2010’s Triumphs & Challenges for Plug-In Vehicles

Plus some new opportunities and ways to get involved, two important events in Washington, DC in the next four weeks, and our thanks to many of the people who helped us come so far. We encourage you to forward see this and other CalCars-News messages as resources you can forward.

WE’VE BEEN WORKING TO GET TO THIS MOMENT. For CalCars, it’s been eight years. Some people we know have been on a two-to-four-decade-long quest. Soon we’ll be driving safe, affordable, highway-capable plug-in hybrids and all-electric vehicles from the world’s major carmakers and some brash startups. The first cars will arrive in selected markets this year. Next year, people in many states, provinces and countries will finally be able to simply go into dealer showrooms and buy them. Some skeptics, engulfed by the reality of industry progress, now fall back to ask, "Will any but the early adopters buy them?" Of course, it’s too soon to tell. We expect that plug-ins’ comparative advantages and social benefits combined with initial subsidies will eventually lead to their full competitiveness on features and price, broad market penetration, and eventual dominance.

PLUG-INS COME TO CALIFORNIA: This year, a family like ours, in the early-adopter state of CA, has the happy prospect of replacing our Toyota Prius aftermarket PHEV conversion with a new PHEV, such as the Chevy Volt (or the pricier Fisker Karma). For local driving, we’ll likely replace our Toyota Camry HEV with a 100-mile-range EV such as the Nissan LEAF or CODA sedan. CalCars Tech Lead Ron Gremban hopes to follow a similar path.

CARMAKERS START THEIR MARKETING EFFORTS: The auto industry’s giant marketing machines will help immeasurably in putting plug-in cars as drivers’ next choice. Already, it’s often no longer necessary to explain "plug-in hybrid" to most people. Instead we ask, "Have you’ve seen ads for the Chevy Volt?" Then we say "That’s a PHEV." Then, if they want, we explain how they work and their benefits! We invite you to watch a poetic, inspiring ode to the EV, "Renault. Drive the Change." — called by Plug In America’s Paul Scott "the first ad of what will become a steadily growing genre."

CALCARS MEETS INITIAL GOALS: On October 21, in Detroit, we "declared victory" on PHEVs. Of course, we still have lots to do to ensure this commercialization succeeds. A vast informal network of local, regional and national coalitions working with manufacturing, supplier and infrastructure companies has emerged. They and we will do our parts.

WE STILL HAVE TO COMBAT MISINFORMATION. In a world where stray comments gain instant credibility and mindshare, we see periodic campaigns and isolated efforts to raise questions about vehicle electrification. We still encounter those who think it’s business-as-usual for fossil fuels while we wait for some "technology breakthroughs" or vast infrastructure. In fact, plug-ins, built with today’s batteries, charging mainly at home at night, can arrive as fast as carmakers can build them. We still hear from those who, intentionally or not, mistakenly position the strategy to "displace petroleum with electricity" as a COMPETITOR instead of a COMPLEMENT to essential efforts to conserve by improving conventional vehicles’ efficiency and reducing their use. We haven’t heard the last from advocates who propose vast expansions of liquid/gaseous fuels — including natural gas, biofuels or hydrogen fuel cells — as alternatives rather than supplements to electricity.

And we’ve barely encountered the first volleys from fossil fuel suppliers. Taken together, these companies are by far the world’s most powerful industry. They’re also the most destructive and deadly, factoring in all the consequences of extraction, production, transportation and combustion, plus the impact on every nation’s public and private-sector integrity, economy, and national security. With so many stakeholders waiting for any hiccup, false start or overstatement, we all need to be ready to defend our strategy, whose strengths are predicated on "solutions good enough to get started," a transformed cleantech economy, and electricity’s fundamental advantages: "cleaner, cheaper, and domestic."

BUT NEW VEHICLES CAN’T GET US THERE QUICKLY ENOUGH! We’re starting to see a growing recognition that the world needs to adopt a TRANSPORTATION EQUIVALENT to the established retrofit approach that’s such a no-brainer for buildings. Even the most optimistic scenarios show only tens of millions of new plug-in vehicles globally in the next 10-20 years — tiny fraction of the more than one billion vehicles we’ll soon have. We see people beginning to recognize that large vehicles in particular stay on the road for decades, so it makes sense to "fix" gas guzzlers so they can plug in. Along with other obvious low-hanging fruit like conservation steps and installing low-cost black-carbon filters on diesel engines, these are essential and realistic pathways. These approaches can advance reduced fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions by a precious decade, while creating tens of thousands of green jobs and accelerating the expansion of the supply chain needed for the long-term electrification of transportation.

