Plug-in Hybrids and HOV Lanes: Déjà Don’t.

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Ahh, one of my favorite California bills is back. No, not that one. The one that allows plug-in hybrids into CA HOV lanes with just one occupant.

The original allocation of 40,000 green stickers that indicate HOV eligibility for PHEVs has been exhausted. AB 2013 proposes to make 45,000 more stickers available immediately, and is currently headed to the CA Senate. All 85,000 PHEV stickers would still expire in 2019.

The bill’s proponents mean well. Problem is, without any meaningful EV range requirement, it remains the poorly-constructed law it always has been. Parameters for each incentive should be based on its intended goal: in this case, to encourage commuting on plug-in electric power. Stands to reason then, that eligible vehicles should be able to operate in electric mode at freeway speeds for the length of a standard roundtrip commute (~30 miles, give or take).

For the last couple years, the lanes have been open to any car with a plug, even those that are far more gas than electric. But it’s time to step up. If we’re going to allow more PHEVs into HOV lanes, we need to expect more from them.

I get the inclination to take the easy win toward selling a few more PHEVs, I really do. But in the grand scheme, it wasn’t much of a win nearly four years ago when this law was first passed, and it certainly isn’t now.

 

Your California State legislators may be found here. Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (sponsor of AB 2013) can be contacted here.

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Cars and Cow Pies in the Garden State…

 

New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission just became the latest to ban direct auto sales (read: Tesla Motors). In what is, at a minimum, poor timing, the state’s Coalition of Auto Retailers justified its position by alleging that, “an auto manufacturer is congenitally incapable of fully and faithfully honoring warranty and safety recall obligations.”

Congenitally incapable of faithfully honoring safety obligations. No subtlety there. So, we need independently-owned auto dealers to sell us cars specifically so they can later protect us from those who built them in the first place? If that’s truly the case, where we buy our cars is the least of our worries.

Meanwhile, 1.6 million Chevrolets, Pontiacs, and Saturns have recently become the focus of not only a massive product safety recall, but a Congressional inquiry and federal criminal probe, in the wake of evidence that General Motors and its dealers have known for more than a decade of the ignition switch problems linked to over thirty vehicle crashes and at least a dozen deaths. By law, each of those vehicles was sold by the type of franchisee the NJ dealer lobby claims is a buyer’s best – if not only – defense against such flaws and an automaker’s refusal to correct them.

Hmmm…..

I’ve worked in and with auto retailers for more than twenty years. The folks within a few have rivaled any customer service Tesla provides. But never in my lifetime have conventional dealers, as a category, been considered bastions of consumer protection or a customer-centric experience. When franchise laws were established nearly eighty years ago, some of those arguments may have been legitimate. Today, organizations like NJ CAR are seeking merely to protect the same monopolization they once fought against.

It’s not just Tesla that suffers. “Incumbent” automakers with existing franchises have also become handcuffed by such a singular, narrow model, even as it may no longer be optimal- particularly for new technologies and vehicles. Most importantly, the customer is the biggest loser as companies big and small compete not on value of service, but on political expenditures and the like. Increasingly, those customers know it and are acting accordingly.

To wit, fans of Tesla’s direct-sales model (including those who don’t drive Tesla’s vehicles) showed up on a few hours’ notice to put their support on the public record, even after the Motor Vehicle Commission’s decision had already been made. In six years of Tesla’s corporate-owned stores, I’ve yet to see a similarly reported show of public support for traditional dealers, in any state.

If those dealers truly believe they offer a better experience, they should embrace the competition. And then quit whining and win it. In some cases they undoubtedly will, but they need to be willing to do so. 

All else is just old school, four-square era bullshit. And the lobbyists defending it need either a better argument or higher boots.

(Disclosures: I worked my way through college mostly by selling cars for Saturn, obviously some years ago. I’ve since known and worked with many other dealers from different brands. For years, my husband was a technician and/or manager at a franchised dealer, and between us, we’ve worked with/for every single brand I mention in this post at dealer and/or corporate levels, including Tesla. Also, we still own and love a 2004 Saturn, now apparently affected by this latest recall. The boy is still hoping to inherit it.)

 

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The Electric Generation

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I’ve previously posted about how I’ve been helping the Edison Electric Institute (EEI -an association representing the shareholder-owned electric utilities in the US), plan and launch a community-oriented campaign to generate consumer interest about the benefits of plug-in vehicles and using electricity as a transportation fuel. Over the last several months, I’ve asked for input from you all on various fronts in order to shape the effort in ways that authentically reflect the voices of enthusiasts, and really appreciate everyone who’s participated so far. 

The resulting campaign, The Electric Generation, represents the electric utility industry’s commitment to the widespread adoption of electricity as a transportation fuel. It is meant to amplify and add to existing efforts, not to compete with or replace them. So, much of the content is driver or community generated (including articles written by folks in this forum), the faces in the logo and on the site are actual drivers and enthusiasts, etc. We also aim to vary that content – basic information for the “EV curious”, along with tips and information that will appeal to those who already have EVs- recognizing that along the way, the utility industry is learning from all of you as well. 

The site has now been up for a couple months, and we’ve been thrilled to see many of you join. If you haven’t yet, you can do so here. Pretty please? :) 

In addition, I’d love your feedback about what you see, and what you’d like to see. How else can this effort help what you all are already doing, and encourage more folks to join our collective choir?

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Great news from Tesla Motors…and a grain of salt.

 

It’s looking to be a great week for Tesla Motors, who previewed its Q1 results yesterday and promises more good news today. In a nutshell, the company sold more cars than expected and is now even more confident about its profitability this term. All good stuff, and Tesla deserves kudos for the achievement. 

