Posted on July 21, 2010 by Dennis Salazar

Hybrids Not Included – What Green Businesses Can Learn from Auto Makers

I could no longer put off a task that I enjoy almost as much as an IRS audit or root canal surgery – I had to shop for a new car. I know for some it is a fun occasion but for most of my life as a salesman, a car is a temporary business tool and shopping for one is the equivalent for me of a carpenter buying a new circular saw or a landscaper purchasing a new lawn mower.

Today’s Society and Market Pressures

In addition to truly hating the games and negotiating involved in the purchasing process, today we also have to deal with the questions of “hybrid or not” and “ foreign or domestic brand”? I realize the line on imported or domestic has become incredibly fuzzy with foreign car makers doing assembly in the US and we all know American car manufacturers are building their cars in other countries but we still tend to think of some brands as US made and others as imports.

Perhaps for us the question of hybrid or not, is a much more difficult decision because we own and operate a high profile green business and because we truly believe we should minimize our own carbon footprint if we are going to guide others in doing so. Late last year I wrote a blog post about my wife’s new Honda Insight and how much she enjoyed it and I admit we really appreciate the mid forties MPG the car delivers. We set out on our car buying trip, with a hybrid as the ideal, likely choice for us.

Auto Makers – To Green or Not to Green

Our first two stops were at Chevy and Ford dealers because my wife and I had already decided that our preference would be to buy a U.S. brand this time around. However, we were both shocked by the lack of inventory at the Chevy dealer we visited and NO hybrid cars to offer.

We went to the Ford dealer across the street and I immediately took a liking to a Ford Escape hybrid model. We were disappointed to determine that we probably knew as much about hybrid autos as the salesman who tried to help us. In addition, the floor model we were looking at was the only one they had in stock and the answer on anything we asked was NO! No deals, no financing, no incentives, no kidding. “We have a lot of great deals and promotions going but our hybrids are not included”.

When we stopped in at Honda and Toyota, we found the opposite – much to choose from, (literally) lots of inventory, great incentives and excellent financing deals. There seems to be a market war brewing between Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Insight, so American consumers stand to benefit from the competition. The salespeople we spoke to at both dealers were well trained and they quickly and correctly answered all of the questions we asked.

The End Result of the Experience

We did not make a final decision on Saturday and in Illinois all auto dealers are closed on Sunday so it forced us to sit back and process what we had learned. Even though we came home without a car, my wife and I agreed the day had resulted in some valuable lessons for any green business, like ours:

  • Know what you’re talking about in terms of sustainability. Buyers, especially B2B buyers, are better informed and educated. “Basic” product and environmental knowledge is no longer enough.
  • Consumers see and feel your commitment to sustainability and they quickly see through a green smoke screen or feeble attempt to be green. Do potential customers see us as sincere or just “me too” bandwagon jumpers?
  • If you truly want to sell green products in today’s economic climate, you have to incentivize the buyer.
  • What is your green competition doing and how do you compare? That market continues to grow more and more competitive with (thank goodness) no signs of letting up.
  • You can turn off even the most committed environmentally conscious buyer if you make it difficult to buy green.

Which make and model to buy remains a tough decision but we were grateful for the valuable lesson learned. Perhaps a zero percent financing or rebate deal on our Globe Guard 100% PCW boxes or our Globe Guard oxo-biodegradable bubble packaging would be a good idea?
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