Photo by Becky May.

Photo by Becky May.

Fleet managers, vendors and alternative-fuel experts gathered in Schaumburg, Ill., on Oct. 28 for the annual Green Fleet Conference & Expo to share ideas about more efficient ways to run operation.

Mark Smith, keynote speaker and the vehicle technologies deployment manager for the U.S. Department of Energy's Clean Cities program, took the stage in the morning to give an overview of the program and discuss the challenges and success stories of fleets using alternative fuels.

DOE's Clean Cities program has been around for more than 20 years. During that time Clean Cities has helped fund more than 500 projects to help fleets become more sustainable. Although the program has come a long way since it was first formed, he acknowledges the process is one they are constantly trying to speed up.

"There's an expected 15 to 20 year acceptance range for when these [alternative] fuels will be adopted," Smith said.

Smith says 50 percent of refuse trucks have switched to natural gas, and 60 percent is projected for 2014. The first CNG trucks were purchased in 1989. A common theme throughout Smith's address was the need for the implementation of both vehicles and infrastructure. "It's the chicken and the egg debate, and it can't be that way," Smith said.

Attendees braved the windy city's weather for the Ride and Drive event behind the hotel, where they got behind the wheels of some of the newest alternative fuel vehicles on the market or coming to the market. Vehicles such as the Mercedes-Benz electric B-Class and the 2015 Ford F-150 filled the back lot. Sixteen companies participated in the event.

The expo hall opened for the attendees to walk around to 50 booths displaying new telematics technology and sustainable vehicles.

Guests got the chance to be a "live" audience for the All Fuels Super Session with Richard Battersby, equipment services manager for the City of Oakland. Battersby pulled off a Johnny Carson-style talk show and interviewed six fuel ambassadors each one representing a different alternative fuel. Before he pulled the panel on stage, he brought out the Mayor of Indianapolis Greg Ballard. The Mayor is in full support of transitioning out of petroleum and integrating hybrids into the city.

Once the panelists took the stage, they clarified stereotypes about alternative fuels. The panelists included Ben Prochazka, director of strategic initiatives from the Electrification Coalition; Joe Dalum, president and CEO of Odyne Systems representing hybrid vehicles; Ezra Finkin, director of policy and external relations for the Diesel Technology Forum; Jennifer Weaver, OEM outreach and education specialist for the National Biodiesel Board; Tom Sheehan, manager of market development of NGVAmerica and a fuel ambassador for natural gas; and Greg Zilberfarb, CEO and president of TSN Communications and Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expert at Propane Education & Research Council.

Everyone divvied up for the breakout sessions. Bob Cavalli of Volkswagen of America discussed maximizing fuel efficiency, which is one of the biggest challenges fleet managers face. Tony Eiermann, fleet manager for Coca-Cola, and Abe Stephenson, fleet and administration manager for DISH, joined Cavalli present ways their fleets monitor fuel usage.

Stephenson deals with young drivers and advises to "coach early and coach often." Eiermann said regular training helps remind drivers to be aware of idling time.

Cavalli discussed how minor things like looking for fuel stations with the cheapest prices and checking your tire pressure can really affect fuel efficiency. Both Eiermann and Stephenson agreed that telematics technology helps them analyze problem areas.

"Five years ago we reduced our idling time from five minutes to three minutes," said Eiermann. "We saw savings of $4 million."

Both panelists shared other strategies that work for their own companies, which varied at times. For example, Coca-Cola does 85 percent of its preventive maintenance, while Dish does none of its preventive maintenance onsite.

Be sure to check out for more coverage of the Green Fleet Conference & Expo.

By Becky May


Photos: A Look Inside the 2014 Green Fleet Conference

Originally posted on Automotive Fleet