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.
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.
Taking an ALTe Approach
For ALTe, its retrofit is a green process from beginning to end, recycling the old gasoline engine and transmission. “We tried to think cradle-to-grave and not waste anything,” said Jeffrey DeFrank, ALTe’s chief technology officer.
The company’s green technology is a range extender, similar to the extended-range technology found in OEM products, such as the Chevrolet Volt or VIA pickup, and is designed for fleets looking to extend the life of their vehicles.
“The concept of our technology is based on a just-off-warranty vehicle with 50,000 miles or more,” DeFrank said. Currently, ALTe is retrofitting Ford light-duty commercial pickups and is expanding to larger Ford products.
Initially, ALTe will launch with three-four ALTe installation centers strategically located across the county and will add more as volume increases. The conversion takes about a day and costs around $30,000.
To help offset this cost, ALTe offers a trade-in option. A fleet can trade-in its vehicle for one that has already been converted. This innovation is a result of the company’s close partnership with its customer advisory board, which generated the idea during one of its meetings.
DeFrank said that the ROI on an ALTe system is currently between two-and-a-half and three years.
The company is still in the process of piloting its technology, but DeFrank said that it is optimal for delivery, service, leasing, and rental fleets. “The system is optimized for stop-and-go driving; that’s why we’re reaching a lot of fleets. Our typical customer will be a neighborhood fleet because our system is quiet and takes advantage of 25- to 30-mile ranges. And, for most of these fleets, they’ll use almost no gasoline,” DeFrank observed.
He also noted the Ford vehicles have lost none of their power or capabilities due to the range-extender conversion.
“We’ve had a lot of accolades. They drive very well, and have the same capabilities. For instance, our trucks can tow a trailer,” DeFrank said.
The system takes advantage of the stop-and-go of typical urban and suburban routes by using regenerative braking to recharge the battery. The system’s battery can also be recharged via a 110V or 220V outlet.
DeFrank said the company will have its market launch in about a year, and expects to expand beyond Ford to include GM models, because “then, we’ll cover most of the fleet market.”
Ready for Primetime
Todd Mouw, VP of sales and marketing for ROUSH CleanTech, sees propane autogas as the most democratic of the alternative fuels. “The beauty of propane autogas is that it applies to everybody. It has low investment and there isn’t an industry that couldn’t benefit from using it. It’s also not as range limited as other fuels,” he said. “It’s ready for primetime.”
The ROUSH CleanTech propane-autogas fuel system is currently available for a variety of Ford E-Series vans and Ford F-Series trucks.
The system is Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certified, according to Mouw. The cost per system starts at around $10,000 to install, and generally increases as vehicles go up in GVWR. The company recommends only retrofitting vehicles equipped with Ford’s gaseous fuels prep package, which are hardened internal components in the engine to prevent wear due to the use of gaseous fuels.
ROI is dependent, as with other alternative-fuel systems, on how many miles the vehicle is driven and the local cost of propane autogas. For instance, if propane autogas costs $1.50 less than gasoline and the vehicle is driven 12,000 to 15,000 miles, the amount saved will be in the neighborhood of $10,000 to $20,000, according to Mouw. The savings will increase as the gap between diesel and gasoline and propane autogas increases.
The ROUSH CleanTech system can be installed at a number of certified upfitters, including Knapheide, National Fleet Services, and Utilimaster. The company also has a network of independent Ford QVM-certified mechanics. ROUSH CleanTech can help a fleet find a certified facility or mechanic if there isn’t one readily available. The retrofitting process takes about two work days.
Because the ROUSH CleanTech propane-autogas system is Ford-certified, the OEM warranty is still in effect. In addition, ROUSH CleanTech offers a warranty on its fuel system.
In addition to the fuel system, ROUSH CleanTech can also help fleets with implementing a fueling infrastructure.
“We will always take a propane fueling partner along with us when meeting with a fleet. It’s an education. We walk through the process. Typically when we walk out of a meeting, we’ve answered all of the questions that the fleet manager had,” Mouw said.
Mouw added that ROUSH CleanTech looks long-term when working with its fleet customers. “Our aim is to have customer engagement for years to come,” he said.
Translating to the U.S. Market
Landi Renzo has already made a mark in the international market, selling 1.5 million of its dedicated and bi-fuel CNG systems in 60 countries annually, and, according to the company, capturing a 40-percent market share in gaseous fuel systems.
The company hopes to translate its proven technology in the U.S. market. In 2010, the company purchased U.S.-based Baytech Corporation to help make this a reality.
Landi Renzo U.S.A.’s systems are available for the Ford E-250 and E-350 5.4L cargo and passenger vans; the Ford F-250 and F-350 6.2L (bi-fuel); the Ford F-450, F-550, and F-650 6.8L cab/chassis; and the Ford F-59 6.8L chassis. The company is a Ford QVM, which means the OEM warranty remains intact after the conversion.
Baytech Corporation’s systems are available for Isuzu NPR HD 6.0L, Workhorse W62 6.0L, Freightliner MT 45-55 6.0L, GMC Savana and Chevrolet Express cutaway 6.0L, and the GM cab chassis 6.0L.
The systems are both EPA and CARB certified, according to Gianluca Maso, VP sales and marketing for Landi Renzo U.S.A./Baytech Corporation.
There are three ways a fleet can have one of its vehicles retrofitted. Option one is to have it sent to Landi Renzo’s California-based conversion center. For new Ford products, option two involves having them shipped-thru at the production facility. Or, third, it can have a certified center handle the conversion.
