OEM panel discusses challenges, future for natural gas

By Jason Cannon on
Freightliner partnered with Cummins Westport to offer the ISX12 G heavy-duty natural gas engine in the Cascadia 113 Day Cab.
Freightliner partnered with Cummins Westport to offer the ISX12 G heavy-duty natural gas engine in the Cascadia 113 Day Cab.

The success of natural gas in heavy-duty trucking likely hinges on how involved OEs are willing to be in the education, training and relationship building of fleets and fueling partners.

Executives from Cummins Westport, Daimler Trucks North America, Volvo Trucks North America, Kenworth, Navistar and Peterbilt spoke before a packed conference room Tuesday in a roundtable discussion on the future of natural gas in heavy-duty trucking.

The consensus was that OEs will have to do far more than simply push a quality truck to the end of the assembly line.

Jim Arthurs, President, Cummins Westport, says his company has worked to educate all its employees about the product suite, including cost and benefit analysis of natural gas versus diesel.

“We’ve worked to get distributors up to speed,” he says, “and we’ve had a two-day camp with account executives.”

Concerns over infrastructure are, by proxy, also a problem for the OEs – you can’t sell a truck that can’t easily get fuel.

“With public fueling stations, most are looking for a cornerstone customer,” Andy Douglas, National Sales Manager, Kenworth Truck Company, says. “They’re saying, ‘Give me somebody to get this thing started with.’”

“It’s our job as the OE to bring them in and partner them up.”

Infrastructure will grow as more and larger fleets add LNG trucks, either through a cost/benefit analysis or mounting pressure from major shippers.

“Shippers see (LNG) is cheaper and have never liked diesel fuel surcharges,” Arthurs says.

Brian Daniels, Product Manager, Powertrain, Daimler Trucks North America, says Freightliner has funded six LNG units that it has passed along to fleets around the country in an effort to educate the fleets about LNG, and also help Daimler see the practical units in action.

Bringing in multiple partners will also go a long way in cross training staff, says Navistar’s Director of Alternative Fuels and Product Marketing, Nadine Haupt.

“We’re all basically using the same engines and are partners with Cummins Westport,” she says.

The relationship with Cummins Westport, Haupt says, has to find its way to the dealer level and, eventually, the service bay.

“There’s a collaborative effort on service and support in working with dealers, even if they’ve never sold (an LNG truck), because that truck may never go back to the dealership where it was purchased.”

Once that training is implemented, Arthurs says the remaining hurdles in servicing the engines are small.

“It’s not a big step to service the engine,” he says.

Another challenge for natural gas is simply keeping pace with the fuel it is trying to replace.

“Natural gas has to close the gap in fuel efficiency and payback,” Arthus says.

“Our customers are looking for a two year payback,” Daniels adds.

Ed Saxman, Product Manager for Alternative Fuels for Volvo Trucks North America, added a little perspective as LNG begins to emerge as “the little fuel that could.”

“Diesel will remain the mainstay for many years to come,” Saxman says.

Even with some hills still to climb, Douglas says LNG has paid its dues and is beginning to reap the benefits.

“It’s a mature market,” he says, estimating that between 3 and 5 percent of all Kenworth’s new builds this year will be natural gas units. “Customers who tested (LNG) trucks several years ago are now coming back in for their third, fourth trucks.”

Bill Kahn, Manager of Advanced Concepts for Peterbilt, agreed.

“It’s all about people taking a look at their operations and spec’ing the right engines for their needs,” he says, noting Peterbilt has logged approximately 2,000 orders for natural gas units this year. “And 30 percent of those are the (Cummins Westport 12 Liter).”

Jason Cannon

Jason Cannon serves as the Online Managing Editor for Truck Parts and Service and its sister site, Successful Dealer. Reach him at jasoncannon@randallreilly.com.

3 comments
Dieselralph
Dieselralph

Why is CCJ inferring "LNG" when the speakers meant natural gas in general. CNG is more in use now than LNG. CNG is a bigger savings than LNG. CNG is almost $2 cheaper than diesel vs LNG which is about $1 cheaper than diesel. Please be careful about using one term alone to speak to all forms of natural gas. Their are many players trying to steer the choice to LNG. Let the market decide whether VHS or Beta wins the day. Right now, CNG makes more sense in the regional and short length of haul that the 12L engine plays in.

Truckguyut
Truckguyut

Not so Ralph, it takes 4 times as much CNG to equal one gallon of diesel and only 1.7 times LNG. So LNG is much cheaper to run then CNG. Not to mention the huge weight differnce, not in favor of CNG either. Sure, refuse and curb side even small local delivery can se CNG but LNG is a much better alternitive than CNG. Also fill times for CNG will kill it as well. Some LNG stations are faster then diesel.

Dieselralph
Dieselralph

 @Truckguyut Your arguement is illogical and based on volume and not energy content. (BTU). Regardless  if you choose LNG, CNG or Biomethane, the energy content is the same in the engine as they are all a gas at 70-120psi when they go in. LNG is not injected as a liquid into the engine, it is warmed to a gaseous state and aspirated like CNG. As far as volume goes, yes, you can carry more LNG on the same amount of frame rail than CNG because it is a liquid. But energy content is the same when aspirated in the engine. Also the 4 x more CNG doesn't make sense either. 4x what? 4 gallons of Natural gas at normal atmospheric pressure is nowhere near the energy of a gallon of diesel. 4 gallons at 500 PSI? 4 Diesel Gallon Equivalents (DGE) at 3,600 psi ?

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