Elmhurst goes electric! City purchases first-ever electric hybrid; police to test viability of cost, public safety

By Dee Longfellow

    As the City takes inventory of its vehicles and makes decisions on the fate of the older models, it also prepares to bring on newer editions. At a recent City Council meeting, a recommendation of the Public Works & Buildings (PWB) Committee was approved and the decision was made to move forward with the purchase of a 2024 Toyota RAV4 LE Hybrid, that is, an electric hybrid automobile.

    According to the Committee report, City staff recommended replacing one of the City’s existing vehicles with a hybrid variant. Staff analysis showed that utilizing a hybrid vehicle could enhance the City’s sustainability goals while still being capable of handling required tasks and assignments. The bid for the purchase was awarded to Oakbrook Toyota in the total amount of $29,726, including a trade-in allowance of $4,400. There will be additional costs to install emergency lighting and communication equipment in the vehicle in the amount of $1,500.

    When the matter became before the Council, Alderman Brian Cahill (4th Ward), who is PWB Chair, deferred to Ald. Noel Talluto (4th Ward), who is Chair of the Finance Committee.

Finance Chair offers perspective

    “I support this report but I’d like to make a few comments for the public’s information and to express a couple of concerns that I have,” Talluto said. “It’s a good opportunity and I appreciate the thought process of the Committee and the City staff and Chief McLean and his staff in considering the use of this particular operational police vehicle to assess whether or not these are a viable for a public safety function like the police department.

    She said she had personal experience with all-electric vehicles and warned that they can require a great deal of time for repairs. She added that for police vehicles, charging [the battery] in the field is also a concern.

    “It will be interesting to see how this pans out and I hope it’s a minimal risk, I think it WILL be a minimal risk, and I have full faith that if the police department decides it IS a public risk, they will cancel the experiment.”

What the public needs to know

    Talluto then shared information to make the public aware of the high upfront costs involved with this hybrid vehicle.

    “I want the public to know a couple of things,” she stressed. “The purchase of this vehicle is $13,000 above what we budgeted for and $18,000 more than what we would normally spend on a gas-powered [similar] vehicle for this purpose.  We are spending 25% and 44%, respectively, more than a gas-powered vehicle.”

    Talluto noted that she wasn’t including the savings in gas, which the Committee had.

    “In addition, we are spending $36,000 per new charger installed on City property, four of which will be installed this year. We will be spending $36,000 for the charger at the police department plus then, the increased cost of the electric vehicle.

    “So we are spending additional dollars to test this concept.”

    When Ald. Mike Brennan (7th.Ward) asked about the installation costs and the source of that information, Talluto said it was verified just before the meeting that night by the director of Public Works and by the police chief.

    “It is not only for the equipment to install but also for the electric service that will be needed to upgrade the power and the infrastructure in each of those locations,” Talluto explained. “It’s $140,000 budgeted for four EV installers [or charging stations].”

Electric car owners speak up

    Ald. Brennan noted he was the owner of a vehicle of this type and he was looking forward to the results of this “test” of a hybrid for police use.

    “My maintenance cost has gone down dramatically,” he said. “I know the way I drive is certainly different that the use of a police vehicle, but I’ve been concerned about the maintenance costs of our public vehicles in general. I think it’ll be very interesting to see what the maintenance cost is with a vehicle like this on an annual basis.

    “I agree with the aldermen [about] battery life – if we use it for this particular use and then extrapolate that to a regular day-in-the-life of a regular police vehicle, will there be enough charge in the vehicle to get through a shift? And if not, what is the down time associated with charging?”

    Ald. Rex Irby (7th Ward) has owned an electric vehicle for nine years and claims his maintenance costs are “almost zero – just tires and wiper blades.”

    “This particular vehicle we’re discussing tonight was highly vetted by the Michigan State Police for over a year and not just one, but a fleet of them,” Irby said. “They ran them like crazy all over Michigan, the weather is colder in Michigan.”

    Irby pointed out a previous City expenditure to put this purchase in perspective.

    “Speaking to the chargers at $36,000 each, keep in mind we spent almost $1 million for the refueling station at Public Works last year,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of 36,000’s in a million dollars. Just to put a comparative on that.”

And one more thing…

    Ald. Jacob Hill (2nd Ward) said he had noticed the short replacement cycles on the fleet lately. Some vehicles that he considered to be fairly recent purchases were perhaps being traded sooner than necessary, in his opinion.

    “I understand there is idling time, especially with the police department, that’s factored in,” Hill said. “It seems to me that the replacement cycles are a little short. I’m hoping we could find ways to eke more life out of these older cars. I’m sure the 2019 [vehicle] probably does get a lot of use, but it’s [mileage is not that high].

    “I’d be curious to hear the rationale of replacing a vehicle after just five years. That’s my only comment on it.”

    The measure for the hybrid vehicle passed 13-0 with one absent.

The full report

    Following is the full report of the City Council’s actions on City vehicles taken at the meeting held on Monday, April 1.

    The Council approved the following recommendations of the Public Works and Buildings (PWB) Committee:

1) to purchase a 2024 Toyota RAV 4 LE Hybrid from Oakbrook Toyota of Westmont and to authorize disposal/trade-in of one Ford Escape 4X4. Appropriation was in the FY24 budget: General Fund/ Police Department/ Services/ Forfeitures in the amount of $53,400;

2) to purchase a 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV from Currie Motors of Frankfort to replace PD49. Appropriation was in the FY24 budget: General Fund/ Police Dept./ Capital Outlay/ Vehicles in the amount of $53,400;

3) to purchase a 2024 Toyota RAV 4 LE Hybrid from Victory Midtown Toyota to replace E7. Appropriation to replace E7 was in the FY24 budget: General Fund/ Public Works Street Administration/ Capital Outlay/ Vehicles in the amount of $41,600.

    In addition, Council approved the purchase of the following:

1) one 2024 Ford Edge SE Demonstrator from Roesch Ford of Bensenville to replace PD48 in the amount of $39,198. Appropriation is in the budget: General Fund/ Police Dept./ Capital Outlay/ Vehicles in the amount of $62,000.

2) two 2024 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid LE and authorizing the disposal and trade-in of one 2013 Ford Escape 4×4 and one 2008 Pontiac Grand Prix for the City’s Electrical and Building Maintenance Divisions.