One of the Greatest Government E-mails I've Ever Received
Updated below with reply from Department of Ecology
Last week, the State Department of Ecology announced a sole-source contract for $50,000 to study purchases of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). The announcement says the survey will...
describe new-car buyers’ valuation of Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) and ZEV-enabling technologies, describe why people hold these intentions, and characterize the antecedents to these intentions, e.g., awareness, knowledge, motivations, and barriers toward purchasing ZEVs.
Obviously, the staff at Ecology are looking for new ways to promote purchases of cars like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla.
Rather than spending $50,000, I suggested Ecology work with either Nissan or Tesla to get the information. After all, the companies certainly have studied what makes people buy their cars, the state should have a relationship with these companies since we already subsidize the purchase of the cars and the two companies have an obvious interest in promoting additional sales -- especially on the taxpayer dime.
Here is the e-mail I sent.
Has the Department of Ecology reached out to Nissan or Tesla to see if they would share information or market research related to these questions? These questions are a central piece of their market penetration strategy and they should have the information.
Here is the e-mail I received in response.
Thank you for your recent email to the Air Quality Program of the Department of Ecology in regards to the announcement of the Sole Source Contract regarding Zero Emission Vehicles.
We appreciate your suggestion. The Project Manager is willing to share your suggestion with UC Davis, the authors/designers of the survey and [the contractor] NESCAUM.
Feel free to contact me with any other comments.
I will translate: "We will ask the consultant if they would rather take the $50,000 or if they will pass along readily available data for free and save the taxpayers the $50,000." There are shorter possible translations.
So, does it matter that we are spending $50,000 instead of making the slightest effort to get the data for free?
According to the EPA, each car emits about 4.8 metric tons of CO2 annually. You can buy a permit to reduce a ton of carbon in California under their cap-and-trade system for $11.10. For $50,000, we could eliminate the CO2 from nearly 1,000 cars for a year.
Is this study worth the emissions of 1,000 cars?
Updated, Monday 10/21/13
The Department of Ecology responded to my question. Their reply is below. Two arguments stand out.
First, they say that Washington state is only 1.5% of the total U.S. car market, so companies might not have Washington-specific data. That may be true, but Washington state was one of the first places Nissan rolled out the Leaf, so we aren't just another state in the mix. They clearly had a reason to start here.
Second, they say that "historically" car companies have been reluctant to share information. That may be true, but the state never even asked. If the Department of Ecology said "we want to create public policies that will help you sell cars," Nissan or Tesla might have been willing to share. That question, however, was not asked until the state committed to spend $50,000.
The consultants argue the money will produce research that is more focused and scientific. This is probably true. Will it be worth $50,000 of value? That is more difficult to determine.
Here, however, are some ways we can decide. When the study is finished, what different policies will be offered? We already subsidize construction of car charging stations. We waive sales tax on electric cars. We encourage cities to buy electric cars. Not to mention federal subsidies and rebates. If the study suggests more of the same, have we received any benefit?
If the study finds that some of our current approaches make no difference, will the Department of Ecology recommend eliminating those policies? If not, are we really following the data?
Here is Ecology's reply in full.
Thanks for sharing your interest in this project.
The consultant will ask auto manufacturers to share their information and will use it, as well as supplement it with the data collected from our own study.
The reason for sponsoring our own study is to ensure that the survey (and interviews) are focused on specific questions that we have and provide the broadest consumer perspective:
- what are general consumers’ awareness and perception of zero emission vehicles,
- what do consumers perceive to be barriers to their purchase of a zero emission vehicle, and
- what public policies could be implemented to remove these barriers?
A primary goal of this project is to develop an objective understanding that will be useful to policymakers. In order to accomplish this, we need to know that the data is obtained scientifically, through transparent and standardized methods, and in a consistent manner across all demographics.
There’s no doubt that auto manufacturers perform (or purchase) their own market research. The majority of such research relates specifically to each auto manufacturers planned product offerings, their target market/demographics and market expansion. The findings, however, reflect each company’s priorities and interests. That’s not to say the information is not valuable, but historically when asked for information, manufacturers have been reluctant to share it or the information has been aggregated and fairly high-level, making it of limited value for further analysis. This is entirely understandable given manufacturers’ interests in protecting and expanding their respective market share and their concern for confidentiality when it comes to sharing such market research.
The Washington market is only about 1.5% of the US market and auto industry surveys are typically nation-wide in scope. It would be impossible to parse out Washington-specific data from these datasets, and most likely the data would be dominated by consumers in the populous urban area(s). We’re interested in data that is more complete, robust and specific to Washington to better inform policy decisions. Consequently, collecting various, Washington-specific data points from all auto manufacturers (or those willing to share it) in a piecemeal fashion would not provide a comprehensive picture of the current advanced vehicle market.
For these reasons, the findings of any auto manufacturer/industry research would not be interchangeable with the findings of the research we’re funding, nor would they be as valuable.