Dimy Doresca
April 4, 2016
Tom Snee

Alliant Energy wants more drivers to consider buying electric vehicles as a way to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions and is turning to business students at the University of Iowa and other Iowa universities for help.

The UI’s Tippie College of Business chapter of the American Marketing Association will host Alliant Energy’s University Challenge Case Competition with teams from four other Iowa schools, all considering new ways to address the Cedar Rapids–based utility’s goal. A panel of judges, mostly from Alliant Energy, will study the teams’ entries and may use the students’ findings as part of the company’s overall marketing plan to encourage broader use of EVs.

Besides the Tippie team, competitors represent the University of Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, Luther College in Decorah, and St. Ambrose University in Davenport. Alliant Energy is asking the teams to consider several factors that prevent electric vehicles from being more widely purchased, such as cost and availability, among other barriers. The students will also consider what factors motivated those drivers who have already purchased electric vehicles to do so.

“Competitions like this are not only great academic exercises, but they give the competitors practical experience and also help the state’s businesses grow.”

The students will use their findings to suggest strategies Alliant Energy can use to encourage more drivers within firm’s service area to drive electric vehicles.

Because electric vehicles generate fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than those with combustion engines, promoting their use is one way Alliant Energy can achieve its environmental goals and encourage greater energy efficiency among its customers. Though the EV industry has matured, and technologies have improved in recent years, Alliant Energy told the students that consumers have been slow to adopt these new vehicles because of concerns about driving range, price, and performance, especially in inclement weather.

“We’re excited to support the creativity of students through the University Challenge. This challenge highlights two things we are passionate about: finding better ways to use energy and the innovative process that gets us there,” says Doug Kopp, senior vice president of Alliant Energy and a competition judge. “We look forward to seeing what the students put together.”

The teams will present their proposals on April 9 in the John and Mary Pappajohn Business Building. The annual competition has generated ideas that were used by past corporate sponsors in their marketing plans, such as Staples’ and Kimberly-Clark’s use of student input to put together a plan that diverts more materials into the creation of recyclable paper products.

“Competitions like this are not only great academic exercises, but they give the competitors practical experience and also help the state’s businesses grow,” says Sarah Gardial, Tippie’s dean. “The University Challenge is particularly valuable because it encourages Iowans to engage in sustainable environmental practices.”

“The students are looking forward to the competition and using everything we’ve learned in class to help Alliant Energy,” says Cassandra Hansen, a UI junior majoring in marketing who is helping to organize the competition.