The VIA e-REV has the environmental benefits of an electric vehicle, and eliminates range anxiety by including a conventional gasoline engine. 
 -  Photo: VIA Motors

The VIA e-REV has the environmental benefits of an electric vehicle, and eliminates range anxiety by including a conventional gasoline engine.

Photo: VIA Motors

Managing fuel spend is a top priority for all fleets. For truck fleets, the options to decrease fuel costs while maintaining performance and efficiency have often been costly and hard to find — until now. Responding to the market's needs, a growing number of OEMs and aftermarket upfitters have or are launching alternative-fuel or fuel-efficient vehicles that will allow truck fleets to do their jobs at least as good, if not better, at a lower cost. The only question facing truck fleet managers is which option they will choose.

Examples of the options available in the changing work truck fuel-management landscape include: 

Fueling Trucks up with CNG

There are several new options for truck fleets interested in a compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle. Chrysler and General Motors have introduced three CNG models that will arrive ready to use, eliminating the time and expense of taking delivery and sending the vehicle to an aftermarket upfitter.

In addition to the convenience of having an OEM-installed CNG system, fleets will also get the added benefit of having the truck’s fuel system covered under the same warranty as the rest of the vehicle.

The Ram 2500 Heavy Duty (HD) CNG pickup from Chrysler, powered by a 5.7L HEMI V-8 engine modified to run on both CNG and gasoline, is designed specifically for fleet and commercial customers. Redesigned cylinder heads with specifically designed CNG-compatible valves and valve-seat materials allow the engine to burn both fuels. The engine also has a second, CNG-specific fuel rail and set of injectors. The specially designed spark plugs help improve combustion and durability, and a new powertrain control module allows the HEMI to seamlessly operate on either of the two fuel sources.

The CNG-only range of the Ram 2500 CNG pickup is 255 miles. The gasoline backup extends the range to 367 miles.  
 -  Photo: Ram Truck

The CNG-only range of the Ram 2500 CNG pickup is 255 miles. The gasoline backup extends the range to 367 miles. 

Photo: Ram Truck

The CNG is stored in two tanks that have an 18.2 gasoline-gallon-equivalent in the pickup bed. According to Robert Hegbloom, director of Ram Truck, the tanks are bolted to the 2500 HD’s frame and surrounded by a high-strength steel case for added protection and safety. The tanks measure approximately four feet by four feet, leaving four feet of usable storage space. In addition, there is an eight-gallon gasoline tank. The capless CNG filler is located next to the gasoline fuel neck and is accessed through Ram’s fuel-filler door.

The CNG-only range of the pickup is 255 miles, and the gasoline backup extends the range to 367 miles. While gasoline is needed to start the engine, the 2500 HD CNG is designed to run exclusively on natural gas and seamlessly switch to gasoline once it is depleted.

Unlike some other systems, there are no operator fuel switches on the instrument panel. The transition from fuels is automatic — and, according to the company, unnoticed by the driver. Drivers can monitor natural gas consumption with a CNG-specific fuel gauge that sits adjacent to the gasoline fuel gauge.

The 2500 HD CNG offers heavy-duty capability, including 1,580 lbs. of payload and 7,650 lbs. of towing capability. The Ram 2500 is delivered ready to tow and its standard equipment includes integrated 4- and 7-pin connectors and a Class IV hitch receiver.

The 2500 HD CNG will be available exclusively as a Crew Cab 4x4 model with 169-inch wheelbase in either the ST or SLT trim level and comes with a five-year/100,000-mile powertrain limited warranty, which covers the HEMI V-8 and transmission, and adds internal engine components specific to CNG: upgraded valves, valve seats, fuel injectors, and rail; and specially designed spark plugs. An additional three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty covers the rest of the vehicle. Chrysler expects the vehicle to be delivered to its first fleet customers at the end of June.

GM’s bi-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD Extended Cab pickup trucks include a CNG-capable Vortec 6.0L V-8 engine that seamlessly transitions between CNG and gasoline fuel systems. Combined, the trucks offer a range of more than 650 miles and offer almost identical mpg to a conventional gasoline engine — but run on lower-costing CNG. In addition, the vehicles have performance capabilities very close to their gasoline-powered cousins. 

The GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado CNG (left) models can run just on gasoline if no compressed natural gas is available. 
 -  Photo: General Motors

The GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado CNG (left) models can run just on gasoline if no compressed natural gas is available.

