Monday, October 19, 2009

Which is Faster? The Car or the Alternatives? Marketing provides the Answer

Your vote wanted!

Up first, the Audi ad (30 seconds):

Followed by the opening sequence from "Office Space" (1 minute):

So, which one more accurately reflects reality? the Audi or Office Space? Vote.

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Powerful Advocacy: Social Media & Toyota

I am really impressed by the power of a MoveOn campaign. It was launched 4 hours ago, and already has 200 Toyota owners, in front of their Toyota's protesting that company's participation in the US Chamber of Commerce (which has been lobbying against passage of a climate change bill in Congress).

This campaign, using Flickr, and MoveOn designed signs, printed out and customized "locally," really demonstrates the power of consumer's wallets on the marketplace. It is just so much more convincing and direct that everyone agreeing to boycott tuna.

We'll have to wait and see if this actually pressures Toyota to leave the US Chamber. But an inspiring campaign.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

21 Ways I Reduced My Carbon Footprint

Change takes time. Here below is the list of my path from what was not measured, but likely a typical carbon footprint (around 20 tons per year for an American) to a smaller carbon footprint today. I think I'm down to around 6 tons a year. Goal is about 2 tons per capita worldwide. Below is how I progressed over the last 20 years.

Today minus 20 years
1. Bought a fixer-upper house in dense urban area 5 blocks from subway.
2. Vacation locally (most of the time)
T- 18 years
3. Stopped eating meat (most of the time). Cook most meals from scratch.
T- 15 years
4. Enrolled children in local schools.
T- 14 years
5. Emphasis on Christmas & birthday presents that were consumable or practical.
T- 12 years
6. Installed automatic setback thermostat (55 degrees at night, 65 daytime). Knit a lot of sweaters for whole family.
T-10 years
7. Didn’t buy second car, used carsharing (Zipcar)
T- 9 years
8. Husband got a local job, now commutes by bicycle 100% of the time.
T- 8 years
9. Increase emphasis on second hand or hand-me-down for toys, books, clothes, bikes.
T- 7 years
10. Stopped eating fish (except sardines, I love them so).
T- 5 years
11. Kids stop asking to be driven to school on cold, wet or snowy days because answer is usually no.
T- 4 years
12. Switched all light bulbs to CFLS.
13. Turn temperature of water heater down to ‘warm’.
T- 3 years
14. More carpooling (GoLoco).
15. Greater commitment to biking for errands.
16. Finally put insulation in roof.
17. Wash laundry in cold water and dry clothes on line (my husband getting me over my greatest hypocrisy.) Reduced summer utility bill by 50%.
T- 2 years
18. Bought a farm share at local farm for produce.
19. Curiously also plant small kitchen garden.
20. Started driving the speed limit. On highways too (that’s right).
T- 1 year
21. Selected “green” supplier of grid electricity offered by our utility (wind farm in upstate NY, only 10% more expensive).
22. Replace inefficient appliances with way more efficient ones when they finally die. Front loading washing machine, dishwasher, refridgerator. Insulate and seal old house more, replace a few more old windows, solar hot water on roof, find or build more efficient housing.

This effort will be on-going. My biggest challenge, like environmental evangelists around me, is my air travel. I do a lot of it. I keep track using Dopplr, but I don’t believe in offsets (see CheatNeutral for a beautiful explanation of why).

What's your plan or path? What other good ideas?

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lowering Barriers to Innovation in Cars

In 1890, there were 2000 car companies in and around Paris. I haven't been able to find the data for Detroit, but its a good guess to imagine that it was the same. Today, what do you think? Maybe 50 new cars being seriously tested for market consideration worldwide?

In a time when everyone is talking about the need for innovation and new vehicle types, it is basically impossible for a couple of clever guys (used in a gender-neutral way) to think up, test, sell, and improve upon their ideas. We have set the regulatory bar so high, that we've basically excluded innovation from any who doesn't have several hundred million dollars handy. The US Department of Energy recently gave Tesla Motors a $465 million loan that will be repayable only if they succeed. This is an expensive approach, for the government and for car manufacturers.

There is a lower-cost way forward, with precedents in the food industry. Here's what I think should be done.

To promote innovation In the existing vehicle stock:

1. Create an open in-vehicle technology platform/device that can be installed in existing vehicles, which brings car-specific data to the internet (with open APIs) for developers/innovators. This will facilitate changes in ownership, access, driving behavior, connectivity to other relevant data in the environment. [This idea is in hand and doesn't need government regulatory intervention.]

To promote innovation of new vehicles and new mobility choices:

2. Create a government insurance plan for small transportation businesses, to be paid into by these start-ups, that provides insurance, likely with reasonable per incident caps, that enables them to try innovative things that don't match the insurance industry status quo. Carsharing, carpooling, pick-up shuttles, PAYD insurance, innovative vehicle designs have all be held back by the insurance problem. By capping at some specific "small business" volume, innovation can be enabled and the real liability risks can be learned from these small groups. Ideas that succeed (and increase in volume beyond small business) will have the track record to move into the private sector insurance industry.

3. Remove government oversight of safety standards for low sale-volume vehicles. There is insignificant public health risk from small volume vehicle accidents. As an analogy, the health standards we apply to the corner deli are different from what we apply to Nabisco. In the vehicle space, there is only one rule that applies. And like the corner deli, locals won't frequent one that serves old or unhygenically prepared food.

4. Consider creation of low speed, low weight class of roads on which any vehicle and mode of transportation is at low risk for mortal accidents, and on which these small volume new vehicles could travel very safely. "The probability of death from an impact speed of 50 mi/h (80 km/h) is 15 times the probability of death from an impact speed of 25 mi/h (40 km/h)....only 5 percent of pedestrians died when struck by a vehicle traveling at 20 mi/h (32 km/h); however, the proportion of fatalities increased to 45 percent at 30 mi/h (48 km/h) and to 85 percent at 40 mi/h (64 km/h)." Source data.

On this last point, I'm imaging that many urban areas (and perhaps some roads or some lanes in suburban/rural areas) could have this classification. If this new classification were just by speed, allowing a diversity of vehicles could travel on those roads, we would get one kind of innovation. If we pushed the restriction further to include weight restrictions, these low speed/low weight roads would have a totally new and different characteristic that would favor pedestrians, bicycles, and small vehicles. Right now, many people tell me they don't ride their bikes (or let their kids ride) because of the weight/speed problem of other traffic.

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