A much smaller bit of news is that only 4% of Model S buyers have chosen the smallest (40kWh) battery pack option, so it will effectively be cancelled. Technically, you can still buy a “40kWh” version; you’ll simply get a 60kWh version that has the extra 20kWh software-sequestered unless and until you choose to pay for the additional capacity. (While you’re at it, Tesla’s hoping you’ll also choose to pay to enable the Supercharging capability that will also be installed on every car from now on.) Clever moves by Tesla,  helping to streamline production and “encourage” buyers into cars with higher profit margin. Makes total sense from a corporate perspective, and only Tesla has a fan base who will embrace the choice without the cynicism that would be lobbed at other automakers.  

However, some perspective is needed for those who are already drawing broader conclusions about EV consumer range demands based on the seemingly low choice of the 40kWh model (in which most folks can easily get 120-160 miles of range). It’s artificial data at best, and not at all indicative of range preferences of even Tesla’s own buyer category, and certainly not the broader EV market. 

  • Tesla started with a “top-down” production approach for the Model S, meaning that the 85kWh cars were built first, then the 60kWh version, then the 40kWh version. Combined with a well-publicized backlog of reservations, some buyers who were comfortable with the 40kWh range felt compelled to step up in order to get their cars sooner. 
  • Tesla’s proprietary Supercharging option was not available on the 40kWh version, but an option on the 60 and standard on the 85. Again, fast-charging seekers moved into a higher capacity version than they might have otherwise picked. 
  • As with other plug-in cars, the earliest Model S adopters tend to be at the higher demographic end even of Tesla’s own market, and those for whom the $10k difference between each version of the Model S isn’t as impactful as it will be for later Model S buyers, let alone those of later models. Some are choosing the longer range simply because they can, not because they truly need – or even think they need – more than 160 miles of range on a daily basis. 

Bottom line: Tesla made the right choice given the company’s current priorities. But today’s market will not be tomorrow’s, and not every company is Tesla. What works for Tesla is not inherently the right move for others. And as always, any single statistic at this stage should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Faces of a Generation…

In my last post, I mentioned that we’re heading into the fun part of creating EEI’s awareness campaign about electricity as a vehicle fuel and asked for help selecting a name. Thanks to you, we now have one!
As a community, you have dubbed yourselves “The Electric Generation”. One not defined by age, but the common belief that driving electric is simply better- even if you don’t have an electric car of your own yet. 
As we finish building out the website and other graphic elements, we want to feature real members of The Electric Generation. So we are inviting everyone to literally be one of the faces of our campaign by submitting a headshot. Specific requirements are below, and photos can be emailed to  EEIPhotos@edelman.com.  We’re eager to show you more, so will be selecting the first photos soon- but please keep them coming after that too!
And thanks again to everyone who’s helped us put this together, we really appreciate it. It’s been a lot of fun, and we hope you’ll enjoy being a part of it.
chels.
 
Photo Requirements:
  • Straight-on shots, no profiles
  • Larger than 1MB
  • Portrait shots only (roughly from the shoulders up, including a few inches above the top of the head)
  • In front of a blank white wall
  • Minimize shadows (soft white light)
  • Maximum resolution
  • Color photos only
  • Acceptable formats: JPG, PNG

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What’s in a name?

I’ve been helping the Edison Electric Institute (EEI -an association representing the shareholder-owned electric utilities in the US), plan a community-oriented campaign to generate consumer interest about the benefits of plug-in vehicles and using electricity as a transportation fuel.

Specifically, the project aims to capture and convey the real-world, emotionally-connected experiences of driving plug-in vehicles- the fun, cool, convenient aspects you all know so well and tell your friends about. In late July, I asked you to complete a survey about those favorite features. In addition, we’ve conducted live focus groups and a ton of additional research into online conversations about electric cars, media coverage, etc. All of that has gone into the crafting of a campaign “story” that we hope amplifies your EV driving experiences and helps spread them to the next generation of drivers.

We’re heading into the “fun part”- graphic elements, fleshing out the website, specific messaging, etc., and would like more input from you. This survey focuses on the campaign name, which will also influence tone and other elements. After a few internal rounds of feedback from various stakeholders (including EV drivers), we’ve narrowed it to three- so this survey is much quicker than the last!  :) It will stay live through Friday, 10/26.

As always, I look forward to any feedback or questions, and appreciate your time!

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Will you join us?

(My window overlooks the Chevron refinery down the street…seemed only fitting to co-opt their slogan!)

I’ve been helping the Edison Electric Institute (EEI -an association representing the shareholder-owned electric utilities in the US), plan a campaign to generate consumer interest about the benefits of plug-in vehicles and using electricity as a transportation fuel. 

Specifically, the project aims to capture and convey the real-world, emotionally-connected experiences of driving plug-in vehicles- the fun, cool, convenient aspects that have been missing from many of the ads and “educational campaigns” to date. It is incredibly community-focused, recognizing that the current users and enthusiasts are the “experts” both on the vehicles and in talking to other people about them. This campaign aims to amplify your efforts and provide additional support in getting the best messages out more broadly and – to the extent needed – creating tools for all of us to more easily talk to neighbors, friends, and the random curious folks we find lurking around our cars in parking lots. :) 

Therefore, I’m hoping you’ll join me in helping to make this project all it can be by sharing your experiences via this survey. This is merely the first step in an ongoing engagement with the enthusiast community, but it will help establish the earliest priorities.

Bring your passion, and let me know if you have any questions!

More to come….

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