OEMs Tout Natural Gas

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John Sommers II for LMT

ARLINGTON, Va. — The savings fleets can realize from operating natural-gas trucks will offset the price premiums the equipment commands, thanks to an expanding marketplace that is driving down costs and an abundant fuel source that is selling at a discount to diesel and gasoline, manufacturing and fuel industry experts said.

While some disagree over the pace at which commercial transportation should roll out adoption of the fuel, panelists at the inaugural Summit on Natural Gas in Trucking hosted here by American Trucking Associations generally agreed that commercial fleets and the natural-gas industry have arrived at a turning point.

“The convergence has happened; the time really is now,” Steve Gilligan, vice president of product marketing for Navistar Inc., Lisle, Ill., said during one panel. “I cannot see anything that will come close to the viability of natural gas.”

Gilligan said the combination of the abundance of domestically available fuel, engines built around diesel technology and industry support in terms of engines, trucks and infrastructure, are combining now to make natural gas the logical alternative fuel choice for commercial fleets.

He noted that the price gap between compressed or liquefied natural gas and diesel fuel appears substantial and stable, with diesel costing far more, and he pointed out that natural gas is produced domestically rather than in the Middle East, which helps to generate U.S. jobs.

But that doesn’t mean businesses must completely abandon diesel and gasoline. In fact, fleets should not think only in terms of one fuel or another, said Andy Douglas, national sales manager for Kenworth Truck Co., Kirkland, Wash.

“I’m going to challenge the industry on the notion of a zero-sum game,” he said. “It’s not about one fuel or the other. It will be both.” The key consideration, he said, is whether there is a fit for a natural gas-powered truck in a fleet’s operation and whether a company can identify strategic or competitive advantage.

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