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Feature

President Bob Bruininks stands next to the Ford Escape hybrid SUV.

President Bruininks and the U's new hybrid SUV.

Bruininks gives hybrid SUV a thumbs-up

U gets first one in Minnesota

By Cass Erickson

Published on February 10, 2005

One of Robert Bruininks's presidential perks of late is the chance to test-drive the new Ford Escape hybrid SUV, and he's all for it. Although he usually drives his own car, the hybrid's on loan to him for 10 days from the University's Fleet Services and he's taken it out on local highways. "Only up to 65 miles per hour, in a 65-mile-per-hour zone, of course," he laughs. Bruininks likes the way it handles, but its smaller size (uncharacteristic of most SUVs) doesn't accommodate his lifestyle. "The performance is outstanding," he says. "It's perfect, except when it comes to transporting a dog and camping equipment. I'd like to buy one if they made them larger."

Renewable energy and the environment are important to Bruininks both professionally and personally. His "President's Initiative on the Environment and Renewable Energy" is one of eight major areas of focus for his administration. "I've been a long-term advocate of energy conservation and preserving the natural environment," he says. "I've spent a good part of my life on the edge of the Boundary Waters, and I have a deep and abiding interest in the environment and in preserving it. Failure to address energy policy would be a detriment and create a destabilized world for all of us."

"We have a green crowd around here. Forty-five percent of our customers ask for hybrid vehicles," says Bill Roberts, director of the University's Fleet Services.

"The hybrid's fuel economy is 30 to 50 percent [higher than reguar SUVs]," continues Bruininks. "If you multiply that across the United States, that's a drastic cut in fuel imports... and why wouldn't we be producing new products and creating a safer environment?"

The University is the first in the state to receive the new energy-efficient hybrid SUV. Bill Roberts, director of the University's Fleet Services, was surprised and delighted to have the U's order filled. "Our customers have actually asked for this type of vehicle," he says. "We have a green crowd around here. Forty-five percent of our customers ask for the hybrid vehicles."

Hybrids are the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicles. They run on a combination of gasoline and rechargeable electric batteries. The batteries are recharged while the driver is operating the vehicle in gasoline mode or when using the regenerative brakes--a standard feature on the Escape. A battery pack is expected to last 100,000 miles.

The Ford Escape hybrid gets 33 miles per gallon (mpg) on the highway and 29 mpg in the city. Typically, non-hybrid SUVs get around 12 mpg. The hybrids are clearly a great boon to increasing the overall mileage of the University's fleet.

The University began buying alternative-fuel vehicles in 1995, based on EPACT, or the Energy Policy Act, a federal mandate that has since gone by the wayside. "The hybrid cars are cheaper to operate," Roberts says. "The Toyota Prius, another U-owned hybrid vehicle, gets 42 miles to the gallon, which is 50 percent better gas mileage than our standard cars. While the hybrids do cost more, their value as a used vehicle more than offsets the increased cost of buying one over a regular vehicle, so it's a cost savings for the University."

Plus the Escape looks really good. Peaking under the spotless hood, Bruininks adds, "It's great fun! I'd like to take my wife out on a date in it!"