Fleets that haven't made the leap to compressed natural gas (CNG) and want to see if it fits their needs are getting the opportunity to try CNG firsthand before making an investment.
Fleets interested in switching to natural gas can take advantage of an all-new, free Westport demonstration program. "Drive Now with CNG" is designed for fleets interested in the Westport WiNG Power System Ford Transit Van.
The company, which is Ford's largest natural gas qualified vehicle modifier (QVM), has started offering the vehicles across the U.S. from its installation facility in Dallas.
Offering CNG to Fleets
The demo CNG Transit van is being offered with the 3.7L engine.
"We think that the all-new Transit van Ford rolled out with the 3.7L engine is going to have a lot of applications on the cargo side and passenger side," said Paul Shaffer, Westport Dallas vice president and managing director.
As of press time, the demo vehicles are available only in a cargo version at 10,000-pounds GVW and below. The van will eventually be available for demo in all the basic configurations, according to Shaffer.
Apart from seeing how the van operates, Westport wants fleets to be able to put it to the test and see that it not only operates exactly the same as a gasoline-powered version, but that it can also help them get the fleet's job done.
Westport has outfitted its demo Transit vans with a few shelving and storage configurations for day-to-day use.
"We know we can't come up with a specific solution, because a lot of these fleets spend a lot of time and effort to get the exact package that works best for them," Shaffer said. "We're taking a one-size-fits-all approach with the demo vans, and what fleets will be getting with this Transit van is really no different from what they're getting with the gasoline-powered van. The fleets will lose a little interior space because of the tank."
While Westport expects to offer passenger versions of the Transit van as part of the demo program, currently only the cargo version is available for trialing. It will also be available in the most popular size configurations.
"We're trying to offer the Transit in a number of standard offerings," Shaffer said. "We're staying close to the market."
Westport is currently in the process of getting the CNG Transit certified by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) so it will be available in California and any other U.S. state that requires the certification for CNG vehicles.
Because of demand and other factors, fleets are waiting from eight to 16 weeks for delivery of their gasoline Transit vans. With a CNG upfit, there's another two weeks tacked onto this waiting period.
Installations are being handled both at Westport's Dallas facility and at a ship-thru facility in Kansas City, Mo., where Transit vans are being built.
"There's a pretty lengthy buy cycle from the time the customer orders the van from a commercial dealer to the time the customer receives the vehicle," Shaffer said.
Fleets taking part in the demo program can get the vehicle in as few as two days.
As the demo program matures, the company expects to send additional vans to key dealers across the country.
"We have strategic partnerships with dealers across the country that we selected to participate in this program — some of them have the Transit van and some of them have other Ford CNG offerings built by Westport," Shaffer said. "For the ones that do, we think it's going to be an opportunity to demonstrate the vehicles regionally with fleets surrounding that dealer."
The rollout to other dealers will be very strategic.
"We want to be careful to roll this out in a smart way," he said. "We're not going to put 50 on a lot. Instead, we'll put one or two and see how it grows."
Not only will fleets have faster access to the vans for trialing, but they will also have the option to purchase it at the end of the demo, and order any number in addition.
The Drive Now with CNG program is targeted specifically at larger fleets.
"We're looking for larger fleets — the program really isn't designed for businesses with two vehicles. We're looking for fleets that are interested — maybe they've never seen the Transit van before," Shaffer said. "The demo could be used to get an understanding of how CNG fits into the fleet's needs."
To get involved, all a fleet manager needs to do to be considered for participation is request and fill out a demo questionnaire, which is now available.
Participating fleets will have the opportunity to demo the van for about two weeks.
"I think fleets will figure out very quickly if this will work," Shaffer said. "We work very closely with fleets on the front end so we know that we've 'passed.' "
Shaffer said that he and the team at Westport are careful not to define what the success factor is for each fleet.
"It's really up to the fleet. We don't want to dictate what the success factor is," Shaffer said. "Instead we ask, 'What's your criteria?' We help the fleets monitor their performance throughout the demo and aid in their evaluation."
Both national and regional fleets have expressed interest, representing a range of industries, including paratransit, delivery, telecom, and shuttle services.
The program has been running since September 2014, and Shaffer expects it to continue as long as there is an interest.