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.
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

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!

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….

Bittersweet Symphony…


Bob was terminated from Tesla Motors on Tuesday after more than four years there- the longest tenure among the current employees in the entire service division of the company. No warning, cause, or explanation. Effective immediately.

Between the two of us, we’ve been close to Tesla and its people in a variety of ways since a tiny group in a San Carlos shop converted a Lotus- so to say we’re stunned doesn’t begin to cut it. It just doesn’t make sense, particularly on the eve of such a crucial product launch.

Processing it all is bittersweet – punctuated by disbelief, intense disappointment, even gallows humor (was he “bricked” or “overly discharged”?) Sadly, that we’re hardly the first to go through this with Tesla makes it seem both better and worse.

But we’re grateful too, for the colleagues and drivers who’ve become friends over the years and who’ve shown their support this week. In some cases we’ve been surprised to see precisely who those people are (and aren’t), and we appreciate you.

And because this was so incredibly unexpected, we’re not sure what will come next. I intend to keep doing what I do, and Bob hopes to continue working with plug-in vehicles, though admittedly there are pragmatic aspects to consider.

More to say in time, no doubt. Until then – to those who know who they are, thank you.

chelsea and Bob

Chevy dealers turn down more Volts- Hallelujah!

The latest in the “let’s make a story about how EVs suck where there is none” trend is this morning’s news that certain Chevrolet dealers are choosing not to take more Volt inventory.  Sensationalistic media outlets are framing this as a nationwide lack of demand, because of course, Clovis, CA (near Fresno) is representative of the entire country. In fairness, dealers in New York City are also lackluster. But much as automakers push that market area for regulatory reasons – New York is a CARB state – NYC has always been problematic as an EV market area due to lack of private vehicle ownership and parking.

Just as there’s no one car for everyone, plug-in vehicles won’t sell well everywhere in the near term. There are also certain realities of dealer processes that make plug-ins more time-consuming to sell even in the most attractive of places. More people come to check out the cool new car than actually buy them, compared to conventional vehicles. And those who buy might have to order them, perhaps install charging infrastructure, etc., which means that rarely are they driving away in a shiny new EV the same day. Service departments are often reluctant too; the standard technician pay structure and lack of upselling potential isn’t conducive to new technology. Automakers need to be aware of and address these issues, while dealers must be more realistic about the learning curve. But inevitably, those dealers who decide it’s not worth the trouble will drop out.

This won’t be unique to Chevrolet; we have and will continue to see the same with other plug-in programs. But it’s also a good thing, potentially exceeded only by those automakers who realize from the start that not all dealers should be selling plug-ins. It’s simple; those who are not truly invested provide a poor customer experience and hurt sales, which damages public perception of plug-in vehicles. Dealers dropping out is often a self-fulfilling prophesy, but given how virally these customers share their experiences both good and bad, better to have it happen sooner than later. Then again, I’ve also seen customers travel hundreds of miles to a dealer whose salespeople or technicians are genuinely interested and provide a good experience. Loyalty among EV buyers and drivers is stunningly high, but as with most other things it must be earned- and this is hardly news.

AB475: GM’s charging stance gets curiouser and curiouser…

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but the AB475 saga feels more like a fall down Alice’s rabbit hole. GM’s stance against plug-in drivers has only gotten more extreme, in what may be the company’s strangest PR execution since killing the EV1.

Meanwhile, I have just returned from Sacramento, after joining Plug In America in a meeting with Governor Brown’s office, to pull this bill back on a more productive path. We’ve been asked to move things forward by immediately preparing a new version of AB475 that serves all plug-in drivers, something we’re happy to pull an all-nighter for.

To recap: Volt drivers are currently excluded from using a fraction of California’s public chargers, originally designated for electric vehicles (EVs) only and requiring a sticker to prove eligibility. Proposed by Assemblymember Betsy Butler and sponsored by General Motors, AB475 was meant to do two things: expand the vehicles allowed to use public charging to include PHEVs, and designate a way to identify eligible vehicles, so that non-compliant ones may be towed. The advocates involved have no objection to including PHEVs; all plug-in vehicles should have equal access to charging. Our concerns surround only the proposed method of identification- specifically the seemingly simple shift from a sticker to language requiring eligible vehicles to be “connected for charging purposes”.

This detail makes it illegal to be parked in one of these spots but not plugged in. No matter how or why your EV or PHEV becomes unplugged, it can be towed, even if you can prove you were connected to begin with.

