FCA, Toyota Go to Bat for Embattled Bats

It’s an unspoken rule of journalism that three of anything makes a trend. However, I’m nothing if not a rule-breaker, so I’m going to tell you about two automakers who are doing something unique for the environment. I think it’s interesting enough to sidestep the rule of three. 

Last week, folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sent me a link to a blog detailing the automaker’s efforts to help conserve bats. It’s coincidental because it was Chrysler that abetted my odd affection for the little critters during a ride-and-drive media event in Austin, Texas, where I saw an awe-inspiring huge colony of them emerge from the under the Congress Avenue bridge. It was 1994 and the product of the hour was the first- generation Dodge/Plymouth Neon. The compact started a trend with its “cab-forward” design and cute headlights. 

The car looked like it was smiling and happy, and that was the point; indeed, its tagline was a simple “Hi.” It went on to be enormously popular over its production life, which ended with model year 2005.

Bats are not enormously popular. Actually, many people are very afraid of them. A PR friend woke up to a bat in his house several months ago and managed to beat it to death, which upset me. I wished he would have opened his doors and windows and waited for the bat to leave on its own. Then his doctor told him because he had been asleep with a bat in the room, he had to go through a series of shots to guard against rabies. 

However, few bats carry rabies and their bad PR overshadows the ton of good for the environment. According to the FCA blog, “Bats are more than the scary creatures of the night that we all portray them to be,” said Rob Mies, founder and executive director of the Organization for Bat Conservation. “Our furry, flighted friends have quite a lot of positive effects on the world – from the billions of dollars they save us in pesticides to natural pollination and seed spreading – but they’re battling extinction around the world as they’re being forced from their homes.”

Earlier this week, I received an amusing press release from Toyota about their bat-conservation efforts.  

“OK, say you’re a bat and you’re in the vicinity of Toyota’s powertrain plant in Buffalo, West Virginia. It’s almost Halloween and contrary to popular folklore, you are NOT getting psyched to go all ’vampire’ on everybody.  NO!  You’re actually hunting for a place to hang out, no bat-pun intended,” the press release reads. 

“For the Bats of Buffalo, Toyota has a treat this Halloween season: Bat boxes!  Little wooden bungalows where these mosquito-eating machines can snuggle in for a spell and hopefully take up residence during the warmer months to help control the insect population,” the release continues.

“The bat houses are just one part of our biodiversity plan here at the West Virginia plant,” says Marc Crouse, specialist and resident Batman. “Visitors to our one-mile green loop can stroll through to see the bat boxes and appreciate other aspects of biodiversity.” Those other aspects include native plants and a pit stop for monarch butterflies during their annual migration. “I like to tell people that being a mobility company means more than building cars, trucks and engines and transmissions. We also want to contribute to the mobility of the critters that share our West Virginia home.”

In addition to the being a great place for a bat to hang around, Toyota’s bat box project has been nominated for a Wildlife Habitat Council Award. This year’s winners will be announced at the council’s annual meeting later this week in Baltimore.  

Fiat Chrysler’s bat project is similar. 

“It may come as a surprise, but we go batty over bats at our FCA US Auburn Hills, Mich., complex and it’s not just during Halloween. Scattered across the grounds are 10 bat houses, each (with) the potential to shelter 100-300 bats and their young,” according to the blog post. 

Over the past three years, FCA has supported bat conservation efforts across its 504-acre wetlands site roughly 30 miles north of Detroit. Employees build or donate bat houses and install them in ideal bat habitat areas.

“When the Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center was first built, a master plan was developed to ensure the preservation of the natural environment where the complex is located,” said David Jump, environmental specialist at FCA. “The bat houses project is aligned with that plan, and is one of several that our team is working on to provide food, water, cover and shelter for all the wildlife here.”

The FCA project also supports the Wildlife at Work certification granted to the Auburn Hills complex by the Wildlife Habitat Council. The Wildlife at Work program provides a structure for corporate-driven cooperative efforts between management, employees and community members to create, conserve and restore wildlife habitats on corporate property.

It’s nice to see automakers giving back to the environment in such a practical, tangible way. Who knows, maybe a third automaker will be inspired to jump on the bat-preservation bandwagon led by FCA and Toyota and complete the rule of three.

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