Interview with Auto Alliance’s Charles Territo on EcoDrivingUSA

by Benjamin Jones on September 9, 2008

The other day I had the unique pleasure of talking with Charles Territo, representative of the Auto Alliance, about their new EcoDrivingUSA initiative. We’ve talked about EcoDriving here before, as well as some of the the results that have come out from companies like Ford. However, we’ve got a bit of an inside view here, and I feel like I learned quite a few interesting things. Rather than just through it at you, however, I will filter it through the EcoModder looking glass.

The Interview

Firstly, I should state publicly that Charles is a great guy and was very straightforward. I expected a lot of talk and a little bit more hot air, but unlike many interviews, I feel like I learned something. The main point here, I feel, is that the auto industry, which has typically blamed all its problems on yielding to the whims of consumers, is finally stepping up (at least to some degree) to say that consumers need to take action rather than passing the blame back to the automakers.

Now, this might sound like the same old set of excuses, but it’s really quite new for automakers to tell consumers to suck it up and take some responsibility. EcoDrivingUSA isn’t about saying “there’s nothing we can  do, you want SUVs and we sold them to you,” it’s about saying “you want good fuel economy,  and you don’t have to wait for the next miracle car to get it.” In fact, Charles told me, slightly reluctantly considering that his job is to sell cars, that for many people the best solution isn’t throwing some money on the table to buy a Prius, but to save gas in the near term by working to improve their fuel economy 20-30%, or more.

It’s not all about the new cars

As someone who drives a 1991 Honda, I’m very well aware of the fact that there are old cars still on the road. However, all the talk about green cars still seems to revolve around new hybrids and things coming somewhere “down the road.” Charles, however, was very quick to point out that there are currently 245 million cars on the road in the US alone, of which less than 1 million are hybrids. Sure, hybrids reduce fuel use big time, but it’s going to be decades before those 245 million cars go off the road, and are we supposed to give up on them until then?

However, and this is a big however, EcoDrivingUSA isn’t passive in the same way that more fuel efficient cars are. Ecodriving requires active participation and education on the part of drivers. This is where the EcoDrivingUSA initiative comes in, as the automakers try to bridge the gap between good intentions and action.


First, trip on over to the EcoDrivingUSA home page and see for yourself what the initiative is all about. From the site you can do things like play a practice ecodriving game, get some tips, and urge your states to take part in the campaign. So far only California and Colorado have signed up, but according to Charles the site has been getting a lot of attention so hopefully that will be more sooner rather than later.

However, participation in the EcoDrivingUSA initiative is sort of an ambiguous thing. While I echo the idea that leaving commitments open-ended is a good thing, I think there is the peril that, at least on a State level, will become a commitment in name only. Of course, it’s new, so we can’t say much about it right now, but there is a lot of promise that I hope is explored. Charles talked about individual states doing things ranging from educating police officers and bus drivers on ecodriving to offering clinics for citizens or corporate fleets.

Of course, if we really want anything to happen, it’s up to us to show that the interest is there. While representatives from the EcoDrivingUSA initiative are working hard to reach out to governors, in the end this initiative is for our benefit and the interest needs to come from us or nothing will happen. So, rather than sitting on our hands, I suggest we all at least consider sending some form mail to our governors.

Where did this initiative come from

Most of us probably though that EcoDrivingUSA has popped out at us from left field as a whiplash reponse to high gas prices (myself included), but I was surprised to learn this wasn’t the case. Many of the same manufacturers that are popular in the US have been doing the same or similar things in Europe and Japan for years. Gasoline has always been more expensive in those markets, and while the Auto Alliance has considered bringing ecodriving to the US for years, it’s not until not that consumer interest has been high enough to do so.

According to Charles, this is something that has come from the industry as a whole. It is no one person’s pet project or brainchild, but is a reflection of the current trend in the auto industry. This in itself it really encouraging. Even if this campaign completely fails, the idea behind it is not going away.

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