Propane autogas use growing in U.S., summit leaders say

Updated Mar 2, 2011

The use of propane autogas in commercial vehicles is growing in the United States because of a favorable combination of expanding domestic propane production, a steady stream of new vehicle offerings, favorable government policies and propane’s affordable refueling infrastructure, according to propane business leaders from more than 20 countries who gathered recently at a summit in Washington.

“As fleet managers balance corporate environmental initiatives with bottom-line economic pressures, propane autogas is gaining market share because it is clean, efficient, reliable, safe and affordable,” says Roy Willis, president and chief executive officer of the Propane Education & Research Council, which co-hosted the summit along with the Paris-based World LP Gas Association.

More than 15 million vehicles worldwide run on propane autogas, making it the most widely used alternative to gasoline and diesel throughout the world, but the industry needs to do more in the United States to build awareness of its benefits, according to Warren Brown, automotive columnist for the Washington Post and moderator of the summit’s propane autogas discussion. “Here in the United States, about 270,000 dedicated propane autogas vehicles are on the road,” says Brian Feehan, PERC vice president for engine fuels.

The industry is focused on commercial fleets as the key to propane autogas success. “We have a powerful story to tell – propane autogas offers significantly lower costs of ownership, infrastructure costs that are a fraction of that of other alternatives, and a solid return on investment even before tax incentives,” says George Koloroutis, president of Ferrell North America and senior vice president of Ferrellgas, a U.S. propane supplier.

Additional propane autogas vehicles are coming, according to spokesmen for CleanFuel USA and Roush CleanTech, both U.S. suppliers of new propane autogas vehicles. Tucker Perkins, president of CleanFuel USA, which offers a series of GM-based vehicles, says that the current lineup of GM vehicles is being expanded with two major projects, a 6-liter engine coming out this year and an 8-liter engine slated to hit the market in 2012. Both engines are designed to serve multiple commercial truck and bus fleets, Perkins says.

“Propane autogas is the ‘right here, right now’ fuel for fleets that are looking for a solid business case to go green,” says Joe Thompson, president of Roush CleanTech, the alternative fuel business started by NASCAR team owner Jack Roush. Specializing in Ford trucks and vans, Roush CleanTech offers fully warranted vehicles tailored to meet the needs of commercial fleets. “A growing number of Fortune 500 businesses have added propane autogas vehicles to their fleets in recent years, and interest is growing,” Thompson says.

In addition to buying new vehicles, fleet owners also have the option to convert existing gasoline vehicles to propane autogas, says Stuart Weidie, president of Blossman Gas and founder of Alliance AutoGas, a nationwide network of companies that provides vehicle conversions, onsite fueling infrastructure and ongoing technical support and training. Alliance AutoGas offers propane autogas fuel systems for taxicabs, patrol cars, delivery vans, shuttles, buses and light- and medium-duty trucks.