November 29, 2012
As fleets show interest in alternative fuels, it’s important for you to keep up
By Lucas Deal, Associate Editor
To be successful in the heavy-duty dealer market, you have to evolve and grow. Truck technology and design changes rapidly, and fleets are commonly receptive to changes that can improve their processes and benefit their bottom line. For dealers, that means new challenges arising every day.
One challenge that is entering the dealer market is heavy-duty natural gas engines, which operate using liquefied (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG). LNG and CNG are not new acronyms to the dealer market, but for the first time since these engines were introduced many years ago, interest is not subsiding.
Thanks to considerably lower fuel costs and a growing nationwide fueling network, more and more fleets are integrating natural gas tractors into their operations.
“I think this growth [in heavy-duty natural gas vehicles] is very sustainable. I think this time it is going to stick,” says Dan Martin, president of Dual Green Consulting. “Years ago, we would see fleets with just two or three NG vehicles. Now we are seeing fleets with a lot more trucks and they are looking to add even more trucks.
“That’s a substantial increase. One I think people need to be aware of.”
According to Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, less than 70,000 natural gas trucks and buses are expected to be sold worldwide in 2012. That number is expected to rise dramatically in future years, with annual sales exceeding 180,000 by 2019. Pike says nearly one million heavy-duty natural gas vehicles will be sold between 2012 and 2019.
Why are these numbers rising so rapidly, you ask? Nadine Haupt, director – alternative fuels for Navistar, says there are a few major reasons. With medium-duty vehicles, Haupt says government incentives — and in some cases mandates — are pushing fleets to invest in natural gas. But the driving factor is different in the heavy-duty market, she says.
While diesel prices fluctuate wildly (the national average rose nearly six cents this week), Haupt says natural gas prices remain steady and are regularly 30 to 50 percent cheaper than diesel fuel.
That’s a possible saving point fleets can no longer ignore, she says.
The market is shifting. Your customers are going to change, whether you are ready or not. To stay ahead of the curve and maintain your customer base, you need to be proactive.
One way to stay on top of this new technology is to interact with your OEM and take advantage of the training programs and information they offer. Every major North American OEM is producing natural gas engines in 2012. They also are providing technical information about the engines to their customers.
That is information you need to know — even if your customers haven’t requested it, says Sarah Carlson, truck customer service manager for GE Capital Fleet Services. Once a fleet adds a natural gas truck, they will expect you to know everything about it, she says.
“I’ve seen some fairly large commercial fleets start moving away from dealers because [the dealer] didn’t want to help them add natural gas trucks to their fleet,” adds Martin. “That’s happening. The OEMs are producing the trucks, but it’s the dealers that need to be there to help the customers understand them. When a customer has questions, the dealer has to be able to get them answers.”
In addition to your OEM, there are other organizations providing answers.
Clean Energy Fuels, the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation, the Natural Gas Vehicle Institute and Natural Gas Vehicles for America are among the national groups working to educate fleets, dealers and service providers about natural gas engines. All three are good resources to stay informed.
“We want to get people involved, and we want to provide basic guidelines about [natural gas vehicles and maintenance] that everyone can find and understand,” says Douglas Horne, president of the Clean Vehicle Education Foundation. “It’s all part of becoming a more mature industry.”
Creating guidelines and general instructions to follow isn’t new to the service industry, either, says Rick Mendoza, facility design manager for Clean Energy. “I am sure the industry went through this same progress and learning curve when diesel and gasoline were becoming popular fuels.
“This isn’t new. We are just taking what we know about these fuels and using the past lessons from those other fuels to make guidelines and let people know what they need to do.”
With the help of these businesses and organizations, you can be ready for the natural gas boom when it arrives in your service bay.