Government Fleet Top News

City of Gilbert, Ariz., May Expand Electric Hybrids in Fleet

August 25, 2004

GILBERT, AZ — With Ford and General Motors stopping production of compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane-fueled vehicles at year's end, many valley municipalities have been left wondering how to keep their alternative-fuel programs alive, according to the Arizona Republic newspaper on August 19.However, Gilbert is considering expanding its use of electric hybrids, which many see as the future of environmental-friendly transportation.Gilbert resisted the wave of alternative-fuel conversions nearly four years ago because of heavy costs and the perceived illegitimacy of the program, according to Scott Sonnenberg, fleet service manager. Because of those factors, the town was granted a government waiver in 1999 that allowed it to abstain from the program and remain with gasoline, Sonnenberg said.With no state funding and government grants that didn't cover fueling costs, Sonnenberg said he knew a conversion wasn't practical for Gilbert. "I had a lot of folks say, 'Why aren't you jumping on this bandwagon?'" he said. "I'd like to think I had a little more foresight."Alternative-fuel programs have been a source of controversy for Arizona in the past, costing residents $140 million in taxes. State governments are federally required to have alternative-fuel vehicles, and Arizona law mandates that at least 75 percent of government fleets in urban areas must use clean-burning fuels.There are no penalties for not complying, and Gilbert is not considered an urban area.Sonnenberg began preparing facts for the Town Council in 1998-99 when many municipalities were beginning to look at the conversion process. “The situation wasn't financially smart, and the town should stick to gas,” he told the council.To convert its more than 600-vehicle fleet, Gilbert would have had to spend about $7,000 per vehicle, Sonnenberg said. The town's fleet does include two Toyota Prius hybrids. Officials are now evaluating a hybrid Chevrolet pickup truck. Within the next month, a Ford Escape SUV electric hybrid will arrive for evaluation.

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