Business Tools

Making Green Pay: Green Power and Horsepower Can Coexist

Panel at Race Goes Green Conference
From left, Chris Aylett, CEO, MIA; Chris Kersting, President and CEO, SEMA; Blake Fuller, Founder, Braille Battery; and Azhar Hussain, Founder, TTxGP discuss green business opportunities in the performance aftermarket during the recent The Race Goes Green conference in Long Beach, California.

Troy Lee Designs uses water-based paints to create hip motorcycle helmets. It uses recycled paper and rubber products. But Troy Lee wants to push the envelope more on greenness, just as he does with his designs. Both are good for business, he says.

“SEMA is all about being cool,” says Lee. “Being green will be a competitive edge.”

Lee was a panelist at “The Race Goes Green,” an April 16th conference presented by SEMA and the Motorsports Industry Association (MIA). The venue was the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach; the message was that green power and horsepower can coexist, and that there is opportunity for companies that can make green cool.

SEMA members need to start looking for products that pair performance and green if they want to be ready for the future, says John Waraniak, SEMA vice president of vehicle techology. “If you wait for everything to be figured out you will almost be too late.”

To be sure, environmental awareness doesn’t yet play a huge role in the enhanced performance equation. But technology is advancing in “big chunks,” SEMA President and CEO Chris Kersting told the attendees at the conference. “People need to be looking down the road.”

SEMA member Blake Fuller is already making green pay. His profitable company, Braille Battery, sells the world’s first carbon–fiber battery and uses recycled lead, plastic and stainless steel in its products. Most of Braille Battery’s growth has occurred in the last two years, says Fuller. He projects sales will double in 2009 compared to 2008 to $2 million.

Fuller knows green technology doesn’t sell in the performance world, however. Winning does. “The fact that technology wins will pull in young audiences,” he says. “The fact that it is green will be a byproduct.”

Braille teamed up with Nissan on the Nissan Altima Hot Rod Hybrid, which won its class at the Florida Electric Auto Association’s Beach Battery Burnout on February 21 and 22. “You have to go to where the competition is hardest for cutting–edge technology,” says Fuller.

The market for performance-enhancing green technology is potentially huge, says Waraniak. Some 40 million new drivers will hit the roads over the next 10 years. Many will buy alternative–fuel vehicles and want to trick them out, he says. An even bigger opportunity lies in the 225 million existing vehicles, says Waraniak. Those can be retrofitted with cool green technology.

Tricking out new and existing cars to be both green and cool is a small but growing part of his business, says Beau Boeckman, president of Galpin Auto Sports (GAS) LLC. SEMA member A123 System’s aftermarket division Hymotion provides lithium-ion batteries to GAS for Toyota Prius sedans, hot rods and musclecars, for example.

But faster growth will depend on more companies coming out with products that aren’t just green and cool, but are also affordable and beneficial, says Boeckman. “If it’s green and it actually performs well, that is what is going to sell,” he says.

The motorsports industry can help. Race technology migrates to cars, says Waraniak, and green racing “absolutely helps advance the green cause. It can make it hipper and make it more affordable.”

Says Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., the largest dealership group in the United States: “Racing is a platform that can play an incredible role in educating people that you can be green and still have performance.

Motorcycle racing is doing its part to prove green and speed can co-exist. Azhar Hussain is the founder of TTXGP Ltd., a zero carbon–emissions motorcycle race. Twenty–four teams are signed up for the race, which will be held on June 12 on the challenging Isle of Man Mountain Course in the United Kingdom. The bikes are powered by electric drivetrains. Hussain wants to take the technology into cars. “We think we can take on the combustion engine in five years,” he says.

Much of the technology on the bikes doesn’t come from U.S. companies who “aren’t focused on this area,” says Hussain. Batteries are from Korea and Taiwan; the control system is from China; the motors India. It could be an opportunity for U.S. firms.

But don’t forget the cool factor. Advises Jay Stemka, head of custom paint at Troy Lee: “Make it look really good, make it fast, and there will be buyers.”

—By Alysha Webb