President Barack Obama's administration, which set a goal of buying only alternative-technology vehicles for its fleet by 2015, cut purchases of hybrid and electric models by one-third last year and bought mostly Asian brands.
About 54 percent of the 1,801 alternative-fuel vehicles bought by U.S. government agencies in 2012 were built by Hyundai, Toyota, Mitsubishi and Honda, according to data obtained under a Freedom of Information request from the U.S. General Services Administration.
The Korean-made hybrid version of the Hyundai Sonata unseated Ford's Fusion hybrid as the top-selling alternative-technology vehicle bought for the federal fleet. U.S. hybrid purchases in previous years were made almost exclusively from domestic automakers.
The figures show how fitfully the United States -- even the government -- is moving toward alternative-fuel vehicles. They also indicate the head start that foreign-owned companies have in the segment, at least for now.
"The government needs to support a broad base of companies producing alternative vehicles because if they talk the talk, they need to walk the walk," said Brett Smith of the Center for Automotive Research. "They want there to be a full range of options. In the future, there should be more availability of models built in the U.S."
Green-car purchases by the government fell for the third year in a row. The Obama administration bought about 8,139 alternative-technology vehicles in 2009 and 6,467 in 2010, when economic-stimulus spending fueled $300 million in fuel-efficient vehicles for the federal fleet. As the stimulus money expired, purchases fell to 2,645 in fiscal 2011.
GSA purchases of hybrid and electric models fell 32 percent in fiscal 2012 to about 3.6 percent of the 50,114 vehicles bought for federal agencies.