INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — From the start, Vision Fleet’s contract to provide the city of Indianapolis with hundreds of electric cars for millions of dollars over the course of seven years was controversial, secret and prone to mistakes and problems.
Now, Vision Fleet’s parent company is partially out of business and officials wonder about the financial stability of the startup electric vehicle lease operation.
“This has been an absolute disaster from the beginning,” said City-County Councilman Aaron Freeman, an early critic of the project. “The way the city got into this contract, whichever contract we’re talking about, has been an utter failure of the public.”
Former Mayor Greg Ballard, a Gulf War marine veteran, vowed to wean Indianapolis from the grip of Big Oil by going green.
In February of 2014, the city signed a deal with Vision Fleet to lease 435 electric vehicles for most of a decade for $32 million.
When those cars were delivered in early 2015, IMPD officers found the Chevrolet Volts were ill-suited for police work and the city struggled to find suitable assignments for the cars nobody seemed to expect or want.
An audit of the project this past summer determined Ballard and his administration circumvented typical City-County Council approval of the contract by classifying it as a lease and not a purchase.
“We got into this not doing the normal procurement process, we got into it in a disastrous way,” said Freeman, a Republican. “A back door deal, not brought to the public, not brought to the city council, not brought through the normal procurement process, not brought through the normal chain of how we do business as a city.”
Early on IMPD officers reported not only were the cars not secure for the transportation of police weapons, they weren’t safe for the home electrical systems of city employees who were told to plug their municipal vehicles into their own outlets to charge overnight as fires and the scorching of property resulted.
City auto technicians lacked the training to work on such vehicles and repairs were referred to a local car dealership.
Vision Fleet hoped to parlay its Indianapolis experience into a nationwide municipal leasing program.
“My understanding from the very beginning that we were their only client, we were the only game in town for them,” said Freeman.
On March 28, 2016, Vision Fleet sent out a press release headlined, “Vision Fleet Changing Name to Evercar.”
“Electric vehicle programs currently operating in Atlanta and Indianapolis will continue uninterrupted under the name Evercar For Fleet,” read the release.
Based on that representation, when Evercar CEO Michael Brylawski retweeted a story in October about his company’s immediate demise and his sorrow over the failed venture, it set off alarm bells among a handful of officials inside the City County Building.
“It was Vision Fleet,” Council Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown announced to the county’s Audit committee last week. “Now they’re renamed Evercar and they just announced they are going out of business.”
Vision Fleet’s failure would leave the city without a vendor to service and manage a leased fleet which has been subject of a lawsuit and a renegotiated contract that incoming Mayor Joe Hogsett inherited, but upon further examination, the latest chapter of the story between the city and its troubled electric car provider is one more tale of confusion and misdirection.
City Corporation Counsel Andy Mallon told FOX59 that despite the spring press release to the contrary, Vision Fleet is not Evercar and as a result the sister company is still in business and he has confidence that the lease provider will continue to fulfill its contract with the city.
From the outset, Vision Fleet’s deal with the city consisted of at least five contracts plagued with falsified signatures, missing pages and backdating.
“From the very beginning you could see the contracts, the many versions of them, the signed, the unsigned, there were so many problems with this from the very beginning,” said Freeman. “The lack of transparency that went on…everyone should be outraged how we got into this thing.”
Freeman said perhaps it is time to resurrect a proposal in the wake of last summer’s scathing audit report to scrap the Vision Fleet deal.
“I think that it’s time that we pull the plug. I think anybody who looks at this objectively knows that this was a failed thing from the very beginning. It was a disaster from the beginning and folks should be outraged.”
Evercar’s website has been taken down and company officials did not respond to a request for comment.