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Adopt Natural Gas Truck Technology Now or Pay Later

17 June, 2016

"Fleet owners should be taking a serious look at what natural gas vehicles have to offer now. Here’s why."

We operate today in a competitive market where, at present, oil prices are low and greenhouse gas regulations for vehicles are limited. However, this will change soon, so savvy fleet owners should be taking a serious look at what natural gas vehicles have to offer now. Here’s why.

To date, the economic argument for NGVs has been fundamentally tied to the price of oil. When conventional fuel prices are high, switching to stable, low-cost natural gas is very compelling. But when the cost of conventional fuels is low, this immediate economic argument fades.

Fleet owners who are only looking at the short-term economics forget that the oil market is highly volatile and prone to sudden price shifts.

Adopt Natural Gas Truck Technology Now or Pay Later
Even now we are seeing oil prices starting to rise off their recent lows. Experts believe this trend will continue. In a recent Wall Street Journal survey, investment banks raised their future oil price estimates to $55 a barrel in 2017 — the third consecutive monthly increase. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s recent Annual Energy Outlook foresees crude oil nearing $85 in 2020 and topping $100 in 2023.

That’s why running an average fuel price differential between conventional fuels and natural gas at current prices will underestimate the cost benefit of natural gas over the life of the vehicle, potentially significantly.

The long-term view is behind the decision by shipping giant UPS to invest in 12 additional compressed natural gas fueling stations and 380 CNG heavy-duty trucks.

“We own our fleet and our infrastructure. That allows us to invest for the long-term, rather than planning around near-term fluctuations in fuel pricing,” UPS explained when announcing its investment earlier this year.

When major shipping companies such as UPS switch significant portions of their fleets to alternative fuel vehicles, those who don’t will miss the savings and fall behind their competition. From 2011 through 2014, fleets averaged a $2-per-gallon savings with natural gas compared with diesel fuel. For a heavy-duty pickup truck consuming 2,000 gallons per year, this equated to a $4,000 savings. For a Class 8 weight segment, or heavy-duty truck, consuming 20,000 gallons, the savings reached $40,000.

There’s more to this than just the fuel-cost savings. The 2016 Paris Agreement on climate change and the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Phase 2 GHG Standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles will force the trucking industry to reduce carbon emissions. Vehicles will need to change in order to comply, and NGVs will have an advantage.

We saw this in 2010 when regulations limiting emissions of particulate matter and oxides of nitrogen were introduced for medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Manufacturers were forced to add expensive exhaust after-treatments to diesel engines, but there were no changes for NGVs because they were cleaner. 

As regulations become more stringent, the engine technology offering the lowest possible carbon emissions at the lowest possible price will ultimately win.

The technology to meet the proposed EPA Phase 2 GHG regulations already exists for natural gas engines and can offer long-term benefits across a broad range of heavy-duty vehicles. The new ISL G Near Zero 8.9-liter natural gas engine from Cummins-Westport — a joint venture between Westport and engine manufacturer Cummins — already meets these proposed standards through 2027. Moreover, the technology can exploit the ultra-high octane properties of natural gas to create advanced, high-efficiency powertrains that match, or even exceed, diesel engine performance.

The cost advantage of natural gas will increase. According to industry estimates, full compliance with the proposed EPA regulations will add several thousand dollars to the cost of vehicles running on conventional fuels — as much as $11,000 extra for a tractor trailer in 2024. As GHG rules tighten, NGVs will cost less than compliant conventional fuel vehicles, creating a compelling economic argument even without factoring in fuel savings. Fleet owners should focus on the environmental benefits of NGVs now and reap the economic benefits in the future.

Federal and state governments are on board with NGVs and are offering the trucking industry incentives to adopt natural gas in recognition of the environmental benefits. In December, Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which offers weight exemptions to heavy-duty natural gas trucks. The California Air Resources Board also plans to make it easier for fleets to adopt more sustainable solutions. Its 2016-17 Low Carbon Transportation and Fuels Investments budget proposes allocating $175 million for zero- and near-zero-emission heavy-duty vehicle projects, including incentives for new low-NOx natural gas trucks.

With the real long-term cost differentials, inherently low carbon emissions and technology that complies with upcoming GHG regulations, NGVs are a smart choice. The trucking industry needs to look to the future — which is really just around the corner — and decide where it wants to be. Heavy-duty fleet owners have a choice: They can either start planning for a move to alternative fuels now or face a costly future when the inevitable happens.

Article originally appears in

Autocar E3 saves East Lansing, Michigan 40 percent on fuel and emissions

6 June, 2016

“Going green” for any truck operation is often easier said than done—and nowhere is that more true than in municipal fleet work. The key factor, of course, is cost. The sticker price on almost any type of alternative-powered commercial truck is higher than a comparable diesel- or gasoline-fired model, so fleets, especially municipal ones, need to find ways to pay back at least some of that additional up-front expense.

