Alternative-fuel vehicle technologies and smarter driving habits can save money, improve fleet performance, support organizational environmental goals and contribute to the nation’s energy security. The growing selection of alternative-fuel vehicles and technologies, the expansion of the refueling infrastructure network and the evolution of vehicle telematics are making it progressively easier to operate and maintain alternative-fuel fleets.
Use of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel cargo vans and pickup trucks is one of the most immediate ways contractors can cut fuel costs and decrease pollutant emissions. Along with the purchasing of such vehicles, other light-duty vehicles can also be replaced or converted. Many fuels and vehicles are currently available:
Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) - Light- and heavy-duty CNG conversions are available for trucks, vans and SUVs from Chrysler, Ford, Isuzu and General Motors. “Bi-fuel vehicles” offer the flexibility of switching to diesel or gasoline, and “dedicated vehicles” run only on CNG. Conversion kit prices range from $7,000 for light-duty trucks to $25,000 for heavy-duty trucks and can be purchased through and installed by dealerships and conversion companies. The conversions must be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or the California Air Resources Board to ensure that engines meet safety and exhaust emission standards.
Original equipment manufacturers are also expanding their offerings of factory-direct natural gas vehicles. Fleet customers can purchase Chevrolet or GMC heavy-duty pickup trucks that start up on gasoline then switch to compressed natural gas. Compact cargo vans that use this technology, such as the Nissan NV200 or Ford Transit Connect, are also available.
Propane - Dedicated liquid propane autogas fuel systems are available for light- and medium-duty vans and trucks. Ford and Roush CleanTech offer a variety of propane vehicles, including the Roush Propane F-150, F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks and E-150, E-250 and E-350 cargo vans.
Hybrids and Electric Vehicles - Hybrid vehicles, such as pickup trucks and larger cargo vans, are widely available for light-duty applications. Light-duty plug-in electric vehicles are offered by multiple manufacturers, and a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 is currently available for plug-in hybrid and all other electric vehicles.
Biofuels - Many manufacturers offer “flexible-fuel” (aka flex-fuel) vehicles, which run on gasoline, E85 (85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) or any combination of the two. E85 is widely available in some parts of the country, which allows for easy refueling in those areas. Trucks, cargo vans and other light-duty vehicles that can operate on flex-fuel are manufactured by GM, Ford, Chrysler and Nissan.
The infrastructure for natural-gas, propane and electric vehicle refueling is growing rapidly, and new fuel stations are opening daily. The Department of Energy Fuel Station Locator reports that there are currently 545 CNG stations; 2,250 ethanol stations; 5,180 electric vehicle charging stations; and 2,400 propane refueling stations publicly available to fleets and drivers. Other stations may be private or allow public refueling only after an account has been established (referred to as limited public access). Companies may also establish their own refueling stations. Some fleets have formed partnerships with other companies or public entities to share alternative-fuel stations and reduce capital costs.
Local alternative fuel or fleet coalitions may provide support for finding or developing infrastructure in your city. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities program is a national network of nearly 100 Clean Cities coalitions that work to bring together stakeholders in the public and private sectors to deploy alternative and renewable fuels, idle-reduction measures, fuel economy improvements and emerging transportation technologies. The coalitions hold educational events and actively coordinate among existing or prospective stakeholders who adopt or deploy fuel vehicles or infrastructure.
Fleet managers, contractors and drivers have a variety of tools for reducing costs, fuel consumption and pollutant emissions.
Maintenance - Basic maintenance practices like proper tire inflation, using the recommended motor oil and regular engine tune-ups can improve fuel economy. Other technologies can enhance operational efficiency by tracking replacement parts, maintaining records of vehicle mileage and managing a comprehensive maintenance program.
Idle Reduction - Each year, U.S. passenger cars, light trucks, medium-duty trucks and heavy-duty vehicles consume more than 6 billion gallons of diesel fuel and gasoline without even moving. Such idling can be reduced without affecting operations or driver comfort. GPS systems and telematics can provide real-time information to help influence driver behavior by providing reminders to encourage idling reduction. Auxiliary power systems can also reduce idle time by powering the vehicle without having to run the engine.
Smarter Driving - Fleet and vehicle management practices can involve optimizing travel routes, fleet size and composition. For example, a fleet rightsizing strategy can evaluate fleet vehicles to determine whether some vehicles can be reassigned, replaced or eliminated to reduce costs and conserve fuel.