BOSTON Already under fire for their fuel efficiency and safety records, sport utility vehicles now may face elimination from public service in Massachusetts and other states.
Gov. Mitt Romney is considering slashing most of the 428 SUVs in the state fleet, a move expected both to save money and score political points among environmentalists.
"We see absolutely no reason why administrators or field reps at the Lottery need to have SUVs," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a top Romney adviser.
Fehrnstrom said the move has not been finalized, and no decision has been made on what types of cars will replace the SUVs. In all, there are 3,385 passenger vehicles, trucks and vans registered to state government.
Romney's state police security drives him in a Ford Excursion, but it has not been decided if he will have to give up the SUV.
"We are looking at eliminating nonessential SUVs, not banning them entirely," Fehrnstrom said.
There are no hard figures on potential savings of the proposed elimination. Massachusetts budget officials project that SUVs cost 50 percent more to purchase and 50 percent more to operate because of fuel inefficiency. A new SUV costs $27,000 to $45,000.
At a current average gas price in Massachusetts of $1.52 per gallon, trading in all 428 state SUVs would save taxpayers nearly $130,000 in gas money for the year, officials estimate.
Despite criticism from environmentalists and safety experts, SUVs remain popular with the public. General Motors last year became the first manufacturer to top 1.2 million SUV sales in a calendar year, spokesman Michael Morrissey said.
"There's some groups that are critical of those vehicles, but overwhelmingly customers are selecting them in larger numbers," Morrissey said.
In Connecticut, where Gov. John G. Rowland generally travels in a Lincoln Town Car, officials are reviewing the need for the state's 195 SUVs, citing budget problems, according to state Administrative Services department spokeswoman Donna Micklus.
Newly elected Vermont Gov. James Douglas plans to travel by SUV only when he has to, spokesman Jason Gibbs said.
"When it is snowing, the (state) troopers prefer they take the four-wheel drive vehicles," Gibbs said. "He's uncomfortable riding in the SUV. His personal vehicle is a Dodge Neon without air conditioning, power windows or locks, or a tape player."