Columbia to buy hybrid vehicle

The city will add a hybrid car to its fleet in fiscal 2003-04 and could buy two more later.
Thursday, July 31, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:00 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chris Hayday has been driving a hybrid Toyota Prius for two years. And he is more than happy to have traded in his Ford Explorer for the Prius, which he says drives like any regular car “with the shining benefit coming from its fuel economy.” His fuel bill has dropped by more than half.

As a member of the Sierra Club, which has been promoting hybrid cars for energy and environmental reasons, Hayday thinks any city having a large fleet of vehicles should go for hybrid models as a way to save taxpayers’ money. “We are filling the city’s costs for running the vehicles,” he said.

Columbia city government is gearing up to take a test drive. The budget for fiscal 2003-04, which City Manager Ray Beck is scheduled to release this morning, includes funds to add one hybrid car to the city’s fleet of 1,000 vehicles, including 83 sedans. The city is also considering the purchase of two more hybrid cars in the following budget year.

“Our budget proposal for a hybrid car conveys a message that we are environmental friendly,” Beck said. The city plans to start with one hybrid car — replacing a Public Works Department sedan that was wrecked — to see how it performs compared to the existing fleet.

“We are buying just one car to set it up as a pilot project,” Beck said. “We shall see and monitor how much more efficient it is, how much reduction of pollutant emissions takes place and how long it is supposed to last.”

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “hybrid electric vehicles combine the internal combustion engine of a conventional vehicle with the battery and electric motor of an electric vehicle, resulting in twice the fuel economy of conventional vehicles.” The two power sources, when combined, provide hybrid cars the rapid re-fueling benefits of conventional vehicles. Also, there are lower emissions.

According to J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing information and research firm in Agoura Hills, Calif., 38,000 hybrid cars were sold in 2002 and the number was expected to rise to 54,000 this year and almost double that figure in 2004.

“There has been a huge response in favor of Toyota’s Prius model,” said Joe Haner, a sales representative with Joe Machens Toyota-BMW-Isuzu. “People just love it.” Haner said his business sells one to two a month at a base price of $19,995. Albert Buick-Honda-GMC Truck offers two models of hybrid Hondas, the Insight and Civic.

John Miles of the Energy and Environment Commission, an advisory board to the Columbia City Council, said acquiring a hybrid car is part symbolic and a way for the city to send a message that “it is aware of and utilizing environmentally friendly technology.” In addition, Miles said, there are practical aspects such as higher fuel efficiency.

Eric Evans, fleet operations superintendent for the city, sees this first move as a continued push by the city to be progressive. “I support the purchase for reasons of enhanced fuel economy,” Evans said. “We have to wait, see and compare with our existing vehicles, and I don’t know why it won’t succeed.”

He pointed out, however, that all vehicles in the market are compact cars and that the city also relies on pickups and sport utility vehicles. “Once the manufacturers come up with a wider range of hybrid vehicles, including pickups and SUVs, it would give us a greater opportunity to buy and use those vehicles,” Evans said.

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