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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Tough car market stymies city of Spokane

A pair of EV cars are hooked up to charging stations on the Eastern Washington University campus Feb. 17 in Cheney.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

New car buyers are forced to act fast in today’s market, but the wheels of government turn slowly.

Amid a fiercely competitive car market, fueled in part by an international shortage of microchips, Spokane city officials have struggled to win City Council approval to buy new vehicles before they’re sold to another buyer.

It’s not that council members aren’t supportive of the purchases. Rather, the problem is that the process of presenting a proposal to purchase vehicles and securing final council approval takes weeks.

In the meantime, new cars are often bought up by someone else.

Spokane city officials are now asking the City Council to preauthorize a slate of new vehicle purchases and trust them to spend money wisely.

That way, as soon as a new car becomes available, city officials will be able to purchase or lease it within a matter of hours or days – not weeks.

The factors confounding city officials are the same that have frustrated individual buyers.

“Microchip shortages and COVID-related supply chain disruptions are having a pretty negative impact on our ability to purchase fleet vehicles,” explained Rick Giddings, the city’s fleet services director.

The shortage of computer chips has prompted automakers to cut down on production of new vehicles. That, in turn, has resulted in less supply, sending up the price of both new and used vehicles.

According to the Associated Press, fewer than 1 million new vehicles were on dealer lots in August, a drop of 72% compared to August 2019.

The city’s current system includes presenting the proposed purchase to a City Council committee before review by the full council. It takes about four weeks to reach final approval after receiving a quote.

The city has budgeted to purchase eight new compact SUVs and nine pickup trucks of varying sizes and capacities before the end of the year, and administration officials are eager to replace vehicles.

The City Council discussed the issue during a meeting of its Urban Experience Committee on Monday.

The council will likely vote in the coming weeks on a resolution that would formally authorize the administration to purchase or lease vehicles without prior approval from the City Council.

The resolution lays out priorities in purchasing the vehicles, foremost that it meets the needs of the department that will use it, but also that it aligns with the city’s clean energy goals and is cost-effective. Electric options like the Hyundai Kona and Ford F150 Lightning compare well to gasoline or diesel-powered options, but neither is currently available, according to city officials.

The city also has to weigh the availability of electric charging infrastructure, according to Giddings.

“If it’s requiring an employee to spend 20, 30 or 45 minutes to get it to a charging station, the cost equation kind of goes out the window,” Giddings explained.