Green Operations

Greening a Truck Fleet Requires Innovation, Creativity

March 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

In recent years, there has been a growing trend to “green” fleets using new emissions-reducing technology and techniques. 

However, green technology isn’t really a wholly new phenomenon for many fleets. Indeed, green truck fleets have existed for decades. While some fleets are old pros at integrating and managing these cutting-edge fleet assets, there are a growing number of fleets including green trucks in their mix for the first time.

While, on the whole, the new technology is saving money and adding other efficiencies, it can come at a premium and requires some new ways to manage and maintain these assets.

Below are snapshots of how truck fleets around the country are going green. 

Leading the Way
Schwan’s Home Service trucks were “green” long before the current trend in alternative-fuel technology. Ironically, its motivation was surprisingly contemporary, explained Roger Porter, director of fleet acquisitions. “Back in the 1970s, Marvin Schwan was looking to break our dependence on foreign oil,” he said. So, the fleet was transitioned to propane autogas — a difficult task in the late 20th century, because many OEMs didn’t have the necessary gaseous-prep engines needed to make the conversion.
Schwan’s has been
operating propane-autogas trucks since the gasoline crises of the 1970s.
Schwan’s has beenoperating propane-autogas trucks since the gasoline crises of the 1970s.

Today, 73 percent of Schwan’s 5,000 vehicles are powered by propane autogas, including Ford E-450 Cutaways, GMC Savana cargo vans, and Izuzu cab-forwards. “This percentage would be much higher — but [due to the recession] there was a limited availability of gaseous-prep engines,” said Porter, whose long-term goal is to convert 100 percent of the fleet to propane autogas. 

While propane autogas has been a big part of Schwan’s fleet for more than a quarter century, Porter said he is continuously re-evaluating this commitment. “It’s a business decision and we review it every year and find the investment pays off every year,” he said.

Propane autogas has brought numerous benefits to Schwan’s fleet in addition to its economics. Propane autogas is domestically produced — fulfilling founder Marvin Schwan’s goal to break dependence on foreign oil. Propane-autogas-fueled vehicles also tend to be quieter and have fewer damaging emissions.

The biggest challenge has been finding gaseous engine options from the OEMs. “We continually ask and lobby the OEMs,” Porter said. “Unfortunately, the various types of engines we need are not always available.”
Schwan’s operates its own fueling infrastructure at 95 percent of its facilities, cross-training its warehouse personnel how to fuel the vehicles. This has made its sales personnel more efficient. “It gives them more time to do their jobs,” Porter said.

Even with the efficiencies gained by operating propane-autogas-fueled trucks, Schwan’s still relies on grant money to help fund the purchase of the vehicles. The company has worked with the Clean Cities Coalition for a number of years and recently joined the coalition’s National Clean Fleets Partnership, which will help make the grant process more efficient. 

“We have had an excellent relationship with the regional Clean Cities organizations, but, since Schwan’s is in every state, it was inefficient to work with every location individually. Belonging to the Clean Fleets Partnership streamlines this by giving us one point of contact,” Porter explained.

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