There's green, and then there's Army green

Tuesday - 1/13/2009, 7:29am EST

Photo by Federal News Radio's Max Cacas.

By Max Cacas
FederalNewsRadio

The U.S. Army has taken its first steps to becoming less dependent on foreign oil. At a ceremony at Fort Myer in Arlington, Va., Army officials picked up the keys to the first fully electric vehicles designed for non-tactical use on Army installations worldwide.

Army Colonel Laura Richardson is the garrison commander at Fort Myer, who notes that her command has been the scene of many "firsts" for the military.

"Fort Myer just celebrated the centennial of military aviation," she says, adding that the facility recently hosted a replica of the original Wright Flyer. In fact, it wasn't far from this place where Orville Wright brought the same Wright Flyer to the parade grounds of Fort Myer to demonstrate the capabilities of his new airplane to the U.S. Army.

On this day, the Army received the first of 4,000 electric vehicles that it plans to lease for use on bases around the world, a deal the military says is the largest acquisition of such vehicles in the U.S. and comes as automakers are touting electric technology.

Sitting off to the Colonel's left, four shiny white GEM electric cars. They're designed to replace some of the 28,000 gasoline-powered sedans and light trucks that see duty on those bases, but almost never go off post, according to Barney Brasseaux, Deputy Administrator with the General Services Administration, who is handling procurement of the electric vehicles for the U.S. Army through the GSA Fleet procurement contract under the GSA schedule.

They're perfect for an Army base in terms of size, speed and flexibility. And one -- just one -- will save an average of 27 hundred gallons of fuel over six years over a conventionally-powered vehicle.

These electric vehicles are made by Global Electric Motorcars, or GEM, a division of the Chrysler Corporation, although under the GSA schedule, there are four other firms beyond GEM who meet the qualifications to produce the electric vehicles. They cost around $13,000 each, and can be configured in several different ways, from passenger haulers, to flat beds that can lug around light cargo like mail and food.

In a recent edition of Stars and Stripes newspaper, the garrison commander at Graffenwohr, Germany, said that he was sending back the three GEM electric vehicles that were on trial from the states from last April to October, because they broke down a lot, and ran out of their electric charge too soon.

Gehren said the key is finding the appropriate use for these small electric vehicles, and adds those vehicles were used for different tasks, like driving off-base, which caused problems because of the 30-mile limit on the batteries. The vehicles the Army is leasing in the U.S. will be used mostly on base and driven much shorter distances, he said.

While the electric vehicles will not be used for combat purposes, the Army is developing new hybrid-electric powered tactical vehicles. The initiative is part of the service's Future Combat Systems, a technology-heavy modernization program. The Army also has programs to use solar, geothermal and biomass energy at some facilities.

Over the next three years, the Army expects to lease up to 4,000 of these neighborhood electric vehicles for dozens of Army bases across the country. They're about $3,000 cheaper than the average gas-powered car, and $13,000 cheaper than hybrid automobiles.

Officials hope to see the most dramatic savings at the fuel pump: A gas-powered sedan costs around $1,200 for fuel over an average year, while the GEM Electric vehicles consume about $460 of electricity over the same period of time.


AP Business writer Stephen Manning contributed to this report.

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On the Web:
Chrysler - GEM/Battery Electric Car

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