CALCARS’ NEW MISSION: While continuing to promote "Successful Commercialization of PHEVS ASAP," CalCars’ activities increasingly focus on recruiting more advocates to the "Big Fix" — our campaign to convert a substantial portion of the vehicles already on the road to EVs or PHEVs. We still encounter some wariness about the specific technologies and expected costs to convert internal combustion vehicles. This will change in three ways, just as it did in 2004-2006 for PHEVs: We’ll get more convincing and compelling prototypes that show what’s possible. We’ll see business models that work in high volumes. And we’ll help new coalitions emerge.

Twenty-five years ago, Steve Jobs famously recruited Pepsi executive John Sculley to Apple by asking, "Do you want to sell sugar water all your life or do you want a chance to change the world?" Recently, the charismatic Shai Agassi built his vision for an EV solution at Better Place. Similarly, we seek a well-healed, well-connected serial entrepreneur with a background in autos, technology, or finance, to accelerate the efforts of the startups gaining traction in the gas-guzzler conversion space and other companies yet to appear. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for that candidate to hit the ground running and transform today’s fledgling efforts into a profitable global industry whose conversion designers, integrators, component suppliers, and installers will offer green jobs, energy savings, operating cost reductions, and environmental and energy security benefits.

CHANGES IN TODAY’S CONVERSION MINI-INDUSTRY: The small hybrid-to-PHEV conversion companies that helped so much to increase PHEVs’ visibility and get them in the hands of utilities, government testing labs and committed evangelizers can now set themselves new goals. They can lower their selling prices via scale, gain government approvals for their designs, and add warranties to position them to sell to a million-plus hybrid car owners. By partnering with suppliers, larger integration companies, and ultimately major automakers, they can expand to the far larger market of drivers looking to fix their non-hybrid internal combustion vehicles.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY EVENTS: We’ll be spending two weeks at the end of the month on the East Coast. In addition to some private events and meetings in Boston and New York to promote the Big Fix, we’ll first be attending the Electric Drive Transportation’s broad industry Conference and Annual Meeting, January 26-28, held in conjunction with the Washington DC Auto Show.

CALCARS AS AN ORGANIZATION: Our sustained effort for over eight years by a small core group with growing concentric rings of advisors, supporters and proponents has been a stunning success. CalCars-News is currently received directly by over 7,000 subscribers in the auto industry, government, and advocacy communities, and our comments are amplified frequently by online, broadcast and print media. Yet just as our original goals are being realized and we see growing receptiveness to our new objectives, we lack the resources we need to do more. At one peak time, in 2006-2008, we gained two years of substantial support from Google.org. Over the years, we’ve received modest contributions from individuals, other foundations, and a few companies and utilities. But we’ve not received ANY federal or state funds — or funding from the venture capital community or the newly funded startups that have benefited from our work. At the moment, we’re more "bare-bones" than we’ve ever been, essentially running on fumes, cutting back on events where our costs aren’t covered. While this is personally difficult, especially for me and Ron (full-time since 2001 and 2004 respectively), both of us are thankful to have had the opportunity to engage in the most satisfying, effective, and consequential work in our lives.

SUPPORT CALCARS: Privately we get frequent encouragement and praise from individuals who say they are stretched to the limit and wish they could support our efforts.

VOLUNTEER AT CALCARS: Carol DiBenedetto was our able director of projects and grantwriter in 2008-09, but we can’t pay her again until we raise money (!!) So we need a fundraising volunteer. We also urgently need an able volunteer to position us in multiple social networking channels.

STANDOUTS: Ron and I want to thank some people in particular. Because of their jobs at companies or in government or the media — or their temperaments — many of our supporters must remain anonymous.

