Lowering the gas gauge

Lowering the gas gauge

May 11th, 2009 by Adam Crisp in News

A deal to offer consumers up to $4,500 to trade in their fuel-guzzling vehicles for something that sips has Chattanooga officials wondering if the same sort of incentive might be heading their way.

If it does, you can expect to see quite a few more hybrids and other fuel-efficient cars in the city's fleet, they say.

"We've already bought a few Toyota Priuses for parking patrols, and we've been really happy with those," said Paul Page, director of Chattanooga General Services. "We've already cut fuel consumption 100,000 gallons by doing that and making other changes, so we'd definitely be ready if the incentive was offered."

Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell A Chattanooga Police officer drives a Toyota Prius hybrid car while issuing parking tickets. The fleet currently has three hybrid cars.

Talks among congressional leaders have mentioned offering stimulus money to cities and businesses that trade heavy, less fuel-efficient vehicles for more fuel-efficient models, including hybrids.

But the cash comes with a few strings. Purchasers might have to buy at least $500,000 worth of vehicles and, if it's like the proposal being floated for consumers, the trade-in vehicles would have to be destroyed.

Such incentives for individual car buyers have been offered in Germany, home of VW, which is building a plant in Chattanooga. Those incentives have led to a jump in auto sales in recent months.

Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., said two weeks ago on "Larry King Live" that such a proposal extended to government and business would stimulate auto production.

"There's no question that this is a really tough market. And that's why we actually need some stimulus to get it going," Mr. Ford said. "What that does is really two things. One, it helps the environment by getting the less fuel-efficient, less-clean cars off the road. And the other thing it does is it helps stimulate sales."

Ford touts its Focus, which gets between 25 and 35 miles per gallon, as a good option for businesses looking to lighten the thirst of their fleets. If the deal was offered to governments, Chattanooga would look at all of the light, gas-sipping brands offered, Mr. Page said.

But Congress shouldn't drag its feet, says one area Toyota dealer. Already, consumers have heard about the $4,500 deal being floated for them, and they have decided to wait to buy.

"In some ways, it's sort of hurt our business," said Jonathan Logan, sales manager for North Georgia Toyota in Dalton, Ga. "People have come in, asked, and we told them it's not available yet, so they've decided to wait."

The consumer-oriented proposal appears bogged down in Congress for now. Congressional Quarterly reported last week that Senate and House versions differ on specifics, but it appears the massive pot of stimulus money would be used to pay for the proposal.

Staff Photo by Tim Barber North Georgia Toyota sales manager Jonathan Logan waits for assistance with doors before backing a 2009 Toyota Prius into the showroom.

"The deal is a triple play for our economy," Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and the Environment Subcommittee, said in Congressional Quarterly. "We can reduce our dangerous dependence on imported oil and help the struggling American auto industry."

Aside from that, if the deal moves forward, city leaders say it would be a double bonus because they would save money and reduce Chattanooga's carbon footprint.

"This is a great buy, and it would be foolish not to take advantage of it," Mr. Page said. "We're going to look at it immediately, because it could save us money and reduce the amount of carbon we put into the air."