Enterprise and FedEx: Bullish on electric cars

The company that owns more cars than any other in America is buying more electric vehicles.

Andy Taylor, who is chairman and chief executive officer of Enterprise Holdings, which owns the flagship Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand as well as Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental, said at a Washington energy forum today that the company is expanding its offerings of electric cars as fast as it can.

Andy Taylor of Enterprise Holdings

“We are finally getting the vehicles in some numbers,” Taylor said, at the National Summit on Energy Security, where he and Fred Smith, chairman, CEO and president of FedEx Corp.

Smith, too, made an impassioned plea to electrify the U.S.’s cars and light trucks. If the goal is to displace imported oil, Smith said, “there has never been a technology that offers this much opportunity,” he said. [click to continue...]

Must-see TV: What’s wrong with our energy policy?

Today, few words but a couple of videos instead, one from the left and one from the right (because we strive to be nonpartisan here at www.marcgunther.com).

The first, from the activist group Rainforest Action Network, is about the tragedy of mountaintop removal coal mining. RAN is running a campaign against banks that finance mountaintop removal, notably PNC, Citi and UBS. More here.

One thing I learned from the video: MTR coal accounts for just 7% of the coal burned in the U.S. Is this really necessary?

The second one-minute video comes from the conservative end of the political spectrum, namely, Fred Smith, the founder and CEO of FedEx. An advocate of electric cars, Smith is bothered by America’s dependence on imported oil.  He’s got a business agenda of course–high oil prices hurt FedEx–but the benefits of electrifying the U.S.’s transportation sector go well beyond cost to include reduced greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution and national security:

Thanks to Mitch Jackson for posting this on the FedEx blog. More info here. I’d encourage Fred Smith to talk to some of his Republican friends about why the threat of climate change is worth taking seriously.

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste

After a long day on the conference circuit, I can report that the mood among business people is simultaneously grim (because of the economy) and hopeful (about the Obama administration and his economic team.) Today, I heard from, among others, Hank Paulson, Tom Friedman, Madeline Albright, management guru Jim Collins, Fred Smith (founder and CEO of Fedex), Ed Rendell and Carol Browner—how that’s for name dropping?—and chatted informally with a bunch of senior business execs at the FORTUNE 500 Forum and an earlier lunch at the Center for American Progress. The theme that’s emerging is the headline of this blogpost: That a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. That quote, by the way, is variously attributed to economist Paul Romer, Merck’s CEO Dick Clark, Obama aide Rahm Emanuel and Eric Schmidt of Google and it has become the cliché of the moment.

Some highlights from the palaver:

Paulson, as usual, stuck to his script, even during an unscripted q-and-a with FORTUNE’s Andy Serwer. He sounded less optimistic than he has before—clearly, he won’t be around as Treasury Secretary for long enough to see his tireless efforts to stabilize the financial system lead to a broader economic recovery. His “crisis” argument is that we need to better regulate financial institutions like hedge funds and instruments like derivatives, and come up with ways that unwind non-bank institutions so that future bailouts can be avoided. Paulson said, “We need to get to a place in this country where no institution is too big or too interconnected to fail.” He was quite gracious in his praise for his successor, Tim Geithner.

Friedman did his “green is the new red white and blue” shtick very well—hey, he’s been on tour for three months, he said, for his new book, Hot Flat and Crowded (which I liked but not as much as I wanted to). The Timesman cautioned that the economic crisis ought not to be used for government spending programs, even “green” ones, unless they lay a foundation for future growth. “We are charging this bailout on our kids Visa cards,” he said. “We owe it to them to spend the money wisely.” Friedman also said he was “disgusted” by the performance of auto executives who came to Washington on private jets to ask for government help, without a turnaround plan. “The term bail more than bailout represents how we should be thinking about them,” Friedman said. Ouch.

Albright, interviewed at a FORTUNE dinner at the state department, said bluntly, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen the world in such a mess.” (“That’s a diplomatic term,” she added.) She identified Pakistan as the hotspot that most concerns her because it has nuclear weapons, extremist groups, poverty, corruption and a weak government. (I won’t bring that up tomorrow, when I’m having dinner at the Pakistan Embassy.) But she, too, sees hope amidst the gloom: “Barack Obama’s election is the most amazing thing that could have been done for Brand USA.”

Rendell, the Pennsylvania governor, had a “green” idea that was new to me: Permanently ground the NY-D.C. airplane shuttles and replaed them with speedier Amtrak service. (Planes use more fuel and generate more greenhouse gases than do trains.) A side benefit: “Getting rid of the shuttle would ease congestion at LaGuardia, Newark, Philadelphia and BWI,” he said. He also said he’d heard that you can microwave tires to generate energy, to which Browner replied: “Don’t try that at home.”

Collins delivered a great talk on managing through turbulence at the FORTUNE forum that I won’t try to summarize. He did speak, as he often does, about the importance of core values—to companies and to people. “Those who prevail have a set of values that they go back to, no matter what the world throws at them, and they are not negotiable,” he said. The irony is that those who understand that their values trump even the need to survive have the best chance of coming through hard times. A company’s values and purpose, Collins said, provide “the answer to the question, why is it important that we continued to fight.?” He quoted advice given to him after he lost an academic job by management guru Peter Drucker: “The question is not how do you survive? The question is, how do you make yourself useful?” His final words to the crowd: “Go out and make yourself useful.”

Finally, I moderated what I thought was a lively discussion about energy policy at the FORTUNE forum with FedEx’s Smith, former Bush administration energy official Andy Karsner, Glenn Prickett of Conservation International and Shell Oil president Marvin Odum. There was a surprising degree of unanimity around what the Obama energy policy should be: figure out a way to put a price on carbon emissions (most favored a carbon tax over a cap and trade system), set stricter national standards for building and appliance efficiency, provide longer-term tax breaks for renewable energy and electric cars, and invest more in basic research. It was interesting to me to hear that degree of support for government regulation from a panel that (I’m guessing) was made up of three Republicans and one Democrat. Smith was the only one of the group I’d never met before, and I was impressed; he’s really thoughtful about the question of what markets can do well, and what they can’t, and has devoted lots of his own time to studying energy issues. I’d quote some things he and the others said but I’ve yet to learn how to moderate a panel and take notes at the same time. Happily, no one said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.