President Obama (© General Motors)Click to enlarge picture

President Barack Obama took a test drive in a Chevrolet's plug-in Volt in the summer of 2010.

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that starting in 2015, all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government will be hybrids, electric vehicles and other alternative-fuel vehicles.

The government operates more than 600,000 fleet vehicles.

Obama, in a far-ranging speech about U.S. energy policy at Georgetown University, said the administration also plans to form partnerships with private companies "that want to upgrade their large fleets" with alternative-fuel vehicles.

The two new initiatives to expand the market for fuel-efficient vehicles are part of a broader administration push announced Wednesday to cut America’s 11 million barrels-a-day oil imports by a third by 2025.

“We cannot keep going from shock to trance on the issue of energy security, rushing to propose action when gas prices rise, then hitting the snooze button when they fall again,” Obama said.

Obama’s speech, titled “A Secure Energy Future,” seeks to seize the initiative from Republicans who have been pushing for more domestic oil drilling and for cuts in federal energy-conservation and alternative energy-source programs.

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Boost for Alternative-Vehicle Sales
The president said he is directing that all federal agencies plan to make 100 percent of their fleet purchases hybrids, electric vehicles and other alternative-fuel vehicles by 2015.

That would increase tenfold the rate of alternative-fuel vehicle purchases by the government in fiscal 2009 and 2010.

During that period, the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees the government fleet, bought 145,473 vehicles — about 10 percent of which were hybrids, Bloomberg News reported in November.

Hybrids accounted for less than 1 percent of government purchases in fiscal 2008, the news service reported.

The largest automaker group said Obama’s plan shows “the government can put high volumes of fuel-efficient vehicles onto our roads.”

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said consumer purchases have not kept pace with auto production of alternative-fuel vehicles under U.S. fuel-efficiency requirements.

“The policy question today is how to encourage more consumers to buy these high mpg vehicles,” Bergquist said. “Government fleet sales help answer that question. Other policy approaches surely exist to help sell these vehicles too.”

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'Clean Fleets'
An environmental group, the National Resources Defense Council, praised the planned fleet purchases.

They are a “great way to aggregate demand, get volumes up and drive prices down for new technologies,” said Roland Hwang, transportation program director of the nonprofit group.

Obama didn’t elaborate on his plan to “partner with private companies” on improving the fuel efficiency of their fleets.

On Friday, the president plans to visit a UPS shipping facility in Landover, Md., to view “clean fleets” from AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo, UPS and Verizon, the White House said.