, AV).  Infrastructure should expand beyond the heavily weighted models favoring public charging, with expensive telecomm networked fees and consumer subscription based business models, with level 3 chargers hosting TV screens that can cost a hundred thousand dollars to install, risking unsustainable demand charges to the host sites if electricity consumption exceeds a certain level.  EV drivers do not need to be taught to associate public charging with rummaging around their glove box for the proper key fob only to find they failed to pre-register and create an account!  We have made it all seem so complicated, costly, and inconvenient.  Infrastructure should mean you charge primarily at home or work.  It should mean you can pay at any public station with a credit card.  If you need more energy during a particularly hectic week, you find it in the public forum and you pay for what you need and move on.  It may mean the host site uses a simple keypad or RFID  reader to activate the charger at your hotel or apartment complex.  It doesn’t have to be touchscreens, key fobs, hassle and headaches.

Companies such as ECOtality and Coulombe have been banking on laying the framework for what they see as a self-sustaining public infrastructure revenue stream- even before the ramifications of their data on consumer behavior  becomes clear.  One ostensible value of the EV Project was to get Idaho National Lab to parse out the actual numbers to begin to answer fundamental questions about charging infrastructure- how to incentivize off-peak charging? When do most consumers charge?  Where do they charge?  What is the proper ratio of public chargers to vehicles? How much will people pay? Building a networked infrastructure model before the data analysis was completed was a calculated business decision made by ECOtality and Coulombe- that model now needs to be tested in the marketplace and improved upon.

None of these questions are simple. Indeed the process itself can skew the results.  For example, Don Karner, then-President of ECOtality, reported to the DOE  that the initial residential installation subsidy of $1250 was causing most installation bids to come in at…$1250.  Accordingly, there was no clear data on the actual installation costs and they would be gradually phasing out the subsidy.  My experience shows that is twice the actual cost for the average home install.  We did need to invest in the technology- and make mistakes.  And now we need to start learning from them in order to reach escape velocity.

Giving away residential charging stations to customers of two auto manufacturers (Chevy and Nissan) may have made sense to get the data collection points in the field immediately, and now we have them.  That has been done and we should not extend the EV Project further. We did need to get chargers out in the field and afford utilities the opportunity to learn about linkage to their distribution system.  We did need to educate public utility commissions and the energy community about time of use rates for EVs and their grid-based benefits.  We did need to help auto dealers sell the vehicles by having the infrastructure come pre-packaged and added in for no extra cost.  However, we now see the Chevy Volt selling over 2500 units per month- and increasing- with a current annual sales of over 19,000 units domestically.  We now have added  Ford, Honda, Toyota, ThinkCity, Fisker, Tesla, Audi, Coda, Mitsubishi and all the other major automakers offering vehicle models with a plug. We even have electric motorcycles- Brammo, Zero, Motorczysz.  None of them currently qualify for of any the EV Project subsidies.   If we are to get to the next level of deployment, we now need to level the playing field, to embrace the notion of competitive neutrality (a term which ECOtality ironically embraced in its comments before the Oregon Public Utility Commission when seeking to prevent electric utilities from having a role in supplying their own charging infrastructure).  This will decrease costs, simplify installation, provide consumers with options, and benefit the total industry.

Quite simply, no one can compete with free.

Free is now inhibiting the evolution of the charging station industry, stifling competition, and preventing consumer choice.   It’s time to end the EV Project subsidies and extensions and let the market provide the full range of infrastructure solutions available.  Infrastructure needs to be unchained, especially in those markets where ECOtality has had a dominant presence because those regions are poised to become self-sustaining and offer the model for the rest of the country.  Consumers need to see that infrastructure can be simple, cost-effective, and scaled at a variety of levels to meet a variety of needs.  Its time to let us grow up.  And reach for the sun.