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An Auto Industry Insider’s View…From A Woman’s Perspective

Archive for September, 2008

Green Fleet Conference 2008

Posted by carsdiva on September 23, 2008

The first ever 2008 Green Fleet Conference, held in Chicago on September 15 & 16, was designed by Bobit Business Media for automotive fleet professionals, in order to educate, discuss and develop solutions to “green” their fleets.

Mike Antich, Editor & Associate Publisher, Automotive Fleet and Demetra Markopoulos

Mike Antich, Editor & Associate Publisher, Automotive Fleet and Demetra Markopoulos

The conference kicked off with a presentation by Key Note speaker, Mike Antich, Editor & Associate Publisher, Mike Antich. He gave the audience a “Sneak Preview of Upcoming Green Fleet Vehicles,” including model line-ups from Chrysler, GM, Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Mercedes, BMW, Mazda, Hyundai, Porsche, Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Tesla and Zap.

Some of the highlights and/or interesting things I learned:

*The Cadillac Escalade Hybrid was the first ever, luxury hybrid.

*Ford is currently testing their “Eco-Boost” engines, which began with the Ford Explorer, known as the “America concept.” (See my interview with John Viera, Director of Sustainable Business Strategies, Ford Motor Company, to learn more about the Eco-Boost.)

*Toyota has come up with their first ever, dedicated hybrid, to debut at the 2009 Auto Show.

Patsy Brownson, Manager, Fleet Relations, Cox Enterprises, Inc. & Demetra Markopoulos

Patsy Brownson, Manager, Fleet Relations, Cox Enterprises, Inc. & Demetra Markopoulos

*One of the most unique/interesting concept vehicles presented was the Toyota RiN Concept, known as a “mood vehicle,” in that the ambient lighting changes color depending on the driver’s mood.

*The Mitsubishi iMiev is an “ALL” electric vehicle.

Now on to the panels…

The sessions began with a panel on what works and what doesn’t when implementing a Green Fleet Initiative, to include “best practices” shared by fleet managers on the panel. Following this panel topic, panelists, moderators and keynote speakers highlighted the cost of “going green,” driver behavior (acceptance or challenges faced), and of course, the topic that is of concern to many fleet managers- how to effectively remarket “green” or Hybrid vehicles.

Learning from Best Practices- Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Scientific Games Corporation, Genuine Parts Company, Shire Pharmaceuticals & Donlen Corporation are already greening their fleets. Representatives from these companies share their experiences.

Learning from Best Practices- Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Scientific Games Corporation, Genuine Parts Company, Shire Pharmaceuticals & Donlen Corporation are already greening their fleets. Representatives from these companies share their experiences.

It’s evident that global climate is changing. The EPA said that in 2007, the US is the largest producer of CO2, and the transportation sector drives 31% of the CO2 output. Each gallon of gas burned produces 19.5lbs of CO2. Panelists discussed their driving force(s) of “going green.” Josie Sharp of Shire pharmaceuticals said that Shire has established corporate policies worldwide to protect the environment. In doing so, they save $800 a vehicle. It’s important to them to educate their drivers/employees on “going green.” Coca-Cola got in the game in 2004, by purchasing 25 Toyota Priuses. This move realized both the economic and environment benefits.

GPS & Asset Tracking

Another thing that many companies have started to do is use vehicle data (via asset tracking) to prevent unauthorized fuel consumption and general vehicle use. That being said, they allow employees to work from home more often, and are working on bringing “California clean car standards” (more rigid than everywhere else) to states like Illinois. Asset tracking provides tangible data that can be used to educate management teams and other employees about the importance of “going green,” and the process to get there. Showing them proven results makes it easier for them to accept the change.

To delve further into GPS Systems, the data produced can be used to reduce idle time, manage routes more efficiently, and cut costs by cutting out unnecessary routes. Overall they prove to be cost effective by reducing fuel costs, creating general company awareness, and serving as a value added acquisition for corporate fleets.

In regards to “going green,” Josie Sharp said “it’s like hitting a home run with the bases loaded.”

And the challenge? Well, going against the “one vehicle fits all” standard. It’s a slow process to transition and gain acceptance. Some of the common push-backs/excuses that panelist shared (which I found humorous myself) were: “I can’t carry my golf clubs in the Prius.” “I can’t fit a car-seat in the Prius.” And “It’s not safe.” I think just maybe, there may be another alternative to transporting the golf clubs!

What does “Green” Mean?

GEM vehicle (Global Electric Motorcars), A Chrysler Company

GEM vehicle (Global Electric Motorcars), A Chrysler Company

I think John Dmochowsky, Sales Fleet Manager of Kraft Foods summed it up best to the question, “what does ‘green’ mean,” when he said, ‘It’s an intersection between environmental, social and economic responsibilities.” Other panelists differed in their responses as to the definition and also the evolution of the “green” initiative. One person said they thought it was a big marketing conspiracy, created by the industry, just like seatbelts. They went from being trivial to now ubiquitous.

