MotorWeek's John Davis.

MotorWeek's John Davis.

SCHAUMBURG, IL – At the 2012 Green Fleet Conference, held in Schaumburg, Ill., the event opened with a breakfast and keynote speech given by automotive television show MotorWeek’s creator, host, and Senior Executive Producer John Davis. His talk focused on the current state of electric vehicle technologies, although he noted that he is a proponent of many different alternative fuels, including natural gas, propane autogas, and biodiesel, especially in the fleet space, where there is a wider range of vehicles available.

The opening keynote was sponsored by GM Fleet and Commercial Operations, and GM's Joyce Mattman, Director of Commercial Product and Specialty Vehicles, discussed the company's committment to the fleet industry and alternative-fuel vehicles in that space.

From there, Davis started his talk with an overview of the differences between the U.S. and European market, noting that the high price of gasoline, having recently passed $10 per gallon in Paris, is pushing European countries to focus on electric vehicles, skipping hybrids entirely.

In the U.S., by contrast, recent stories in the media have focused on the more sensational, negative aspects of EVs, from a Wall Street Journal piece that makes the argument that GM is losing money on the Volt, which GM contests (and Motorweek’s Davis said is easily refuted), to negative reviews of the Fisker Karma and reports on issues with the Nissan Leaf’s battery life. Davis said it’s easy to tell the other side of the story for each of these vehicles, and about EVs in general due to their growing sales and the expansion of charging infrastructure, but that stories focusing on the positives are drowned out by the negative ones in the mainstream U.S. media.

From there, he went on to discuss how advances in four-cylinder engines in mid-size vehicles, for example turbocharging, direct-injection, and auto-start-stop, when combined with hybrid-electric systems are pushing hybrids forward. He said EV technology is following the trend of most technologies in human history, in that despite early skepticism, the market is growing and the technology is progressing.

Next, Davis went on to discuss how fleet customers have a range of options in addition to EVs, such as natural gas, propane autogas, biodiesel, ethanol, among others. He noted that hydrogen fuel cell technology is advancing but still seems to be 5 to 10 years away.

Following this overview, Davis presented short videos that featured reviews of a number of vehicles, including the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the Ford Focus Electric, and the Mitsubishi i-Mi-EV. Next, he showed videos on EV and extended-range EV crashworthiness (noting the Volt and Leaf both received good IIHS crash test ratings). From there, another video covered what fleets are doing in the heavy-duty vehicle space, such as Coca Cola running hybrids, UPS running alternative-fuel vehicles, and a Wisconsin school district operating diesel hybrids.

Lastly, a video showed an unusual fleet vehicle, Planter’s “nut mobile,” which is based on an Isuzu NPR box truck and can run on biodiesel. The Planter’s nut mobile has solar panels, features low-energy LEDs inside and has flooring made from reclaimed wood from a barn in Lancaster County, Pa.

Davis closed out the session by commenting on just how much, and how rapidly, vehicle technologies are changing today.

“No matter what the critics say, we are in a vehicle revolution,” Davis said. He went on to say that it’s the biggest change since the beginning of the automobile. “It doesn’t matter whether you are in an electric or other type of vehicle. This change is affecting every city across the U.S., whether people realize it or not.”

By Greg Basich