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Propane Autogas – Conversions and Infrastructure

The All-New Propane Autogas Ford F-750

July 2016, Work Truck - Cover Story

by Lauren Fletcher - Also by this author

Operating up to 33,000-pounds GVWR, the model was created in response to the growing demand for a propane autogas-fueled medium-duty chassis for bobtail applications, cylinder delivery trucks, beverage delivery, and larger tank setters and box trucks. (PHOTO: ROUSH CleanTech)
Operating up to 33,000-pounds GVWR, the model was created in response to the growing demand for a propane autogas-fueled medium-duty chassis for bobtail applications, cylinder delivery trucks, beverage delivery, and larger tank setters and box trucks. (PHOTO: ROUSH CleanTech)

ROUSH CleanTech has developed a propane autogas fuel system for the Ford F-750 chassis that costs less than similar diesel counterparts.

Operating up to 33,000-pounds GVWR, the model was created in response to the growing demand for a propane autogas-fueled medium-duty chassis for bobtail applications, cylinder delivery trucks, beverage delivery, and larger tank setters and box trucks.

“Now, fleet managers can purchase a Ford F-750 that not only costs less initially, but also saves money at the pump and uses a clean-operating, American-made fuel,” said Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing for ROUSH CleanTech.

According to Mouw, “The cost of the base Ford chassis and our liquid propane fuel system is less than $70,000, which prices us very competitively against the name brand diesel chassis in this market. The actual price may be less as well, based on volume purchased of both the propane fuel system and the Ford chassis.”

In addition, the business case for fleet customers is significant.

“We can save fleets in excess of $50,000, per truck, over the lifecycle of that asset with reduced fuel and maintenance costs and that is with diesel at current levels. As diesel rises, that savings will become even more significant,” he said.

Plus, beyond just the fuel and maintenance cost savings, “it is easier for customers to find technicians to work on these trucks as diesel mechanics are in high demand,” Mouw said.

Laying the Groundworks

The Ford F-750 base model comes with a 50-usable-gallon fuel tank, located on the driver side for ease of fueling. An extended tank option is available for those in need of more mileage.

Built on Ford’s 6.8L V-10 engine, the vehicles meet stringent Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification requirements.

Historically, propane autogas costs up to 40% less than gasoline and 50% less than diesel. Each Ford F-750 equipped with this fuel system will emit about 120,000-fewer pounds of carbon dioxide over its lifetime compared to conventionally fueled counterparts.

Part of Ford’s Sustainable Technologies and Alternative Fuels Plan is to provide diverse fuel options to meet the automaker’s customers’ needs, while at the same time improving its vehicles’ energy efficiency and long-term sustainability.

“For example, our new F-750 medium-duty truck is one of eight factory-available vehicles that can be ordered with a gaseous-prep package that enables our Qualified Vehicle Modifiers (QVMs), such as ROUSH CleanTech, to convert it from gasoline to either compressed natural gas or propane autogas,” according to Kevin Koester, brand manager, Super Duty fleet and medium truck for Ford Motor Co.

The prep kit includes hardened engine intake valves, as well as exhaust valves and valve seats. Customers can also choose to equip the new F-750 with the B-20-capable Ford 6.7L PowerStroke Turbo Diesel V-8. 

Choosing Propane

With the abundance of fuels on the market, why propane autogas for a medium-duty chassis?

“We received feedback from the market/customers that they are looking for an alternative to diesel that will reduce their cost per mile, reduce emissions, and utilize a domestic energy source without compromising the job that asset needs to complete,” Mouw said. “Ford’s medium-duty chassis is a great value, so coupling this with a lower cost and domestic fuel source was a no-brainer.”

Currently, the key markets/vocations asking for this solution have been the propane industry for their bobtail and cylinder exchange applications; the beverage industry with ROUSH CleanTech’s partner Mickey Truck Body for product delivery; the baking industry, including straight truck applications/product delivery; and tree care, such as chipper trucks and crane trucks.

“The common theme here is that these markets are looking for a way to eliminate the growing cost and complexity of diesel from their fleet and replace it with a lower cost and more user-friendly fuel/technology,” according to Mouw.

And, according to Mouw, “This solution is validated. We have more than 7,500 Blue Bird school buses on the road with this same engine and transmission combination with more than 60 million miles so the data is very strong in favor of this production. There is plenty of power and torque, more than 400 service locations and we supply training for technicians and drivers to help make the transition much smoother.”

Koester of Ford noted the addition of the ROUSH Ford F-750 “gives our fleet customers a solid option for diversifying their fuel choices. As we’ve learned in the past, dedication to an individual fuel type can put a fleet’s budget at the mercy of commodity pricing. Diversifying fuel sources are one way fleets can help protect the bottom line against fuel price fluctuations.”

Deliveries began at the end of April. Several fleets, including Victory Propane (15 trucks, including the first two produced) and Nestlē Waters (156 trucks) have already placed their orders. 

Making a Conversion Happen

ROUSH CleanTech began the engineering and product development process for the propane autogas Ford F-750 in 2013.

“We wanted to make sure we understood exactly what the customer needed related to range/fuel capacity and how that would package with various bodies before we released in production,” according to Todd Mouw, VP of sales & marketing for ROUSH CleanTech.

The new system can save fleets in excess of $50,000 per truck over the lifecycle of that
asset with reduced fuel and maintenance costs based on diesel at
current prices. (PHOTO: FORD MOTOR CO.)
The new system can save fleets in excess of $50,000 per truck over the lifecycle of thatasset with reduced fuel and maintenance costs based on diesel atcurrent prices. (PHOTO: FORD MOTOR CO.)

Some of the applications/vocations that utilize this truck needed a clean cab-to-axle (CA), so ROUSH CleanTech released a dual short tank configuration that offers 49 usable gallons but does not interfere with applications such as beverage delivery with a drop frame.

“We approach the development process in a manner similar to an OEM related to design, validation, testing, and a continuous loop of customer input back into our engineers to ensure those requests were being incorporated where possible,” Mouw explained.

Due to careful planning and communication, there aren’t many challenges once production starts.

“Once we get to production the process is pretty straightforward. We have a vehicle special order (VSO) option where the frame rails are pre-punched in the locations where our tanks mount. This helps reduce installation time and does not impact the integrity of the frame. Our order-to-delivery time is typically less than 120 days, which is pretty good for a medium-duty truck,” Mouw said.

The process for a fleet to convert an existing model is also simple.

“A fleet will order through their Ford dealer or leasing company with the VSO option code. They advise which of the three tank configurations are best, and the upfit is either done at ROUSH or at a qualified vehicle modified (QVM) approved upfitter if it is closer/more convenient for the body installation,” Mouw explained.

ROUSH removes all of the base gasoline components and then replace them with purpose built liquid propane components such as billet aluminum fuel rail, fuel injectors, stainless steel fuel lines, fuel tanks, and the company’s proprietary calibration to ensure the vehicle operates seamlessly on propane autogas.

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