City Colleges shop downstate for cars

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • May 15, 2009 @ 8:00 AM

When the City Colleges of Chicago bought a $27,000 hybrid Saturn sport utility vehicle in December, it used a state list of approved dealerships and bought the car from a dealer in Normal, 130 miles southwest of Chicago.

Last week, the City Colleges ordered another SUV from the same dealer, raising questions with board member Ralph Moore both times over why the district wasn’t making more of an effort to buy from minority dealerships in Chicagoland.

“Though obviously we’ve got to manage our dollars, we’re going to turn our backs on these local dealers by using the state contract,” Moore said in December.

But one local dealer says it’s a matter of location—his dealerships in the suburbs can’t match the prices downstate dealerships can offer because of the higher costs of operating in the Chicago area.

“Sometimes those factors are prohibitive and quite frankly I think that the municipalities should give more consideration to dealers within the city limits because that’s where the revenue is going to be kept,” says Desmond Roberts, the president of Advtange Chevrolet, a minority-owned dealership with locations in Bolingbrook, Des Plaines and Hodgkins.

Roberts says his company regularly bids on contracts from across the state to provide vehicles to governments. Advantage is providing Chevrolet Tahoe SUVs to the city, he says, under one such contract.

But Advantage lost out on the last round of state contracts through the Illinois Department of Central Management Services. Those are some of the most lucrative because other government agencies, such as the City Colleges, can turn to those lists for products without having to take the time to do their own bidding. The state contracts are typically renewed every two years.

The problem for government agencies wanting to shop local is that they don’t have much wiggle room if a dealer in another part of the state offers a much lower price than a local dealer for the same thing.

Just the same, Moore wants the board to take a closer look at how and where it purchases vehicles from in the future.

“Anybody who’s in the car business in this climate is struggling, so let’s help out some of our own,” Moore said after last week’s meeting.

The City Colleges has started buying the hybrid Saturn Vue as part of a broader strategy to be more environmentally responsible.

The hybrid gets 25 miles per gallon in city driving, compared to just 17 miles per gallon with the regular Saturn Vue. But because the Vue is coming from so far away, the city Colleges must pay an extra $250 delivery charge.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, that delivery charge all but wipes out the fuel savings in driving the hybrid Vue for a year instead of the standard version of the vehicle.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.