U.S. Fleets Accelerating Their Shift to Natural Gas

Some of the largest U.S. truck fleets, including home-improvement retailer Lowe's, Procter & Gamble Co. and United Parcel Service Inc., are increasing their adoption rate of natural gas fueled trucks, allowing them to cut fuel costs, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Carriers are spurred on by new and improved engine technology that can power heavy-duty trucks that weigh up to 80,000 pounds. A 12-liter Cummins Westport Inc. natural gas engine went on sale in July and Volvo will introduce a natural gas engine for its trucks next year.

UPS plans to buy 1,000 natural gas trucks by the end of 2014 and FedEx Corp. plans to shift 30 percent of its long-distance trucks to natural gas over the next 10 years, the WSJ reported. Lowe's plans to shift all of its several hundred delivery company trucks to natural gas by 2017. At P&G, 7 percent of its trucks already run on natural gas and that figure could reach 20 percent within the next few years, according to the article.  

Adoption of natural gas trucks is in the early stages, but it is gaining traction. About 5 percent of all heavy duty trucks sold next year will run on natural gas, up from around 1 percent this year, according to industry projections.

Long-distance trucking companies, including Con-way Inc., Schneider National Inc., Swift Transportation Corp. and Werner Enterprises Inc. are testing both CNG and LNG trucks.

Ike Brown, president of logistics and trucking company, NFI Intermodal, told the WSJ, "Within five years, 30 percent of our fleet could be natural gas.” NFI Intermodal provides deliveries to Lowe's in Texas and has about 2,200-trucks in its fleet.

Fleets have been slow to embrace the technology due to higher initial vehicle costs and a natural gas fueling network that is in development. For example, Lowe's has asked NFI Intermodal to start using natural gas powered vehicles to serve its stores in Pennsylvania, but it has to wait for a fueling network to be built, the article said. 

However, the low cost of natural gas is attractive and enough to accelerate the shift to the fuel. Compressed natural gas, or CNG, sells for about $1.50 less a gallon than its equivalent in diesel fuel, which averaged about $3.87 a gallon this week.

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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