Obama Administration Buys Nearly 1 in 4 Hybrids as Consumer Market Slumps

By Scott Doggett November 23, 2010


By Danny King, Contributor

San Francisco has nothing on Washington, D.C.. when it comes to hybrid-electric vehicle purchases, apparently.

The Obama administration has purchased almost one out of every four Ford and General Motors hybrid-electric vehicles sold since the president took office in early 2009, indicating that the federal government may be propping up hybrid sales that would have otherwise slumped because of their higher prices, Bloomberg reported today.

Hybrids accounted for about 10 percent of the 145,473 vehicles the U.S. General Services Administration bought during the past two fiscal years after making up less than 1 percent of government vehicle purchases in 2008, the news service said, citing data it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

By comparison, hybrids account for about 2.5 percent of all U.S. light-duty vehicles sold.

The GSA used funds from the $300 million that it received from the 2009 economic stimulus package to buy about 3,100 hybrids, while proceeds from the sales of older government vehicles funded about 5,600 hybrid purchases, Bloomberg said, citing GSA spokeswoman Sara Merriam. The cars cost the government between about $23,000 and $47,000 each.

President Obama appears to be trying to do his part to help the U.S. reach progressively more stringent fuel-economy targets. The average 2010 model-year car across all makes got 22.5 miles per gallon, up slightly from the 22.4 average for the 2009 model year and about 17 percent higher than the 2004 model year average, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a report released last week.

The average model-year fuel economy likely increased for the fifth consecutive year for 2010 (results are preliminary) as more hybrid-electric vehicle sales and improved powertrain technologies appeared to offset the effect of heavier cars and fewer four-cylinder engines, according to the report.

Still, whether hybrids are making headway among the general U.S. buying pubic is open to debate. October's hybrid-electric unit sales increased 7.1 percent from September to their highest numbers since May, and had a 2.54 percent share of all U.S. light-duty vehicles, marking an 11-month high.

Still, hybrid sales were down 9.1 percent from a year earlier while total vehicle sales increased 14 percent from October 2009.

Meanwhile, the EPA said in its report that hybrids accounted for about 4.3 percent of model year 2010 light-duty vehicles, up from about 2.3 percent in 2009.
Those numbers are skewed, however, because Toyota began selling the 2010 version of its Prius, the world's most popular hybrid, relatively early in 2009, which inflated 2010 numbers and shrunk 2009 figures, according to EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones.

As for specific models, Obama definitely took a buy-American stance. The administration accounted for about two-thirds of the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrids sold during the past two years, and almost a third of the Ford Fusion Hybrids. By comparison, the administration acquired 17 Toyota Prius hybrids and five Honda Civic Hybrid vehicles total, according to Bloomberg.

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