Welcome to Voltageville

What happens when a city fleet goes electric? In the case of Vacaville, CA, it charges up the whole town.


Ed Huestis isn't a fleet maintenance manager--by title, he's a systems manager for the City of Vacaville Department of Public Works--so you might wonder why his story is appearing on the pages of Fleet Maintenance magazine. Then again, you wouldn't have to wonder at all if you were one of the many fleet managers in California asking Huestis to come and give a presentation on how to reduce your fleet's fuel consumption and fuel costs by switching to renewable energy.

Huestis is in great demand. He spends a lot of his evenings traveling around the region, explaining to fleet managers how he single-handedly made Vacaville a mecca for electric highway vehicles in the early 1990s, to the point where the city once boasted the greatest number of electric highway vehicles per-capita of any city in the United States (back then, the local press dubbed Vacaville "Voltageville," and the nickname has stuck).

"They want to do something," Huestis says of his colleagues, "they just don't know what to do and how to do it."

But helping other fleets see the light is not the whole of Huestis' accomplishment. In a state that is known for its car culture, Huestis has convinced hundreds of city managers, city employees and residents of his entire county to abandon gasoline- and diesel-powered transportation in favor of alternative-fuel vehicles.

GRANTS ADMINISTRATOR PLUS

Ed Huestis is a modest guy. He says that all he does is administer grants, but that's like Superman saying he's just a guy who can jump pretty high.

He was employed by Vacaville in 1992 to adminsiter the Trip Reduction Rule, a California State program that mandated major employers to reduce the number of trips made by employees to the worksite. "But that phased out when there was a lot of ruffling of feathers, and the employers said they didn't want anything mandatory like this," he says. "Somehow they got it watered down to where it was done on a voluntary basis."

But Huestis wasn't out of a job. The city had a need for a grants administrator to bring in state and federal money for capital improvement projects, and Huestis got the position. One of the money sources he identified was the state's CMAQ (Congestion, Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement) Program, which disburses grants for transportation projects that affect air quality. That could mean building a bike path through town, or it could mean buying an electric vehicle for the city's fleet.

Coincidentally, General Motors had recently introduced the EV1 electric coupe to the California market, and Huestis and his wife had been among the first customers to sign up.

"When we started seeing the ads for the EV1, it was about $600 a month in Los Angeles," Huestis recalls. "I said, 'There's no way I'm going to pay that kind of price to get into an EV1.' But they came down, and offered some incentives, and it got down to about $399, and I said, 'Let's do this.'"

"When we took delivery in August of '98, we had a Ride-n-Drive event, and it was fantastic; 0-60 in less than eight seconds?" he exclaims. "My wife and I were having to build more time into when we went shopping, because we would get out of the car and people would be asking us about it, because it was so unique. Then, when we came back out to the car, people would be asking us about it. And we'd see fingerprints all over the windows, because people would be peering inside.

"I was happy to do that," he says, "but I thought, what if I had 10 or 15 people taking the time to explain things to people to raise the awareness level, to show people that electric cars exist, you can go to the Saturn dealership and you can actually lease this vehicle? So the seed was planted; we wanted everyone to be driving this car."

CAN IT BE DONE?

So Ed Huestis had an idea that no one had ever had before. What if he really could get everyone into an EV1?

"People were saying they would get one if it didn't cost so much," he says, "so I started thinking, 'I might be able to use some grant money for this… let me see how I can do this.'"

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