Alternative fuel vehicle day to reach millions

By Kris Bevill | September 23, 2010
Posted Oct. 8, 2010

Oct. 15 marks the fifth biennial National Alternative Fuels Vehicle Day Odyssey, a nationwide event created in 2002 by the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium to increase public awareness of domestic alternative fuels. More than 125 events in 40 states and Canada are planned at fueling stations and other locations to promote alternative fuels and educate consumers on the benefits of driving alternative fuels vehicles. Organizers expect to reach up to 75 million people through event attendance and media coverage.

NAFTC executive director Al Ebron said the Odyssey events have continuously expanded since the inaugural events were held in 2002. That year, an estimated 17,000 attendees participated in various events throughout the country. The most recent Odyssey in 2008 attracted more than 200,000 attendees to more than 90 events across the country. This year will include more events and potentially millions of consumers, though Ebron admits that of course not all of the people reached by these events will make changes to their fuel consumption. "Even if you reach that many people but only some of them hear the message, that's still millions of people that are learning about these cleaner technologies and new technologies that can reduce our dependence on petroleum and help clean our air."

The 2010 Odyssey is being partially funded by a grant from the U.S. DOE, made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and the Clean Cities Learning Program. National sponsors include Toyota, Honda, power management company Eaton Corp., and electric car manufacturer Think. All types of alternative fuels and vehicles will be represented at various events, including electric, natural gas, hydrogen, biodiesel and E85. Event agendas are unique to each site, but each event must comply with the Odyssey's overall goal to promote alternative fuel technologies.

Many events will include reduced prices at filling stations for alternative fuels such as E85. Propel Inc., for example, will offer $1 off per gallon on both E85 and biodiesel at five of its San Francisco Bay area fueling stations as part of its push to increase consumer awareness. "The quickest and most efficient way to decrease our dependence on petroleum is to get consumers and businesses who already own flex fuel and diesel cars to fuel up with domestically produced renewable fuels," CEO Matt Horton said. "This event gives Bay Area drivers a chance to try renewable fuels at prices we haven't seen in a decade."

Propel currently offers E85 at 13 of its 20 fueling stations in various locations throughout California. Chris LaPlante, Propel's director of marketing, said the company is planning a build out that will increase its number of E85/biodiesel stations to 75 within the next year. The company plans to install a total of 200 combined E85/biodiesel fueling stations in California and other West Coast locations within the next two years.

LaPlante said Propel's decision to expand was based on its experienced year-over-year increase in demand for alternative fuels as more consumers become aware of the benefits of using them. "Consumers in California have largely not had a choice to use renewables," he said. "California is a bit behind other states in offering these fuels, but we're finding that when you offer the customers are showing up in big ways. We're also getting support by state vehicles—they're encouraged to use the fuel—as well as the federal vehicles that are mandated to use alternative fuel. The postal service is one of our best customers."

Ebron said that while it's hard to quantify results from Odyssey, he's received first-hand testimonials that attendance at Odyssey events has translated into fleet managers making the switch to renewable fuels and, in some cases, legislation being drafted to encourage greater use of renewables. "We've seen results," he said. "Odyssey will touch hundreds of organizations across the country. It really has had a major impact from the consumer to the fleet manager to the government official."

Odyssey's audience has also been expanded this year to include secondary schools. "Today's secondary school students may become tomorrow's engineers, technicians and consumers of alternative fuel vehicles," Ebron said. "It is important secondary school students learn about the benefits and challenges of alternative fuel and advanced electric drive vehicles."

A kick-off event for this year's Odyssey will be held Oct. 14 at Union Square in New York City. To view a list of other event locations, visit the Odyssey website.