Ford Motor Company announced a major milestone in the sale of alternative fuel vehicles today, as the 15,000th bi-fuel vehicle rolled off the line. The vehicle is a bi-fuel natural gas F-150 pickup truck and will be delivered to the Department of Energy.

Thomas J. Gross, U.S. Department of Energy deputy assistant secretary, accepted delivery of the vehicle from Les Grey, assistant commissioner, U.S. General Service Administration.

"The Department of Energy and GSA have shown exceptional leadership in purchasing and using alternative fuel vehicles," said Lee Oliphant, Ford Government Fleet Sales manager. "It is only appropriate that the delivery of the 15,000th bi-fuel vehicle is to the U.S. General Services Administration and the Department of Energy."

Since 1996 the GSA, which orders equipment and supplies for a wide range of U.S. government agencies including the Department of Energy, has purchased or leased more than 4000 bi-fuel natural gas or propane vehicles from Ford.

The bi-fuel propane (LPG) and natural gas trucks are built at Ford's Ontario Truck Plant in Oakville, Ontario and then shipped to GFI Control Systems, Inc. in Cambridge, ON for installation of alternative fuel tanks and fuel systems.

The use of alternative fuel vehicles by federal agencies is expected to grow significantly over the next five years. Under a new Executive Order (E.O. 13149), federal agencies with a fleet of 20 or more vehicles must develop a strategy to lower its annual petroleum consumption by at least 20 percent by 2005 compared to 1999 fuel consumption.

To achieve reduction in fuel consumption, federal agencies must use alternative fuels in bi-fuel or flexible-fuel vehicles the majority of the time, increase the average EPA fuel economy rating of their light-duty vehicle fleet acquisitions by at least one mpg in 2002 and three mpg by 2005, and improve overall fleet efficiency. As part of the Executive Order, federal agencies must submit a compliance plan to the Department of Energy by November 2000.

Alternative fuel vehicles are receiving another boost this summer in the form of higher gas prices at the pump. Consumer interest in alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) has risen as retail gasoline prices have climbed to record highs. Alternative fuels usually cost less than gasoline, but that gap has grown significantly in recent months as gasoline prices have soared.

"Large vehicle fleets are among the first to feel the impact of rising gas prices. There is a lot of concern from fleet operators regarding the effect increasing gasoline prices will have on their businesses," said Oliphant. "Fleet managers who ordered AFVs this spring are finding that their decision is paying off faster than expected because, while gasoline prices are rising, the cost of alternative fuels is holding steady."

Since 1996, sales of dedicated and bi-fuel natural gas vehicles have grown nearly 25 percent a year. In addition, dealers and retail consumers have begun showing increasing interest in AFVs over the last few months.

"Alternative fuel vehicles are a cost-effective, environmentally responsible mode of transportation, and Ford Motor Company is proud to provide customers with more alternative fuel options than any other auto manufacturer," said Oliphant.

In North America, Ford offers 10 models of vehicles that operate on natural gas, propane, electricity, or E85 (ethanol).

The partnership between Ford and GFI to build bi-fuel natural gas and propane vehicles began in 1994 with the bi-fuel natural gas F-150. Over the years, the partnership has expanded to include the bi-fuel natural gas Ford Contour, the bi-fuel LPG F-150 pickup truck and the bi-fuel LPG Super Duty F- Series.