Electric cars have surged back into fashion for American drivers since sales for vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt hybrid and Nissan's all-electric Leaf began last year. Now the same cars are jump-starting President Barack Obama's new order for the U.S. government to buy no more traditional fuel vehicles after 2014.
The presidential memorandum issued today (May 24) makes electric cars a leading ride of choice to replace the 600,000-vehicle fleet operated by the government. An electric vehicle pilot program is already under way, buying 101 Volts, 10 Leafs and five THINK electric vehicles to begin the federal switchover.
The 116 new electric plug-in vehicles in the program are expected to annually save almost 29,000 gallons of gas and save taxpayers almost $116,000 in fuel costs. They join a number of hybrid vehicles that are already part of the federal fleet.
"Diversifying our transportation fleet with hybrids, electric vehicles and other alternative-fuel vehicles is a critical element in President Obama's long-term plan to break our dependence on foreign oil and invest in America's growing clean-energy economy," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.
Going with electric or alternative-fuel vehicles fits with the Obama administration's goals of cutting oil imports by one-third by 2025. The president had already set the target of putting 1 million advanced vehicles on American roads by 2015.
Private corporations such as FedEx have begun buying up and testing electric vehicles. But the new presidential order constitutes a huge step in the electric car's comeback, considering that the federal government operates the country's largest vehicle fleet.
By choosing to buy electric cars, Washington is reaping the benefits of past investments. It spent billions of dollars to bail out General Motors, the maker of Chevrolets. It also extended a $1.4 billion loan to Nissan to build U.S. factories for manufacturing the Leaf.
Similarly, the Department of Energy gave a $465 million loan to Tesla Motors, a startup car manufacturer founded by Silicon Valley innovator Elon Musk. But the government will probably hold off on buying any of Musk's sporty Tesla Roadsters with taxpayer dollars.