The City of East Lansing faced such a quandary in 2014 when a strategic change in its recycling program opened up an opportunity to buy an alternative-powered truck.

Cathy DeShambo, environmental services administrator for East Lansing, says the city changed over to an automated recycling program (using a truck operated by a single driver controlling a robot arm to pick up and empty 96-gal. recycling cans) and adopt­ed a green fleet policy that authorized the fleet to pay more for alternative-powered trucks compared to diesel- and gasoline-fueled models. The policy was “driven by the goals of the city’s climate sustainability plan to reduce petroleum use and ... greenhouse gas emissions from the city’s fleet,” she says.

While East Lansing focused on finding hybrid and alternative fuel options for its new refuse truck, it also needed to meet daily operational needs and it needed reliable, cost-efficient equipment so that it could continue to  provide services for its residents.

How could the fleet prove that out prior to actually buying a new unit?


East Lansing’s fleet department settled on demonstration drives. It put trucks equipped with compressed natural gas fuel systems, diesel-electric hybrid powertrains, and other models through a three-week trial under the watchful eyes of drivers and techs.

“We operate in a pretty cold climate for a good part of the year and regularly face lots of ice and snow,” DeShambo says. “We’re also a densely populated area ... so we’re not spread out. There’s a lot of stop-stop-stop by our trucks in the refuse operation.”

In November 2014, East Lansing tested an Autocar E3 hybrid-drive truck within its refuse operation—a truck powered by the RunWise hybrid powertrain developed by Parker Hannifin. The system uses hydraulics for braking and low-speed propulsion, making it particularly efficient in heavy stop-and-go work environments.

The Autocar E3 cost 30% more than a comparable diesel-only truck, but it offered several key cost-saving benefits:  Fuel consumption was reduced 40-50%, basically doubling the fuel mileage of a traditional trash truck, and brake wear was reduced to the point where brake pad replacement could be extended out to between three and five years.

DeShambo says that the hydraulics also reduce wear and tear on other critical parts, increasing their life expectancy.
Overall, Autocar estimates those savings typically help a refuse fleet recoup the sticker price premium paid for an Autocar E3 truck in 3.5 to 4 years.

She also points out that the city would never have been able to get a realistic feel for such cost savings by just having a truck for a day or two in limited use.

Published in Fleet Owner Magazine, June, 6 2016

Houston, El Paso, others add Autocar CNG and Hybrid Trucks to Fleet

14 April, 2016

The City of Houston is expected to order 18 new Autocar E3™ refuse trucks with the RunWise series hydraulic hybrid driveline from Parker Hannifin. Houston is to place an order for 13 trucks in June and another five in July, says Cliff Buck of Autocar.

The order follows a comparison of Autocar hybrid and compressed natural gas-fueled trucks, Buck says. Houston opted for the hybrid, which uses conventional diesel fuel, in part due to concerns about fuel availability in the case of a hurricane, he told F&F. Advantages of the RunWise-drive trucks include diesel better fuel economy – “RunWise typically reduces fuel consumption 35%-50%,” says Parker Hannifin – and reduced brake wear.

Brakes? ‘Once in Six Years’

“Your don’t have to do the brakes but once in six years,” Buck says.

The City of New Braunfels, northwest of San Antonio, operates ten of the RunWise hybrid trucks.

The City of Austin operates four RunWise hydraulic hybrid and 48 CNG-fueled Autocar trucks.

WCA Waste in the Houston Area Too

According to Buck, “68% of our production right now is CNG.”

WCA Waste, which operates more than 100 CNG-fueled Autocar trucks, recently received 12 more for Missouri City, southwest of Houston.

Switching to Heil

The City of El Paso, which already operates 15 CNG-fueled Autocar trucks with McNeilus bodies, has ordered eight trucks with Heil bodies and Type III CNG fuel tanks from Worthington.

Autocar’s CNG trucks have 8.9-liter ISL G engines from Cummins Westport. The E3 hydraulic hybrids have a Cummins ISL H variant – “H is for hybrid,” Buck says – to accommodate the lower torque requirements of the Parker Hannifin hydrostatic drive.

Originally appeared:

Autocar Concrete Pump is New Weapon for Family Company

26 January, 2016

A family-owned concrete pump operator in Texas has found a secret new weapon to improve their productivity, build their customer satisfaction and competitive advantage: Instead of following the crowd they made a change and purchased a new pump and Autocar chassis to transform their business.

