Hybrids – Vehicles, Battery & Hydraulic Technology

Calif. County Embraces Hybrids for Higher MPG

July 2014, Government Fleet - WebXclusive

by Thi Dao - Also by this author

In addition to greening its vehicles, the county installed solar panels covering a portion of its lot, which was entirely paid for with a federal energy efficiency grant. Completed in 2011, the solar panels supply one-third of the fleet facility's electricity use.
In addition to greening its vehicles, the county installed solar panels covering a portion of its lot, which was entirely paid for with a federal energy efficiency grant. Completed in 2011, the solar panels supply one-third of the fleet facility's electricity use.

Riverside County in Southern California experiences not only its own pollution but the smog that blows in from the Los Angeles area. In response, the county's Fleet & Purchasing Department has been working to reduce emissions from its own vehicles.

The department has been headed by Director Robert Howdyshell since 1999, overseeing 4,200 vehicles, or about 75% of the entire county fleet. Howdyshell, who retires this week, has emphasized fleet greening in recent years, and the fleet's efforts have ranged from an minimum average mile per gallon threshold for vehicle purchases, a successful and growing hybrid vehicle fleet, a pilot of electric vehicles, and a proposal to use propane autogas as its next alternative fuel.

Building on the Success of Hybrid Vehicles

Back in 2001, the county purchased two Toyota Prius vehicles. With an average fuel economy of at least 45 mpg, the county has grown the hybrid fleet considerably.

"It really has been the biggest bang for the buck for us," said Doug Baracz, deputy director of fleet services. "The Prius has been relatively maintenance-free, other than preventive maintenance."

While most of the hybrid fleet still consists of Priuses, the fleet is making a concerted move to the Ford Fusion hybrid because of Ford's volume discounts.

"We just bought 100 Fusion hybrids, and this quarter we're going to buy another 150, all for one department," Baracz said. "The acceptance is there, and when you're looking at what you're getting for the dollar, it's really difficult not to buy a hybrid."

Another way the county is focusing on fuel savings and emissions reduction is a minimum average 25-mpg policy for new vehicles as part of its 2008 fleet greening plan. The department has been able to reach this goal through its use of hybrid vehicles and because the vast majority of its fleet are light-duty vehicles.

"We're in the process of upgrading [the policy], tightening it up. We're working with the executive office and county council on improving that even further now," Howdyshell said.

Transitioning to Alternative Fuels

In addition to hybrid vehicles, the county is branching into all-electric vehicles with the lease of three Nissan LEAFs and using $25,000 in grant funding to install five Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations.

Although county employees' trips can cover long distances (the county is wide, stretching 180 miles east to west), fleet staff have found a use for the EVs.

"We've identified short motor pool trips coming out of Indio to other destinations in the Coachella Valley," said Ted Trujillo, fleet operations manager. "He said the fleet went with the LEAFs because Nissan has an attractive lease program, where the county is paying $3,000 down and $200 per month for three years. Trujillo expects this cost will be covered with revenue from the motor pool.

The city expects the vehicles to arrive in about three months. They'll have to train motor pool users about range, which staff members estimated could be 50 miles to cover use of air conditioning.

"I think it will be successful, and certainly we'll be trying to deploy it at our other locations if it's successful," Howdyshell said.

Pictured left to right are Doug Baracz, deputy director of fleet and purchasing; Ted Trujillo, fleet operations manager; Robert Howdyshell, director of purchasing and fleet services; and Lisa Brandl, incoming director of purchasing and fleet services.
Pictured left to right are Doug Baracz, deputy director of fleet and purchasing; Ted Trujillo, fleet operations manager; Robert Howdyshell, director of purchasing and fleet services; and Lisa Brandl, incoming director of purchasing and fleet services.

While the fleet does a few CNG vehicles that fuel at public-access stations, the fleet department is headed in another direction – toward propane autogas. The reason, Baracz said, is the low infrastructure cost.

"Capital expense is $50,000 at most, so it's not really a lot of money to get your own station, and you can negotiate [fuel prices] with vendors depen­ding on volume," he said.

The department doesn't have any propane-autogas vehicles in its own fleet, but a separate department within the county has two trucks that run on propane autogas.

Getting Support from an Elected Official

While a fleet department's drive to go green can take it far, having an elected official understand and even promote fleet greening can help further the department’s goals.

Jeff Stone, chairman of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, hasn't bought gasoline in two years. Stone was impressed when he tested out the Coda electric car, purchased it in 2012, and has been driving it since. He also drives a Honda Civic CNG sedan, and his wife drives a Tesla electric car.

"I wanted to get involved in the green movement. I'm a leader and [I wanted to] set an example," he said. "I did that to inspire other people that there are affordable alternatives for people to utilize, whether it’s a hybrid or electric or CNG."

He added that the Board had been supportive of fleet greening throughout the years, approving the city's green fleet plan, for example. For fleet managers looking for ways to get elected officials involved with greening, Stone recommended they focus on costs and savings. Fleet managers interested in alternative fuels should present the different types of fuels available and talk about the advantages and disadvantages of each so officials can make informed decisions.

In the past three years, budget constraints have limited the city's ability to purchase new vehicles, with fleet purchasing about 100 vehicles annually in comparison to its usual 600 vehicle purchases. With a slightly improved budget this year, and when more replacement dollars free up, the Fleet and Purchasing Department can have more options in investing in additional alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles.

To view a photo gallery of the fleet, click here.

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