High fuel prices and environmental concerns continue to spark new alternative-fuel vehicle choices. The latest: dedicated propane-powered Roush F-150 LPI pickups, available this spring with delivery this fall.
The propane systems were developed by Roush Industries, based in Livonia, Mich., with costs partially subsidized by the Propane Education and Research Council (PERC), in Washington, D.C.
Roush is known for developing performance vehicles, such as the supercharged Roush F-150 and Mustang, and for assisting manufacturers in product development, such as front engineering and testing, and validating powertrains and chassis systems.
The trucks will be available on a ship-thru basis — sent from either Ford’s nearby Dearborn, Mich., assembly plant or its Kansas City plant to Roush’s processing facility, where their gasoline system will be stripped out and replaced with a liquid propane tank, brackets, lines, fuel pump, and fuel rail assembly injectors.
The vehicles will carry Roush’s logo to help identify them post-conversion.
Fleets Surveyed for Feedback
Roush, through its marketing and communications agency, ASG Renaissance, initially surveyed fleets nationally to determine their vehicle requirements.
As a result, the dedicated-fuel systems (designed to run only on propane) are expected to be available on F-150 Regular, Super Cab, and Crew models in 2WD or 4WD with Ford’s larger 5.4L V-8. The systems will provide:
- The same 300 horsepower /365 lb.-ft. torque rating as the conventional 5.4L gasoline engine.
- A 250 to 300-mile driving range between fillups.
- An open bed, with propane tanks safely tucked beneath the vehicles.
- Complete towing and recovery capability.
Roush plans to gauge demand early in the 2007 model-year to expand the propane systems to other models.
“The whole plan is to accommodate multiple engine families and multiple vehicles,” said Tom Arnold, Roush’s director of alternative fuels development.
The company is investigating the potential of F-250 and F-350 models equipped with the 5.4L and the E-Series with 6.8L V-10 as the next candidates for its propane system.
Along with private and governmental fleets and municipalities, Roush officials see the propane industry, with its many participants, as another potentially large market.
Determining the Economics
More than 800,000 propane-powered vehicles operate in the U.S., and some fleets report 2-3-year longer service life and extended maintenance intervals, according to the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFCD), an online data collection site.
However, previous-generation models have experienced hard-starting issues in extremely hot or cold weather.
The CleanFUEL USA liquid propane injection system was the basis for the Roush engineering and design effort on the 5.4L in the F-150 and is sealed to prevent such issues, according to Arnold.
In cold weather, the injectors prevent hard-starting by injecting the liquid (rather than vapor, as with previous-generation propane systems) directly into the cylinders. They work just like gasoline injectors.
The closed system prevents hot-weather issues by purging vapors left in the fueling system or fuel rails. The fuel is always retained as a liquid; any vapors go back into the fuel tank, said Arnold.
From a service and maintenance standpoint, the liquid injectors are a direct fit with the gasoline engine injectors they replace. Diagnostic checks and servicing can be done using a dealership’s existing scanning equipment and tools.
“We learned a lot from the last Ford propane truck,” said Greg Zilberfarb, ASG commercialization and outreach manager for the propane F-150s. “We will make sure a dealership’s mechanics are trained, prior to delivery of a vehicle,” he added.
The trucks are expected to provide the same warranty coverage as their gasoline-engine counterparts.
Roush products are carried in about 330 Ford dealers. So far, the company has identified 150 U.S. candidates to sell the propane pickups, said Arnold. “There are certainly more to come. I’m still working out the arrangements, but we’ll have pretty good coverage for the fleet market,” he added.
Potential Costs and Benefits
About 85% of propane is produced domestically, and propane-powered vehicles can produce 60%t fewer CO and NOx emissions than gasoline engine vehicles, according to the AFCD.
While propane F-150s qualify for tax incentives and provide a clean/green “halo” effect, fleets ultimately must work cost benefits for themselves. Some key considerations:
- Under the 2005 Energy Policy Act (EPAct), the trucks qualify for either a 50- or 80-percent tax credit, depending on their emission ratings, not yet determined, up to a maximum of $2,500 or $4,000, respectively. The tax credit helps defray the propane installation cost, expected to be about $5,500.
- Fleets also get a 50-cent tax credit for every gallon of propane the trucks use.
- With tax-exempt government fleets, the credit can be passed to fuel distributors, retailers, or producers, who can use it to reduce fuel prices to the fleet.
- Propane costs, which have been fairly steady, ranging from $1.25 to $2 per gallon. They average about $1.65 in the Midwest.
- However, propane vehicles (like ethanol) are about 20-percent less fuel-efficient, according to AFCD.
- Propane is readily accessible. There are 2,499 propane fueling stations (versus 1,073 ethanol stations), according to AFCD.
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