In an effort to cut its gasoline use, Eastern Illinois University has added a fuel-saving hybrid car to its fleet and is investigating the possibility of buying more.
EIU received its 2006 Toyota Prius in January, and fleet manager Ron Mathenia is recording its performance and costs to determine whether it might be beneficial to purchase additional hybrids.
Based on what he’s seen so far, Mathenia thinks hybrids suit the university’s needs well.
“We’ve got to reduce the number of gallons of gas we use here at the university,” Mathenia said. “If we can decrease it any amount whatsoever, we can really have an impact.”
The Prius, which Mathenia says has “plenty of horsepower,” saves fuel by switching to an electric motor when driven below about 15 mph. Its fuel economy has ranged from 24.2 miles per gallon to 51.7 mpg.
The main concern is the high start-up cost associated with a hybrid vehicle. Although the $24,000 sticker price initially sounds like it would outweigh the benefit of lower fuel costs, that concern is allayed by high resale values powered by strong consumer demand.
Mathenia is meticulously weighing the hybrid’s positives and negatives.
“We know it’s a good environmental choice, and we applaud (EIU) President Hencken for letting us put one of these hybrids in the fleet,” Mathenia said. “But even though it’s a green concept, it has to be a good economic value for the university before we can commit to purchasing more.”
Gary Reed, director of EIU Facilities Planning and Management, agrees that the financial impact will be the main factor in deciding on the university’s use of hybrids in the future.
“We treat it like we’re running a personal business here,” Reed said. “Although the hybrid makes great environmental sense, if we can’t justify the cost of ownership vs. fuel economy, then we may not pursue additional hybrids until there is more compelling justification.”
The real savings with hybrids comes during slower city driving, which is why it may be beneficial to eventually purchase hybrids for the EIU Police Department, Reed said.
The athletics department has also purchased a Prius for use by a women’s basketball assistant coach, who is a big fan of the vehicle.
EIU employees use the 28 fleet vehicles for business trips. Those who have used the Prius have given Mathenia nothing but positive feedback.
One admissions counselor drove the car nearly 900 miles and averaged 45 mpg.
“It worked out very well for me,” the counselor said. “It is very spacious, it handles very well on the road, and I feel it gives us a positive image because I think it shows that we are environmentally aware and practical.”
Mathenia is also excited about the prospect of the university leading by example in reducing dependence on fuel and in being environmentally aware.
Bud Fischer, an EIU biology professor, said the use of hybrid vehicles is a great move from an environmental standpoint.
“Hybrid cars top the list of the least polluting and most fuel-efficient vehicles on the road today,” Fischer said. “If fuel economy were improved by 5 mpg, American consumers would save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day.”
In addition, an average Toyota Camry typically emits 11,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, much more than the Toyota Prius’ 4,800 pounds per year, Fischer said.
Hybrid vehicles significantly reduce other harmful pollutants as well, including carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxide and lead.
The addition of a hybrid car to the fleet is the latest in EIU’s extremely successful efforts to increase energy efficiency and become even more environmentally friendly.
“From the late ‘90s to now, we’ve cut 35 percent off of our utilities expenditures,” Reed said. “Our energy conservation is the best in the state, and compared to other campuses our size, we’re one of the best in the entire country.”
For example, by simply installing new toilets, washing machines and shower heads, the university cut its water consumption nearly in half.
Other energy-conscious moves throughout campus have included using high-efficiency motors, upgrading lighting systems, installing temperature-control programs, changing to new LED-powered “exit” signs and a variety of “smart engineering changes,” Reed said.
“No one’s really seen a decrease in comfort and service levels, but we’re seeing savings,” Reed said.
Mathenia sees the addition of hybrids to the fleet as being the next logical progression of the university’s proactive energy-savings measures.