Drug Firm Outfits National Sales Staff with Gas-Saving, Hybrid Cars

Questions come full speed at Sandra Brown the minute she steps out of her car and into the medical office she is calling on as a pharmaceutical rep.

Oct. 13—Questions come full speed at Sandra Brown the minute she steps out of her car and into the medical office she is calling on as a pharmaceutical rep.

Not about drugs, but about gas mileage.

Not about side effects, but about vehicle emissions.

The questions are all about her silver four-door Toyota Prius.

Brown is a rare breed in the pharmaceutical business, a sales rep driving not a sleek luxury car but a humble hybrid. The Greensburg, Ind., resident is one of 20 Roche Pharmaceutical employees nationwide who have been given hybrids to drive in an effort to reduce the company's impact on the environment.

Roche, based in Nutley, N.J., and a sister company to Indianapolis-based Roche Diagnostics, is one of the first companies in the nation to introduce hybrids into its sales fleet.

"Roche, no doubt, is at the leading edge of a trend," said Joel Makower, editor of The Green Business Letter, a journal focusing on environmentally conscious companies.

Roche has 10 Prius hybrids on the roads now and, by the end of the month, also will have 10 Ford Escape hybrids for sales calls.

While the cars don't fit the plush image of a salesperson, they have other advantages. They make people remember the company and the sales reps who drive them.

"Absolutely. It's the first thing people talk about when they see me pull up," said Brown, who has worked for Roche five years. "People want to know all about it. It's so different."

Roche likes that the cars stand out to clients and expects, as supplies of hybrids increase, to add more to the mix — including hybrids for Indianapolis-based employees at Roche Diagnostics.

"It's almost a no-brainer," said Jack Kace, vice president of corporate environmental and safety affairs at Roche. "You use less gasoline, you reduce your environmental footprint and you're using less critical resources."

Not to mention the dollars saved on gas, said Brown.

The Prius gets 60 miles per gallon with city driving and 51 on the highway, according to Energy and Environmental Analysis Inc. The national average is 24.4 miles per gallon, says the Department of Transportation.

While using hybrids does save money on gas, Roche said the purpose is to reach its goal of lowering emissions by 10 percent in the next five years.

The Prius and Escape both run partly on electricity and use a smaller 4-cylinder engine, burning less gasoline and emitting fewer toxic gases into the environment.

If the pilot program goes well, Roche plans eventually to have its entire fleet composed of hybrids and environmentally friendly vehicles, Kace said.

Some city and state governments have integrated hybrids into their fleets. But in the corporate world, it's a slow-moving concept, Makower said.

A California cab company is among the few businesses nationwide to make the leap. Taxi Cab Transportation Service has added four Prius cars to its fleet at the Burbank airport.

Companies are looking for hybrids, but supplies are limited. Toyota, for instance, projected it would sell 35,000 hybrids in 2004 but needed 47,000.

And businesses may not find themselves at the top of a manufacturer's waiting list.

"We set aside a small percentage for fleet," said Joe Tetherow, spokesman for Toyota. "The big concern is to take care of retail customers."

COMPARING MODELS: Here's a look at the two hybrid models that Roche Pharmaceutical is adding to its fleet. Other hybrids on the market include the Honda Insight, Honda Civic, GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado.

—Ford Escape HEV 2005sport-utility vehicle
—Automatic 2WD: 36/31
—Automatic 4WD: 33/29
—Toyota Prius 20055-passenger sedan
—Automatic: 60/51
Source: www.fueleconomy.gov, J.D. Power-LMC and Energy & Environmental Analysis Inc.

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