Needless to say, regardless of the cause, what I kept hearing is that awareness is what drives the green initiative, therefore companies are emphasizing awareness not only to their employees, but also to their customers. Global [environmental policies] have, in many cases, been in effect for a number of years, however their refinement with fleet is a recent thing. For companies like Panda Restaurant, “green equates to frugality,” said KarYeng Liew. They switched to hybrids a long time ago. ADP, on the other hand, is currently working on a policy to encompass their whole company.

Thinking Outside the Box…

The hot button topic dealt with the manufacturers. What was said is that manufacturers need to do something to help the fleet managers with “greening.” It’s a matter of planning. They need to build cars that their customers need. They need to think “outside the box.” In fact, one manager pointed out that she has what [vehicles] she could get, not what she needs.

Sandra Koelzer, Corporate Fleet Manager, Apple Inc & Demetra Markopoulos

Sandra Koelzer, Corporate Fleet Manager, Apple Inc & Demetra Markopoulos

In discussing “out of the box” solutions that some companies are initiating to “green” their fleets, Liew said that the CEO of Panda Restaurant drives a Prius to work, with the mindset that in order to set the trend, you have to exemplify something that a consumer wants to embark on. Apple Inc. hosts “brown bag lunches” to discuss fleet initiatives. The common theme resonating amongst panelists though was that before making changes (especially drastic ones) you have to prep your people. The cost difference is trivial (for example, the operating cost of a Toyota Prius vs. a Ford Focus is the same.) And at the end of the day, economic responsibility is key.

What are carbon offsets? Beyond the hybrid vehicles…

A carbon offset is a financial instrument representing a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. So for example- the carbon offsets can be used to plant trees to compensate for CO2 emissions caused by transportation. The US is currently an unregulated market (someone described it “like a stock market without the SEC.”) However the argument on the table is that 2012 there will be government regulations put in place. It’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” Basically this is to say that the “green” initiative deals not only with hybrid vehicles, but encompasses other areas that can play a role in a company’s environmental and sustainability goals.

Remarketing Hybrids or “green vehicles”

A critical difference between the “standard” fleet vehicles and hybrid vehicles is that their value drops significantly once they reach a high mileage. And the panelists’ advice? Sell them quick! When it comes to reconditioning however, the rules remain the same across the board.

Fleet managers have noticed that with hybrids their buyer base is much broader. Vehicles are being shipped all over (especially Califorina), rather than being sold/picked up at their grounding location. For this reason, the Internet plays an important role in remarketing hybrids. That being said, it’s important to brand the hybrids both on the Web and of course, at the auction- i.e. to highlight them. Since the typical buyer often resorts to the Internet, it’s important to leverage the auction companies. In essence, you’re doing them a favor by offering “green” vehicles, or hybrids.

*An interesting fact that I learned regarding transporting a hybrid, is that you cannot tow a hybrid on the rear wheels. (It must be put on a flat-bed.) Towing on the rear wheels generates electricity and this excess energy can burn out the other components of the vehicle.*

And what it comes down to…

Marc Stone, National Account Manager, Fleet Operations, Mercedes-Benz USA & Demetra Markopoulos

Marc Stone, National Account Manager, Fleet Operations, Mercedes-Benz USA & Demetra Markopoulos

Mike Antich summed up the conference by saying that “green is clearly a major topic and initiative for senior corporate and government management and there is a clear need for information, and we think this Green Fleet Conference helps to fill that need.” (Click here to watch my video interview with Mike Antich.)

Sustainability and green fleet initiatives have been an issue in the corporate fleet and public sector for the past several years. On the government side they’re required to implement green fleet initiatives due to regulatory mandates. I agree- the Green Fleet Conference was very comprehensive and covered everything from upcoming and existing regulations, to new [green] product models that will be introduced within the next 4-5 years, to the new area of remarketing hybrid vehicles, which are just now coming out of service. It was great to see the strong interest and quest for knowledge among the attendees, as well as the support from the top (executive levels) down to the consumers.

And of course, it will be interesting to see the transition in the coming years, particularly in the fleet sector of the auto industry, as the green initiatives become more prevalent across the board.

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Posted in Car News & Trends, CarsDiva News, Going Green | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

FLEX’n through Philly: Part 1

Posted by carsdiva on September 10, 2008

 
Unveiling the 2009 Ford Flex, McCafferty Ford

Unveiling the 2009 Ford Flex, McCafferty Ford

After my recent visit to Ford in Detroit, I thought I would “go out in field,” where it really happens, and visit a few Ford dealerships during their Flex Consumer Event, parties that dealers hosted to introduce this very unique vehicle, in a very unique way, to the general public.  Unfortunately I missed many of these as getting schedules to dealer Flex events around the country was impossible from one database or resource [Why was that? Shouldn’t there have been a single place where any consumer could go on the Web to find out about the dealer events in his/her area?  Isn’t that what social networks and social media are for?  I would assume that this would have boosted visibility and attendance, therefore, I’ll volunteer to host the schedule for any and all future auto- related consumer events.  By the way – it’s a great way for me to know how/where to attend a few…I do love a good party!]

