Better than New
June 30, 2016
When Scott Mattson was a technician for the Minnesota National Guard, the Guard partnered with a car company to test electric vehicles in the cold winter climate. The Guardsmen tried out the “glorified golf carts,” as Mattson describes them, to move equipment around the property, even adding a small plow to clear the sidewalks. “They worked fantastic for us,” Mattson concluded.
Fast-forward to Mattson’s current position as a mechanic at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. The grounds crew has many tasks for which a full-sized vehicle is too large to be practical for the short trips carrying small equipment. But they had no alternative, leading to higher maintenance and fuel costs
Mattson saw a direct overlap between the way the Guard had used the small electric vehicles and the current needs at the medical center. Buying some new electric vehicles would get expensive fast, however, and that wasn’t in the budget.
Mattson went to a website called GSAXcess. It’s an online classifieds for agencies to post equipment they would like to discard, giving other agencies first dibs and big bargains. Mattson had bought equipment there before, like a machine to repair air conditioning systems - it would have cost thousands of dollars to buy new, but on GSAXcess the only cost was shipping.
He found a small electric car posted by an Army base and made the purchase for a steal. If it worked out, he’d be able to buy more. But if someone else was getting rid of it, was it really worth anything? After 15 years as a mechanic, Mattson has a certain confidence in his ability to fix machines that others are ready to ditch. He replaced the batteries and got it up and running.
Before long it was a big hit with the employees. At night, they plugged it in and in the morning it was ready to go. After charging during lunch, the vehicle made it through the rest of the day. There was no fuel tank to fill, no filters to replace, and no oil to change. Driving off-road hardly left a trace in the grass.
The success cleared the way for more vehicles.
Back on GSAXcess, Minneapolis VA acquired more electric vehicles from agencies across the country. They replaced the batteries and other parts as needed, scrapping a couple vehicles to use for replacement parts. The Fisher House Foundation further added to the fleet by donating a golf cart, used in the summer as a shuttle for patients instead of a van. Patients can step in more easily to the low vehicle and enjoy a cool breeze on the way to the door. “They absolutely love that thing,” says Mattson.
Mattson’s motivation is primarily financial - he’s spending a fraction of the retail price on these vehicles by buying cheap and repairing them himself. And VA gets the benefits of the low maintenance needs of the “new” vehicles. Mattson acknowledges the environmental impacts are another motivation. His responsibility as a federal employee is to save VA money, he says, but adds, “If we can do that and be as green as possible, it’s the bonus on top of that.” Last year, Minneapolis won a national EPA award for acquiring electric vehicles, with an estimated savings of 1,000 gallons of fuel per year. “Do more with less” is usually a baffling request, but in Minneapolis, a VA mechanic made it happen with his vision and his skills.
This story was written by VA’s Green Routine Program, an initiative of the VA Green Management Program. Green Routine shares best practices and assists VA employees in innovating to serve the mission, while improving sustainability. Learn more about Green Routine on our webpages.