Significant changes could soon be made to a high-profile corporate sponsorship deal that allows San Diego lifeguards to patrol the city’s famous beaches in Toyota trucks at no cost to taxpayers.
City officials are launching a process this winter called a sponsorship request that will likely result in either an extension of Toyota’s contract beyond March 2026 or another automaker replacing Toyota.
The city estimates the agreement, which dates back to 2011, saved it $6 million that otherwise would have been spent on vehicle purchases, maintenance and repairs.
California’s ban on the sale of gasoline-powered vehicles in 2035 significantly complicates the renewal process, officials say, which could force a shift to electric rescue trucks that cannot operate when submerged in water .
“Most of our vehicles run on sand and are wet, which is not conducive to an electric vehicle,” said Sarah Brenha, who oversees the program as deputy assistant director of the city’s economic development department . “We are working on it. There are options where maybe we could use gas vehicles on the beach and then have electric vehicles for the lifeguard mechanics, chefs and captains.
It’s unclear what type of exemption would be required from the state, but the conflict will be a problem in all coastal areas of California patrolled by lifeguards.
Partially or completely submerging an electric car in water can trip the circuit breakers, interrupting the flow of energy from the battery to the engine. Electric cars are also more vulnerable to corrosion if they are frequently exposed to water.
“Ultimately, I’m sure it will be up to our government affairs team to determine how to handle this situation, but for now, that’s just part of the discussions we’re having,” Brenha said.
The city has also committed to converting its entire fleet to electric vehicles by 2035, but that doesn’t matter because vehicles made available through corporate sponsorship aren’t officially part of the city fleet.
Brenha said the agreement with Toyota is widely considered a model for corporate sponsorship, noting that Los Angeles County and Huntington Beach have entered into similar agreements with Toyota for rescue vehicles since San Diego concluded its agreement.
Although some complained that the deal would commercialize San Diego’s beaches when it was initially announced, criticism has been rare since then.
“It’s just a win-win for everyone,” said Brenha, who has managed the contract for seven years. “I’ve never heard any complaints.”
Each of the current 38 vehicles is adapted to San Diego’s beaches based on requests from the city’s lifeguards.
“They don’t just give us storage trucks, they make sure they have special underlayment and seats that can withstand sand,” Brenha said.
The trucks are equipped with roof racks for rescue equipment, special tires and a towing package for rescues, she said. In addition, Toyota equips each truck with an automated external defibrillator to treat heart attack victims.
The city’s agreement is with the San Diego County Toyota Dealers Association, not Toyota Motor Corporation or Toyota USA.
The association provides $5,000 a year for scholarships for young lifeguards, sponsors water safety events and allows the city to recruit lifeguards on certain billboards and other advertising space it purchases.
Although the city’s chief lifeguard and fire chief declined to comment on the new sponsorship request, they have already praised the partnership.
“The partnership with Toyota has given us a tremendous advantage,” Fire Chief Colin Stowell said last year. “It’s a unique and beneficial relationship that allows our lifeguards to use high-performance vehicles adapted to their work of protecting swimmers.
Chief lifeguard James Gartland said last year the partnership had helped recruit new lifeguards.
“Toyota not only provides us with great trucks, but also features our rescuers in local television and radio commercials, raising awareness of the essential work our team does every day,” he said.
The city and Toyota gained further recognition in 2014 when toy car maker Matchbox signed a licensing agreement with the city to manufacture toy fire trucks and rescue trucks emblazoned with “San Diego Fire Rescue.”
Brenha said Toyota officials expressed a desire to pursue the deal when she informed them this month of the new sponsorship request.
“They really want to continue,” she said. “They love the partnership.”
Last year, the dealer association welcomed the partnership.
“It has been a pleasure working with the City of San Diego to help promote beach safety and we look forward to continued success and growth in the years to come,” said association president, Ivan Mendelson.
Brenha said it was too early to know whether other automakers would submit proposals, but suggested Ford was a possibility.
“We haven’t done any testing yet, but I’m sure there will be interest because a lot of our current fleet is Ford and we have a very good relationship with them,” he said. she declared.
The deal with Toyota began as a five-year trial that was extended by a new 10-year deal in 2016 that expires in March 2026. Brenha said the goal was to have a new deal in place by next November .
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