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Green Mandates, Fuzzy Definitions

Written by Ed Sanow

Many departments are under some sort of “green initiative.” Yet, for such a politically correct agenda, no one really knows what “green” really means. Does “green” simply mean use less gasoline? Or does it mean use no gasoline whatsoever? Is a mild hybrid (start-stop) green enough? Or does it have to be a full hybrid where both the gasoline engine and electric motor trade off powering the vehicle?

Do green initiatives really mean go green without regard to initial vehicle costs or operating costs? Does green really mean overspending on a hybrid vehicle that will be in-service for three or four years but has a seven- to nine-year payback? Is an all-electric vehicle actually green, even though the vast majority of the nation’s electricity is produced by burning coal or nuclear, neither of which are green?

How about CNG or propane? These are definitely clean and green, but have outrageous upfront costs. How about E85, which uses less gasoline but is more expensive than premium gas on a dollars per mile basis? What about ULSD clean diesel and B20 biodiesel, which aren’t gasoline but certainly are a petroleum product? All that said, the best practical definition of green initiative vehicles is 1) uses less gasoline and 2) does not increase total cost of ownership.

 

One Step Down

One of the most effective ways to go green is to simply use smaller V6 engines in the patrol fleet and I-4 engines in the admin fleet. An even more effective step for the admin fleet is to use smaller vehicles, the so-called One Step Down method. In the majority of these midsize sedans, the fuel economy from the smaller, 4-cylinder engines almost equal the fuel economy from the hybrid gas-electric version of the same car—without the upcharge for the hybrid drivetrain.

This One Step Down option is where the smart money is, where the lowest initial cost is, and where the lowest total cost is. Your department will use less gasoline from a readily available fuel with no infrastructure delays. You are green and you save money. “All of our patrol vehicles are now V6 and all of our admin vehicles are now 4-cylinder” sounds good at a council meeting.

 

Gas-Electric Hybrid

The Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Chevy Malibu Eco are both excellent admin vehicles in their own right and meet the spirit of any green initiative. The Fusion Hybrid is considered a full hybrid—the gasoline engine and the electric motor work together to power the vehicle. The Malibu Eco is classed as a mild hybrid—the eAssist engine uses start-stop-coast technology and the electric motor does not power the car alone.

 

Electric Vehicles

Ignoring where electricity comes from, some community leaders only recognize battery-electric vehicles as being green. The operating costs are very low, but the initial cost is very high and the residual value is very low.

The Chevy Volt has a battery-only driving range is about 38 miles. When the battery is depleted, a gasoline engine generates electricity for the battery and boosts the driving range to over 300 miles. Chrysler Group’s battery-only admin vehicle, the FIAT 500e, is an all-electric, battery powered car with a driving range of 87 miles, more than double the battery-only range of the Chevy Volt.

 

CNG and LPG

Aftermarket CNG / propane (LPG) tank installers are not required to pass NHTSA crash tests like the Original Equipment car companies are. This raises officer safety questions—so ask them. Also ask if they are going to change the exhaust valves and seats on the engine. The factory CNG engines have unique CNG-tolerant engine components. An OE-built, bi-fuel CNG pickup or van, will meet all of the “green” initiatives. Even better, the lower operating costs from the use of CNG actually pay for the CNG option well within a normal duty cycle or service life.

 

Clean Diesel

The term “clean diesel” is an industry definition meaning the use of Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel fuel and full compliance with current on-highway standards for odor-free, soot-free emissions. Even greener, the Chevy Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel is certified to run on B20 biodiesel, a form of clean-burning, non-toxic diesel fuel made from renewable vegetable oils.

Think green. But think total costs.


Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2013

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