It’s also been proven most effective and economical to install each charger between 2-4 parking spaces where possible, providing several benefits:

  • installations are simpler and cheaper, requiring less private and taxpayer funding per site.
  • inconvenience from errant gas vehicles (ICEing) is mitigated; they still get towed, but instead of waiting while that happens, the PH/EV driver simply takes the next spot and plugs in.

    GM's Dave Barthmuss seems to enjoy charger sharing...
  • drivers can share chargers by giving permission to others to unplug their vehicles if needed, or by requesting that another driver plug the remaining vehicle in upon leaving. Again: sharing is a voluntary practice. No community-based sharing protocol endorses unplugging a vehicle against its owner’s wishes.

AB475 will no longer allow these installations. And particularly in this economy, existing sites are unlikely to add chargers to the spots that currently share, reducing charger-accessible spots by 50-75% at those locations. Therefore, this law will increase installation costs to businesses and taxpayers, decrease access to chargers and make using them more complicated, and increase negative impacts of ICEing– the very issue this law is meant to address.

The language of the statute also does not adequately protect against gasoline vehicles parking in these spaces. It’s not the most severe issue with this bill, but as the core objective, it’s an odd thing to get wrong.

After months of working in good faith with GM (who consistently agreed with our concerns) to encourage Butler to alter the “connected” requirement, the bill was pushed through a week ago with no changes. We were surprised, to say the least- even more when Butler’s office admitted that GM had encouraged it. Hundreds of people have since asked Governor Brown to veto the bill, and other automakers are weighing in on behalf of their own concerned drivers.

General Motors has been taking an increasingly baffling approach. Their initial public response wasn’t to address the stakeholder concerns, but to discredit me personally. After days of being called a conspiracy theorist, accused of maliciously spreading false information and encouraging plug-in drivers to target and unplug Volts in public charging locations, GM finally asserted that I alone don’t like this bill, and have put everyone else- including Plug In America- up to opposing it for my own purposes. What those purposes would be, I don’t know; even GM concedes it doesn’t make sense. I also don’t have the requisite ego to be flattered that the company thinks people will do something they disagree with just because I ask. But that GM assumes plug-in advocates and drivers, including their own, are incapable of thinking for themselves is just disconcerting. Having to earn the support and business of people you respect so little must be a bitter pill to swallow.

Concurrent email conversation with GM in hopes of negotiating a solution only revealed a reversal in their position on other fronts. The company is now against the originally-acceptable sticker approach “on principle”, as plug-in drivers shouldn’t have to endure the “extra process step” of a form and a eighteen dollars to get a publicly-funded benefit. Charger sharing now “promotes malicious unplugging and needs to be outlawed”. Installing chargers between spaces is not “responsible planning”, and the act of unplugging a vehicle, even with permission, should be codified as vandalism and “punished as if you slashed someone’s tires.” (Notably, AB475 does not outlaw unplugging; it merely punishes the one who gets unplugged.) Paradoxically, our concern about passersby unplugging vehicles out of curiosity or resentment is “speculative”, even though it’s happened for years. Apparently, unplugging is only an EV driver on driver crime.

General Motors has yet to give a direct public response to our concerns. They did ghostwrite inspire a piece by Car & Driver, and have posted their own perspective on a GM site created specifically for Volt owners. It completely disregards several of the issues, and instead maligns plug-in drivers as upset because they are no longer entitled to disconnect other vehicles as they see fit, and paranoid about the language allowing gas cars to park in charger spaces. A creative interpretation, indeed.

GM is particularly concerned about a few EV forum posters who’ve opined that since PHEVs aren’t dependent on public chargers, they shouldn’t be entitled to use them. Unfortunately, they have decided to hold the entire driver population responsible for the statements of these posters, and after staunchly insisting on equal treatment for all plug-in cars, the connected mandate seems more to be a misguided attempt to protect Volt drivers at any cost. Ironically, it is they who will bear the brunt of this law’s consequences. Besides being towed instead of merely using a little more gas should they be unplugged somehow, forcing this law is only increasing resentment towards GM- and by extension, the Volt. And while it’s not surprising that GM would prioritize its own drivers, it’s something else completely for Assemblymember Butler to go along with it.

I know many of those involved with the Volt; most are passionate and dedicated. I support their efforts as an advocate, and I count a few of them among my friends. But it is intensely frustrating to watch them go so far astray on this issue, unnecessarily squandering goodwill they’ve spent so long trying to earn back. That behavior is more consistent with the company I knew some years ago, than the people I have come to know since. I miss working with those people, and hope they find their way back soon.

Until then, please urge Governor Brown to veto the mess created in their absence.