Photo: General Motors

“Aside from reduced box space, these vehicles have the same utility as that of any Sierra or Silverado, with the lower natural gas fuel price,” said Mike Jones, product manager for GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. 

The hardened V-8 engine is started using a small amount of gasoline, and, when the engine and other components reach predetermined temperatures, it switches over to CNG. Once the CNG is depleted, it transitions back over to gasoline. Both CNG models can run just on gasoline if no CNG is available.

According to Jones, the bi-fuel system will help to eliminate any fears about range anxiety. “Because of the bi-fuel system, drivers can be confident they won’t run out of fuel if they venture outside the range of a CNG fueling station,” he said.

The trucks will be available in standard and long box with either two- or four-wheel drive. The single 17 gasoline-gallon equivalent tank is mounted in the truck's bed, bolted to the frame, and protected by a black aluminum diamond plate cover. In the short-box trucks, there is approximately 30% less storage and, in the long box, about 25% less storage because the tank leaves over 4 and 6 feet of space respectively.

For conversion, the bi-fuel vehicles are sent straight from the factory to IMPCO, a GM tier-one supplier. The GM warranty is the biggest advantage fleets will get from the factory-installed system.

The CNG-powered Sierra and Silverado will be covered by GM’s three-year/36,000-mile new-vehicle limited warranty and five-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty — including the hardened engine and fuel system, according to Jones — and vehicle emissions warranty, meeting all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) emission certification requirements.

The trucks will be built at the company’s Fort Wayne, Ind., plant and then sent to IMPCO for installation of the CNG bi-fuel delivery and storage system, according to GM’s strict manufacturing quality standards. The vehicle is then shipped by GM to the fleet. According to Jones, the upfitting process adds about four weeks to the order-to-delivery. As of press time, the automaker was scheduled to begin taking orders for the bi-fuel pickups in April, with delivery expected in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Kenworth Truck Company also offers four CNG and liquefied natural gas  (LNG) models, including the T470 FEPTO, T440 Sloped Hood ISL G, T800 HD LNG, and W900S.

Liquefying Power for Work Trucks

High-mileage vehicle fleets now have more ways to fuel up with propane autogas (also known as liquefied propane gas [LPG]).

Several LPG options are available at the moment: GM’s 2012 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana 4500-series cutaway vans with dedicated propane autogas systems backed by GM’s new vehicle warranties; ROUSH CleanTech’s propane autogas conversion system for Ford F-450 and F-550 chassis cabs, and propane autogas F-650; and the 2012 Ford F-250 and F-350 pickups and E-Series vans and cutaways equipped to run on propane autogas. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation (FCCC) is joining the trend with the S2G chassis — a factory-installed LPG engine for the medium-duty truck market.

Built on FCCC’s S2 chassis, the S2G’s 8.0L, 325 hp engine supplied by Powertrain Integration offers clean-burning LPG technology on a General Motors’ long block, with other GM components as its core.

Built on Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s S2, the S2G chassis is a factory-installed 8.0L LPG engine rated at 325 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. 
 -  Photo: FCCC

Built on Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.’s S2, the S2G chassis is a factory-installed 8.0L LPG engine rated at 325 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque.

Photo: FCCC

LPG chassis benefits include lower operational costs and reduced emissions, without sacrificing payload capability or performance. The S2G chassis is suitable for pickup and delivery, student transportation, and municipal applications.

“The S2G was developed in response to significant industry interest for an LPG solution without retrofitting or aftermarket additions,” said FCCC President Bob Harbin. The manufacturer requested direct customer input to develop this new medium-duty commercial product. 

“From the start, we invited our end-users, fleet managers, and body manufacturers to tell us about their specific needs, from GVWR and chassis component placement to in-cab layout and electrical interfaces,” said Jonathan Randall, director of sales and marketing for FCCC. “We didn’t want to just add an LPG engine to our S2 chassis — we wanted to make the best chassis our customers could envision while making the most body-builder friendly truck in the market.”

Like its diesel counterpart, the front-engine S2G utilizes the Freightliner M2 cab, which features a sloped, forward-tilting hood for increased visibility and easy engine access. It has a GVWR of 33,000 lbs. and comes equipped with an Allison automatic transmission with PTO provision. Daylight running lights come standard.

