Army going electric for light-use vehicles

Navy, Air Force could follow suit, says Army spokesman.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
Chrysler's General Electric Motorcar delivered the first six, out of the thousands of NEVs the U.S. Army plans to lease in the coming years. U.S. Army/General Electric Motorcars

The Big 3 of Detroit aren't the only ones singing the praises of electric vehicles this week.

The U.S. Army on Monday announced an initiative to potentially replace up to 28,000 gas-powered vehicles at more than 155 Army installations with Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) in the coming years.

NEVs are not highway-legal electric vehicles, but rather light-use electric vehicles with a maximum speed of 25 mph. The Army intends to use them for nontactical things like on-base transportation for visitors, or maintenance personal and their equipment, according to Paul Bollinger, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Energy & Partnerships.

Plans are already in the works to replace 4,000 gas-powered vehicles over the next three years with leased NEVs through a partnership with the General Services Administration (GSA), the U.S. government's main procurement agency.

Global Electric Motorcar (GEM), a division of Chrysler, delivered the first six NEVs to Fort Myer, Virginia on Monday. Two of the NEVs are four-seat sedans. The other four are two-seat trucks with flatbeds and a payload capacity of 1,000 pounds. Both models have a range of 30 miles at 25 mph on a full eight-hour battery charge, and cost about $10,200 each.

While GEM is the first manufacturer to have won a contract for this initiative, it will not be the only supplier. Contracts are still open for bid to any company on the GSA's approved vendor list, Bollinger said.

The Army expects to replace a total of 800 army vehicles with NEVs this year, and replace 1,600 per year for 2010 and 2011.

By replacing 4,000 gas-powered vehicles with NEVs the Army will save 11 million gallons of fuel and 115,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the 6-year life of each vehicle, according to a statement from U.S. Army.

As part of the lease agreement, GEM will take care of battery replacement and maintenance costs.

One of the leading reasons the U.S. Army ultimately decided to go with NEVs as opposed to hydrogen or another alternative fuel vehicle, according to Bollinger, is that NEVs require little infrastructure to implement.

"These plug into any three-prong electrical outlet. There's nothing big or complicated about it whatsoever. Most will go into depots where they come into a central area to be charged," Bollinger said during a press teleconference.

The Army has estimated no more than $200 per vehicle for implementation, in the event that a three-prong electrical outlet is not readily available for the NEV to plug into and needs to be installed. And it expects to pay about $400 in electrical power for each vehicle per year, according to Bollinger.

While a potential 28,000 vehicles is good news for those electric vehicle manufacturers on the GSA's list of approved vendors, there could be even more orders soon up for grabs from two other branches of the military.

"No one from the Air Force has told me face-to-face that they would like to move in this area, but I've heard it in back channel communications. But the Navy has told me. They are interested in piggy-backing on the Army's order," said Bollinger.

GEM's four-seater sedan. U.S. Army/General Electric Motorcars