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Time Running Out for Plug-In Owners & Drivers Community -- Key Missing Piece

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  • Felix Kramer
    The Volt and the LEAF are coming this fall! Other plug-ins will follow soon. Will their first owners like them? How will the stories from satisfied and happy
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 10, 2010
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      The Volt and the LEAF are coming this fall! Other plug-ins will
      follow soon. Will their first owners like them? How will the stories
      from satisfied and "happy but wanting more" owners" be heard. Will
      they be lost in the noise or among sensationalist and incomplete
      anecdotes? What impression will future customers get of the launch,
      from social networks or so many media sources? There's one
      still-missing ingredient that could significantly improve the chances
      of success for this new generation of plug-in vehicles. We at CalCars
      have identified it and tried to spark it -- but this is a rock we
      haven't been able to push up the hill. We've just spent five
      intensive weeks in conversations and email exchanges trying to gain
      support for a "LEADING WEB-BASED COMMUNITY WHERE CURRENT AND
      POTENTIAL PLUG-IN VEHICLE DRIVERS CAN POST AND SHARE INFORMATION AND
      EXPERIENCES." We've gotten encouragement from automakers and others
      since the opportunity came up at Plug-In 2010. But the key players
      needed to make this happen have either not been able to act quickly.
      From our perspective, even knowing how full their plates are, we
      think it's short-sighted not to make this a top priority. Having done
      all we can privately, we're releasing our proposal to the 7,118
      subscribers of CalCars-News, to those who receive it by RSS feeds,
      and to the media that pick up our stories. YOU CAN HELP ACCELERATE
      DECISION-MAKING AND SPONSORSHIP. We hope that those among you with
      contacts among the large companies and institutions vital to moving
      moving this forward -- especially their PR and corporate strategy
      executives -- will both forward and advocate for this proposal.

      (Shortly after it goes out on email, this posting will also be
      viewable at http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html -- there you can
      add CalCars-News to your RSS feed.)

      We start with a THREE-PARAGRAPH SUMMARY, followed by the proposal
      we've circulated, including background on how this idea evolved and
      details of how it might work. We hope you'll appreciate the scope and
      ambition of what we're proposing. We hope you'll agree that its
      benefits are so great and that it is so time-sensitive that you will
      work to help make it happen! (We've updated and clarified the
      proposal from the one privately circulated, deleted names of possible
      partners that have not publicly come forward, and for readability
      online via email, we've removed much of the original document's formatting.)

      WHAT WE PROPOSE: A consortium create the leading web-based community
      where current and potential plug-in vehicle (PEV) drivers can post
      and share information and experiences. We envision a "semi-official"
      site, independent but cooperatively sponsored by major corporate,
      non-governmental, and public organizations, all of whom can be active
      partners to help accelerate understanding and enthusiasm -- and sell
      many PEVs batteries, motors, circuits, and charging stations.

      WHAT'S NEEDED: To launch before the first production vehicles arrive,
      we need to start now -- which we can do if we get a commitment for a
      total of $125,000 from institutional sponsors from OEMs, utilities,
      charging companies and trade associations. We hope they will
      recognize the value of this opportunity. CalCars can manage the
      project but we don't have to; we're happy to be advisors if any other
      entity wants to lead the effort.

      WHAT WE DON'T PROPOSE: We see no value in creating yet one more among
      the many worthy sites that already exist. Adding a few different
      features but not gaining broad buy-in won't help. It's critical that
      any effort be supported by the automotive and other companies that
      are members of the Electric Drive Transportation Association And
      EDTA's emerging National Plug-In Vehicle Initiative
      http://www.electricdrive.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/13529/pid/13529
      logically could be the umbrella under which such a consumer-focused
      community could develop. We're not suggesting we ignore the existing
      websites: this could be built in partnership with a company that
      understands the value of partnerships, that a "small piece of a big
      pie" is better than complete control of its own territory, that's
      open to evolution, mergers, and outside investors. And we
      re-emphasize that CalCars will be happy if the community comes into
      existence even if we're not centrally involved.

      BACKGROUND & INTRO FOR AN IDEA WE'VE BEEN PROMOTING FOR ALMOST FOUR YEARS

      We might not be nearly as far along in commercializing plug-in cars
      were it not for: 1. the advocacy efforts of drivers of the previous
      generation of EVs; 2. the open-source initiatives for Prius
      conversions; and 3. the excitement created by hearing from drivers of
      those vehicles. All these helped spark the broad campaign promoting
      PHEVs and EVs. All were amplified by online communities that foster
      communication and action. Now that we're about to get new cars, their
      impact will continue to be shaped by social media. The auto industry
      and its allies can be part of that not only on their own but with partners.

