Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

Retrofitting to a Cleaner Fleet

July 2012, Green Fleet Magazine - Cover Story

by Chris Wolski - Also by this author

As the number and types of alternative-fuel technologies increase, fleet managers will have to make a difficult decision between hybrid, range extender, compressed natural gas (CNG), and propane autogas. As difficult as the choice may be, fortunately, there is a solution for
every green-minded fleet.

XL Marks the Spot
Boston-based XL Hybrids offers urban and suburban truck fleets the ability to take advantage of electric-gasoline technology.

Founded three years ago by a cadre of MIT alumni, XL Hybrids is currently retrofitting Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana 2500 vans paired with a 4.8L engine.

The company’s long-term goal is to provide a hybrid option for any Class 1-3 truck fleet, regardless of manufacturer, according to Justin Ashton, cofounder and VP of business development for XL Hybrids.
Cost was a top concern for fleets when the company was designing its system, and XL Hybrids is able to deliver a drop-in system at an estimated cost of under $8,000.

The system is designed to be installed by the vehicle upfitter in about four hours. “It’s designed to be part of the upfitting process and then shipped-thru to the buyer,” Ashton explained.

XL Hybrids’ system is designed for fleet trucks driven about 75 miles per day. While it currently has a return on investment (ROI) of five years, Ashton said the company has a goal of lowering that to three years.
To make the system even more attractive to fleets, XL Hybrids is offering a leasing option.

“We can amortize the cost over the life of the vehicle. For fleets that care about monthly costs, this option is really attractive. Leasing a hybrid vehicle can start the savings on day one, instead of waiting for the payback,” Ashton noted, adding that this option has elicited interest from fleet management companies.

Ashton estimated fleets that use XL Hybrids’ system will see a fuel savings of about $1,800 per year, per vehicle. As an added benefit, similar to gasoline-hybrid sedans, he estimated that brake maintenance would be lower because of regenerative braking.

Wing-ing It
John Howell, senior director of marketing and business development for Westport, noted that the company’s CNG system is unique because it isn’t a retrofit or conversion.

“We only install the system on brand-new vehicles adjacent to the factory. We’re as close to an OEM product as you can get,” he noted.

The company is currently installing its Wing bi-fuel CNG system on Ford F-250 and F-350 models, and Howell expects the number and types of models to expand sometime in the future.

The system is installed at a facility adjacent to Ford’s Louisville, Ky., production line — never leaving the automaker’s production control system, according to Howell — and the installation on the gaseous prep Ford engine takes less than 72 hours total.

“It’s a very seamless system. It’s almost imperceptible to the customer,” Howell commented.
Westport does not sell kits to installers, and the company is a Ford certified qualified vehicle modifier (QVM). “The Wing system is as close to a Ford product as you can get. Ford has signed off on our facility, giving it the company’s highest rating,” Howell said. Because Westport is a QVM, the Ford warranty is not affected by the installation of the Wing bi-fuel system.

The cost of the system depends on a number of factors. For a single or small order installation, the cost is $9,750 for an 18.4-gasoline-gallon-equivalent (GGE) tank and $10,950 for the 24.5-GGE tank. Howell noted that there are discounts available for large fleet orders. No matter the tank size, the same tank cover, which takes up two feet of the truck bed, is used.

The ROI for the Westport Wing system depends on a number of factors, according to Howell. “You always have to answer how many miles per year you’re driving and how much fuel costs,” he said. For instance, for a fleet vehicle that drives 30,000 miles per year and achieves 15 mpg in a market that sells CNG for $2-per-gallon less than gasoline, the ROI would be 2.5 years, according to Howell’s calculations.

Other factors to consider include tax incentives and residual value. For instance, Oklahoma offers a substantial 50-percent tax incentive for CNG vehicles. “On the residual side, we’ve commissioned a study from Kelly Blue Book, and it is projecting that after three years, the system has retained 50 percent of its value,” Howell noted.
The most common fleets that have pursued a CNG installation from Westport have been energy and energy-related companies, such as pipeline maintenance and fuel distribution organizations.

However, Howell predicts that will change, since CNG infrastructure — one of the reasons fleets have held off pursuing CNG fuel options — is growing at a rate of 20-25 percent per year.

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