Tough car market ruffles Spokane city

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

In the midst of a fiercely competitive car market fueled by an international shortage of microchips, Spokane city officials have struggled to gain city council approval to buy new vehicles before they can be sold to another buyer.

It is not that the council members are not in support of the purchase. Rather, the problem is that the process of submitting an offer to buy a vehicle and getting the final approval of the council takes weeks.

Meanwhile, new cars are often bought by someone else.

Spokane city officials are now asking city council to pre-authorize 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 buy or lease it within a few hours or days – not weeks.

The factors that confuse city officials are the same ones that have disappointed individual buyers.

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

The shortage of computer chips has prompted automakers to cut production of new vehicles. In turn, this has resulted in short supply, driving up the price of both new and used vehicles.

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

The current system of the city involves the submission of the proposed purchase to a city council committee before review by the full council. After receiving the coat it takes about four weeks to reach final approval.

The city has budgeted to buy 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 the vehicles.

The city council discussed the issue during its Urban Experience Committee meeting on Monday.

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

The resolution places priority in procuring vehicles, most importantly, 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. According to city officials, electric options like the Hyundai Kona and Ford F150 Lightning compare to gasoline or diesel-powered options, but neither is currently available.

According to Giddings, the city will also have to weigh the availability of electric charging infrastructure.

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

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