Fleets have been researching hybrid fleet vehicles for years, and a few are
● Reduced CO2 emissions.
Pinching pennies is a point of professional pride in fleet management, and so a critical question about hybrid vehicles is: How do they rate when it comes to real-world operating expenses?
Now that some fleets have two, three, or more years’ experience with hybrid vehicles, they are able to make some judgments.
EMD Millipore Sees Increased MPGs
“The capital costs [of hybrids] are more, but you offset that with the fuel reduction,” said Gary Polito, category sourcing manager, travel and fleet, for EMD Millipore, based in Billerica, Mass. Polito was recognized this year by the NAFA Fleet Management Association for reducing fuel consumption and emissions through a combination of “right-sizing” vehicles according to job responsibilities and use of hybrid vehicles. On an annual basis, those efforts reduced the volume of fuel purchases by nearly 150,000 gallons and prevented the emission of more than 2.8 million lbs. of CO2, NAFA said in honoring Polito.
The EMD Millipore fleet of approximately 330 vehicles consists predominantly of Toyota models, of which more than 100 (or nearly one third) are hybrids, including Prius and Camry models. The first hybrids were put into service in mid-2008 — about three years ago. Polito said the hybrids have been averaging 36 mpg, compared to an average of 30 mpg for the fleet’s conventional vehicles.
An exacting maintenance program helps further offset the higher initial outlay for hybrid vehicles, according to Polito. “We have a rigorous maintenance schedule. We stay on top of that through our leasing company,” he said. About its leasing company, ARI, he said, “They’re very good at monitoring,” providing informative reports on the status of vehicles.
The hybrids, just as any other vehicle, are evaluated constantly, according to Polito, and at the same time he is continuously on the lookout for other options. As engine technology improves on conventional gasoline-powered vehicles, some are becoming competitive with hybrids, he said.
He also addressed the “stigma” of going from a conventional vehicle with a six-cylinder engine to a hybrid with a four-cylinder engine. In the same vein, some fleets might have been running vehicles with a 3.5L, four-cylinder, gasoline-fueled engine and switched to a hybrid with a smaller four-cylinder engine, Polito hypothesized, yet he said they can still come out ahead: “Now that lower-end liter engine could be just as powerful and more fuel efficient than a similar four-cylinder model [by] another manufacturer. So we’re constantly evaluating.”
By scrupulously following the maintenance schedule, and monitoring the vehicles, the fleet is able to realize favorable residual values. It helps that the market for used vehicles has come around, he said.
“We’ve had them now for three years,” Polito said, “and the residual value has turned out to be very high. It’s the quality of the vehicle.” The hybrids are noteworthy for “very low maintenance costs,” he noted. Among doubters, the component that is often singled out for skepticism is the battery, which is an expensive part. Polito noted, “We haven’t had one maintenance issue with a battery.”
Maintenance of the hybrids generally is no different than for conventional vehicles. “There really hasn’t been anything where you could say, ‘Because this is a hybrid it’s causing this problem and my maintenance costs are increasing,’ ” he said. “There hasn’t been anything like that.”
State Farm Goes ‘Green’ Through Hybrid Use
State Farm has a fleet of approximately 13,000 vehicles, of which 610 are hybrids. Asked whether he noticed any difference about the hybrids compared to conventional vehicles, Fleet Administrator Dick Malcom, said, “Nothing. It’s one of those things where no news is good news.”
Driving a hybrid vehicle, Malcom reported, one learns that they are not much different from a regular vehicle. That said, Malcom pointed out the best place for the hybrid vehicles to be used is in metropolitan areas, because that’s where stop-and-go traffic is prevalent, which causes the vehicle to operate on the battery power that can provide fuel savings.
However, hybrids in rural areas tend to consume about the same amount of gasoline as conventional vehicles because they don’t have as much opportunity to use battery power.
Most vehicles in the State Farm fleet, whether hybrid or not, are used by claims people, Malcom said. The company purchased its first hybrid, a Prius, in 2001 and its second hybrid — another Prius — in 2004. It has acquired the rest gradually since then. The lineup of State Farm’s hybrid vehicles includes Toyota Camry (333); Toyota Prius (138); Ford Fusion (123); Ford Escape (6); and, in Canada, Honda Civic (10).
State Farm manages the vehicles itself, monitoring usage and notifying employees when the vehicles are due for maintenance. State Farm has arrangements with maintenance and repair facilities where the employees can take the vehicles.
Using hybrids “helps us become more green — always a good thing,” Malcom said. It also provides an opportunity for more people to become familiar with hybrid vehicles and discover that driving them is much the same as driving a conventional vehicle, he said.
Hybrids do cost more, Malcom noted, but when gasoline prices are high, as now, hybrids are worth more, and the return on investment is better. “And when gas is $4 a gallon it helps the resale value,” he added.
Hybrid vehicle technology is getting better all the time, according to Malcom. His hope is that the price of hybrid power systems will become closer to that of regular combustion engines. State Farm will likely increase the number of hybrids in its fleet, slowly, he said.
“It is an education,” he said. “There are still a lot of people in the U.S. that haven’t driven a hybrid — probably many of them, still, that fear driving a hybrid. We in the industry take [hybrids] for granted, but I don’t think that’s the case across the country, with the general public.”
Malcom said some insurance companies provide a discount for hybrids. “The fact of the matter is, it’s more expensive to repair a hybrid. So we don’t provide discounts, but we don’t charge extra.”
Johnson Controls Greens its SUVs
Johnson Controls, based in Plymouth, Mich., put approximately 10 Ford Escape Hybrids into service in 2008, and now has 366 in fleet, said Christy Coyte, corporate global fleet manager.
Johnson Controls’ fleet consists of 7,000 vehicles, divided into various sub fleets for discrete business units. The hybrids are all assigned to a sub fleet of 1,100 vehicles, to be converted entirely to hybrids or other alternative-fuel vehicles, Coyte said, a process expected to take another four years.
“The hybrid vehicle is projected to have a 30-percent fuel and greenhouse gas reduction per mile,” Coyte said. “For Johnson Controls, that equates to eliminating more than 1,000 metric tons of CO2. That’s about an 8-percent footprint reduction for the business unit.”
The company modifies the hybrids, taking out the rear seats and putting in a floor.
“The technicians who drive them don’t carry a lot of tools and equipment, and what they do carry is lighter weight,” Coyte said, “so they don’t need [a vehicle with] the cargo and the payload capacity that our other service mechanics do.”
Coyte said there have been no reported problems with the hybrids and “drivers are happy with them.” She did express one reservation, but said it had more to do with how the vehicles are assigned.
“I don’t think we’re quite getting the fuel efficiencies that we wanted,” she said, “but that’s only because we aren’t excluding any drivers from using them.” Translation: “If they’re out on the highway more than in the city we aren’t getting the fuel efficiency that we were hoping for.”
Since the first hybrids were not put into service until the end of 2008, and most came in later, Coyte said, “We don’t have a lot of good fuel data yet to establish a baseline. We hope to get that as time goes on and we put more hybrids into service.” The company leases its vehicles for six years or 150,000 miles.
Johnson Controls also is in the process of putting into service 20 electric vehicles, the light-duty Ford Transit Connect Electric, Coyte said. Azure Dynamics, Oak Park, Mich., installs its electric power drive on the vehicles, which also feature a lithium-ion battery from Johnson Controls.