If you drive any kind of vehicle, you’re likely aware of the recent increase in gas prices. For regular commuters, this can take a toll on personal finances. For those who run a whole fleet of them, however, it can take a sledgehammer to their budget and require them to cut funds from other important programs.
Ann Arbor, Michigan, Police Department, Deputy Chief of Police Jason Forsberg is thankful his department had already started to transition to hybrid patrol cars, as it’s helped cut down on gas reliance. Here, he discusses why the switch was a smart one.
Improving Fuel Economy in a Tough Economy
The Ann Arbor Police Department has a fleet of 70 vehicles. Of those, 20 are hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery-electric. According to Forsberg, the department’s current hybrids are about 80% more fuel efficient than their internal combustion engine (ICE) predecessors. At the end of 2020, the non-hybrid average fuel economy was 8.7 mpg and average hybrid fuel economy was 15.6 mpg.
“Part of how the vehicles are used is what makes the fuel efficiency so different,” Simi Barr, energy analyst for the Office of Sustainability and Innovations for the City of Ann Arbor, stated. “Patrol vehicles spend a lot of time idling, which lowers their fuel economy on a miles/gallon basis. Since the hybrid patrol vehicles stop burning gasoline when idle, the fuel efficiency is significantly better. Typical Ford estimates are likely being calculated from more typical city/highway driving which is why they may look different from our numbers.”
From July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, the department consumed about 60,000 gallons of gasoline and spent about $120,000; from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, it spent about $72,000 on 50,000 gallons. While the department still used a lot of fuel in FY21, the pandemic brought the price of fuel down significantly.
“We consumed about 10,000 gallons less in 2021. We also need to take into consideration we were in the height of the pandemic and not responding to as many calls. We weren't even driving as much as we normally would,” he explained. With fuel consumption likely going back to normal this year, better hybrid mpg will become important for the fuel budget.
Planning to Procure
The department does have a plan in place to transition its entire marked patrol fleet to, at the minimum, hybrids.
All its ICE powered vehicles are either all-wheel drive Ford Police Interceptors or Chevrolet Tahoes, and as they are cycled out, they will be replaced with hybrids. But what about electric vehicles (EVs)?
“One of the hurdles we faced prior to determining whether or not to purchase an EV as a marked police patrol vehicle is we wanted to make sure we wouldn’t experience any operational drop off,” Forsberg stated. “To my knowledge, the Michigan State Police and LA County Sheriff's Department are two of the only agencies in the country that conduct performance testing; they do an evaluation program, and different manufacturers will bring certain makes and models of cars there to be assessed. The Mach-E is the first electric vehicle I'm aware of that has ever gone to one of these trials and ‘passed.’”
He said there are also other factors he’d like to know, such as how fast a vehicle can be charged, what would happen if the city lost power, or if he could fit a prisoner partition cage in the back of it.
“The first hurdle is no longer there, so we'll likely start marching down that path,” he said.
The City of Ann Arbor has a goal to become carbon neutral by 2030. Its Green Fleets Committee works with government entities anytime they need to replace a vehicle or develop a fleet plan to assist in becoming carbon neutral.
So far, the Police Department has not experienced any drop-off in its operational readiness and hasn’t heard any complaints from the officers driving the hybrids.
Initially, officers conducted a trial phase with two hybrids to ensure they’d be a fit for the fleet. After that trial period, they tested them out in all four seasons and didn't experience any performance drop-off or operational decline.
“That was the confidence I needed, and we needed, as a department to be able to begin transitioning away from ICE vehicles. We'll do the same when we move towards EV patrol vehicles. You want to start with one or two before fully committing to whatever the future of your fleet will look like,” Forsberg noted.
Reconciling Needs with Budget
Above all, Forsberg said the advice he has for other police departments looking at hybrids or EVs is to look at how you plan to use them.
“Look at the mileage of all the vehicles available to you. If you're doing a lot of highway driving, you may get the same miles per gallon in a sedan that you would in the hybrid you’re looking at. I think especially with the increasing cost of gas, you can't undervalue going hybrid or electric,” he said.
No department has an unlimited budget, and Ann Arbor PD is spending upwards of $100,000 a year on gasoline. The more that can be reduced, the better.
“When gas prices are as volatile as they are now and predictions end up being wrong, that means we will go over-budget on fuel costs, even if we consumed what we expected. If we go over-budget on gas, that means we can't do something else. Things like training, overtime, and equipment may take a hit. We need to drive our vehicles to calls for service, so something else would have to be sacrificed,” he explained.
Forsberg said he’s happy to talk to anybody who has questions about what his department has experienced.
“We've all spoken to other chiefs in the area about their similar desire to transition to a hybrid fleet and we enjoy being able to alleviate any concerns they may have,” he said.