As of press time, the economy was sliding further, along with gasoline prices. One might think this would tie the knot on the green movement, as happened in the mid-1990s when federal fleet requirements softened and buyers fell in love with trucks and SUVs.
We know that the green trend is headed somewhere as yet undefined, but for now, it keeps a significant presence in the chauffeured transportation industry. A key reason why: U.S. dependence on foreign oil motivates transportation companies and their corporate accounts to focus on alternatives.
“You won’t see green vehicles going away soon,” says Ben Bloch, a managing partner for Econation, a chauffeured transportation company based in Los Angeles and San Diego. “We’ve really been lucky to grow in a tough time.”
The company launched in January 2008 and is run by three managing partners with a background in management consulting. After serving corporate clients involved in environmentally friendly building projects, and also through hearing concern about transportation options, Bloch and his associates realized that starting up a green-fleet chauffeured service provider would be a timely decision. Bloch says they spent time doing market research and talking to operators at PlanetTran and Santa Monica, Calif.-based ECOLIMO, and interviewing corporate decision makers on what they really want in ground transportation.
An All-Green Fleet
Econation started up in Los Angeles with 10 cars, seven office staff, and a 24/7 operation. In the past year, the company grew quickly, established affiliate partnerships with New York-based operators, and opened a small satellite office in San Diego. The company now has a 22-vehicle all-green fleet made up of natural-gas-powered Town Cars, Toyota Priuses, hybrid GMC Yukons, Mercedes E320 Bluetecs, and CNG- and biodiesel-fueled buses and vans, managing partner James Caulkins says.
If you visit the company’s website (www.econation.com), you’ll see the “In the News” section with web-publication articles mentioning Econation. One of these stories helped get the word out on the new company, Bloch says. “Daily Candy,” an online lifestyle publication covering major U.S. cities, gave a positive nod to Econation; this came from an editor whom Bloch knew years before, and a car manufacturer client who put them in touch again. “This led to several corporate inquiries,” Bloch says.
Many Econation clients work in the entertainment industry and travel regularly coast to coast, which is why creating affiliate relationships was a necessary part of the company’s expansion. These affiliate relationships allow the company to now serve 10 major U.S. markets and three well-traveled international markets. Clients include executives from CBS, Sony, Fox network, Herbalife, producers of the “Entourage” and “Californication” TV shows, and attorneys from L.A. law firms.
Choosing the name Econation, starting up a memorable website (featuring the slogan “Driven to Make a Difference”), and building an all-green fleet were essential parts of building relationships with corporate decision makers. “Large corporate accounts want to be associated with companies that are standing out,” Caulkins says.
Tapping into what corporate clients really want is at the heart of building a strong operation and the right fleet. “You have to sell effectively,” Bloch says. “It’s the ability to create relationships with customers, provide good service, and clean cars. Clients like the newest and best green cars, but only those cars that they really want to ride in. You can’t sell a novelty.”
For now, Econation focuses on growing and remaining profitable in a tough economic climate. Long term, the company wants to expand its market identity around the world. “We want to be considered the first global green car service provider,” Bloch says.