SAN DIEGO - The Government Fleet Expo and Conference (GFX) started officially on June 6 at 4 pm, with its first main session being a vehicle manufacturer panel with a forecast of vehicles for public sector fleets.

Moderated by Bobit Business Media’s Robert Brown, the panel featured Elliot Benson of GM, Stephen Ellis of Honda, Tony Gratson of Ford, Mary Jaye, of Chrysler, and Thomas Miller of Mitsubishi.

OEM representatives discussed the impact of the Japanese earthquake on inventory and order-to-delivery times. The Detroit three said the earthquake did not have large impacts on vehicle production, with Jaye of Chrysler and Gratson of Ford stating that the one issue was in availability of certain paint colors (the OEMs had to find other sources for black paint). Gratson also said hybrid components for the Fusion Hybrid and all-wheel-drive components were impacted, but fleets that placed orders before the cutoff date were price-protected. He said order-to-delivery times vary, and gave examples of the Fiesta at 6-8 weeks and the F-series taking up to 14 weeks for delivery.

Honda, on the other hand, was more heavily impacted and is now “in recovery mode,” according to Ellis. However, he said this should not dramatically impact the fleet market. Miller said Mitsubishi is just starting in the government sector, but that with plants in the southern end of Japan, the company was not severely impacted.

The next question covered alternative-fuel vehicles. One of the key points discussed by the OEMs is that there is no “silver bullet,” and that many solutions will be needed.

Miller discussed the Mitsubishi iCar plug-in electric vehicle being developed for sale in Western states in the U.S., expected to have an 85-mile range. Jaye of Chrylser said 140 plug-in hybrid Ram trucks have been deployed across various sites to evaluate how they function in specific climates and conditions. The automaker will also offer its battery-electric Fiat 500 for the 2012-MY. Benson went over the various conventional and alt-fuel vehicles GM offers, including the Cruze Eco, Chevrolet Sonic, the Silverado HD and Sierra HD pickups  that can be fueled using E-85, CNG cargo van, as well as an LPG model. Elllis talked about Honda’s hybrid Civic for 2012-MY as well as the Civic CNG (2012-MY, delivery at end of 2011) and the upcoming Fit electric vehicle. Gratson brought up Ford’s new engines (2012, 2.0L 4-cylinder EcoBoost in the Taurus, Edge, and Explorer) and vehicles, the Focus EV and the 2012 C-Max hybrid.

The vehicle manufacturers also discussed the technologies available in their vehicles. They discussed their efforts in helping develop an alternative fuel infrastructure in communities across the U.S., as well as EV battery recycling. They also all said that although they have telematics technology in their vehicles, they see the majority of fleet telematics applications being better handled by the aftermarket.

By Thi Dao and Greg Basich