Clean energy initiatives banging up against cold harsh reality.

Inoperable Tesla Roadster being towed on a flatbed.Let’s face it: This hasn’t been a very good year for environmental and clean energy initiatives. First it was the Solyndra debacle — a saga that appears to be never-ending.

Next were the reports of “global warmists” getting caught fabricating documents in an attempt to deflect attention away from the steadily mounting data that’s making global warming no longer the “consensus view” in the scientific community.

And now we have a damning report about Tesla Motors’ vaunted Roadster electric vehicles, the darling of the clean car crowd.

It turns out that most of the Roadster models sold into the market suffer from severe design flaws that can essentially destroy the value of the car. If the vehicle’s battery becomes totally discharged, the car becomes completely immobile; the vehicle won’t start, and it can’t even be pushed down the street.

The only remedy for hapless Roadster owners? Tesla will cheerfully replace the battery system … for a cool $40,000. And the owners will have to pay the entire bill, too, because Tesla’s warranty policy does not cover car damage due to battery failure.

That is correct: For those who purchase a Roadster, when it comes to battery-related repairs there’s no warranty … no insurance available from outside carriers … and no payment plan.

[To be fair, Tesla does offer a $12,000 “battery replacement program” for cars whose batteries are more than seven years old. Of course, that figure doesn’t begin to cover the ~$32,000 battery replacement cost plus ~$8,000 in labor charges.]

Some auto industry wags have started to call the Roadster by another name – the “Brickster.” That’s because when the car is immobilized due to the death of the battery, it becomes completely inoperable — basically thousands of pounds of dead weight.

Owners who face the misfortune of a full battery discharge will come to find out that conventional towing won’t work because the car’s wheels won’t even turn. Instead, they’ll have to figure out a way to lift the entire vehicle onto a flatbed truck for towing and repair … in the process spending additional hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in towing fees.

And lest people think that the battery depletion occurs only because of stupidity on owners’ part in forgetting to plug their vehicle in … not so fast. In some instances cars were plugged in but the electrical charge wasn’t strong enough to charge the battery, perhaps because an extension cord was too long.

And considering the hefty ~$109,000 sticker price of a Roadster, it’s disappointing to discover that the vehicle’s battery can become fully discharged in as little as one week’s time. Good luck with that if you find yourself stuck somewhere that’s not in close proximity to an electrical power source.

And for people parking their Roadster at the airport lot during a family vacation … better just hope that the charging mechanism is working properly. Either that, or have someone check up on your vehicle several times during your trip, lest your vacation ends up costing you an additional forty-grand.

The Tesla cautionary tale is yet another example of the disconnect that exists between the promise of clean energy and the practical challenges of turning it into reality.

To begin with, at ~$109,000 a pop, how many consumers can even afford the cost of a Roadster? And how many people who could afford the vehicle will actually plan to sink their hard-earned cash into a product that possesses such fatal design flaws? Even gas pump prices of $7 or $8 per gallon won’t change that dynamic.

Tesla has sold only ~2,500 Roadsters so far. But its aggressive plans call for manufacturing ~25,000 of its new Model S Roadsters by the end of 2013.

The company’s optimistic forecasts are based on the belief that the Model S’s lower price tag of ~$50,000 will attract a new and larger crop of consumers.

But I wonder if that will actually happen. After all, the sticker price remains high … and the “battery bricking” issue will only become more apparent to consumers as more Roadster vehicles end up on the highway.

Time will tell whether the Tesla Roadster’s fortunes will soar to new heights … or sink under its own (dead)weight. Maybe it’s worth making a $40,000 bet on the outcome.

The “Greening” of Corporate America: Fact or Fad?

Considering the cold winter season we’re having – not to mention the equally cold economic and business environment – it’s not hard to imagine that the “corporate green” trend, so popular and prevalent only a year or two ago, might have stalled out in a major way.

Add to this the recent flap over climate change data fudging by some over-enthusiastic scientists, and it seems the perfect recipe for “corporate green” being a movement that’s on the wane.

But a just-completed market research study on “green” marketing provides interesting clues that this might not be the case. A group of U.S. commercial/industrial firms was surveyed for MediaBuyerPlanner, an arm of Watershed Publishing, to determine the extent of green marketing that is occurring. Among the key findings:

• ~70% of the firms surveyed consider themselves to be “somewhat green” or “very green” … but they suspect that customers think of them as less green than they actually are. Perhaps related to this concern, ~80% of the respondents expect to spend more on green marketing in the future – and that percentage approaches 90% among the manufacturers contained in the survey sample.

• For those who currently feature “green” marketing themes in their promotional efforts, the most popular media for that is using the web (~74% of respondents), followed by print promotion (~50%) and direct marketing (~40%).

• More than half of the companies reported that they are taking concrete steps to become “greener” in their operations. The most popular actions are conserving energy in their operations (~60%) and changing products to reflect greener characteristics, such as altering product ingredients, packaging, or intended uses (~54%).

And here’s another interesting survey finding: Quite a few respondents believe their green marketing efforts are more effective than their normal marketing efforts. (One third of them felt this way, compared to just 7% who felt regular marketing activities are more effective than their green messaging. The remaining 60% have not observed a measurable differentiation and/or did not feel knowledgeable enough to make a judgment.)

The survey also found that the commitment senior management makes to sustainability and other green principles in the form of specific actions is what comes first … followed later by “green” marketing efforts. In other words, there is a lower incidence of companies creating green marketing campaigns just out of a desire to appear “green.”

This suggests that green marketing depends first on company management buying into the ideological principals of environmentalism.

Certainly, the “soft economy” as well as the controversy of “soft science” could be acting as a damper on the potency of green messaging. But this field research suggests that “corporate green” continues to be a trend as opposed to just a passing fad … and that its significance as a marketing platform for companies will grow stronger in the coming years.