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Ragsdale eyes adding hybrids to county fleet

An example of the Honda hybrid model Ragsdale is considering adding to the county fleet.- Preston Flanders/farragutpress
Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has a goal to meet: lower gas emissions to meet more strict federal standards by 2007.

To get an early start on this task, he has ordered 5 gas-electric Honda Civic hybrid vehicles for the County’s fleet.

According to Mike Cohen, Knox County Senior Director of Communications and Government Relations, the city currently has 197 cars (excludes sheriff cruisers) and 119 sport utility vehicles that are gas-powered.

Hybrid cars only use gasoline power when an extra boost is needed - because of this, they average 50 miles per gallon. A diagram on Honda Amer-

ica’s corporate Web site ( explains that the fuel cell in a hybrid vehicle works by using built-in hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to combine in the cell, creating electricity to power the vehicle.

The result isn’t the noxious exhaust produced by gas-powered cars, but harmless water vapor and a little heat.

The used hydrogen fuel recirculates after completing its cycle through the cell, so the battery doesn’t require manual recharging of any kind. In spite of the environmental friendliness of these hybrid vehicles, county taxpayers may be left wondering whether they will be paying more for this benefit.

For the current county fleet, vehicles are replaced at an average rate of 74 each year. The current cost for each gas-only vehicle runs from $12,875 to $29,823 depending on make and model.

The Honda Civic hybrid cars cost the county $20,897 bid price, based on fleet purchase rather than individual purchase. An average of the low and high costs of gas-only vehicles, $21,349, shows that the electric version could save the county more than $500 per vehicle per purchase.

Currently, Knoxville’s air quality is ranked in the top 10 worst by the Environmental Protection Agency.

If the stricter standards aren’t met by 2007 year-end, loss of federal funding and crackdowns on industrial waste production will be the consequences.

The Knox County government, in conjunction with Anderson, Blount, Loudon, Sevier and Union counties, are under a compact for early action to be under way by 2005 according to State of Tennessee guidelines.

These counties have proposed a number of checks and reviews of emissions produced by government contractors, as well as regular car inspections.

The five hybrid vehicles added to the Knox County fleet may be just a drop in the bucket, but certainly something is better than nothing, says Cohen. He adds, “It’s a chance for Mayor Ragsdale to help lead a truly regional effort to get things going the right way. Hybrid cars are a small piece of the puzzle.”

The hybrid vehicle will happily cruise at interstate speeds, but it does so very quietly; when stopped and idling, it is absolutely silent, almost eerily so.

The parts for these vehicles aren’t typically more costly to owners than the equivalent parts for gas-powered cars. Cohen says, “Even slightly higher repairs would probably be offset by fuel savings.”

The savings for purchase of the vehicle, combined with the positive effect on the environment, make this change appear to be a beneficial one in many ways.

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