University weighs electric car use

The University’s fleet of electric vehicles and miniature trucks is expanding to fit the service need of campus.

Pete Varney, associate director of the Garage and Car Pool, said the miniature trucks, or mini-trucks, and electric vehicles, or e-rides, are being considered from an economical standpoint.

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

For the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Varney said he asked to replace 20 light-duty vehicles. This might include electric vehicles and mini-trucks.

“We will look at those 20 vehicles we’re going to replace and see what works,” Varney said.

“What works” seems to be an important aspect of the purchasing process.

Varney must make sure that the new vehicle can perform the same job, if not better, than the old vehicle.

Varney said he looks at three important factors: dollars and cents, sustainability and the ability of the vehicle to get the job done.

“I can’t buy a little electric truck to replace a dump truck,” Varney said.

The current fleet includes several Global Electric Motorcars, or GEM Cars, two e-ride utility trucks, and eight gas powered mini-trucks. Varney said the GEM Cars are a 2004 model and are worn out and don’t work really well in the winter-time.

“They’re not a four season vehicle … the heaters are not really effective, Varney said. “They run on the battery so you drive less when (the heater) is in use.”

Varney said his predecessor purchased the GEM Cars — the first electric cars to service the University — as an attempt to seek out an alternative type of vehicle.

Timm Luhrsen, upgrade sub-foreman for the Facilities and Services garage, has worked on the electric cars and said they provide tremendous benefits.

“They are very basic cars … nothing really complicated about them,” Luhrsen.

More recently, two e-ride utility trucks were purchased for campus service.

Varney described the 100 percent electric cars as having a box-like, Hummer appearance and said that unlike the GEM cars, the e-rides are weather proof, complete with automotive glass, a more effective heater and a better payload.

The GEM cars were bought for $9,000 to $11,000 in 2004; the gas trucks were bought for $10,000, $11,000 or $15,000, depending on style; and the newer e-rides were purchased for $20,000.

The Facilities and Services department’s main vehicles are gas-powered full-size vans, primarily Chevrolet Astros.

Varney said the Astros only receive seven to ten miles per gallon on campus.

The mini-trucks receive between 20 and 30 miles per gallon on campus.

Varney also considers the size of the Facilities and Services employees that will be driving the vehicles.

“There are a lot of guys that won’t fit into these vehicles (electric/mini-trucks),” Varney said. “I’m 6’1″, and I don’t fit into some of them that well.”

But when it comes to driving these smaller, more efficient cars and trucks, Varney doesn’t mind the ride. He has driven every model.

“I don’t think I can purchase vehicles for others to use that I can’t use myself,” Varney said.

Facilities and Services Executive Director Jack Dempsey said he hopes to see more electric cars on campus and that any alternative mode of transportation is good.

“Were heading that way anyway,” he said. “We will see smaller cars that fit the job.”