Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak may be the first mayor in the nation to drive a plug-in hybrid vehicle as his official city car.
Since he was first elected in 2002, Mayor Rybak’s official car has been a Toyota Prius. But the dramatically superior gas mileage of a plug-in hybrid vehicle prompted him to make the switch: he had his hybrid converted to a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, from which he expects to get about 70 miles per gallon (mpg) compared to his average 40 mpg with the Prius.
A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is like a regular hybrid with a cord. That is, its battery can be recharged by plugging it into a regular 120-volt outlet.
Typical of many PHEVs, Mayor Rybak’s car can travel about 30 miles solely on battery power if the speeds are 30 mph or less. If he drives further or needs to go faster, the car automatically switches over to using the gas engine. But for local city driving — when speeds are low and distances are shorter — he could go days without using any gasoline to power the engine.
Although most of Minnesota’s electricity comes from coal power, powering a vehicle with the electric grid is still cleaner than gasoline. But the Mayor and other city officials want to make it even cleaner: Minneapolis has applied for a state grant to install solar panels on some city buildings so that future plug-in cars could charge up using solar power instead of fossil fuels. Rybak told the Minnesota Daily:
"It became clear to me that the two big things we had to do were convert to plug-in hybrids and find a way to have them use electricity from non-coal sources … I become very frustrated with people saying we need to do years of research on all these issues. Research is great, but the technology is there right now."
Last year, Minnesota became the first state in the nation to pass legislation promoting plug-in hybrids. The law instructs the state to buy plug-in hybrids on a preferred basis when they become available and encourages Minnesota State University - Mankato to develop flex-fuel plug-in hybrid vehicles (plug-ins that can run on an ethanol blend).
Minneapolis has about 100 government vehicles that are either hybrids or use E-85 fuel (an 85 percent ethanol, 15 percent gasoline blend). Leadership from the city and supportive government policies could make plug-in hybrids a more common occurrence on Twin Cities roads.Photo Source: City of Minneapolis