an a former copy machine repairman who happens to be friends with Bill Gates reinvigorate the general aviation industry by adopting the low-cost, mass production model used for personal computers? The world is about to find out.
Not long ago, it appeared the answer was a resounding “no.” Eclipse Aviation founder Vern Raburn gathered his team on a dismal Saturday morning in November 2002 to figure out whether the company had a future. Raburn, a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, was aiming to develop a six-seat jet that would sell for less than $1 million, bringing jet ownership within reach of thousands of new customers. But his penchant for risk had put Eclipse in big trouble.
The Albuquerque company, with funding support from NASA, had bet big on the development of an advanced, radically cheaper turbine engine. The technology wasn’t panning out in time, however, and there was no Plan B. Investors, lured by Raburn’s earlier successes at Microsoft, Lotus and Symantec, were running out of patience. Eclipse had two options: stick with the balky engine and pray for a miracle, or delay launch of the aircraft by several years and try to hang on while it found a new engine.
E85 is the designation for a fuel that combines 85 percent ethanol with 15 percent gasoline. E85-compatible—or flex-fuel—vehicles can run on E85 or regular unleaded gasoline. Because the alcohol in E85 can break down rubbers and plastics used in typical internal-combustion engine fuel systems, vehicles must be specially modified to allow its use. And to obtain maximum power from higher-octane E85, engines must be tuned to run on it, or be able to adjust timing and the air-to-fuel ratio when running on E85.
Supporters say the alternative fuel is environmentally friendly, reduces dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil, and takes advantage of America’s surplus of agricultural crops, like corn, that can be readily converted to ethanol for use in E85.
Critics note insufficient ethanol production facilities exist to significantly offset the nation’s appetite for fuel, that refineries aren’t adapted to producing E85, and that E85 is harder to transport because its corrosiveness means it cannot flow through existing gasoline pipelines. In addition, in most states E85 costs about the same as unleaded regular while costing the driver up to 15 percent in fuel-economy penalties because it does not pack the same explosive punch as gasoline.
But what if there’s a fatal flaw in this assumption? What if the transfer of marketing and advertising dollars online is not 1-to-1? What if the Internet has fundamentally lowered the marketing and advertising costs for big companies as it has for small companies? What if large companies can achieve the same sales objectives for a fraction of the cost of traditional mass media advertising?
All marketers know intuitively that mass media advertising is wildly inefficient — there’s the obsessively repeated Wanamaker quote about knowing that half of all advertising is wasted but not knowing which half. But the Internet may be doing more than make advertising more efficient and measureable, i.e. reducing wasted dollars — it may be fundamentally lowering its unit costs.