Fleet owners and independent drivers who have wanted to give natural gas trucks a try but found the price of entry a little too steep have a new option to consider: a glider kit that comes with a natural gas conversion package for older engines.

Ervin Equipment, Inc. announced earlier this month that the company has expanded its product line to include glider kits that come with APG’s (American Power Group Inc., the alternative energy subsidiary of American Power Group Corp.) Turbocharged Natural Gas Dual Fuel Upgrade System. An initial order of $800,000 was placed through WheelTime network member, Clarke Power Services, Inc. as the lead authorized dealer. 

The first glider models available will be the Freightliner Coronado and Columbia chassis, powered with a rebuilt Detroit Diesel Series 60 engine that has been remanufactured with APG’s system to run on natural gas (ignited with diesel) or diesel alone. APG, however, has EPA approvals for 208 engine families from model year 2000 through 2009, with more on the way.

The dual-fuel glider offering is new to the trucking industry, so APG, Ervin Equipment, Fitzgerald Glider Kits, WheelTime and natural gas fuel-provider Blu. gathered at the recent Great American Truck Show (GATS) to give potential customers and members of the press a closer look at this new take on the traditional glider kit concept.

Among the useful points shared by the presenters:

Purchase price: A glider kit (new frame, cab, electrical system and front axle that is paired with rebuilt systems for two of three drivetrain components from an older vehicle—engine, transmission or rear axle to create a remanufactured vehicle) costs about 25% less than a comparable new diesel truck, according  to APG.  The APG Dual Fuel Glider can be as much as $50,000 less than a new purpose-built 15-liter natural gas truck.

Net fuel savings: 20% to 30% net annual fuel cost savings are possible as compared to diesel.

Maintenance savings: Because the engines currently being offered are pre-2007, they do not require diesel particulate filters or SCR. For companies that can still operate trucks equipped with these engines, this can mean a savings of $.05 to $.08 per mile, according to APG, as compared to a new diesel or dedicated natural gas truck.

Maintenance cycles: remain the same, although there are special shop requirements, especially concerning ventilation, that must be addressed for shops servicing natural-gas powered vehicles. One option for maintenance the companies noted, utilize WheelTime’s service group, which has 181+ locations and 3,500 technicians.

Dual-fuel engine operation: Dual-fuel engine operation can be difficult to understand. In the case of these engine conversions, the engine still operates on all-diesel during start-up and idling. This is because the very high ignition temperature of natural gas means it requires diesel (during the compression stroke) to ignite the natural gas.  In the case of 100% natural gas engines, a spark plug gets the fuel ignition job done.

The APG dual-fuel hardware configuration does not change any of the OEM diesel engine components. It is what the company calls a “non-invasive technology.”

Resale: The resale market for natural gas trucks is growing but, depending upon who you ask, valuation is still in flux. According to the presenters at this event, the dual-fuel approach is a good one, in part because the truck can be converted back diesel-only, if necessary.

Natural gas availability: Drew Laing, director of sales and marketing forBlu. LNG, offered information intended to “correct some of the myths” about natural gas—among them that natural gas is a “nuisance gas” that will run out or increase in price in the near future. According to Laing, liquid natural gas prices should sit at about 40% below diesel prices for the next 30 years, and there is a “200-year domestic supply.”

Natural gas fueling: Laing also noted that LNG tanks are just like very large thermos bottles and filling them is “easy, simple and fast.” Safety gear and gloves must be worn during fueling, however.

Performance and flexibility:“We believe a natural gas dual fuel glider kit is one of the most exciting new truck options to hit the market and gives the fleet owner the absolute lowest total cost of ownership in managing their business,” said Greg Ervin, CEO of Ervin Equipment. “The APG turbocharged dual fuel system has logged millions of maintenance-free miles around the world under very demanding driving conditions [including heavy road trains in Australia].”

The non-invasive technology also gives the customer freedom and flexibility, Ervin noted. The APG system allows the driver to use 100% diesel with the flip of a switch and the natural gas system can even be removed and transferred to another truck.