If you're going to make the leap into the world of natural gas vehicles, California is a pretty safe place to start. That's exactly what Ryder System is doing. The rental and leasing company, with the help of $19.3 million in state and federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 funding, is building a natural gas infrastructure and purchasing vehicles that will be available for rent and lease opportunities.

“The infrastructure in Southern California is pretty robust,” says Scott Perry, group director for vehicle supply management. “They have been developing retail facilities for a number of years.”

With money that the board of SANBAG (San Bernardino Associated Governments) helped secure, Ryder is “retrofitting” three of its facilities — in Rancho Dominguez, Orange, and Fontana — to house maintenance and support operations for the nearly 200 trucks the company plans to purchase. Both the Orange and Fontana locations will dispense both liquefied and compressed natural gas (LNG and CNG) and be open to the public. According to Perry, the Rancho Dominguez facility is close to the Port of Long Beach, which has ample natural gas fueling locations already and, therefore, will not include fueling stations.

In all, the locations will provide access to natural gas vehicles for over 1,200 of Ryder's existing customers. The decision to add fueling capabilities that are open to the public at two of the locations is critical to providing the level of service needed to support the growth of natural gas vehicles, Perry says.

The Rancho Dominguez facility was scheduled to open in late April with the other two sites slated for some time in September or October, Perry said. Each of the facilities needed several upgrades, including electrical systems, lighting, ventilation, and methane detection systems that have been integrated with fire suppression systems. There will be separate storage tanks for LNG and CNG, each with a 15,000 gal. capacity.

Ryder also leveraged assistance from the Dept. of Energy's Clean Cities program. “I think a project of this scale would have been very difficult without the partners and local support,” Perry says. “I think this can be a best-case study of how public-private partnerships can [work].”

Because Ryder is anticipating high customer demand for the natural gas vehicles, Perry says these initial stations are serving as a blueprint of sorts for other facilities around the country that Ryder is exploring. And while both LNG and CNG vehicles will be offered, Perry says Ryder is anticipating CNG to be the dominate choice in a rental or lease fleet, which is more typically made up of local or regional haulers.

“The infrastructure, we feel, will be more supportive of CNG in this configuration,” he says. “In higher mileage applications, LNG will make sense.”

Ryder is purchasing both Freightliner and Peterbilt products among the 200 vehicles to support the infrastructure development. Both single axle and tandem axle Freightliner Business Class M2 112 trucks with Cummins ISL G natural gas engines will make up the bulk of the purchase. Ryder will also have available Peterbilt 386 tandem axle day cabs running with the Cummins Westport GX engine for “customers that require a higher torque.”

The vehicles will be available for both daily rental and longer-term leases and will also be utilized in Ryder's logistics fleet.