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Wheels of the future

June 1, 2006 By    

Now that the CLEAR Act (Clean Efficient Automobiles Resulting from Advanced Car Technologies) has been in place for nearly a year now, many in the industry are hoping the benefits will start to show. With tax credits now available for the implementation and use of alternative fuel in cleaner, more environmentally friendly vehicles, propane sales were expected to grow.

 Baytech's 8.1L Chevrolet C7500 bobtail.
Baytech’s 8.1L Chevrolet C7500 bobtail.

Many also felt the incentives would prod the industry to build more propane-fueled vehicles in 2006. While excitement is high and projects are being implemented, the clarity, promotion and understanding of the bill have been issues.

Propane truck

The Propane Education & Research Council approved a propane engine fuel project that will ultimately lead to the commercialization of a dedicated propane-powered Ford F-150 pickup truck. PERC selected Roush Industries to design, engineer and build the vehicle. The dedicated propane vehicle will be a fully authorized OEM product. Roush has chosen ASG Renaissance to perform the commercialization and outreach efforts. ASG has over 15 years of history in marketing and selling alternative fueled vehicles.

Baytech's propane injector block mounted on the 6.0L GMC 2500HD pickup.
Baytech’s propane injector block mounted on the 6.0L GMC 2500HD pickup.

A service network for the vehicle is still being looked at. No decisions have been made yet, but Roush uses a national network to service their current offerings. The truck will either be sold through Ford or through Roush, an OEM ship-through manufacturer. Production is anticipated in the third quarter of 2007.

ASG Renaissance is surveying customers, the industry and other interested groups to determine what type of engine the vehicle will have. It will either be a 4.6-liter or 5.4-liter. The truck will use direct injection liquid injectors, eliminating problems that have been associated with other propane products such as hard starting, poor performance and poor reliability.

Greg Zilberfarb, vice president of ASG Renaissance, feels that the CLEAR Act was a major win for the alternative fuels industry, but feels it need to be, well, clearer.

“I understand the vehicle deductions and credits, but IRS guidance needs to be better,” says Zilberfarb. “Implementation may be delayed if the guidelines are not clear.”

“I think the legislation is clear, as are the incentives, but how to get the credits needs to be better understood and I think that will happen with IRS guidance.”

Help from Canada

Dan Granger, president of alternative fuels upfitter EDPRO Equipment Inc., also feels the CLEAR Act can be big for the industry, but is taking a “wait and see” approach.

“While the tax credit incentive is helpful and improves the business case for alternative fuels, there is still apprehension about propane and the other alternative fuels,” says Granger. “Certainly the tax credit incentives may help stimulate the alternative fuels market and the infrastructure credit is important to develop the market.”

An idea of what the propane-powered Roush Ford F-150 pickup truck will look like.The actual production vehicle has not yet been determined.
An idea of what the propane-powered Roush Ford F-150 pickup truck will look like.The actual production vehicle has not yet been determined.

He also agrees that the changes need to be properly promoted in the industry.

“We have seen various policies and acts at both the state and federal level since 1992 designed to encourage alternative fuels with limited success for the propane industry. The success of the new federal policies on the propane industry will depend on the propane industry itself and how it markets the incentives to the end users,” he says.

EDPRO is a London, Ontario-based company that has been in the North American market for EPA and CSA certified dual fuel engine conversion technology since 1997. It has created EPA-certified propane conversion equipment for model years 2003, 2004 and 2005 Ford 4.6 engine platforms (Crown Victoria, Ford Police Interceptor, Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car), and Canadian Standards Association International certification is in place for all components of the technology.

“These incentives mean that the business case for converting or purchasing a propane vehicle is significantly improved as a tax credit of 50 percent of the incremental cost of the vehicle is received,” says Granger. “The Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Credit will assist the industry developing an infrastructure for refueling which is necessary to develop the market.”

PERC and Hino

PERC also reached an agreement with Impco Technologies and Hino Motors Ltd. – a part of Toyota – to build and test a medium-duty propane engine that can be bought separately and used in various applications and industries.

PERC’s engine research programs have produced clean propane engines that are now available in the market, and there are several suppliers of certified propane fuel systems ready to compete for new sales.

Work is now underway on a propane-powered truck engine that will provide propane retailers an option to use propane in their fleets. The engine is expected to be available in 2007/2008 after Hino’s vehicle development, durability and testing requirements are met.

The president of Hino North America recently sent PERC a letter of support for the Hino project, stating the company’s commitment to commercializing propane-powered Hino medium-duty trucks, contingent upon the successful outcome of the development program.

PERC has invested $1.2 million in the development, certification, and sale of propane Hino JO8E engines for the U.S. market. It will be certified to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 standards, which could boost propane’s future as a fuel of choice for trucking fleets of all types.

Details on the CLEAR Act
Details on the CLEAR Act

Engine systems

Recently, the EPA issued certifications for Baytech Corp.’s 2006 model year 6.0L compressed natural gas and propane vehicles. These vehicles are in addition to Baytech’s EPA- and CARB-certified 8.1L CNG and propane vehicles and engines.

They already offer a propane fuel injection system for the GM 8.1L heavy-duty engine used on the GM 4500/5500/ 6500/7500 series trucks and for the full-size GM 1500HD/2500HD 6.0L KL5 pickups. They will soon be offering a propane fuel injection system for the GM 6.0L heavy duty engine used on the GM W4500 and Isuzu NPR HD trucks and for the 6.0L GM W3500 and Isuzu NPR trucks.

Baytech develops and markets high-performance, EPA- and CARB-certified, propane-sequential multi-port fuel injection systems for Chevrolet, GMC and Isuzu vehicles. Baytech is a small volume OEM manufacturer serving the alternative fuels market since 1991.

“The vehicle tax credits are substantial, and offset a large part of the incremental cost of LPG or CNG vehicles,” says Baytech Vice President Richard Turner.

“This should have a major positive impact on the LPG and CNG vehicle industries, as it contributes to what has become a strong economic argument for fleets to use alternative fuel vehicles in addition to the environmental benefits and promoting the fuel diversification goals of our national energy policy.”

What else?

Besides those projects, how else will the CLEAR Act benefit the industry and be good for business?

“I think the incentives will help business, especially since petroleum prices are soaring. They will urge consumers to use alternative fuels and will positively affect our economy. Alternative fuels are homegrown and provide jobs for America,” says Zilberfarb.

“There may be some growing pains as the infrastructure struggles to keep up with demand, but eventually we will see the needed resources to fuel our economy with alternative fuels.”

Zilberfarb feels that all fleets – federal, state, municipal, utility and private – should use some mix of alternative fuels regardless of whether they are mandated to do so.

“Fuel diversity is key to avoiding fuel shortages and price spikes,” he notes.

Basically, the feeling in the industry is that the CLEAR Act can be a homerun, but the entire industry must be involved in order for it to work.

“The alternative fuels providers – in our case the propane industry – should be developing marketing plans and programs to make potential customers aware of the incentives and the benefits of using an alternative fuel such as propane,” says Granger.

“I believe the end users, other than those already involved in alternative fuels, will need to be made aware of the incentives and will need to be educated by the propane industry.”

The industry will also need to present the end users with the right technological solution for their needs as well as the fueling infrastructure backed up by a high level of service, he says.

“In other words, we need a complete solution, which has been lacking in the marketplace.”

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