The General Services Administration this week ordered roughly 14,100 fuel-efficient vehicles from the (big?) three U.S. automakers, spending $210 million in economic stimulus funds to replace aging gas-guzzlers. That’s in addition to an April order for more than 3,000 hybrids, or vehicles that use a combination of gasoline and electric batteries.
Before all those cars make their way to government parking lots, officials may want to read a new Government Accountability Report (pdf) that predicts several speed bumps as agencies start using plug-in hybrids.
The federal government has tried to make better use of fuel-efficient vehicles since the early 1990s, but has never really developed a coherent strategy that addresses important details, including who can use them, when, where and how. Lawmakers requested this latest GAO report more than a year ago, well before the Obama administration committed to buying thousands of hybrid vehicles, both to benefit the environment and boost the sagging auto industry.
Though “Increasing the use of plug-ins could result in environmental and other benefits,” the report notes that “To incorporate plug-ins into the federal fleet, agencies will face challenges related to cost, availability, planning, and federal requirements. Plug-ins are expected to have high upfront costs when they are first introduced.”
The GAO suggests that the operational costs of a plug-in might one day fall to match the cost of gasoline vehicles — but only if battery prices fall to match (rising) gasoline prices (a highly speculative “if” at this point).
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