A group of Northwest public sector fleets demonstrated the merits of working together as they managed to secure $400,000 in grants toward the purchase of 10 new hybrid trucks.

Led by Seattle’s King County Fleet Administration Division, 14 of the region’s local and state government agencies formed the first-of-its kind Northwest Hybrid Truck Consortium to help defray the cost of buying hybrid trucks. Forming the consortium was the brainchild of Windell Mitchell, director of King County’s fleet group.
Why Create a Consortium?
Initially, Mitchell had sought to reduce hybrid prices by negotiating a national contract on behalf of governmental agencies across the country. His aim was to buy up to 300,000 vehicles the first year.

Although the truck manufacturers were initially receptive to the idea, they ultimately backed off because of the banding together in the Northwest Hybrid Truck Consortium, several Washington public sector agencies King County potential conflicts with their individual dealerships.

Mitchell next set his sights on forming a regional consortium of fleet purchasers. The idea originated at a truck user forum in Toledo, Ohio. The forum was sponsored by WestStart-CALSTART, a California-based advanced transportation technologies organization that works on hybrid truck commercialization strategies in conjunction with the U.S. Army.

WestStart-CALSTART is also the agency that handles the national hybrid truck orders for the Hybrid Truck User Forum, a national, multi-year, user-driven program to assist the commercialization of heavy-duty hybrid technologies.

At the meeting,Mitchell recalls fleet managers were highly enthused about buying new hybrid diesel-electrics for the environmental and fuel savings benefits. However, they couldn’t justify the cost — about $40,000 higher, on average, for a medium- or heavy-duty hybrid than its regular diesel engine counterpart.

Manufacturers blamed the cost premium partly on the newness of the technology and vehicle availability. They also cited the expense of providing service training and support at individual dealerships that would likely sell no more than one hybrid vehicle in the locale.

“I came back thinking one way to buy these trucks was in geographic clusters,” said Mitchell. “If we could form a consortium — get 10 or 20 fleet managers together and get funding to help pay for the incremental cost difference — it would make the hybrids much more affordable.”

According to Mitchell,manufacturers and vendors would only have one dealership to train. And, at the same time, fleet managers could trade information and help each other.
Other Fleets Join In
Ultimately, Mitchell contacted 20 fleet managers in the Seattle region. With King County, 13 other agencies joined the consortium including Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston counties; the cities of Bellevue, Renton, Tacoma, Seattle, Kent, Richland, Bremerton, and Everett; Seattle Public Utilities; and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

“They all wanted to be early adopters of the hybrids, if we could secure some funding,” said Mitchell, who subsequently put together a proposal to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, asking for $500,000 in grants. A second proposal for $300,000 was submitted to the Puget Sound Regional Council of Government in Seattle.

The EPA ultimately awarded the consortium $250,000 and Puget Sound awarded an additional $150,000.

The grants helped make the trucks affordable. In addition, the fleets stand to recoup the cost premium due to the fuel savings they provide.

While hybrid trucks greatly benefit the environment — reducing greenhouse gases by nearly 40 percent and soot by up to 30 percent, as EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson pointed out — the vehicles can also save up to 60 percent in fuel costs in certain applications. Order Details
The 10-vehicle order consists chiefly of International-built mediums and a Kenworth model. It includes lift trucks, a drilling truck, a paramedic truck, general utility vehicles, and flatbeds capable of hauling other vehicles or cranes.

Banding together to apply for grants and placing a regional order proved a win-win for everyone,Mitchell said.

In addition to environmental and cost/fuel savings benefits, he thinks the consortium’s truck order will help accelerate commercial production, allow for broader customer input in product development, create the potential for lifecycle savings, and clearly demonstrate that governments can work together for the common good.

King County Council Member Dow Constantine believes that purchasing these trucks for public use enables the consortium to make them more available to private-sector companies. Also, by placing them into public service, consortium agencies can provide a testing ground to evaluate the trucks’ real-world capabilities.

Would a similar approach and request for funding work for other fleets in areas around the country? “No question,” said Mitchell. “There’s always competition for grant money. But the EPA said they prefer it when groups, rather than single individuals, approach them for these kinds of requests. It makes it a lot easier for them to provide funding.”

The entire grant application process took about six months. Mitchell noted some of the possible grant requirements include:

  • Vehicle performance information.
  • Number of vehicles to be purchased.
  • Emissions reduction.
  • Annual expenditures report.
  • Fund allocation methods.
  • Participants’ contribution/outlay.
  • Select annual and final performance reports.

    Meanwhile, other governmental agencies, such as one in Portland, Ore., have expressed an interest in joining the Northwest Hybrid Truck Consortium. While Mitchell said there are plans to expand the consortium, they are not currently ready to do so..

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