February 03, 2006

Durango or Suburban - Whatever

The Star-Ledger reported this week that Union County Manager George Devanney was swapping his gas-guzzling 2004 Chevy Suburban for something a little more economical in an effort to save the taxpayers money.

Mr. Devanney’s new wheels are reported to be a 2005 Dodge Durango with four-wheel drive like his former vehicle. He is among the 70 or so employees who have county-owned vehicles available to them under the heading of “Portal to Portal,” which translates into commuting to their jobs.

Employees also shown having county cars at their disposal “portal to portal” are assemblymen Joe Cryan and Gerry Green. I have to wonder if they “commute” to their part-time assembly jobs in Trenton on the county taxpayers’ dime.

Coincidentally “Car and Driver” magazine released the results of their “LONG-TERM TEST” on the 2005 Dodge Durango with 4WD in the January 2006 issue and just as coincidently the mag turned up in my house the same day the article hit the Ledger. (And who says divine providence doesn’t exist.)

The article speaks of the amenities the vehicle offers, some standard and some optional, but what caught my eye was the paragraph which addressed fuel consumption.

It read “fuel economy, an oxymoronic phrase in connection with SUVs in this class, was lamentable. The Durango averaged 14 mpg over the course of this test. If you want performance in a vehicle that weighs over 2.5 tons, you're gonna pay at the pump."

By all indications, the test lasted in excess of 10 months with the vehicle driven for short and long cross country trips in all types of weather. http://www.caranddriver.com/article.asp?section_id=17&article_id=10399

This past fall, Mr. Devanney, in another Star-Ledger article about the county fleet and the increasing cost of gasoline, stated that he would get rid of his Suburban, which got about 17 miles to the gallon, and replace it in January with something more fuel efficient; perhaps it could be a hybrid (gas/electric combo). Hybrid SUVs have reportedly gotten as high as 36 mpg city and 31 mpg on the highway. A visit to http://www.fueleconomy.gov/, a website with links to the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, it backed up the “Car and Driver” test results in the fuel consumption department. Findings for the ’04 Chevy Suburban AWD: MPG city 14, MPG highway 18 and combined 16MPG. Findings for the ’05 Durango 4WD: MPG city 13, MPG highway 18 and combined 15MPG.

Well, it appears that the county didn’t do much in the line of cutting Mr. Devanney’s gasoline usage; in fact they perhaps unknowingly upped it a tad. I understand the 20 mpg figure attributed to Davanney’s new Durango comes from the people at Dodge/Chrysler. However, I could not locate an independent study to support the manufacturer’s claims. Too bad, as I would have liked to have seen a savings, rather than more of the same.

The http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ website lists the most and least fuel efficient vehicles grouped by EPA Size Classes and ranked by city mpg. The Ford Escape FWD Hybrid is a sure winner at 36 mpg city and 31 highways, followed by the Escape model which runs solely on gasoline, with 24 mpg city and 29 highways.Although these are four cylinder engines as opposed to the Durango’s six or eight, (I don’t know which Mr. Devanney has), I am sure that they would have gotten him to any emergency scene in the worst of weather. My daughter’s 2005 Ford Escape has done just that getting her up the mountain from Garwood to Summit daily in rain, snow, sleet and hail.

Looks like someone at the county didn’t do their homework very well, and that someone reports ultimately to Mr. Devanney, the County Manager, whom I might add has the final call over who gets what vehicles and when. It appears that the only thing that this switcheroo of vehicles is going to save the county taxpayers is a few feet of space in the county garage.