By: Christian Okolski
A few days ago, the office of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard announced the beginnings of the city’s “Freedom Fleet” and the upcoming deployment of 425 new electric vehicles. As the Indianapolis Star reported, those 425 plug-in hybrids and fully electric cars are expected to replace more than 500 internal combustion engine vehicles that currently make up the city’s non-police fleet by 2016. That switch from gasoline to electric power is expected to reduce fuel consumption by an incredible 2.2 million gallons of gasoline and save $1,600 per electric vehicle each year. Ultimately, Indy’s electric vehicle support is among the strongest in the Country, and the city is utilizing an innovative financing scheme to make its plug-in vehicle dream a reality.
Indianapolis’ innovative push for electric cars is certainly music to the ears of electric vehicle enthusiasts, but it may not be a huge surprise. Back in December 2012, NBC News revealed Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s executive order to replace nearly 500 gas-powered, non-police city vehicles with electric cars. At that time, Ballard also announced his goal to turn over the city’s entire gasoline fleet with plug-in electric vehicles by 2025. Moreover, Indianapolis is home to BlueIndy, the Country’s only all-electric car-share program, which was launched this past May, as this blog reported. The motivation behind Mayor Ballard’s passionate support of electric vehicles stems from his experience as a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer and Gulf War veteran. Back in 2012 and amidst the city’s latest announcement, Ballard clearly stated his mission to reduce the consumption of foreign oil and support U.S. energy independence through electric vehicles.
Indianapolis’ fleet currently uses only 21 plug-in electric cars, such as the Chevrolet Volt, Ford Fusion Energi, and Nissan LEAF, but that number will grow to 100 by year’s end, and 325 more will be deployed in 2015 to reach a total of 425 plug-ins by 2016. For perspective, New York City’s fleet has operated roughly 300 electric cars as of this past July, according to the NYC Department of Transportation. However, New York is nearly ten times the size of Indianapolis. Therefore, if Indy’s electric car fleet can catch up to or even surpass that of New York with 425 plug-in cars by the end of 2015, it could have a far more impressive electric vehicle fleet per capita. Cities across the country, such as Los Angeles, Atlanta, and others are supporting electric vehicles in various ways. They are helping to build out charging infrastructure, provide charging station incentives, and offer electric vehicle purchase rebates, but Indianapolis is taking the most proactive approach by deploying the vehicles itself. Simply put, no other city in the U.S. is directly placing electric cars on the roads like Indianapolis is.
Like most “green” technologies, electric vehicles save money over time but require a large, sometimes prohibitive, upfront investment. Therefore, to make its deployment of 425 electric vehicles in just over one year financially feasible, Indianapolis’ Department of Public Works signed a contract with Vision Fleet, an electric vehicle financing startup based in Los Angeles. As reported by the Indianapolis Business Journal, the contract is a $32 million, 7-year deal that will bring economic returns to each party in the long term. What Vision Fleet provides is very similar to what solar leasing companies offer. Vision will buy and own the electric vehicles but rent them to the city, so Indy does not have to pay the high purchase price for the cars. In addition, Vision will provide maintenance on the vehicles as well as fleet management, so that the city can use fewer cars more efficiently and save money.
At the end of the day, Vision will make more money on the city’s rental payments than the electric cars, maintenance, and management costs, and Indianapolis will get quiet, clean electric cars without having to pay a large upfront cost. In fact, Indy will pay less to rent and operate the electric vehicles than what they would spend to own gasoline vehicles. The deal between Indy and Vision Fleet could be the beginning of a revolution in the way electric vehicles are purchased, similar to how SolarCity helped create a solar panel boom with smart financing that leverages future energy savings to eliminate upfront costs. If all goes well in Indianapolis, Vision Fleet may be renting electric cars to fleets across the Country, and perhaps the globe.
Indianapolis may not grab daily news headlines like larger cities such as New York, but when it comes to embracing electric cars and sustainable transportation, the Midwestern city deserves the world’s attention. Indianapolis is not only leading the charge for electric vehicle adoption but also embracing an innovative financing system that could significantly boost future deployment of all-electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in cities across the U.S. and perhaps the world one day. For the time being, however, 425 new electric cars is good news for the ears, lungs, and wallets of Indianapolis residents.