After 35 years in the business, Del Gray knows some things about running a city's vehicle fleet, and one of them is that you don't pay more for a car than necessary. That's why the manager of the city's 700 cars and trucks shook his head when he talked about the city's most recent vehicle purchases.
"Well, it goes against the grain, but I know it's the right thing to do," Gray said of the five new sedans and eight vans that came with higher sticker prices but cleaner-burning fuel systems. "I'd be against something like this normally . . . but I don't like smog either."
The new vehicles have flexible fuel systems, meaning that besides unleaded gas, they can run on methanol, a cleaner-burning substance that cuts down on emissions that cause smog and other environmental hazards. Even an admitted penny-pincher like Gray agrees that it's a good idea.
"Like I said, I'll give it a try. We're going to do the right thing," he said.
City Council members decided Tuesday to approve the deal to buy the five 1992 Chevy Luminas and eight 1992 Ford Econolines to replace city vehicles pegged for retirement. The city put up $75,330 toward the purchases, a sum combined with a $150,000 grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District and an additional $89,500 from the California Energy Commission.
The white cars and vans are identical to their conventional counterparts on the outside, but their fuel systems have been engineered to withstand methanol, which is more corrosive than gasoline, said Brian Smith, the city employee transportation coordinator.
"What the system does is give you more bang for your buck; there's more power to it and less emissions," Smith said. "It's been around for quite a while. It's the same fuel they use in the Indianapolis 500 and high-performance cars and good stuff like that."
The engines run on M85, a fuel made from natural gas that contains 85% methanol (methyl alcohol) and 15% unleaded gas, a synthesis that yields a 30% to 50% reduction in smog-causing emissions, according to the California Energy Commission.