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In quest to go green, US firms retool car fleets

Companies are looking for ways to cut down on greenhouse gases and save money on increasingly expensive gasoline.

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Call it the greening of the fleet.

Corporate America is starting to look at the millions of cars it owns or leases for traveling salesmen, executives, and technicians as an area where it can cut down on greenhouse gases and save money on increasingly expensive gasoline.

• Abbott, a large pharmaceutical company, has shifted 20 percent of its fleet to green status – more fuel-efficient vehicles. In analyzing its carbon footprint, the company found 4.5 percent of its emissions in the US came from its 6,500 vehicles.

• Last month at an expo of the National Association of Fleet Administrators (NAFA) in Houston, managers of corporate fleets waited in line for test rides in hybrid vehicles and cars that use alternative fuels. It was the first time in the 46 years of the expo that NAFA has featured a "green zone."

• Last week, Hertz Corp., owner of one of the largest automobile fleets in the nation, said it would buy 3,400 hybrids, an investment of $68 million, over the next two years. Enterprise, with the largest US rental-car fleet, will have more than 3,000 hybrids this year.

This shift in corporate thinking is relatively new but has the potential to make an impact. Automobiles that are part of the corporate fleet have double the miles of the family vehicle. In the case of rental-car companies and executive car services, the mileage can be even higher.

Whether the shift in thinking is for the public-relations value or because it saves money, companies are suddenly trying to change their ways.

"In January, we tried to do a story on what companies are doing to turn their fleet green, but we couldn't find many who were willing or able to talk about it," says Phil Russo, executive director of NAFA. "But at our meeting in May, we asked people what had happened, and they said, 'This is part of our corporate mandate: We're trying to turn green.' "

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