Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Hybrid Phenomenon PREFACE


The first of three ideas that led to this culminating experience came out of passion and necessity. In 2003, I was faced with a 350 mile move. Somehow, I was going to have to make a 700 mile commute to try and finish grad school. While shopping for a high mileage car, I was immediately drawn to the first hybrid released in America. The Honda Insight was rated at 70 MPG and got better mileage than the Prius at highway speeds.
Hybrid curiosity got me interested in what else was happening in the auto industry. After decades of working on cars and several years of entrepreneurial experience and studies, I realized right away that the hybrid was connected to a larger opportunity. It was preceded by what Dr. McCline, professor of entrepreneurship at San Francisco State University (SFSU), called the three Cs: change, chaos and confusion.
I felt that the industry was ready for new players and technologies. In the months before the move from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I approached several professors with the first idea for my master’s project: a business plan to start a hybrid automaker. Dr. Wardlow, a professor of marketing at SFSU, laughed at the idea due to capital costs. But he referred me to Dr. Silverman, professor of sustainable business at SFSU.
At our first meeting, we agreed that a business plan was not feasible. As a prolific case study author, Dr. Silverman helped develop the second idea for this project with a new outline. Over the next year, the writing evolved from business plan into case study targeted at business strategy textbooks. Isolated in Los Angeles, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Little did I know, case studies weren’t supposed to dive as deep as I did?
In 2004, linking oil, the environment and hybrid consumers sounded feasible, but too much changed in 2005. Detroit hit a brick wall and I moved back to San Francisco and divorced my car and truck. I found new relevant information almost daily, and couldn’t quite decide on when and where to end the project. Another deadline came and went, so I put the project on the shelf for a few months.
I came back to the project in late 2006. The political and business climate had changed. The talk had gone from hydrogen economy to corn and then to plug-in hybrids. I had read thousands of pages of material and rewrote many drafts because of so much changing information. The project had gone beyond the scope of a case study.
At the same time, I had to replace my advisor because he was on a one year sabbatical. I called some professors that were also hybrid drivers. Dr. Carr-Ruffino, author and management professor at SFSU, offered to take over the project right away. With three months to go, we quickly agreed to restructure the huge amount of material into a report about the hybrid phenomenon. Her idea that the culminating experience could become a book changed everything. I started thinking about hybrid stories and weaved some into the chapters that Dr. Silverman outlined a year earlier. The research report was reborn for the third and last time as The Hybrid Phenomenon.
Over the last three months, the project really took off. It was so rewarding to add real life quotes to the data I had collected. With a fresh set of interview questions for hybrid owners, I walked the streets of San Francisco. I’ve been lucky enough on some days to be able to see 20 hybrids and drivers. I must have seen thousands of bumper stickers, license plate frames, colors, types of cars and drivers. During a year of living without a car, I watched the hybrid go from alternative to mainstream.
I’ve also driven several Ford, Toyota and Honda hybrids through family, friends, rentals and events. I’ve read as much as I could about hybrids. I’ve attended green car events (see Appendix A) and talked to dozens of people about hybrids.
I’ve always been fascinated with cars. As a young five-year-old in the 60s, I rode the streets of San Francisco on my own hybrid: a plastic big wheel retrofitted with a solid steel tricycle front wheel. My father had engineered the fastest big wheel around, and by junior high, I graduated to mini-bikes, go-karts and dirt bikes.
In high school, my first job was pumping gas at the closest station to Sears Point, now known as Infineon Raceway. I still remember drag nights and helping kids fill up their muscle cars on leaded premium. While I tinkered on my first car, I never thought that I would have the chance to drive over 50 different models over the next 20 years. In the 80’s gas was cheap and low mileage muscle cars were cool. It was an innocent time before energy, the environment and transportation became major global issues. Horsepower and the open road drove the guilt free American car dream.
Things have changed. Writing this project has given me new hopes for the future. My business hope is that engineers, marketers, accountants and managers work more closely together to develop ideas that can help consumers make greener choices. My strategic hope is that CEOs will grow confident in greener strategies and sustainable business practices. My personal hope is to land a job related to this research and publish.

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Portland, OR, United States
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