Autogas across the Pond

By David Blakemore, LPG Consultant

Here in the UK, we tend to keep our eye on Europe when it comes to the latest developments in lpg utogas but, in the USA, commercial vehicle operators are increasingly showing awareness of, and an appetite for, our favourite alternative fuel.

Gone are the days when American cars and light commercials were all about 7 litre V8 muscle engines with fuel economy of around 8mpg – remember Steve McQueen’s 1968 Shelby Mustang in the film Bullitt? Today’s emphasis is about greater economy and cleaner emissions.

The Association for the Work Truck Industry (NTEA) recently held its Work Truck Show in Indianapolis and featured a Green Truck Summit. Video clips feature a good range of commercial vehicles, from the Ford Transit – looking exactly like the UK version – through larger vans to refuse wagons and open backed tippers. The larger vehicles were running on CNG or LNG, but most of the small to medium sized vehicles were lpg autogas conversions.

Alliance Autogas*, whose dualfuel Ford Transit was featured in a video clip, pointed out that it had driven the vehicle to the show from its base in Ohio, a journey of 303 miles, whereas many of the alternative fuel vehicles had been delivered on the back of a low loader – the point being the easy roadside availability of lpg autogas.

Alliance’s president Stuart Weidie commented: “Our state of the art technology is the most durable alternative fuel system available…..we are pleased about the positive environmental impact…..our system will take the lead on reducing costs and any barriers associated with fleet conversions.”

America is increasingly embracing alternative fuels. There are 143,000 vehicles** using lpg autogas in the USA and the figure is growing. This contrasts markedly with the UK, where “key statistics show….the market decline continues to show a downward trend.”*** Can we take guidance and encouragement from what is happening over the Pond?

Firstly, small and medium sized commercial vehicles in the USA have petrol engines. America resisted the dash to diesel that typified UK development from the 1970s onwards. An improvement in the availability of petrol variants in the UK would be helpful, and we ought to lobby OEMs on this.

Secondly, large fleet owners are buying into lpg autogas. In 2015, Phillips Petroleum signed an order with conversion company Roush Cleantech**** to supply 300 dual fuel Ford pickup trucks for the use of its maintenance engineers. More recently, DHL has introduced a new fleet of vans at its Memphis distribution centre, Nestle Waters has ordered 155 delivery vans, and Bimbo Bakeries has taken 84 dual fuel vans into its fleet.

American lpg autogas vehicle converters appear to have fully recognised the potential market in fleet operators. Browsing various conversion websites, the emphasis is on mainstream commercial vehicles, in contrast to some UK lpg autogas conversion websites that feature conversion of one-off special interest vehicles – Porche, Range Rover, etc. Ought we to readjust our sights and concentrate on the more mundane but more commercially attractive van fleets?

Local authorities are buying into lpg autogas as a low emission fuel. Many school buses are now required to run on lpg autogas, in recognition of the fact that children ought to be protected from pollution. This is in stark contrast to the elderly fume belching buses that deliver children to my local school in Northumberland.

Interestingly, the fuel price differential is comparable, with lpg autogas at $0.85 per gallon against petrol at $2.20 a gallon in the USA, and there is some degree of government price support to achieve this. There is no government subsidy towards conversion costs.

On reflection, the current interest in lpg autogas in America closely resembles that seen in the UK following the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, when the government of the day introduced the PowerShift grant to support lpg autogas vehicle conversion costs, vehicle manufacturers produced dual fuel variants of their mainstream vans and cars, and lp gas companies worked hard to put lpg autogas onto filling station forecourts. Maybe a closer look westwards will provide inspiration to regenerate the UK lpg autogas market.

*Website: www.allianceautogas.com
**Source: Propane Education and research Centre
***Source: UKLPG Report 2015
**** Website: www.roushcleantech.com


17th March 2016

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