SANTA MONICA, CA - Amidst the "green car" buzz at the 5th annual AltCar Expo & Conference, hosted by the City of Santa Monica, Calif., fleet professionals had the opportunity to participate in a fleet-focused program addressing alternative vehicle funding, technology and availability, and infrastructure.

The "Focus on Fleets" program took place Oct. 1, day one of the two-day AltCar Expo & Conference event, open to the general public. Program participants included members of industry associations such as the Municipal Equipment Maintenance Association (MEMA), NAFA Fleet Management Association (NAFA), and the American Public Works Association (APWA).

Welcoming program attendees was Rick Sikes, fleet superintendent for the City of Santa Monica, followed by keynote speaker Terry Tamminen, CEO of Seventh Generation Advisors and former secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Peter Ward, program manager for the California Energy Commission's (CEC) Alternative Fuel & Vehicle Technology Program, moderated an overview of the portfolio of alternative fuels and vehicle technologies available, as well as current funding incentives for these eco-friendly vehicles. The panel was comprised of representatives from alt-fuel organizations such as the California Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition, California Fuel Cell Partnership, Western Propane Association, Propel Fuels, and California Electric Transportation Coalition. (Click here for a list of panelists.)

Rick Teebay from the County of Los Angeles' Office of Sustainability acted as moderator for the next session, which addressed electric vehicles and the current availability of infrastructure. Panelists included representatives from ECOtality, Clean Fuel Connection, ClipperCreek, EV Connect, BMW's North American electric vehicle operations & strategy division, and CEC. (Click here for a list of panelists.)

In response to concerns about battery/travel limitations of electric vehicles, Ward from the CEC reassured attendees that "range anxiety" is being addressed by manufacturers and will not be as big of an issue as the public perceives it to be. Panelists agreed that in order for electric vehicles to be accepted by society, the individuals selected to drive the initial vehicles must have a "happy" experience to spread a "positive word of mouth."

Richard Steinberg of BMW referred to California as "Ground Zero for EV preparedness," explaining "the money and energy behind it [is] here." Approximately 1,300 car charging stations exist in California, with about two-thirds located in southern California, said Jordan Ramer from EV Connect.

According to Enid Joffee from Clean Fuel Connection, the largest barrier for the electric vehicle industry is the infrastructure process, noting that customers' inability to drive vehicles straight home from the dealer showroom will put a "significant damper" on their responsiveness. However, she pointed out, "We can do the infrastructure before the vehicles. We need to work with customers to find solutions now."

During lunch, 16 exhibitors at the conference provided brief presentations and invited attendees to review vehicles/products on display, with some available for test drives and product demonstrations.

Wrapping up the fleet sessions was a panel on shop safety and alt-fuel vehicles, moderated by Assistant Fire Marshall Eric Binder from Santa Monica Fire Department's hazardous materials division, who provided an overview of alt fuels used by his department, such as natural gas and hydrogen. The panel was comprised of representatives from the City of Los Angeles Department of General Services, RMS Life Safety, and consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA). (Click here for a list of panelists.) Panelists shared their experiences with safety in maintenance facilities.

With 17 years experience doing alt-fuel work, Erik Neandross, CEO of GNA, closed out the session with a refresher course on "Grant App 101" for modifying a maintenance shop for alternative-fuel vehicles.

"The good news," said Neandross, "is there is some [grant money]. The bad news is there's not a lot." He also pointed out grants take time, with "easily nine months [passing] before you can start spending money," highly encouraging fleets to take the timeline on projects into consideration when relying on grant funding.

While Neandross named the Air Quality Management District (AQMD) as the best resource for grant funding, he also told attendees to "go knock on doors. When looking for [grant] money, knock everywhere." Resources mentioned included Clean Cities, colleges, air quality agencies, energy agencies, dealers, industry organizations, and consultants.

Following this last session, participants were free to explore the expo floor and experience the Ride & Drives available outside in the parking lot of Santa Monica's Civic Auditorium. Vehicles available for test drive included the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan LEAF, and MINI E. Click here for the full ride & drive lineup.