A limited preproduction run of the S2G chassis is expected in the fourth quarter of 2012, with full production slated for the first quarter of 2013.

Enter the VIA

For truck fleets looking for a viable, cutting-edge alternative-fuel option, the VIA Motors VTRUX extended-range electric vehicle (e-REV) might be the answer. 

The extended-range electric pickup truck can drive up to 40 miles on batteries and then switches automatically to a gasoline-powered engine for an additional 300 miles. It can be charged using a standard 110v or 220v outlet and refueled with conventional gasoline at any public station.

As an added benefit, the e-REV work truck comes with an onboard generator that can be used in place of a tow-behind generator to power the work site or provide emergency power. The powertrain includes a 402 hp electric motor, a 4.3L V-6 combustion engine, a 201 hp electric generator, and a 1,500-lb. payload capacity. The current pickup models are available in standard, extended, and crew cab models. 

According to VIA, the VTRUX achieves 845 MPGe. A comparable conventional truck gets about 15.5 mpg. Yearly gasoline and electrical costs are estimated by the company to be $689 compared to $6,408 for a conventional gasoline truck of the same size. 

As is common with range-extended vehicles, the VTRUX has lower maintenance costs, estimated by VIA to be $8,400 less than a conventional gasoline truck. According to the company, the VTRUX will save fleets more than $25,000 over the course of an eight-year lifecycle.

Making Hybrids Affordable

For urban and suburban fleets, hybrid technology might be a good option. Formed three years ago by a cadre of MIT alumni, XL Hybrids of Boston is currently upfitting Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana 2500 trucks paired with a 4.8L engine.

Its long-term goal is to provide a hybrid option to any Class 1-3 truck fleet, regardless of manufacturer, according to Justin Ashton, co-founder and VP of business development for XL Hybrids.

The cost was a top concern for fleets when the company was designing its system, and XL Hybrids is able to deliver a drop-in system at an estimated cost of under $8,000.

The system is designed to be installed in about four hours by the vehicle upfitter. “It’s designed to be part of the upfitting process and then shipped through to the buyer,” Ashton explained.

XL Hybrids’ system is designed for fleet trucks driven about 75 miles per day. While it currently has an ROI of five years, Ashton said the company aims to lower that to three years. 

XL Hybrids offers a leasing option to make the system even more attractive to fleets. “We can amortize the cost over the life of the vehicle. For fleets that care about monthly costs, this option is really attractive. Leasing a hybrid vehicle can start the savings on day one instead of waiting for the payback,” Ashton noted, adding that this option has elicited interest from fleet management companies.

Ashton estimated that fleets that use XL Hybrids’ system will see a fuel savings of about $1,800 per year, per vehicle. As an added benefit, like gasoline-hybrid sedans, he estimated that brake maintenance would be lower because of the regenerative braking. 

Kenworth Truck Company offers two diesel-electric hybrid options, the Class 6 T270, and Class 7 T370. The trucks are powered by the PACCAR PX-6 engine.

Getting a Boost

While Ford Motors offers an array of aftermarket options for its fleet customers, it is sticking with the internal combustion engine for its factory-ready options. The result of its efforts to make it more efficient is the EcoBoost, which the company expects to have available on a growing number of its vehicle lineup, including its truck and van lines.

The Ford F-150 with EcoBoost V-6 engine is rated at up to 22 mpg highway and has the ability to tow up to 11,300 lbs., the same capability as its traditional 6.2L V-8 option. 

The entire F-Series Super Duty pickup and chassis cab lineup are available with gasoline, diesel, biodiesel, B-20, and CNG/LPG-dedicated or bi-fuel capability. The Ford F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks have the option of gasoline, biodiesel, or CNG/LPG fuel systems. The 6.2L V-8 can also be operated on E-85.

The 2013 Ford Transit will come to market with new clean diesel and EcoBoost V-6 engine, which will allow it to achieve at least 25 percent better fuel economy than the E-Series vans the Transit is largely replacing and give fleet customers options when shopping for a fuel-efficient vehicle. In addition to having a more efficient engine, the Transit will also help fleets save money by being at least 300 lbs. lighter, which could help trim thousands of dollars in operating costs from fuel savings alone, according to the automaker. 

Curious about what the differences are in alternative-fuel costs? Read on to find out!