Green Fleet

Illinois Expects Fuel Cost Savings with Electric Vehicles

March 2013, Government Fleet - Feature

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

At A Glance
The State of Illinois is investing in battery-electric vehicles with:
  • The purchase of 15 Mitsubishi i-MiEV cars.
  • The planned purchase of additional battery-electric vehicles.
  • The installation of 33 Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations.

In summer 2012, the State of Illinois received its first battery-electric vehicles — 15 Mitsubishi i-MiEV cars — which were distributed in strategic locations throughout the State. With successful implementation of these vehicles in place, the State may expand its electric vehicle (EV) fleet with the purchase of additional electric vehicles.

Will Walker, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS), which oversees the Fleet Division, said, “With the high cost of fuel these days, we wanted to look at alternate and greener forms of transportation…We want to embrace new technology, and we think government can lead the way in new technology.”

According to Fleet Manager Ken Miller, Illinois has five EVs in Chicago, five in Springfield, and five scattered across the State.

“We gave them to agencies with large campuses they need to cover,” such as the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections, he explained. “It’s a great application for them. They like it; they’re driving around the campuses. Every couple of days, they can just plug them in.”

While official numbers aren’t yet in, Miller calculates that since vehicles are replacing gasoline-powered cars traveling approximately 12,000 miles per year and averaging 20 mpg, each EV on the road amounts to a savings of 600 gallons of gasoline per year.

The State purchased the initial 15 vehicles using an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant, which covered the cost of the vehicles as well as the purchase of 25 hybrid vehicles and 33 Level 2 charging stations.

Changing Driver Mentality

CMS staff has kept in close contact with EV drivers to get driver input on the cars and to see how they’re using them. Walker said that while some are slower to embrace change, others “are very excited about the car. They enjoy driving it, they like the different technology, and they think it’s kind of fun.”

To make the vehicles more accessible to the motor pool drivers who use them, CMS held classes about the EVs that include information about how an electric vehicle works and how it runs, also covering range anxiety and fueling options.

“[Drivers] need to plan their trips a little ahead of time so they know how many miles they’re going to go, or if they’re going to be in a meeting a long time, can they plug in?” Walker explained. “It requires a different mindset.”

The State is currently in the process of installing 33 electric vehicle charging stations with the same grant funding used to purchase the cars.


Photo Courtesy of State of Illinois
The State is currently in the process of installing 33 electric vehicle charging stations with the same grant funding used to purchase the cars. Photo Courtesy of State of Illinois

However, Walker said it’s no different than it’s been in the past, pointing to fueling gasoline-powered vehicles in the 1960s and ’70s—“Gas stations weren’t open [all the time]. You had to plan a little bit; you had to think about your travel.” He added, “As new technology comes out, people have to again plan on how to best use their EV while infrastructure is put in place for the charging stations.”

Additionally, to provide assistance to the drivers who would be using the vehicles infrequently, Illinois CMS created laminated, quick fact sheets for every vehicle, with details on vehicle use. They include basic instructions on how to start the car and include pictures of what certain lights and icons mean in the vehicle interior. For example, drivers might be used to hearing the hum of an engine as an indicator that the car is on, whereas EVs have different indicators.

CMS provides  a map of quick chargers in all Chicago-area EVs so drivers can take advantage of the already-established charging infrastructure in Chicago.

For vehicles outside Chicago, CMS is in the process of installing 33 Level 2 charging stations, which will speed up charging to four to six hours. Walker said CMS is focusing these stations around the suburbs of Chicago, and in Springfield and the surrounding suburbs.

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