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Well, well, well... somebody has put together what looks like a pretty comprehensive strategy that directly links the trucks, the fuel, and the customers just as natural gas is hitting the mainstream. I should have seen this one coming.

Navistar and Clean Energy Fuels, the clear leader in natural gas supply in the U.S., have launched a strategic partnership that will provide American truck buyers a commercially viable way to add natural gas powered trucks to their fleets. Without the usual and sizeable upcharge on the trucks themselves, and without government subsidy. Some Canadian fleets may also be able to join the party.

"Together, Navistar and Clean Energy have come up with a breakthrough program that offers customers a quicker payback on their investment plus added fuel-cost savings from day one of operation," said Dan Ustian, Navistar chairman, president and CEO, in a Chicago news conference this morning. He said his company will offer a broad range of medium- and heavy-duty trucks powered by natural gas engines. They'll include internally developed MaxxForce motors and the Cummins Westport ISL G.

"Natural gas has clearly emerged as the most realistic alternative fuel option for the trucking industry," he added, though that's been clear for some time now.

Clean Energy chairman T. Boone Pickens also participated in the press conference.

"It's a big day for natural gas," he said. "And all this can be done without government help, though I would like to see the Natural Gas Act passed."

This announcement comes on the heels of a speech made by President Obama on Jan. 27 in which proposed several federal initiatives favouring the use of natural gas for transportation, including getting more natural-gas vehicles on the road using federal fleets and helping local governments upgrade their fleets, offering new tax incentives to help companies buy more clean trucks, working with the private sector to help develop natural-gas fueling stations between cities, and launching a competition to encourage new breakthroughs for natural gas vehicles.

In a nutshell, the partnership announced today means Navistar will supply trucks with no natural-gas upcharge (in most cases), Clean Energy will guarantee fuel prices at a significant reduction from diesel for a term of five years, and the customer will commit to buying a certain amount of CNG or more likely LNG during that period.

The first customer would seem likely to be Jerry Moyes, chairman and CEO of Phoenix-based Swift Transportation, who took part in the press conference. The fleet is presently testing some 20 natural-gas-powered trucks and he wants to be first to test the Navistar products, though he has yet to sign a deal with the truck-maker and Clean Energy.

"We're very excited about the potential of natural gas," he said. "We like what we see."

As well he should, given that he says Swift uses a million gallons of diesel every day. With natural gas presently about $1.50 cheaper than diesel per gallon, the math must look mighty attractive even if there weren't a way to waive the upcharge at the start. The extra cost for a natural-gas engine can range from $35,000 to $80,00.

Moyes said as much as 30-40% of his fleet could be running on natural gas within the next 3 or 4 years.

A KEY PART OF THE PROCESS is that Clean Energy will ensure a comprehensive CNG/LNG fueling-station network, including at fleet locations if the demand is there. That company's president and CEO, Andrew Littlefair, said the aim is to have those stations no more than 250 miles apart on the interstate system.

Some Canadian fleets may be able to participate but the details on that are a little fuzzy at this point, not least because Clean Energy's presence in Canada is so far limited to B.C. Navistar vice president Jim Hebe said arrangements can be made with Canadian operations running north/south routes, and since most of those are within a short distance from the border, this seems feasible on the face of it.

Ever the natural gas evangelist, Pickens broke into the discussion at that point and said that there are options other than Clean Energy across Canada. He noted Shell's recent announcement that it has joined with Westport Innovations in a 'co-marketing' program to develop the North American market for LNG vehicles and fuels.

They aim to provide customers with "a better economic case" for buying and operating LNG-powered trucks. They say they'll do it by consolidating key components like fuel supply, customer support, and comprehensive maintenance in what they call an integrated, user-friendly package. They aim to make natural gas a better option than it presently is by reducing costs and expanding the requisite infrastructure. Details are a bit sketchy at this point.

Clean Energy recently unveiled a route plan for the first phase of 150 new LNG fueling stations for 'America's Natural Gas Highway (ANGH). The company has identified 98 locations and anticipates having 70 stations open by the end of 2012 in 33 states.

Many of the fueling stations will be co-located at Pilot-Flying J Travel Centers already serving freight haulers through an exclusive agreement with Pilot to build, own and operate natural gas fueling facilities at agreed-upon travel centers.

