SPRINGFIELD — The Quinn administration is poised to hit the gas when it comes to buying electric cars.
The state's main purchasing agency recently inked a nearly $1.6 million contract with a Chicago electric car dealer that could be the start of bringing an additional 60 vehicles into the state's vehicle fleet over the coming years.
And based on the current number of cars in the state fleet, officials could be buying as many as 2,300 more fuel-efficient vehicles beginning in three years.
Anjali Julka, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Central Management Services, said the agency has determined that electric vehicles are a better deal for taxpayers than some conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles.
One comparison featuring a gas-powered 2013 Ford Focus and a 2013 Mitsubishi electric i-MiEV shows the state could save nearly $6,000 per vehicle, she said.
"If you run the numbers over eight years, the comparison is $31,663 for a conventional fuel-powered car versus $25,830" for the electric car, Julka said in an email.
But an ongoing pilot project using 15 electric cars purchased with federal funds also has highlighted some limitations of using battery-powered vehicles.
At the Illinois Department of Agriculture, one of the electric cars is being used to deliver agency mail throughout the capital city.
Ag spokesman Jeff Squibb said the car also could be used by maintenance crews working on some of the more than 150 buildings on the state fairgrounds.
But with a limited range of 60 miles and a lack of charging stations in many rural areas, Squibb said it is unlikely the vehicle will be used by meat inspectors and other agency officials who travel longer distances from the main office in Springfield.
"We are still determining how to best use the vehicle," Squibb said.
For now, Julka said the state has a contract to purchase up to 60 vehicles, but it has not yet placed an order. Among the brands being considered are Mitsubishi's i-MiEV, Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf.
Beginning in 2016, a new Illinois law will require 25 percent of new state vehicles to run on electric, compressed natural gas, liquid petroleum gas or liquid natural gas.
Based on the state's current number of cars — 9,250 — that could mean the state will be purchasing an estimated 2,300 alternative fuel vehicles in the coming years.
Julka said state's experience with the 15 Mitsubishi test cars has been "excellent."
"The current i-MiEVs have been performing as expected and not a single i-MiEV has ever left a driver stranded or needing to be towed," she noted.