Hybrids prove popular in Garco
Led by gung-ho green management, Garfield County now owns 11 fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles and plans to add five more hybrids a year to its fleet.Among the county’s motor pool are three Toyota Prius cars and eight 2005 Ford Escape SUV hybrids. The county took delivery of its first hybrid car, a Prius, in 2002.Although hybrids generally cost $4,000 to $5,000 more than conventional vehicles, County Manager Ed Green said he feels the extra price is warranted because of the great fuel savings. Plus, it’s good policy.”We decided it was important to test them out and take a leadership role and see if they’re beneficial,” Green said.For example, one of the county’s 2005 Prius cars has averaged 46 miles per gallon over 150 miles traveled. The 2005 Ford Escape Green averages about 17 miles per gallon, which should improve to 35 mpg once it’s broken in, Green said.The county paid $19,000 for each of the Prius cars and $27,000 for each the hybrid Escapes.Green’s background led him to promote the hybrids three years ago. He worked at the National Laboratory for Renewable Energy in Golden in the 1990s and was part of a research project that studied hybrid vehicles.Hybrids have conventional internal combustion engines assisted by electric batteries. Green uses his Escape primarily for trips to Denver and likes the way it drives.”The only real problem I’ve had with the Escape is over mountain passes. The engine is noisy,” he said.Of the two types of vehicles, the Prius has more on-board information, accessed through a computer in the dashboard. It shows a schematic diagram of the chassis and which component, the engine or the batteries, is driving the wheels. It also shows real-time fuel consumption, as well as a running average.Ignition is also different from conventional vehicles. Instead of a key, the Prius is started with a cartridge that slips into a slot on the dashboard. Rather than turning the cartridge, the driver pushes a large button marked “Power,” and pushes it again to stop the engine. Shifting is also on the dash, using a short stalk in a pattern similar to an automatic transmission.The Escape looks like its conventional counterpart except for a small window on the instrument panel behind the steering wheel that records fuel efficiency.Green said he likes the smooth ride and pick-up of both vehicles. The Prius in particular “is real quiet. And it really scoots,” he said. But he said he prefers the Escape over the Prius. “It’s tricked out nicer” with a six-CD changer. “The handling is far better than the Toyota and it’s full-time four-wheel-drive,” he said.Neither the Toyotas nor the Fords have had maintenance issues.”The maintenance costs have been absolutely nil for the last three years – just oil changes and new tires,” Green said.Hybrids have become popular over the past few years, making them difficult to come by, Green said. “The dealers get allocations [of hybrids] and they go pretty quickly.”They’re so popular with the county that it wants to add five more hybrids a year, Green said. The county is also considering adding hybrid pickup trucks, assistant County Manager Jess Smith said.”We’ll see if they work for people who have to haul equipment,” he said.
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