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California and the West

State Agency to Convert Its Auto Fleet Next Year

Environment: Department of General Services will switch to low-emission or nonpolluting vehicles to curb smog.


Moving to cut auto exhaust from the state's largest motor pool, the California Department of General Services announced Wednesday that it will begin converting its entire 10,000-vehicle fleet to low-polluting or nonpolluting cars beginning next year.

The move is intended to take a big bite out of tailpipe emissions in the nation's smoggiest state and to help create markets for advanced-technology cars that produce a fraction of the pollution other cars do.

Under the decision, one quarter of the state's light-duty vehicle fleet will convert to gasoline-powered cars that release up to 90% fewer pollutants than typical showroom models. The other 75% of the vehicles the state agency leases or purchases already are covered by a federal law that requires that they be powered by alternative fuels, including nonpolluting electric cars, said department spokesman Ken Hunt. The change takes effect with 2001 model year cars.

Most cars in showrooms today are considered "low-emission vehicles" that produce about 90% fewer emissions than did models that came off the assembly line 30 years ago.

The cars being added to the state motor pool are cleaner still and more difficult to acquire. Currently, Ford, Honda, Toyota, Dodge and Chevrolet produce nine models that meet ultra-low emissions or super ultra-low emissions standards, Hunt said.

"Smog caused by tailpipe emissions combined with recent heat storms throughout the state has made the air we breathe sickening to children, seniors and people with respiratory problems," said Barry D. Keene, director of the department.

"Converting our fleet to super ultra- or ultra-low emissions cars will help make California a healthier place to live and work," he said.

The Department of General Services operates a fleet of 10,000 cars and light trucks, which it makes available for use to scores of state and local agencies. Those vehicles have a life expectancy of about 7 years or 90,000 miles, and an average of 1,400 are replaced each year by the Department of Fleet Administration, Hunt said. The general services agency operates with a $500-million budget and also manages real estate and construction transactions on behalf of the state.

Jerry Martin, spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said the decision to use the cleanest cars available should encourage other public and private fleets to make the same switch. The board has adopted regulations that require up to 10% of the new cars sold in California by 2003 to be nonpolluting.

"It's significant. The department purchases more vehicles than any other state agency, and California needs to be setting this example. It's a very good thing," Martin said.

An estimated 70% of the air pollution in the Greater Los Angeles area comes from vehicles. Air quality officials say that while gasoline cars have cleaned up dramatically, a major shift toward alternative fuel and zero-emission vehicles is necessary to meet federal air pollution standards.

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