AFVI 2008: Fleet Day keynote session - Rahal racing, consumer shifts and more

Michael Williams is a bold man. It's not because he wears a bow tie and cowboy boots; it's because he will publicly say he's a good friend of the President. Not many people around who will admit to being tight with George Bush these days. Williams, who is the chairman of the Railroad Commission of Texas, revealed this and many other things during his speech to the AFVI Expo crowd during fleet day last week about the power of propane as an alternative fuel. Now, why would the Railroad Commission care about propane? Well, in Texas, the Railroad Commission doesn't regulate railroads (anymore). Instead, it regulates the "state's oil and gas industry, gas utilities, pipeline safety, safety in the liquefied petroleum gas industry, and the surface mining of coal and uranium." Therefore, if you're involved in LPG or other gases in the state, then the Railroad Commission is your agency. But, if you don't want to hear about propane from Williams, then skip ahead to about minute 10:30 in the audio clip below and you'll hear a little joke about the AFVI and Moses.

Listen to Williams (15 min):

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As part of the Fleet Day opening session, there were many keynote speakers who discussed alternative fuels for fleets. Read about and listen to them after the break.

Ed LaRocque, Toyoto Motor Sales USA, Inc's National Manager for Advanced Technology Vehicles, spoke for a few minutes about not only his company's shift to alternative fuels, but also the way that the overall culture has changed. To figure out how to best sell vehicles in this new consumer environment, LaRocque said that Toyota is working on "all areas of sustainable mobility" and is spending a million dollars an hour on R&D. Still, we have to wait a bit until we get that PHEV Prius. LaRocque confirmed that a new clean diesel V8 and E85 capability will be coming to the Tundra and Sequoia.

Listen to Ed here (6 min):

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As far as understanding the consumer's mind with all of these new cleaner mobility options goes, one of the best sources of information comes from J.D. Power & Associates. For the last two years, the group has been conducting an alternative powertrain study. Mike Marshall, the director of Automotive Engineering Technologies at J.D. Power, gave a detailed presentation about this study and revealed a lot of interesting details about how new car buyers think when they weigh their options on the lot - or, more correctly, during the 18 average months between the first "I need a new car" thought to when they pull the trigger. One such item: more new car buyers are adjusting their expectations downward for what an alternative-fueled car will get them, but haven't made as reasonable a drop in the amount they're willing to pay. In short, people still want a lot for their money, and a lot of the options today don't deliver. Marshall gives the details in the clip below.

Listen to Marshall (25 min):

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Finally, the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council brought along Bobby Rahal, head of Rahal Letterman Racing. Rahal was a big force in moving the Indy Racing League to using ethanol (first E10 and now E100). He called 2007 the year that motorsports finally went green, because aside from the shift from E10 to E100 in IRL, the American Le Mans series went to E10 as well and there were other moves away from pure petroleum fuel. Rahal called the AFVI group part of a "movement," and said that the ingenuity and persistence of the alt-fuel proponents gathered in Vegas would go a long way to alleviating the problems we all face. After his speech, Rahal and Ed Begley, Jr. cut the ribbon for the Ride & Drive.

Listen here (17 min):

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A big part of the Fleet Day session was set aside for a chat with energy billionaire T. Boone Pickens. His enlightening talk will be the subject of a post that's coming tomorrow.

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