After looking at natural gas and other alternative fuels, General Distributors decided to try out propane autogas in its beverage fleet to see how it worked.
“Cost savings and longevity both influenced our decision to switch to propane,” says Don Lewis, chief financial officer of General Distributors.
The beverage fleet has already saved approximately $10,000 in fuel costs in less than a year — from February 2015 to December 2015, according to Lewis. Currently, General Distributors pays around 50 cents per gallon for propane before taxes, a dollar less than the current rate it pays for gasoline.
With each van traveling 12,000 to 15,000 miles per year, the payback for the propane autogas conversions will be less than three years — even in this era of low fuel prices.
Additionally, propane autogas has cut the fleet’s greenhouse gas emissions by more than 20%, says Lewis.
Founded in 1933 by Charles Fick Sr. and his brother George Fick Sr., General Distributors started selling the Olympia beer brand with three delivery trucks after the Prohibition was repealed. Now operating in 11 counties across Oregon, the beverage distributor currently runs 50 Chevrolet Express one-ton cargo vans from its facility in Oregon City.
As of now, General Distributors has converted 10 of its 50 gasoline cargo vans to propane autogas — with help from its local propane partner Blue Star Gas.
“If we purchase more vans in the future, we will convert them to propane autogas,” says Lewis. “Currently, we have converted all of our newest vehicles from 2010 to 2013. The other 40 vans are too old to be converted.”
Blue Star converted the 10 gasoline-powered cargo vans to propane autogas with Prins fuel systems. According to Lewis, the conversion process took about five days for all the vans.
As part of the contract, Blue Star also installed a 1,000-gallon propane autogas fueling tank at General Distributors’ facility. The beverage fleet fills each van about once or twice a week. By hooking the tank up to Wi-Fi, Blue Star can see when the tank drops to a certain level and will come out and refill it, says Lewis.
Blue Star has provided propane training — for both General Distributors’ drivers as well as its local mechanic.
“Blue Star came out to our work site and offered a training class for our employees on how to safely refill the vehicles using our on-site propane fueling station,” says Lewis. “Our mechanic met with Blue Star and they set him up with the right equipment and trained him how to work on propane-powered vehicles.”
So far, there haven’t been any complaints from drivers about the performance of the propane-powered vehicles. According to Lewis, drivers were initially concerned about how propane fuel would affect the van’s acceleration and power.
“Despite some initial questions, our drivers have reported no difference between the propane autogas-powered vehicles’ performance and the gasoline-fueled vehicles,” says Lewis. “There’s no loss in horsepower, we know it’s better for the environment, and we’re saving money.”