Up to this point, most of the attention has been focused on how a fringe energy source for vehicles is turning into both a practical and irresistibly attractive option for truck fleets. In the past few years, a great deal has been written about the development of new natural gas (NG) engines capable of drawing acceptable performance for trucking applications and about better on-vehicle storage opertions. The rapid development of NG fueling infrastructure—both public and private—has been closely covered, as has the long-term supply outlook and its impact on keeping NG prices low. And, of course, every new NG truck that’s been announced has received wide attention even as the pace of those introductions has picked up substantially.

But something has been largely missing. As the trickle of NG trucks entering fleet service slowly turns into a steady flow, fleet managers need to look beyond the gee-whiz optimism. They need to evaluate the pros and cons of NG in their specific operations before they can make an informed decision on whether to move ahead with the sizeable investments needed to convert to the new fuel. In short, fleet managers need a practical guide to help them examine the sometimes underappreciated variables that will divide the successful from the unsuccessful in this coming new age.

“The Blue Fleet: A Practical Guide to Natural Gas” is the first step in addressing that need, focusing on the basic questions any fleet will need to answer if it’s considering a conversion to NG vehicles. The following pages outline the real-world operational characteristics that can best exploit the strengths of NG. They explain the costs, benefits and drawbacks of the various fueling options you will face. The initial equipment costs for NG trucks are identified, as are offsetting factors like tax incentives, long-term fuel prices, and residual values in an attempt to help you quantify total cost of ownership for an NG fleet.

And, finally, the real cost of maintaining NG trucks—something all too often overlooked in the initial enthusiasm for the low fuel price—is explored, looking at the likely impact of NG on shops, tools and technicians.

There’s little doubt at this point that the Blue Fleet will be a major part of the trucking industry in the near future. This guide will help you decide if that future makes sense for your fleet.