Indianapolis to replace entire fleet with electric, hybrid

Mayor Greg Ballard (R-Indianapolis)

Indianapolis is taking a big step in its goal to go green.

Mayor Greg Ballard says he plans to replace the entire city-fleet, including police cars, with electric, plug-in hybrids and vehicles powered by natural gas by 2025.

Ballard said the switch will eventually save the city $6-$10 million a year, but it's not just about saving money.

For Joyce Givens, a city inspector with the Department of Code Enforcement, it's about saving time. Givens said she drives several hundred miles a week as part of her job. Last year, after driving a mid-size SUV, Givens was assigned a new Ford Fusion hybrid.

She said she went from "filling up two to three times a week to once every two to two-and-a-half it saves a lot of time."

Givens is one of 120 city workers driving hybrids. Starting in January, the city will begin rotating out the old vehicles with those run on electricity and natural gas.

Compressed natural gas is selling for $1.50 a gallon less than regular gas, but the mayor says it goes beyond saving money at the pump.

He said it's about reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and the wars fought over it.

Addressing a group of business leaders the mayor became choked up as he said, "As a mayor, a Marine and a Gulf War veteran, a father and a citizen, I hope our action in Indianapolis could begin to change the course of action over the last 40 years...and I ask that other cities, states and companies follow in our footsteps."

The city now counts 3,135 vehicles in its total fleet. Of those, 1,957 are police pursuit vehicles which average about 10 miles per gallon. The mayor said police cruisers won't go alternative until the technology provides the space and engine power officers need to do their jobs. He said the city will be encouraging and working with auto companies to that it happens.

In the meantime, even garbage trucks, snow plows and fire trucks will make the switch, not to electricity, but compressed natural gas, which works better with heavy vehicles.

Butler Toyota's Gene Hairston called the mayor's plan, "A step in the right direction. There will definitely be a cost savings to the city and the community."

Even though hybrids cost more up front, for instance, about $3,000 more for a Hybrid Toyota Camry, Hairston said hybrids "pay off in the long run."

The mayor estimates the city will save $12,000 per car over its 10-year lifetime. Hairston said that's a fair number.

"The city will probably see the benefit or return quicker than the average person because of the way (the city vehicles) are being driven. They drive them longer and for higher mileage so they'll see the savings a lot quicker," he said.

The new cars will need electric charging stations. There are 200 across the city now, with more going in. The city will replace its gas and diesel fuel vehicles with hybrids as they come up for rotation. A spokesman said the city averages between 20 and 30 new vehicles a year.

Earlier version

Indianapolis plans to replace its entire fleet with electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025 - the first major U.S. city to take such a step.

City spokesman Marc Lotter said Mayor Greg Ballard announced the move Wednesday.

The mayor argued that the move makes sense both from an economic and security standpoint.

"We have made a choice as a society which has given oil a near-monopoly on American transportation," said Ballard, referencing a quote by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN). "Now we must make a different choice in the interest of American national security and our economic future. This choice will save lives. It will save taxpayer dollars and it will shift the balance of global strategic power."

Lotter says Ballard will sign an executive order mandating the city replace its current sedans with electric or plug-in hybrids and phase in fire trucks and other heavy vehicles that run on compressed natural gas.

New vehicles would be purchased as older vehicles are retired.

Lotter says city officials also will ask automakers to develop a plug-in hybrid police car, as this doesn't yet exist.

He says research by city officials and the U.S. Conference of Mayors found no other major U.S. city has announced it will convert its entire fleet.

Sen. Lugar, meantime, praised Ballard's move and tied it into his own efforts to reduce US dependency on foreign oil.

"When I introduced the Lugar Practical Energy Plan in June 2011, it was my hope that governments and businesses would be incentivized to increase efficiency and reduce the need for foreign oil. Such steps save money, cut emissions - particularly important in urban areas, and reduce U.S. military costs of protecting shipping lanes and the flow of oil from foreign countries that are volatile and often don't mean us well. As a Marine, Mayor Ballard understands fully the national security threat to our nation from foreign energy dependency and I commend his energy initiative for the City of Indianapolis," Lugar said.

More from the City of Indianapolis:

Executive Order #6, 2012 requires the purchasing of electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles for non-police fleet use. The city fleet of approximately 500 non-police fleet cars will be replaced,  as needed, saving taxpayers approximately $12,000 per vehicle over the ten-year life cycle of  each car.

Conversion of heavy fleet vehicles to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The city is currently  working with partner organizations including Energy Systems Network and finance experts to  convert the city's heavy fleet, including snow plows, trash trucks and fire apparatus to CNG.

Developing the world's first plug-in hybrid police vehicle. Finally, the city is seeking to partner  with one or more automakers to develop a plug-in hybrid police vehicle that meets the safety,  power, electronic and range needs of a modern urban police force. If a plug-in hybrid electric  car could achieve just 40 MPG and meet the needs of police officers, city taxpayers would save up to $10 million per year. The city's current police vehicles average 10 MPG.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.