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Spokane Police Find New Teslas Cost-Efficient but Unpopular

The city purchased two Tesla vehicles for a pilot program of electrifying the police department’s fleet. Preliminary reviews gave the Teslas low marks but the scope of the survey was very narrow.

(TNS) — The Spokane, Wash., Police Department gave its new Teslas high marks for cost efficiency, but a very preliminary survey found them to be less popular among employees compared to gas-powered alternatives.

The city purchased two Tesla Model Y compact SUVs earlier this year at the urging of the City Council, which has pushed the city to begin to convert its fleet to electric or hybrid-powered options.

The police department has used them in a very limited capacity since March, as the city awaited parts, like push bumpers and computer mounts, that will allow them to be used by officers.

They're expected to be ready for full service by next week, and the results of their use in a pilot program will likely be key to the city's electrification of its fleet.

City officials presented an early analysis of the Teslas to the Spokane City Council's Public Safety and Community Health Committee on Monday.

The Model Ys were compared to two Ford SUVs, one a hybrid and one a traditional gas-powered vehicle.

Over the first four years of service, the department estimates that the Tesla Model Y will cost $0.69 per mile driven, compared to $0.77 for the hybrid and $0.79 for the gas-powered option, assuming each is driven about 20,000 miles annually. In real dollars, that's a difference of at least $7,000 over four years.

The Teslas have a lengthier warranty and are expected to last a fifth year, which would widen the savings gap.

The department asked its employees to evaluate each vehicle on seven metrics: overall experience, steering and braking, suspension, storage, reliability, safety, and comfort.

The winner by a thin margin was the hybrid SUV. The Tesla received relatively low scores, suffering in the ratings for comfort, reliability, storage and safety.

But Rick Giddings, the city's director of fleet services, cautioned the council that the survey was narrow in scope.

"This is a very small sample based on extremely limited usage and the vehicles being used not as police vehicles," said Giddings, who added the survey would be "much more accurate and useful in the future."

The low scores for storage make sense, given the Model Y's smaller size, but the safety rating spurred confusion. Councilwoman Candace Mumm said that the Teslas have excellent safety ratings.

Police Chief Craig Meidl suggested the low safety scores could be a reflection of their comfort, and how the seats of the Tesla do not have adequate space for a utility belt.

Earlier this year, the council adopted a law urging the city to purchase electric vehicles when they are available and cheaper than a gas-powered alternative.

The pilot Teslas will help city officials answer some key questions.

It's unclear whether there will be adequate time to charge the Model Ys between patrol officer shifts, although Mumm pointed out they could still be a good fit for detectives and others who take their vehicles home.

The cost to repair a Tesla that is involved in a collision will likely be more expensive, Giddings noted, and police vehicles are involved in a higher rate of collisions than those operated by civilians.

Another key factor will be the city's ability to provide charging infrastructure where it's needed.

The city is not committed to Tesla as the only electric option, Giddings noted. Ford already produces the Mach E, which is an option, and manufacturers could one day produce an electric vehicle tailored for police departments.

(c)2021 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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