University adds to hybrid vehicle fleet

Allison Wickler

As the green movement grows, the University’s Fleet Services is attempting to keep up with the trend.

After recently purchasing 12 Toyota Prius vehicles, the University now has 28 hybrids in its 832-vehicle fleet.

Hybrids use a gasoline-and-electric motor, making them more fuel efficient than traditional gasoline-powered vehicles. As a result, they are considered more environmentally friendly because they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which contribute to global warming.

The University initially purchased two Priuses in 2001, said Fleet Services Associate Director Bill Roberts, and now has 23 Priuses and five Ford Escape SUV hybrids.

While several of the new Priuses went to satellite campuses, five remained in the Twin Cities campus rental pool, and two were leased to University departments.

Roberts said Fleet Services bought the hybrids mainly to reduce dependence on foreign oil, though now they also consider environmental factors and reliability in their purchases.

The vehicles also have a high resale value – two 2003 Priuses, bought for $19,364 apiece, sold in 2005 for $19,050 and $18,050.

“The vehicles have more than paid for themselves,” Roberts said.

However, he said as a tax-exempt institution, the University can’t take advantage of the tax credit private citizens can get on their hybrid vehicle purchases.

Other schools around the Midwest have invested in or considered purchasing hybrid vehicles.

While the University of Iowa’s five Priuses cost more than traditional gas vehicles initially, fleet manager Mike Wilson said he hopes to recover the extra money in fuel savings and resale.

In Wisconsin, a state law requires the governor’s permission for government agencies to purchase vehicles, said Jim Bogan, fleet program officer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Because their University is a government agency, they have not been able to purchase new passenger vehicles since 2002, but have put in a request for nine hybrid sedans and four hybrid SUVs.

He said the school has one Toyota Prius, bought in 2002, with 136,000 miles on it and no major repairs.

David Kite, motor pool supervisor at Northwestern University, which hasn’t purchased hybrid vehicles, said it would be difficult to recover the extra base-price cost.

A focus group conducted at the University in 2001 showed support for purchasing more hybrid vehicles, Roberts said.

“We’re a very green group around here,” he said.

Pamela Moore, who works in a division of the department of pediatrics, rents a car three to four times per month and prefers the Prius for its gas mileage on her trips around Minnesota.

“It’s easier on the environment,” she said, “and I appreciate that the University has those available for us.”

Wayne Martin, who works at the Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, said Fleet Services offers the Priuses, a compact sedan, at a cheaper rate than its larger vehicles, so “it’s pretty much a price factor.”

Associate director for the Center for Transportation Studies Laurie McGinnis said investing in hybrid technology supports the governor’s initiative for being a leader in renewable energy.

“It’s a good demonstration of the University’s interest in protecting the environment,” she said, “and doing it with renewable resources.”