An Indiana Police Chief sees big savings fast
By Mark Boada, Executive Editor
Last week, I reported that a California consulting company claims that some 38 percent of the fleet vehicles across the U.S. that it has studied would be cheaper to own and operate if they were fully electric or, to use the right nomenclature, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs).
More specifically, Yann Kulp, one of the founders of eiQ Mobility, said that if a fleet had a BEV in operation instead of a fossil-fueled sedan, it could enjoy a savings of a little more than $12,000 in total cost of ownership (TCO) over 10 years. He made that claim only days after a study by the U.S. Department of Energy said that consumers could save around $14,500 in fuel costs by driving a BEV for 15 years.
The problem as I see it is that fleets generally don’t hold vehicles that long, and that the cost of fuel is only one variable in TCO calculations. To eiQ Mobility’s credit, however, the figures Kulp cited did include every TCO factor, from eligible subsidies to acquisition, fuel and maintenance costs and residual value. But that still left the matter of the extra-long vehicle holding period unaddressed.
So, it was with no small surprise that, just a few days after I talked with Kulp, the chief of police in Bargersville — population 4,010 according to the 2010 census and a suburb of Indianapolis – announced that he believes the five Tesla patrol cars his department bought last year are going to pay for themselves in less than two years. How so? After all, aren’t Tesla’s so expensive that only the well-to-do can afford them?
One reason is that the Bargersville P.D. didn’t buy the Tesla S, which in 2019 retailed for nearly $75,000, nor the Model X, which had an MSRP of $81,000. Instead, it acquired Tesla Model 3s, with a more modest base price of just under $38,000, roughly comparable to the Dodge Chargers they were replacing.
Another factor is that electricity is considerably cheaper than gasoline. There’s math that converts that price differential to an equivalent fuel economy miles per gallon. The Dodge Charger’s fuel consumption was rated at 16 mpg in city driving 25 on the highway. The Tesla 3’s equivalent is a stunning 137 in the city, 126 on the highway.
But the key reason the Bargersville pilot program appears to prove the BEVs make TCO sense for police cars is connected with how they are used. In a recent report about police vehicle fuel consumption, a police cruiser was found to idle 60% of the time during normal operation and used 21% of its total fuel while parked. For all intents and purposes, BEV engines don’t idle. Nor do they require engine oil, which eliminates that cost altogether, but also eliminates another problem: premature maintenance issues caused by extensive idling, which leaves high levels of fuel in the oil.
When considering the Teslas, Bargersville Police Chief Todd Bertram told Electrk.co it was important that they performed equally well – meaning able to accelerate quickly to high speeds and have acceptable range – and that they were cost-effective over the fleet’s six-year holding period.
“Two big things that we were looking at when shopping for cars were obviously cost and performance,” Bertram told Electrek.co. “Many times when you get a car that is in our cost price range, you sacrifice performance. With Tesla, the performance is better than the cars we are currently driving. It’s amazing, it’s smooth, it’s powerful, it handles great.” Significantly, the Model 3 offers a range of 322 miles on a single charge.
The kicker was that, by the department’s calculations, the Teslas were expected to generate fuel expense savings of $6,000 a year, and more on maintenance. It pulled the trigger after the department estimated each Tesla would save about $20,000 a year all up compared to the Chargers.
But the results appear to be even better. On June 29, Bertram posted this about the department’s return on investment on Twitter: “[It’s b]etter. I think the breakeven point will be more like 19 months rather than 24 like we planned before.”
Bertram’s report of results is the first I’ve seen from the handful of police departments in the U.S. and around the world that are engaged in Tesla 3 pilots. In the U.S., the police departments in Los Angeles, Denver and Fremont, California, have been trying out a limited number of Tesla 3’s, as are the police in Switzerland and Luxembourg.
Maybe Tesla knows more about how these tests have been turning out. It’s hard to find out, though, because Tesla has jettisoned its marketing communications staff and did not return calls by this reporter.
But perhaps their actions speak loudly enough. According to Electrek.co, Tesla is now “making a push” to sell its Model 3 to fleets. Fleet Management Weekly will try to find out directly from Tesla. Meanwhile, we’d love to hear from any fleet managers or fleet management companies on whether they’re in discussions with Tesla or the maker of any other BEV.