Family-Owned Concrete Pump Operator Secures New Weapon to Improve Their Competitiveness
Unruh Concrete Pumping, in Blossom, Texas, knew they needed to minimize downtime with the purchase of a new custom chassis and 60-meter pump to operate in the Dallas area. Pumpers often focus mainly on the pump itself when purchasing a new pump truck, with few options considered when it comes to the truck or chassis underneath.  But Earl and Chris Unruh, father and son owners of Unruh Concrete Pumping, learned through hard experience if the truck chassis is down with issues, the pump can’t get where it needs to be and it’s worthless to both the company and customer.  So the Unruhs decided to make a change. With support from Irving Equipment along the way, they had a custom Autocar 12x6 chassis built to perfectly integrate with Irving’s 60-meter KCP pump.

Now Earl and Chris’s secret is out – there’s more than one player in the concrete pump chassis industry. Unruh Concrete Pumping is thrilled to gain the personal attention and direct relationship with Autocar. The Unruhs contacted Irving Equipment to purchase a new pump and got a big surprise when President Joe Irving recommended an Autocar chassis with Cummins ISX12 power, and Allison automatic transmission. Chris explains, “Joe flew me up to Irving Equipment in Ohio to test out the truck for myself.  I already have six other pumps running on another common brand truck. I know what I do and don’t like and what we struggle with.  Autocar pretty much addressed all our concerns.  After a full inspection, numerous discussions, and a test ride, making the switch was easy”. 

The Unruhs took delivery of their new pump Thursday, Thanksgiving Day.  They had a job scheduled the next day for another pump, but decided to test out the new Autocar with the KCP pump instead. The truck and pump ran great, no issues – one day after delivery.  This was a new experience for the Unruhs, as they were unfortunately accustomed to often having start-up issues taking weeks to correct before placing other new chassis and pumps into service. They drove the new pump truck the following day in their home town’s Christmas parade, where they discovered another benefit of their custom Autocar ACX™ chassis.  The enormous 12x6 vehicle managed a turn through a small intersection in the parade without having to stop, backup, and perform a three point turn - a practice that was the norm even with their other smaller 6x4 and 8x4 concrete pumps.

The Unruhs are impressed with the performance of their Autocar 12x6 chassis, with the smoothness of the ride much better than they ever anticipated. The pump weighs just under 100,000 lbs., several thousand pounds lighter than most competitive models the same size, mainly due to the Autocar’s stronger, weight-optimized design. They were pleasantly surprised when the Autocar demonstrated an average of 3.72 MPG over the course of several thousand miles, while their other smaller and comparably sized pump trucks averaged less than 2 MPG over the same highways. 

Chris Unruh added, “This truck was built for me and the needs of my business. It’s a comfort knowing Joe Irving, of Irving Equipment and Glenn Pochocki, of Autocar, are personally committed to our business together and both are literally a phone call away.  And they know me on a first name basis.”  Autocar also provides free factory-direct lifetime technical service support 24/7 through their Autocar Solutions® service command center.

Glenn Pochocki, Autocar’s Director of Vocational Sales, works closely with Joe Irving.  Said Glenn, “Autocar is a major player in Class 8 vocational COE chassis, yet we’re still unique as a truck OEM where we work hard for, and appreciate, every single concrete pump truck sale. We custom engineer each chassis based on the requirements of the specific pump, so it’s built right the first time, every time.”
Concrete pumpers looking for alternative chassis options from a more personal truck company can visit Autocar at the World of Concrete show in Las Vegas, February 2-5, 2016. Visitors can also talk to Chris Unruh, along with other Autocar pump chassis customers, at Autocar booth C6412, where Autocar trucks will also be displayed for a hands-on experience.

About Unruh
Unruh Concrete Pumping is family-owned and has been in the concrete business over 35 years.  The company operates seven concrete pump trucks ranging from 36 to 60 meters. Unruh serves customers in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana from their two locations in Blossom and Texarkana, Texas.

About Irving Equipment
Irving Equipment is a family-owned & operated dealer, distributor & service center for KCP and CIFA concrete boom pumps as well as Loop Belt material conveyors, knuckle boom cranes, and other truck-related equipment.  Based in Tiffin, OH, Irving Equipment is expanding their foot print with new production, service and office facilities to be opened spring, 2016.

About Autocar
Autocar® is the oldest motor vehicle make in the United States and built America’s first truck, in 1899. Focused on purpose-built trucks from the very beginning, today Autocar is the leading American manufacturer dedicated to severe-duty cab-over trucks. Autocar has strong and growing positions in the markets for the biggest, baddest trucks on the road, such as Class 8 concrete pump trucks, refuse and recycling trucks, terminal tractors, and other severe-duty vocational applications.
A proudly American-owned company, Autocar is headquartered in Hagerstown, Indiana and is affiliated with GVW Group, based in Highland Park, Illinois.