The time for conversion is dependent on the size of the tank, according to Maso, but typically ranges from a few hours to three days. The conversion price is based on the size of the tank package. Light- to medium-duty vehicles run about $10,000 and heavy-duty about $16,000 to $17,000.
The average ROI is from two to three years. “But, it depends,” Maso said. “It’s proportional. The more fuel you use, the faster the payback, and that also depends on the fuel price.” For instance, a high-mileage fleet vehicle where CNG is 95 cents per gallon will have a faster payback than a fleet that is paying $3 GGE. Of course, fleets in states such as Illinois, which offer grants, will see a faster ROI.
Maso said that most of the U.S. fleets installing Landi Renzo U.S.A./Baytech systems are energy companies, airport shuttle fleets, and shipping companies.
He noted that for fleets considering a CNG conversion, they need to look at the availability of a fueling infrastructure and the availability of service. Landi Renzo maintains a supplier network of local partners, and offers aftersales help to fleets following the conversion.
For fleets considering a CNG or propane-autogas conversion, IMPCO Automotive does it all. The company not only sells and installs its alternative-fuel systems, it also designs them, and manufactures many of the systems parts, including the lockout valves, electronic control module (ECM) boards, and regulators.
The company offers CNG dedicated or bi-fuel systems and an LPG bi-fuel system for GM, Ford, and Isuzu Commercial Truck of America products.
Fleets looking for new installations have the option of ordering the systems directly while at the dealer. Fleet orders can be handled at the company’s Union City, Ind., production facility. IMPCO is a tier-one supplier for GM, which preserves the full warranty for the Sierra and Savana models. The company recently began a ship-thru program for the Isuzu NPR HD, and is a Ford QVM for a variety of its pickup, van, and sedan models. Installation at the factory takes from a few hours to two days, depending on the size of the order.
The company also has a network of certified outside installers, which it closely monitors. “We’re currently tightening the certification requirements. We’re continuing to raise the bar,” said Jay Sandler, director of sales for IMPCO.
Cost of the conversion is dependent on tank size, but can range from as low as $7,000 to as high as $25,000. However, Sandler said the average pickup will cost between $10,000 and $11,000, “depending on options, such as the tank size and materials.”
IMPCO ROI, as with other systems, is dependent on a number of factors: miles driven, mpg, and the price of fuel. But, typically it’s about two-and-a-half to two-and-three-quarter years. “For a flat six- to seven-year turnover, that’s pretty good,” Sandler said.
The big question for IMPCO customers is what alt-fuel type to choose. “CNG is better for urban situations, while propane autogas makes more sense in rural settings, since it’s pretty easy to get propane companies to install a tank. However, the propane autogas fuel differential is less and you get about a 20-percent decrease in mpg. But, there’s a lot of infrastructure,” Sandler said.
Sandler also noted that fleets need to be educated about the properties of the fuel they choose. For instance, if there is a leak, CNG rises and dissipates, but propane autogas — which is heavier than air — stays close to the ground. “Generally, it’s not a big worry, but it can become an issue if you’re not prepared for it,” Sandler said.
No matter the choice, both will save fleets money, according to Sandler. “There are a lot of advantages. The engines last longer and there are reduced maintenance costs — for instance, you have to change the oil less often,” he said. “Gaseous fuels are so much easier and simpler to realize payback.”
Sandler added that IMPCO, which has been offering alternative-fuel systems since 1958, hopes to add more OEM options in the future.
Santa Ana, Calif.-based GreenKraft, Inc. offers a dedicated CNG system, which, according to Frank Ziegler, director of sales, offers a number of advantages to its fleet customers.
“We decided that the fewer moving parts the better, so we kept the fuel rails and only replace the injectors, regulators, and fittings. We also do our own calibration based on shifting and compression, so there is no difference in horsepower,” he said. In addition, the company has also calibrated the existing fuel gauge to accurately reflect the amount of fuel on board.
GreenKraft currently offers retrofitting for 14,000-lb. GVW 4.8L and 6.0L GM products. Ziegler said there are plans to expand that to Ford and Chrysler products as well. Its system is both EPA and CARB certified. The company decided to offer a dedicated CNG product because, “we wanted our customers to get 100 percent of the fuel’s benefit,” Ziegler said.
Installation is a four- to five-hour process. “It’s a very easy, simple upfit,” Ziegler said. The company is building an installation network sited at Isuzu dealers because of their experience with the 4.8L and 6.0L GM engines. The company has also recently introduced its own 8.8L CNG engine for higher-class GVW and refuse applications.
ROI is determined, as with other systems, on the price of fuel and how many miles are being put on the vehicle, but, Ziegler also noted, because of the lower maintenance costs ROI is “almost immediate.”
Because of its existing CNG fueling infrastructure, GreenKraft is focusing primarily on the California market, but has been fielding calls through dealers from around the country. If a fleet doesn’t have ready access to a CNG infrastructure, the company is recommending — in the short-term while the infrastructure catches up — that fleets install extra fuel tanks to alleviate range anxiety.
“You have to answer this question when it comes to infrastructure — how far do you drive in a day? That will determine how much capacity you need,” Ziegler noted, adding that infrastructure follows commitment to the fuel.
fleets approaching GreenKraft about its CNG system have included municipalities, plumbing, and landscaping companies.