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Government greens its fleet

The Yukon government is introducing 31 compact sedans and SUVs in an effort to “green” its vehicle fleet.

The Yukon government is introducing 31 compact sedans and SUVs in an effort to “green” its vehicle fleet.

On Tuesday, Environment Minister Dennis Fentie and Highways and Public Works Minister Archie Lang held a Whitehorse news conference to showcase a black Smart For Two coupe emblazoned with the motto “Think big, go small” and other new green vehicles in the Yukon fleet.

“We’re here today to unveil what the Yukon government is doing in one area of its operations to make a positive contribution to dealing with climate change, and that is reducing our overall emission factor,” said Fentie as he emerged from the Smart Car as Lang looked on.

The three-cylinder, turbo-diesel Smart gets 74 miles per gallon on the highway and weighs only 700 kilograms.

The Smart is being leased by the Environment department, and has been added to the government’s vehicle fleet along with 12 subcompact Toyota Yaris sedans, 11 compact Jeep Compass SUVs and eight other compact cars at a cost of about $612,000.

“We are replacing some 31 gas guzzlers with compact and subcompact vehicles, dramatically reducing our emissions,” said Fentie.

All of the new vehicles (except the Smart) have four-cylinder engines and replace mid-size sedans and SUVs that had six-cylinder engines, said fleet vehicle manager Stefan Voswinkel.

The 31 efficient cars represent almost 10 per cent of the government’s fleet of 443 vehicles, said Fentie.

But while it’s certain the new vehicles will reduce fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, officials at the news conference couldn’t give exact figures on how much the new cars and SUVs will impact those amounts, which were provided by Voswinkel in a follow-up e-mail.

The new vehicles will reduce C02 emissions by 43.6 tonnes per year compared with the six-cylinder vehicles they replace, said Voswinkel in an e-mail.

But the government does not yet have data on how much C02 its fleet produces each year.

“This issue is likely to be explored further within the (climate change) action plan the government is currently developing,” he said in the e-mail.

The Smart Car will save the government about $500 in fuel costs annually and will cut C02 emissions by about half compared to an SUV, said Fentie.

“When you extrapolate that into 31 vehicles, you can see the kind of reduction that will be taking place by the government in dealing with emissions,” he said.

The Toyota Yaris sedans, which return about 40 miles per gallon on the highway, will be used for driving around Whitehorse and short trips, said Voswinkel.

Longer trips with more passengers and gear will require the all-wheel-drive Jeeps, due to “safety factors,” he said.

The Compass returns excellent fuel mileage for a truck capable of going off-road, but its mileage, at about 30 miles per gallon on the highway, is at the low end of sedan fuel economy.

Many of the cars and trucks in the Yukon government’s fleet remain gas-guzzlers. And Fentie knows it.

“The Smart Car, 10 years ago, wasn’t available,” he said. “Some of this technology is now starting to come to the forefront. We have made a move to enter into this area and purchase more environmentally friendly vehicles.”

The new vehicles are some of the first concrete decisions resulting from the government’s 14-page climate change strategy, a document painted in broad strokes that sets large goals rather than specific actions to address climate change.

The strategy was released in July, but the Yukon Party government’s climate change action plan is going to be introduced in the fall of 2008.

That action plan will go beyond the strategy’s broad objectives with specific actions and initiatives, said climate change co-ordinator Johanna Smith.

Tuesday’s announcement could also be a one-time deal as there is no political direction requiring the government’s fleet vehicle agency to replace larger vehicles with smaller, more efficient ones.

“That’s a difficult thing to mandate,” said Fentie. “That will be up to fleet vehicle. I’m sure the agency will continue to ramp up its inventory in more environmentally friendly vehicles.

“We have to look at application. There are areas in this territory where a little car like the one I drove up in might not function well,” he said.

As he stood surveying the tiny Smart Car, Fentie said that during his recent drive from Watson Lake to Whitehorse there were more than 15 centimetres of snow on the roads.

“I’m not too sure how well that little car would react,” he said.

Fentie drives a full-size Dodge Ram pickup truck.

“The mandate is to address climate change where we can,” he said.

The fleet vehicle agency plans to continue buying smaller cars in numbers “comparable” to this year’s purchase, said Voswinkel in his follow-up e-mail.