      It was clear to Felix Kramer, both as a member and participant in
      online discussion groups about PEVs since 2002, through his
      experiences as CalCars founder, and as the world's first consumer
      owner of a PHEV, that the successful commercialization of PEVs could
      benefit from the online world far more than what would automatically
      grow out of existing communities and new websites. He also drew upon
      his experience in the 1980s as a co-founder of user groups for
      computer users and desktop publishers, and in the birth of the Web in
      the mid-90s followed by the dot.com heyday, to bring forward the idea
      of driver communities.

      Back in early 2007, in conversations with some stakeholders, CalCars
      began exploring the idea of a national all-vehicle plug-in drivers
      user group. We circulated a short proposal, which led to the expanded
      update of that effort we're promoting in 2010.

      That year, CalCars engaged in discussions with one large automotive
      website. It agreed to partner on the initiative and commit some staff
      and development time. We then attempted to secure funds from it and
      others. (In retrospect, our effort may have been premature -- we were
      so far from mass-production.) When we were unable to raise the money,
      we put the proposal on the back burner -- until 2010.

      We shelved the project with considerable regret, knowing how
      important it was. Periodically we had discussions with possible
      funders (including joint proposals to USDOE for stimulus funding in
      April 2009) -- but have not yet located anyone willing to take a leading role.

      At the closing session of the July Plug-In 2010 conference, Felix's
      proposal to create a broadly-sponsored "semi-official" drivers' group
      was greeted with a strong round of applause, followed by
      encouragement from panelists and audience members that he (and
      CalCars) take the lead in developing the project. Felix made clear he
      would welcome the opportunity to help and advise a collaborative
      effort -- and that it needed to be broad to succeed. That said,
      CalCars is willing to be a prime mover if others join with
      significant time and resources. With adequate levels of support for
      staff time, CalCars could lead the effort, along with another social
      media/publishing partner.

      We emphasized we didn't need to run the show or get the credit; we
      welcomed anyone who steps up to make this happen. Since then, we've
      had discussions with several energetic possible specialists in
      building national campaigns using social media; partnering with one
      can help us get this project running quickly. One in particular is
      quite interested [discussed in private emails].

      The biggest hurdle remains to gain sponsors and funding in this
      challenging environment. IF THIS MONTH, FIVE COMPANIES/ORGANIZATIONS
      WILL STEP FORWARD AND EACH SEED THIS EFFORT WITH $25,000 and agree to
      help find additional sponsors, we can then get working very rapidly
      on design/launch/partnerships as well as enlisting additional
      sponsors from the constituencies listed below. We think this
      investment will pay off enormously for all those whose businesses
      require a rapid acceleration of demand for PEVs, and for a society
      that needs to start getting off fossil fuels ASAP.

      We would hate to miss a unique window of opportunity! We originally
      said if we didn't get a strong response by Aug. 16, we would
      circulate this proposal very broadly in the hope that someone else
      can make it happen quickly. We then held off until mid-September to do so.

      We welcome your reactions as soon as possible.

      IT'S ALMOST NOW-OR-NEVER IF WE'RE GOING TO START THIS IMPORTANT &
      VALUABLE PROJECT!

      The first mass-production PEVs in many years are arriving soon;
      people are getting test drives and will soon have their own cars.
      This is the best-ever opportunity to bring to large audiences
      compelling messages and experiences about the benefits of PEVs.

      Media coverage about choices, features, and benefits is building
      rapidly; until December the focus will be the first vehicles. We can
      make it easy for the next wave to be happy human interest stories.

      Many people have questions and everyone's looking for answers and
      experts. Once people pick social networks -- even free ones -- moving
      involves switching costs and loyalty issues. It will of course be
      better than nothing if this community arrives a year from now -- or
      if one of today's sites emerges as most successful -- but we'll still
      be missing many important features and benefits listed below, and
      we'll have lost precious opportunities in the first months to shape
      the new plug-in electric world.

      WHAT DO TODAY'S ONLINE DRIVER DISCUSSIONS LOOK LIKE?

      Feeding off the breaking news and the enthusiasm for PEVs, we're
      seeing a proliferation of many worthy, well-intentioned and
      well-executed efforts. Yet we wonder if any will be able to scale and
      evolve to achieve the goals we aim for, and to emerge as the
      authoritative site.

      These range from single-vehicle-focused sites started by individual
      enthusiasts as stand-alones or at Yahoo Groups and Google Groups, to
      green or plug-in areas at existing automotive sites, as well as
      sections sponsored by green car news and advocacy sites, and entirely
      new sites devoted only to plug-in vehicles.

      Some sites now or later intend to gain revenue from advertising or
      from lead-generation. In general, the for-profit, non-profit, and
      volunteer-created sites lack staff or have not allocated resources to
      monitor postings for highly off-topic, "troll," or otherwise
      destructive postings, though some invite users to "rate" quality of
      postings or "report" violators of community standards or terms of
      service. We don't know of any whose distribution/promotion strategies
      include spotlighting and announce newsworthy discussions. Many are
      hard to navigate, fail to show up in web searches, and have "buried" archives.

      The "migration path" is not yet clear for existing EV and
      PHEV-conversion owners as they continue to drive their old vehicles
      and are among the first buyers of new mass-production vehicles. The
      enthusiasm, dedication, and storehouse of practical experience of
      this unique group of idealistic early adopters can help jump-start the effort.

      SOME CHARACTERISTICS WE LOOK FOR IN A PLUG-IN OWNERS AND DRIVERS COMMUNITY:

      * A one-stop community for people motivated by any or all goals of:
      saving money, ensuring energy security, cutting climate pollution,
      owning the latest gadget, or driving the most fun cars.
      * A "watering hole," where longtime and recent drivers share their
      experiences, observations and tips.
      * An outward-facing, welcoming site for wannabes and newbies -- those
      in any way considering buying a PEV -- offering basic information and
      the opportunity to follow the latest discussions about PEVs.
      * A pipeline to connect them with enthusiastic PEV owners to answer
      more questions and experience electric driving.
      * A transparent, open-source style effort focused on reducing
      barriers to information exchange, requiring no registration to post
      to maximize free discussions.
      * A mechanism for millions of people to register as "handraisers" for
      vehicle types and models that may initially be in short supply.
      * A window on plugged-in life, previewing a world where everyday
      transportation is electrified and powered by renewable energy.

      WEBSITE/TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS:

      * Ideally, piggybacking onto an existing high-traffic website, to
      reduce overhead and startup costs and to ensure that it reaches
      audiences beyond those who are already plug-in savvy.
      * At the same time, reachable directly at PlugInDrivers.com with
      direct access by vehicle type to related vehicle-specific URLs.
      (CalCars owns and will happily make available this and other relevant URLs.)
      * Lightly moderated by Hosts ("curators") who monitor postings and
      flag/highlight important/insightful discussions both on the site and
      to other audiences, journalists, and social media outlets.
      * Easy posting by registered owners/drivers, with all postings
      public; unregistered visitors asking questions/making comments to be
      moderated; site facilitating private communications among registered users.
      * Easily and deeply searchable and customizable for both first-time
      and frequent users.
      * Including microblogging capabilities (Twitter/Facebook/Tumblr) and
      smartphone integration.

      CONTENT AND SITE DESIGN:

      * Range of vehicles: BEVs, PHEVs, EREVs, 2/3/4-wheelers, light,
      medium, and heavy-duty vehicles.
      * Topics including driver behavior and experience, charging
      considerations, effect of different feedback designs, cost and MPG
      issues, all-electric and blended variants, expectations and
      limitations. Plus comments and future wish-lists of features,
      performance, usability and marketing for PEVs.
      * Anecdotal data and postings including human interest, driver blogs,
      slice-of-life print and video stories (data-mines for media coverage
      and academic interviews/studies).
      * Profile/photo/MPG results eventually including a data reporting
      system developed by academic/technology partners.
      * Quantified data from both driver input and automatic
      instrumentation -- if resources are available or technical partners
      want to showcase their tools, data can be aggregated and analyzed to
      best communicate the performance and benefits of technologies and vehicles.
      * Developed or hosted print and video collateral created by partners
      answering such basic questions as: are EVs cleaner; won't the grid be
      overloaded; are batteries safe/long-lasting/recyclable?
      * Tools to estimate fuel savings and TCO (total cost of ownership),
      given individual driving profiles, for vehicle types and models
      (perhaps partnering with existing calculators like those at USEPA and
      ProjectGetReady).
      * Wiki-style vehicle FAQs, driving tips, opinion/experience surveys,
      real-time chats (syndicated with partners); co-sponsor and promote
      local real-world community and national events.
      * "Find a PEV Driver in My Community" and "Get an EV Ride" matching
      services linked from multiple partners' portals.
      * Syndicated content and possible eventual print version of some
      content with media/industry partners.
      * Pointers to external resources at partnering and other sites.
      * Some topics left to others who may be better equipped to handle
      them, including: dealer-level experiences, conversion technologies,
      emerging technologies, and other fuel/energy sources.

      BENEFITS TO THE PEV INDUSTRY (OEMS, SUPPLY CHAIN, SERVICE PROVIDERS):

      * Inspire potential car buyers to become plug-in customers.
      * Freely give immediate market intelligence and feedback from a
      comprehensive site and large population on what's working and what
      needs to be fixed -- both for individual companies and
      locally/nationally (e.g. charging infrastructure).
      * Gain goodwill from current and prospective customers: continue the
      transformative "buyer-push" model that has helped advance PEVs by
      giving members confidence their voices will be heard to help shape
      future automotive directions.
      * Provide case studies, human interest stories, topic threads to give
      corporate PR departments leads to connect with interview subjects and
      help media to track evolving stories.
      * Point effectively to rapid third-party and owner/driver responses
      to inaccurate media stories.

      BENEFITS OF A "SEMI-OFFICIAL" SPONSORED SITE:

      * A single collaborative space where many key players participate
      will help commercialization efforts gain strength and momentum.
      * A trusted source by its breadth and openness will reassure many
      audiences who search online and encounter multiple sites.
      * A "go-to" place for success stories and for rapid responses to
      inaccurate, misleading or confusing media reports, to negative news
      about vehicles and technologies, and to "incidents."
      * Anecdotal and scientific data for research and analysis by
      academics, fleets, government, industry.
      * An ability to coordinate with other sites internationally and
      perhaps eventually expand globally.

      CAUTIONS FOR A "SEMI-OFFICIAL" SPONSORED SITE:

      * If not done well (and inclusively), can be seen as competing with
      independent efforts or companies (including those that are "left out"
      if others join an partner).
      * Will need to reassure all audiences of its editorial independence
      from sponsors and funders.

      BENEFITS TO SOCIAL MEDIA PARTNER/PUBLISHER/DISTRIBUTOR:

      * Put publisher on the cutting edge as the leading venue for
      discussion of the world's cleanest mass-production vehicles and a
      showcase for the auto industry of the future.
      * Drive traffic to company's other online and print divisions.

      STRUCTURE FOR INDEPENDENCE AND RAPID RESPONSE:

      * Rolling launch to establish position and evolve/improve as the
      vehicles begin to arrive.
      * Ownership of site to be determined; multiple business models
      possible beyond sponsorships; fundraising also by partners and sponsors.
      * Registration free for introductory period, eventual low one-time or
      annual membership fee.
      * A team with full editorial authority:
      Publisher/Editor-in-Chief/Managing Editor/Columnists/Technical &
      Research Advisors/Content Coordinators, Hosts & Moderators, Marketing
      & PR, Technology, Usability.
      * An advisory/consultative board with representatives from
      Industry/policy/media.
      * Some team members part-time; some may divide time with publisher's
      existing operation.
      * Startup costs through year-end approximately $250,000; estimated
      annual operating budget $250-500,000 for management, editorial, technology.

      POSSIBLE SPONSORS, CO-SPONSORS, ADVISORS, FUNDERS (THE FIRST FOUR ARE
      THE PRIMARY GROUP; OTHERS ARE ALPHABETICAL):
      * Auto industry (OEMs, component makers, service providers)
      * Charging infrastructure (suppliers and operators)
      * Electric Drive Transportation Association and its National Plug-In
      Vehicle Initiative
      * Plug-In Organizations: CalCars/Electric Auto Association/Plug-in America
      * Air Quality Management Districts
      * Auto associations
      * Community-focused: Silicon Valley Leadership Group, ProjectGet Ready
      * Companies: Google, SAP, GE, other technology enablers
      * Government Agencies (federal/state/municipal depts. of energy,
      environment, transportation)
      * Non-Governmental Organizations: Friends of the Earth, GreenAmerica,
      Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists
      * US National Labs
      * University research and policy centers
      * Utilities; individual companies and EPRI; EEI; APPA, NARUC, NRECA.

      With your support, we can create a unique and powerful institution to
      expand today's creative partnerships between industry, organizations,
      and customers.

      WE URGE ALL THOSE IN FAVOR OF SUCH A PLUG-IN DRIVERS & OWNERS
      COMMUNITY TO COMMUNICATE YOUR VIEWS TO EDTA'S NATIONAL PLUG-IN
      VEHICLE INITIATIVE
      http://www.electricdrive.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/13529/pid/13529 , TO
      THE PR AND STRATEGY EXECUTIVES AT GM, NISSAN AND OTHER AUTOMAKERS, TO
      SUPPLIER COMPANIES, AND TO YOUR LOCAL UTILITY. URGE THEM TO SPONSOR
      AND FUND SUCH AN EFFORT. SEND COPIES OF WHAT YOU WRITE TO
      INFO@... . (SIMPLY EMAILING TO CALCARS CONTACT NAMES OR
      SUGGESTIONS FOR WHAT YOU'D HOPE CALCARS WOULD DO WILL NOT BE NEARLY
      AS EFFECTIVE AS GETTING OTHER ORGANIZATIONS INVOLVED!)

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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