Alternatives abound

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In my wanderings amidst the 2012 National Truck Equipment Assn.(NTEA) show this week, I’ve been struck by just how many alternative propulsion systems – from natural gas, propane, biofuels, and electricity to hydraulic hybrid technology – are being highlighted to the vocational segment of the commercial vehicle market these days.

Four dollar a gallon diesel and gasoline, of course, might have something to do with it, too.

Yet what most of the folks championing various alternative fuel and hybrid vehicle strategies keep trying to point out to the NTEA’s members gathered in Indianapolis this week is that they don’t require a huge amount of change to fleet operations. Vehicle acquisition costs are higher, certainly, but driving and refueling operations aren’t significantly affected.

For example, Darren Engle, director of marketing for Blue Star Gas, showed me that refueling a propane-powered truck really isn’t a whole lot different than refueling its diesel or gasoline-fired brethren.

Then there are those alternative vehicles that really don’t require any changes whatsoever, except for (of course) writing a far bigger check for them on the front end.

Take Via Motors’new “range extending” electrified package for pickups and vans. The van version of this technology – which is similar to what powers Chevrolet’s Volt sedan – costs a bundle up front ($79,000 a pop right now) but boosts the fuel economy of a typical work van from eight to 12 miles per gallon out to around 100 mpg.

Telecommunications giant Verizon is jumping on the Via Motors bandwagon, as it believes the company can not only significantly cut its fuel use but also vehicle maintenance costs as well since these electrified vans can travel up to 40 miles on battery power alone before the gasoline engine needs to kick on.

The real key to sustaining the interest in alternative fuels and hybrid technology, of course, is the price of gasoline and diesel fuel – which are directly linked to the price of oil. If petroleum costs stay high, then a whole host of alterative propulsion systems become extremely cost effective. But if oil and fuel costs crash again, alternative power options will again get placed on the “maybe” shelf by fleets. 

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Steve Grantham (not verified)
on Mar 7, 2012

The upfront costs are what will make the battery technology never happen, or be many many years in the future. We might as well be looking at fission or fusion power. The average person cannot afford it. I'm thinkin' that it is not the 10,000 people in this country that can afford the new technology that keep the auto companies in business, it's the 200mil, or so, that can afford something more reasonable that keep this economy moving. Remember also that the Volt, for example, has to survive with many thousands of governments (yours and mine) money. My best idea is turbines, but nobody is even looking at that.

I do agree, however that propane,CNG, is a great idea that has never been offered to the public. It will probably also be so costly as to render that useless to the public as well.

For the next 50-60 years we might as well content ourselves with driving the enviro-freaks nuts.

Kristen Weiss (not verified)
on Mar 7, 2012

The 2012 Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo, North America's largest alternative fuels and clean vehicle technologies show, will have the latest alt fuel technology options for fleets in the exhibit hall on display. This event for fleets will be the best place to get any and all questions about these clean vehicle options answered.More information at www.actexpo.com.

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