Hybrids may replace SUVs in Eagle County fleet
August 30, 2006
EAGLE – Eagle County may soon buy its vehicles the way it buys its paper towels: in bulk.The Eagle County commissioners have asked for bids to buy as many as 20 gas-electric hybrid cars – probably Toyota Priuses, and maybe a handful of Toyota Camrys – to replace the same number of vehicles in the county’s current fleet. One estimate for 20 of those vehicles put the price tag at just under $480,000.To pay for the new cars, the county would dip into its vehicle replacement fund, which now stands at about $230,000, and sell 20 sedans, vans, pickups and sport utility vehicles. The county employees crunching the numbers have come up with a trade-in value of $231,000 for those vehicles, based on published “blue book” numbers. Any difference will probably be paid out of the county’s 2006 budget.County officials are confident they can hit their estimates when they sell the old vehicles.No market for trucksBut 14 of the 20 vehicles targeted for sale are sport utility vehicles, pickups or vans. With gas hovering around $3.25 per gallon locally, and around $3 per gallon on the Front Range, the owner of a Denver-area auction company wondered if it’s possible to get even the trade-in value for the more gas-hungry vehicles.”If they’re considering getting wholesale market value for them, then maybe,” said O.J. Pratt, owner of Pacific Auctions in Commerce City. “But book values for those vehicles are greatly diminished right now. At our wholesale auctions, we have lot of inventory of those vehicles and not a lot of buyers.”The commissioners are looking primarily at Toyotas. But Nick Klahr, the sales manager at Castle Peak Automotive, said his company, which sells Fords, was also asked to bid on the job.”They’re really good at giving us a shot at everything they do,” Klahr said.And the county’s new two-man video department uses a Ford Escape hybrid.If the commissioners decide to buy in bulk, though, The most likely vehicle is the Prius. It’s the most fuel-efficient five-passenger car on sale in this country and, for those looking to make a statement, has the advantage of looking like nothing else on the road today. During a demonstration of three hybrid Toyotas Tuesday, commissioners Peter Runyon and Arn Menconi seemed most impressed with the Prius, due largely to the sky-high fuel economy. Runyon said he preferred the back seat of the Prius to that of the larger Camry, although front-seat room is better in the Camry.At least in one case, Priuses seem to uphold Toyota’s reputation for reliability.The town of Vail owns two Priuses, a 2002 model – which shared its bodywork with the tiny Toyota Echo – and one 2004 model. The newer vehicle is the family-sized, spaceship-looking car that’s received the most public notice.The small car is used by the community development department to run around town to check building sites. The newer car belongs to the town’s transportation department. It, too, mostly stays in town or in the valley.”Other than routine maintenance, we haven’t had any problems,” said Todd Scholl, the manager of Vail’s vehicle fleet. “They’ve performed well.”Loving their cars”I love mine,” Caroline Bradford said of her Prius. Bradford swapped her Subaru Legacy station wagon for a Prius in 2004. She’s driven her hybrid through two winters, and said it’s performed like a champ.”It felt like a sports car compared to the Subaru,” Bradford said. “I never get passed by the old ladies going up the pass. It’s comfortable for four people, it’s got decent cupholders. And it gets 49 miles per gallon.”Edwards resident Rob LeVine said his driving has changed, a lot, since he got his Prius.”I sold a Porsche 944 to buy this,” LeVine said. “I used to go 100 mph in the Porsche, but now I go more like 65. And I laugh when I pass gas stations.”Beyond its frugality, one of the Prius’s high-tech features has hooked LeVine.”There’s a screen on the dash that gives what your mileage is, and I’ve gotten obsessed with it,” he said. “If I didn’t have one of these I’d buy one, and if I needed another car I’d buy another. Menconi has been pushing for the vehicle swap, although he says the bottom line is important.”I’d like to think we’ll listen to people who think Eagle County should be a leader in efficiency and environmental responsibility while still being fiscally responsible,” he said.The county now has too many types and makes of vehicles, Menconi said. Replacing roughly half the county’s light vehicle fleet with one type of car could be more efficient for the maintenance people who have to buy parts and fix those vehicles.”What’s wrong with a standard vehicle for a government car?” he said.