The once-familiar conga line of white, highly polished Holden Caprice sedans idling outside Parliament House has taken on a chequerboard appearance in the past week, as parliamentarians have returned to find the white now intermingled with a Germanic dark grey.
It marks the arrival of BMWs into the mainstream Comcar fleet, and the beginning of the end of the long-standing policy of having our parliamentarians ride around in cars built here, by Australian factory workers.
When Australian vehicle manufacturing wound up in 2017, so too did requirements for locally made luxury cars to fill the Comcar fleet - so an exhaustive evaluation trial by the Department of Finance involving 18 potential replacements from Hyundai, BMW, Toyota and Mercedes was undertaken.
A mixture of petrol, diesel, hybrid and fully electric vehicles were tested, balancing value for money (including whole-of-life costs), vehicle safety, suitability and security (fit for purpose) and environmental considerations.
The BMW scored the highest in the evaluation trial, and it will eventually make up around half of the Canberra fleet, with the Toyota hybrids soon to come onstream for short-distance shuttle services, such as to and from Canberra airport.
Announcing the fleet change, Finance Minister Matthias Cormann said the switch to dark grey metallic paintwork for the BMWs provided "a more contemporary look" but an equal motivation would have been resale value, as auction houses know white BMWs fetch far less second-hand.
To a prospective buyer walking in off the street onto the plush pile of a BMW showroom, the drive-away list price of the 620d GT (Gran Tourismo) hatchback is $123,445.
However, this includes around $9700 in luxury car tax, of which federal government vehicles are exempt. There's also a huge discount of up to 20 per cent available to fleet purchasers.
The Department of Finance is buying 83 of the BMWs and 45 Toyota Camry hybrids, each valued at a much more modest $41,600.
Both cars have stop-start engines for lowering emissions. The BMW's turbo-diesel engine cuts out at idle, while the Camry's hybrid engine switches to electric power from its battery pack, and then uses its 2.5-litre petrol engine similarly to an onboard charging station, or when extra acceleration is required.
All the Canberra cars are stored at Comcar's Fyshwick depot under cover to protect them from the occasional frost of an early-morning start. There are no seat warmers on the BMW leather.
Due to COVID-19 requirements, the drivers, who are allocated specific vehicles, sanitise the interiors thoroughly between shifts, and the evening shift driver washes and polishes the car each night after use ready for the next day.
Driver familiarisation of the first tranche of BMWs was completed two weeks ago, and drivers who spoke with The Canberra Times on condition of anonymity said the safety features and economy were impressive.
"The Caprices are nice and relaxed to drive but they have been left behind in safety technology, and the BMWs use very little fuel," one driver said.
The BMW 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engines consume just 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres, much the same as a petrol car two sizes smaller. The department believes it will save about $100,000 a year on fuel and maintenance costs by switching to the new fleet.
The BMWs all have inbuilt safety mechanisms such as cross-traffic warning systems, lane-departure systems and lane-change warning systems, the latter sending a shudder through the steering wheel to warn the driver if the car veers a few degrees off its path.
The Prime Minister will retain his exclusive white BMW 7-Series with its factory-fitted bullet-proof "protection" pack and attack alarm system, while the federal police's close personal protection (CPP) team tails the PM's car with BMW X5s, also equipped with the protection pack.