That said, thanks, alphabetically, to webmaster Michael Bender, databaser Brad Beltane, senior advisors Randy Reisinger and Jim Hurd, and to key advisors, promoters and co-thinkers including Jeff Anderson, Frank Babbitt, Carl Berg, Jim Bernard, Chris Baldwin, Lester Brown, Adam Browning, Pat Cadam, Carl Chow, Sam Cohen, Carolyn Coquillette, Al Cormier, Doug Crowder, John Davi, Robbie Diamond, Carol DiBenedetto, Carla Din, Leslie Dorosin, Roger Duncan, Bob Epstein, Rich Feldman, David Alan Foster, Andy Frank, Tom Gage, Phil Glatz, Jay Golden, KC Golden, Richard Goodman, Mike Granoff, Andy Grove, Carl Guardino, James Hansen, Hal Harvey, Denis Hayes, David Hearst, Bill Holmberg, Russell Hancock, Jay Inslee, Ron Johnson-Rodriguez, Wade Jansen, Marguerite Jones, Daniel Kammen, David Kaplan, Willett Kempton, Anne Korin, Andrew Lawton, Craig Lewis, Gal Luft, Nick Magel, Steve Marshall, Gil Masters, Patrick Mazza, Tom McCalmont, William McDonough, Ron Minsk, Dave Modisette, David Morris, Ben Ovshinsky, Chris Paine, Sunil Paul, Charlotte Pera, Wylie Plummer, Eric Powers, Joe Romm, Nick Rothman, Margaret Sanders, Richard Schorske, Joel Serface, Dave Severns, Gail Slocum, Peter Skinner, Sass Somekh, Chris Sorensen, Lee Stein, Laura Stuchinsky, David Taggart, Matt Taylor, Sven Thesen, Ling Thio, Laney Thornton, Jasna Tomic, David Turock, Tom Turrentine, Garth Ware, Jon Wellinghoff, Jonas Weil, Nadine Weil, Greg Willey, John Wilner, Anne Woods, Jane Woodward, James Woolsey, Andrew Zeif. Thanks to our fiscal sponsor, INTERNATIONAL HUMANITIES CENTER: Dave DelGrosso, Dave Sanders, Steve Sugarman.

FREQUENTLY PARTNERING ORGANIZATIONS: Thanks to these and many others at: ELECTRIC AUTO ASSOCIATION: Jerry Asher, Will Beckett, Ron Freund, Arthur Keller, Steven Lough, Jerry Pohorsky, Robert Seldon, Ed Thorpe. FRIENDS OF THE EARTH/BLUEWATER NETWORK: Brent Blackwelder, Norman Dean, Danielle Fugere, Russell Long, Sara Schedler. GOOGLE & GOOGLE.ORG: Robyn Beavers, Dave Bercovich, Adam Borelli, Larry Brilliant, Sergey Brin, Alec Brooks, Aimee Christensen, Greg Miller, Kirsten Olsen, Larry Page, Alec Proudfoot, Siobhan Quinn, Dan Reicher, Rolf Schreiber, Eric Schmidt, Linda Segre, Adam Smith, Karen Padham Taylor, Bill Weihl. PLUG IN AMERICA: Sherry Boschert, Dan Davids, Jay Friedland, Marc Geller, Linda Nicholes, Alexandra Paul, Zan Dubin Scott, Paul Scott, Chelsea Sexton, Jeanne Trombly. RAINFOREST ACTION NETWORK: Mike Brune, Sarah Connolly, Jodie van Horn, Jennifer Krill, Nile Malloy. INTERNATIONALLY: Feng An, Ulf Bossel, Vincent Dussault, Jacques Marlot, Matt Mathews, Miyuki Merry, Teitur Torkelsson, Pedro Macanas Valverde, Akiko Yoshimoto. PERSONALLY: for support and advice, we thank Tom Driscoll, Nancy Frishberg, Deborah Kaufman, Josh Kramer, Rochelle Lefkowitz, Lynn McAllister, Alan Snitow, Bob Weber. And we apologize for anyone we’ve overlooked!

COMING SOON FROM CALCARS-NEWS: We’re working on a number of postings about: the Electrification Coalition report; promising legislation for the postal service; analysis on the benefits of gas-guzzler retrofits; and more specifics on the National Academy of Sciences report, and strategies to advance the Big Fix campaign. Together we can make this a memorable year!