At any rate, relying on an old friend from Philadelphia, John Possumato… (see his latest blog on the Flex by the way at www.Possumato.com), I did get information and some “Flex paraphernalia” from some of the dealers who “did it up right” in the Philly region.  You can check out my last blog on the happenings, including some pictures from Lilliston Ford in Vineland, NJ, Haldeman Ford in Hamilton Square, NJ, and C & C Ford in Horsham, PA… and with a bit of luck I should be receiving a video of the Lilliston event soon. Stay tuned!

FLEX’n with the Diva: 2 Special Invitations

I’m most excited to say though, that I eagerly received and accepted an invitation to go to two dealer

The ladies are sporting their own McCafferty Ford was Flexn with the Diva shirts!

The ladies are sporting their own McCafferty Ford was Flexn with the Diva shirts!

Flex Consumer Events in person.  The first was with Jim Thomas, Steve Amabile and their crew at Springfield Ford, in Springfield, PA, on August 20th. And the second was an extra special event at McCafferty Ford in Langhorne, PA, August 22nd, with Todd Buch, Chris Bove, Lisa Markley and all the individuals that helped to create what I heard was one of the best Flex intro parties ever  …and I’m not just saying that because they had a bunch of special t-shirts made with the caricature of, well, yours truly, the CarsDiva (although that certainly made it extra special for me!)

Social Media Savvy at Springfield Ford

Springfield Ford was under construction during their Flex event- they’re doing major renovations to their facility (which I can’t wait to come back and check out when it’s finished!)  However, they did their best to throw a successful

John Gatto, Internet Sales Manager and Steve Amabile, General Sales Manager.

Springfield Ford, Springfield, PA: John Gatto, Internet Sales Manager and Steve Amabile, General Sales Manager.

event in a very small section of the showroom given the circumstances.  I was more so eager to meet dealer principal Jim Thomas, and especially General Sales Manager, Steve Amabile, as Steve is very active on the Web on blogs, online networks, etc… (We actually met through a “Flex forum.”)  Steve started in the Internet Department at Springfield Ford- (one of the early pioneers in automotive Internet sales) and he had actually sold several Ford Flex vehicles through his online networking and delivered one as far away as Japan!  So that being said, I was anxious to meet him and perhaps learn a thing or two from his experience in using social media to promote the Flex for Springfield Ford.

Click here to watch my interview with Steve Amabile.

First-Class All the Way at McCafferty Ford

McCafferty Ford in Langhorne, PA, historically one of the highest volume and most consumer (female

Ford Flex Walk-Around at McCafferty Ford

Ford Flex Walk-Around at McCafferty Ford

especially) friendly Ford dealers in the Philladelphia region, characteristically went the extra mile to prepare for and promote their Flex party; they even announced in advance that I would be attending the event! (Check out the announcement at http://blogs.phillyburbs.com/news/bcct/cars-diva-to-visit-mccafferty.  I spoke to Chris Bove, General Sales Manager at McCafferty , prior to the event, and he enthusiastically told me about their plans, including having a DJ, hors’ devours, plenty of staff on hand to welcome the guests all building up to the “unveiling of the Flex” complete with a vehicle “walk-around” presentation.  After the “unveiling” there were plenty of vehicles available for guests to “ride and drive” and experience the impressive driving attribute of the Flex on their own.  Of course,

Consumers at McCafferty Ford, checking out the all new 2009 Ford Flex

Consumers at McCafferty Ford, checking out the all new 2009 Ford Flex

one of the most exciting things (and surprising for me) were the exclusive shirts they made up with my caricature and the line, “McCafferty Ford was Flex’n with the Diva” – quite an honor guys!

In my opinion, the group at McCafferty Ford was really a forward-thinking crew, starting at the top with President, Todd Buch, and including the management team, Chris Bove, and Lisa Markely, Internet Sales Manager.  They all shared not only their receptive attitude, but also their eager willingness to dive into social media, particularly as it relates to the Ford Flex.  Lisa, their expert in the Internet Department, discussed with me the importance of establishing and then retaining her relationship with customers, particularly female consumers.  And from the way the the McCafferty crew interacted with the consumers at the event, many of them already loyal customers, I could see first-hand that what they said held true.

CarsDiva, Demetra Markopoulos and Chris Bove, General Sales Manager, McCafferty Ford

CarsDiva, Demetra Markopoulos and Chris Bove, General Sales Manager, McCafferty Ford

From what I saw at both Springfield Ford and McCafferty Ford, consumers reacted very positively to the introduction of the Flex, once they fully experienced the vehicle.  There were those who came because they loved the Flex from the get-go, and others were intrigued and wanted to learn more about it.  After a successful event at Springfield Ford and a spectacular party at McCafferty Ford, I definitely look forward to attending future dealership events, specifically at these stores – I can’t wait for my next trip back!

 Click here to see more photos from the events!

Posted in CarsDiva News, Road Trips | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »