Publication Detail

Marketing Clean and Efficient Vehicles: Workshop Proceedings


Research Report

Download PDF

Suggested Citation:
Turrentine, Thomas S. and Kenneth S. Kurani (2001) Marketing Clean and Efficient Vehicles: Workshop Proceedings. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Research Report UCD-ITS-RR-01-06

Moving the marketplace to clean and efficient vehicles is proving a complex, difficult, and long-term project. The first step, the development and commercialization of several technologies including electric, hybrid-electric, and alternative fuel vehicles is well underway. Now we must take the next step—transforming marketplace values. The challenges are formidable. There is the legacy of recent market trends. In recent years the automobile industry has focused on selling the size, power, and rugged image of truck-like vehicles; this strategy has produced some of their most profitable vehicles. Now, many consumers associate heavy, roomy, powerful, inefficient vehicle designs with images of the good life of recreation and adventure, the capacity to pick-up major home appliances at suburban superstores, or the ability to transport their child's soccer team. These same consumers are largely ignorant that light-duty trucks—vans, sport utility vehicles, and pickup trucks—are allowed by policy to be less efficient and more polluting per vehicle mile. Ironically, there is a probably a sizable contingent of self-described environmentally conscious buyers who drive large, four-wheel drive SUVs. In our own locale, it is common to see such vehicles proudly decorated with bumper stickers exhorting people to "Keep Tahoe Blue." (The reference is to efforts to maintain the lake's prized clarity, a problem that appears to be connected in part to pollution from the growing populations of the Sierra Nevada foothills and Central Valley.) In such a market, how do we begin facilitate the expression of the values of efficiency, environmental stewardship, public health, and community?

A Los Angeles Times' article on 29 March 2000 purported that automobile buyers pay more attention to cup-holders than the environmental impacts of different vehicles. There is little to no evidence that a majority of consumers will pay more than a token premium for clean and efficient vehicles. And aside from the uncertainties of green marketing, automobile companies face the initial challenge to convince even the most ecologically conscious consumers of the durability and reliability of new technologies. Marketers must trade-off size, weight, and power. They have to understand response to changes in refueling practices as they attempt to integrate these technologies into currently profitable product lines. These particular marketing challenges are new; the auto companies have little experience or market information with these values.

Even when knowledge barriers are overcome, these marketing challenges may require a large shift in marketing resources. Conventional marketing of vehicles is a large industry—$14 billion per year in the United States alone. Within the automobile companies, those groups charged with making and promoting clean and efficient vehicles are new and relatively small. They must compete within their own companies for resources to develop, produce, and advertise their products. Public agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who wish to promote clean and efficient vehicles typically do not have the resources and expertise to mount the long-term marketing effort required to transform the market.

Overcoming these challenges will require long-term, coordinated efforts among public interest groups, public agencies, and automobile makers. Towards this end, the Institute of Transportation Studies held a workshop entitled "Marketing Clean and Efficient Vehicles" on March 22 and 23, 2001 at the University of California, Davis. The Steven and Michele Kirsch Foundation and the United States Department of Energy funded this workshop. The workshop brought together representatives from federal, state, and local government agencies (e.g., federal DOE, DOT and EPA, the CEC and CARB, regional AQMDs, local cities and counties), environmental groups, proponents of electric transportation, marketing and communications experts, and representatives of two automobile companies. They came together to discuss prospects for, and barriers to, a marketing effort for clean and efficient vehicles. This workshop had two primary goals. One, to develop an action agenda for attendees to move forward in promoting cleaner, more efficient products in the market for light-duty vehicles. Two, to develop a research agenda to support the action agenda. An ancillary goal was to bring together representatives from a variety of institutions in an effort to identify common objectives and to explore potential mutual activities.

The workshop was organized in the following fashion:

Day One
  • A keynote speaker from the social marketing profession to describe the challenges and basics of marketing clean and efficient vehicles.
  • A panel of speakers who are marketing clean and efficient vehicles at the "community and customer" interface.
  • A panel of speakers who are organizing national marketing efforts.
Day Two
  • Presentations by the U.S. Department of Energy and the California Air Resources Board, who are supporting marketing programs for clean and efficient vehicles.
  • A behavioral research expert to speak on research methods.
  • Breakout sessions for attendees to develop action and research agendas.