by Larry Belle
In a move that will likely capture a larger share of the fleet and commercial truck segment, Ford has announced that it will begin offering a compressed natural gas (CNG), bi-fuel version of its Super Duty F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks in the middle of the 2012 model year.
Canada’s Westport Innovations, Inc., a firm that specializes in natural gas conversions, will perform the upgrade to Ford’s vehicles, and then deliver them directly to dealership showrooms, where they will be sold to fleet and commercial customers. While an upgrade adds about $15,000 to the price tag of a truck, that expense is significantly offset by the lower price of natural gas, which typically costs about half what gasoline does. In addition to a price advantage, natural gas resources are abundant on U.S. soil, removing the need to purchase the fuel from foreign sellers.
Another incentive for owners is the cleaner, environmentally friendly fuel profile of CNG engines, which emit such low amounts of CO2 that Environmental Protection Agency standards, as well as stricter California limits, are both met. While the converted trucks will feature Ford’s standard Super Duty V-8, 6.2-liter engine, bi-fuel capability means that drivers will be able to decide, at the flip of a switch, whether to utilize CNG or gasoline. Because the two fuel systems are completely separate, the vehicles are, by definition, not classified as hybrids.
Until now, fleet owners who wanted CNG trucks had to pay for the process as an add-on, after they purchased the vehicles. Depending how the conversion was done, and who did it, portions of the original warranty could be affected, sometimes nullified. After-purchase upgrades to CNG are also much more costly than manufacturer approved processes. Now, CNG enthusiasts can get the full package of bi-fuel ability from their Ford dealership, pay a lower price for the upgrade, and enjoy total warranty protection after purchase.
Two common misconceptions about CNG fuel have to do with safety and engine power. In fact, natural gas fuel is as safe as, or safer than, gasoline. As for power, Ford’s new bi-fuel trucks will have very nearly the same engine power as their standard counterparts. Natural gas burns so cleanly that maintenance requirements are lower, compared to traditional gasoline vehicles.
In the last five years, numerous municipalities and large commercial truck fleets have converted to alternative fuel transportation modes, notably natural gas and electric sources. Everything from over-the-road truck fleets to taxicab companies have sought out natural gas, clean diesel, and electric vehicles as additions to their lineups. The decision by Ford to offer a bi-fuel CNG truck should allow small to mid-size companies an affordable option to convert their vehicle inventories.
Westport Innovations’ WiNG fuel system is one of the Canadian firm’s specialties, whereby passenger or commercial cars and trucks are fitted with high-performance natural gas systems. Founded in 1995, Westport also works to convert truck fleets to clean diesel fuel technology. The company showed revenues in 2008 of $120 million dollars. While the firm offers its services worldwide, it currently does the majority of its business in the Asian and North American markets.
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