NAVISTAR IS DEVELOPING ENGINES that will bring natural gas to every one of its model ranges except the TerraStar, from class 6 through class 8. By mid-year 2012, said Hebe, the company will offer TranStar models with the Cummins Westport ISL G engine, followed soon after by the WorkStar. Ratings offerings aren't known but the spark-ignited engine is presently available from 250 to 320 hp. The ISL G doesn't need active aftertreatment by way of a diesel particulate filter (DPF) or selective catalytic reduction (SCR).
 

The company will also offer International DuraStar and WorkStar vocational trucks with its own natural gas version of the 7.6-litre MaxxForce DT, developed in conjunction with Navistar subsidiary Emissions Solutions. That work is pretty much done.

As well, Navistar has entered into a development agreement with Clean Air Power to create a diesel-pilot-injection LNG MaxxForce 13-litre engine for the ProStar, WorkStar and PayStar vocational trucks. They'll come on stream before the middle of 2013, says Hebe. He hinted that a 15-litre engine won't be too far behind.

Hebe said the natural gas version of the MaxxForce 13 will raise truck weight by less than 100 lb while offering as much as 450 hp and 1550 lb ft of torque. The LNG-fueled ProStar will initially have a range of 400-450 miles with an 80-gallon tank.

"When the work's done on the 13, rolling it into the 15-litre will be a walk in the park," he said.

When the MaxxForce 13 is introduced in mid-2013, customers will have a range of International natural-gas trucks with engines from 7.6 to 13 litres with horsepower ranging from 200 to 450.

Navistar and Clean Energy say they'll work closely with the former's dealers and fleet customers on the deployment of natural-gas trucks and a natural-gas distribution support system.

SO WHAT ABOUT THE PRICE of natural gas? Anticipating a question from the audience, Pickens said it's very unlikely to go too high, and will never go as high as diesel.

"Right now this country [the U.S.] is overwhelmed by natural gas," he said. "You've got enough drilling to last another 20 years. And we have at least a 100-year supply of gas."

At the same time, natural gas is said to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 30% in light-duty vehicles and 23% in medium- to heavy-duty trucks.

It's a compelling case.

CAN'T FORGET SHOW SEASON
so let me end this as usual with some reminders for your date book.

Next up it's TMC, the Technology & Maintenance Council’s 2012 annual meeting and exhibition, February 20-23, at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida. Check out http://tmc.truckline.com or call 703-838-1763.

From March 5th through the 10th it's The Work Truck Show 2012 at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, held in conjunction with the National Truck Equipment Association annual convention. The gathering includes the Green Truck Summit on March 5 and 6. Call 1-800/441-6832 or go to www.ntea.com.

A couple of weeks later, March 22-24, it'll be time for the Mid-America Trucking Show at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. Your car, like mine, can probably find it without human or electronic intervention. Call 502-899-3892 or 1-800-626-2370 or go to http://truckingshow.com.

And next it's time for a trip north to Toronto, Ontario for our own Truck World 2012 show on April 19th through the 21st at the International Centre. Call 1-877-682-7469 or go to http://truckworld.ca.

For those of you who plan way ahead, note that this is a Hannover year. The 64th IAA Commercial Vehicles show will be held from September 20 to 27, 2012 in Hannover, Germany. See www.iaa.de/en/

THIS NEWSLETTER IS PUBLISHED every two weeks. It's a heads-up notice about what's going on with trucking technology. I also write here about interesting products that may not have had the 'air play' they deserved within the last few months.

I should remind you that I don’t endorse any of the products I write about in this e-newsletter, nor do I have the resources to test them. What you’re getting is reasonably well educated opinion based on more than three decades in trucking.

If you have comments of whatever sort about the Lockwood Report, or maybe you've tried a gizmo I should know about, please contact me at rolf@newcom.ca.

SPREAD-AXLE TIRE

(February 01, 2012) -- Goodyear launches G619 RST for spread-axle trailers


VOLVO ADDS XE13 RATING

(February 01, 2012) -- New 455-hp rating for the XE13 powertrain package


SCALE'S AHEAD!

(February 01, 2012) -- Scalechek smartphone app tells drivers when they're approaching a weigh scale


ON-LINE CATALOGUE

(February 01, 2012) -- Phillips Industries shows off electrical and brake parts plus shop tools, accessories


TERMINAL CLEANER

(February 01, 2012) -- Clean electrical terminals, that is, by way of this cool tool from IPA

 
MAGAZINE ?

In This Issue

A look at Ontario's mandatory out-of-service quotas (Yup. They exist.), by Rolf Lockwood. Plus, a special focus on drivers, from retention to training — including the best fleets to drive for. And Jim Park explains how to choose the engine displacement that's best for you. That and much more in the April issue of Today's Trucking.

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