Panelists and audience members generated clean energy in abundance — as in, conversational friction — during an LCT East seminar on how corporations are mandating greener ground transportation.

How to handle corporate clients seeking “green” programs from chauffeured transportation companies is a hot industry topic. The panelists proved that point: Dav El Chauffeured Transportation CEO Scott Solombrino led a panel featuring Rosedale Livery President Craig McCutcheon, president of Toronto-based Rosedale Livery Ltd., BostonCoach COO Mark Munoz, and Elliott Eichenholz, fleet account executive with GM Fleet & Commercial.


GM is rolling out several vehicle options that may help the industry evolve, such as the hybrid Chevrolet Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade. Dav El will be fleeting up with more hybrids soon and appreciates the moves made by GM, Solombrino said. “We have to push manufacturers to build products large enough for luxury clients — not the Prius,” Solmobrino said. “GM has the most options now.”


Eichenholz presented a slide show on upcoming GM products including the Saturn Vue hybrid, coming out in January, and the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car with a lithium ion battery, which comes out in 2010. The hydrogen fuel cell Chevrolet Equinox also gets much media attention and is being tested in the New York tri-state area by 65 car drivers, he said.


It’s About a Company Green Plan


While panelists Craig McCutcheon and Mark Munoz agree with Solmobrino on the pressing importance of greening up vehicles, they disagreed that fleets should be the primary focus of creating effective company green plans. “You have to be careful not to be forced into vehicles you can’t afford,” McCutcheon said. “You can’t change the fleet overnight. You have to work on reduction as a whole.”


Munoz described it as a “phased approach.” Manufacturers are phasing in vehicle options, but it’s going to take a while. “Demand from clients is ahead of supply,” he said. “During the RFP (request for proposals) process, they want to know what you’re doing about green issues that you can tell them about.”


This boils down to the energy that you use in your office building, recycling, and alternative fleet fuels — all the programs you can tell your clients about, Munoz said. “We’re using biodiesel in buses in the Boston area, and also offering hybrids to clients.”


Steve Levin of Sterling Rose Limousine in Temecula, Calif., asked the panelists what to do about buying a $60,000 SUV hybrid instead of a $40,000 Town Car. “Will clients pay a premium?” he asked.


“I have told clients they have to pay more,” Solombrino said. “We’re going to be the greenest company in the country, but you have to pay premium. In three years, hybrids will be the same price as other models.”


McCutcheon is concerned about increasing charges on green cars, and whether operators can make this happen. “I brought in one hybrid at first and convinced corporate clients to pay more to test it,” he said. “But a five-vehicle fleet with one hybrid may be hurt — might not be able to charge enough.”


BostonCoach has found that clients aren’t willing to pay more for hybrids, Munoz said. The company eliminated fuel surcharges for awhile on hybrids to offset higher rates than other sedans, but clients didn’t book many of them, and the company dropped this incentive program.


The panelists agreed that hybrids perform well during idle times when they have no gasoline emissions. And like other operators in the audience and out in the industry, they’re not sure how long it will take for viable, affordable options to hit the market. “Hydrogen is the big step forward,” Munoz said, “but who knows how long it will take.”


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