The USMC fleet of AFVs is a diverse mix. Approximately 800 compressed natural gas vehicles are in service, mostly in areas where natural gas fueling is widely available, including California. Above-ground ethanol-85 tanks are being installed at several Marine bases including Camp Lejeune, N.C., which received a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. To help sustain its petroleum-reduction success, the USMC deploys hybrid electric vehicles at locations where high-mileage travel is more common. "The Marine Corps' leadership supports taking educated risk," says USMC Program Management Analyst Ed Wilkins. "These accomplishments are only achieved when leadership from top down is willing to encourage innovative ideas and welcome change." A case in point was the path that led to the USMC's current heavy concentration of neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs). It started small, with a few such vehicles tested at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, in Arizona. Users questioned whether the very small, light vehicles would satisfy their needs as well as petroleum-powered cars and trucks. "Almost everyone had an argument about why they wouldn't work," says Wilkins. NEVs proved superior in many applications. On a rifle range, for example, they're easier to maneuver and less likely to tear up the terrain. The USMC began finding new ways to take advantage of their inherent efficiency, using NEVs for transportation and light hauling. The word spread to all commands, and NEVs replaced many gasoline vehicles. In 2002, the USMC added 115 NEVs of various models at five installations in California, bringing the total number to more than 300 in the U.S. Leading the way in NEV use is the Marine Corp Recruit Depot in San Diego, where more than 85 percent of all vehicles are either AFVs or NEVs. Under EPAct, NEVs are not considered alternative fuel vehicles and therefore don't help regulated fleets to meet their acquisition mandates. But in fleets in which they are widely used, as in the Marines, they help displace thousands of gallons of petroleum per year. The plans are not without risk, but the burdens will be shared. The USMC has partnered in the project with the U.S. Army's Tank Automotive Command and Navy National Automotive Center, and with the U.S. Navy. Commercial automakers will help establish the fueling infrastructure and bring hydrogen vehicles to the bases for testing. "This is proving to be a real education for all of us, working out the site locations and meeting all the permitting requirements," says Wilkins. "We're educating ourselves as well as the public, and we believe the benefits will be worth the cost."
The City of Sacramento (Calif.) is the first city to install digital license plates on its fleet vehicles.