‘Big Brown’ Gives Propane Autogas a Big Boost

FCCC’s Involvement

FCCC has quite a history with UPS, building at least 25,000 trucks for that company since the 1990s, said Mike Stark, senior technical sales manager for FCCC. He notes that his company is the largest supplier of delivery vehicles for UPS, including gasoline, diesel, CNG, hybrid electric, hydraulic hybrid, and all-electric models, in addition to propane.

The groundwork for FCCC’s involvement in the UPS project was set about three years ago when FCCC began work on the S2G propane bobtail project with CleanFUEL USA and Powertrain Integration. Because the three companies were familiar with each other from working on that product, they were ready when the UPS project presented itself. FCCC began by building the chassis for the 20 prototype vehicles that UPS used for its 2013 pilot project in Gainesville, Ga.

The decision to commit to propane by what is said to be the country’s largest commercial fleet validates the propane commercial van market, said Bryan Henke, FCCC manager, product marketing. He sees the chassis being used for other markets in addition to package and delivery. Prospects include the beverage, linen, and baking and snack industries.

“Beverage I think is a good target because they need high gross vehicle weight,” Henke noted. “For people who operate vehicles in other vocations, it’s opened their eyes, ‘Wow, we could not only be more efficient with the vehicle but we could also save money on fuel, be environmentally friendly, and get a return on investment that‘s going to help our bottom line.’”

CleanFUEL USA’s Involvement

The UPS news is a celebration not just for the companies involved, such as CleanFUEL USA, but for the entire propane industry, said Curtis Donaldson, CEO of CleanFUEL USA. He remembers how the propane autogas industry was “on life support” in the 1990s and early 2000s. The growth of the autogas industry now, he added, is “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”

He agreed with Perkins about UPS’ program as a model that other fleets follow. CleanFUEL USA and all autogas industry suppliers can call on customers and say, “What is it that UPS knows that you don’t know?”

“I think the industry can claim that the world’s largest fleet has elected to go with propane. How can that not be good?” Donaldson asked.

It’s going to be good for UPS, which will initially deploy the vehicles in Louisiana and Oklahoma, and is already finalizing additional states for deployment. “Now we have to do what we committed to doing,” said UPS’ Casteel. “We will begin deployment probably sometime in the summer.”

PERC’s Involvement

PERC was involved early in the process, approving $385,000 in funding to assist in developing the UPS product; it worked with Powertrain Integration on calibration of the E78 controller for propane and with CleanFUEL USA on getting the vehicle certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board.Involvement with UPS carries weight with fleet managers across the country because the firm quantifies every aspect of its business to save money and the environment, notes Perkins.

“So for them to ultimately come to a point where they’re making a large move forward to propane autogas, I think should speak volumes to people who watch UPS,” Perkins stated.

“I also like the intangibles that come along with that. [For example], when they start talking about how their drivers like the performance and how their mechanics like the access and [ease of repairing] the vehicles. They’ve also made clear they approve of the low-cost infrastructure and not having to worry about polluting ground, air, or water with the dispensers. UPS is a high-tech quantifying company that’s making a corporate commitment, and we haven’t seen that before in this industry.”    —Daryl Lubinsky