May 2012, Business Fleet - Cover Story
Inside the Green Fleet Decision Process
With a directive to go green, numerous fleet applications and so many alternative-fuel and power options, what’s a fleet manager to do? Work the grants system, fit the vehicle to the task and calculate a favorable ROI.
A family affair: Ronald Bast, GO Riteway’s president (left) and his sister Rochelle Bast, vice president, stand next to Ronald Bast’s children: Wendy Bast Siedlecki, corporate development director, and R.J. Bast, director of operations.
The Propane Consideration
In 2010, GO Riteway purchased a company that specialized in airport shuttle transportation. This company had begun the process of switching some vans to propane autogas through grants from Wisconsin Clean Cities.
When the company changed hands, Ebert picked up the ball and investigated compressed natural gas (CNG). He decided CNG wasn’t a fit for his particular fleet. “In talking to other people in the industry, we found that CNG seemed to be a little heavier on repairs and maintenance; a lot of that has to do with the pressurization of the system compared to propane,” he says. Another issue was the reduced storage created by the larger fuel tank needed to produce a similar range.
The company went with propane. Ebert bought 21 used Ford E-350 passenger vans and retrofitted them with ROUSH CleanTech propane autogas systems. The conversion kits ran about $11,000 and were completely covered by a Clean Cities grant.
On the conversion, the factory-installed gas tanks are simply swapped out for propane tanks. The new tank holds 35 gallons with room for 27 gallons of propane; the remaining 20% is left for the gas to expand. “Looking at our shuttles, you wouldn’t know they use propane instead of gas,” he says. Ebert claims a range of 270 to 300 miles per propane tank compared to 350 miles on standard gas.
The kit installation process started with a visit from ROUSH technicians, who took one full day to train GO Riteway’s mechanics. ROUSH returned the following day to observe an installation, and after that, the mechanics were on their own. They now install each kit in less than six hours and are certified to do warranty work on the ROUSH system.
As well, Ebert took on the task of installing a propane fueling station. While he had choices of national suppliers for his propane, he went with a local vendor, Boehlke Bottled Gas. Ebert says Boehlke beat the big guys on price by a couple cents per gallon, but the real benefit was how Boehlke helped him through the permitting process and worked with the contractor and electrician on site. While they had to scrap their original fueling site for parking considerations, the installation took less than four months. The project cost about $90,000, and was again completely funded through a Clean Cities grant.
With the grants, the return on investment is almost immediate, Ebert says, along with savings moving forward. Ebert pays less than $2 per gallon for propane, as opposed to about $3.60 for gas as of this writing. Ebert also points out further savings by elongating oil change intervals (from 5,000 to 7,000 miles) as a result of burning a cleaner fuel. “That ROI adds up in a hurry, especially when we’re putting around 100,000 miles on each vehicle a year,” he says, expecting a 500,000-mile lifespan.
Ebert is looking to add nine more propane-powered shuttles with extended-range tanks to allow shuttle service from Milwaukee to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, as well as another propane mini coach. He’s also considering a propane-powered school bus and a commercial bus.
There is a question as to whether the Clean Cities grant funds are still available. However, “We’ll be investing pretty heavily in propane, regardless if there are any grants or not,” Ebert says, because the ROI is still favorable. “Without the grant funding on the conversions or the fueling infrastructure, we still would have gotten an ROI in about three years,” he says.
A Return to Gas
Ebert says ethanol is not part of the conversation, nor is biodiesel at this point. Biodiesel is not readily available in his area, and he does not want to risk mixing percentage blends in the same vehicle as it could have mechanical consequences, he says.
However, Ebert is in the process of switching some of his smaller school buses to traditional gas, due to the added cost of the technology on new diesel trucks to meet the 2010 emissions standards. Not only is the company saving about $10,000 on the buses’ initial cost, he hasn’t seen a marked difference in fuel savings from gas compared to diesel, and he anticipates a comparable lifespan on the new gas engines.
The change to gas from diesel has been transparent to the drivers. For vehicles with heavier chassis, he says he’ll stick with diesel.
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