New Group Offers One-Stop Shopping To Grow Propane Autogas Industry

A new group, described as “an important avenue to grow the autogas industry,” has been formed by ICOM North America (New Hudson, Mich.). Named the United Propane Autogas Solutions Group, or UPAS Group, it is a coalition of member companies designed to provide fleets a seamless, one-stop approach to autogas.

Members will include propane vehicle systems manufacturers, original equipment manufacturers and dealers, propane vehicle system installers and service locations, manufacturers and installers of fueling infrastructure, propane fuel suppliers/marketers, and fleets. UPAS Group says it will “enable a rapid and seamless integration of propane vehicles across North America.”

Albert Venezio, chairman of ICOM and who is serving as chair of the UPAS Group, notes that the collective will also serve as a buying group, with a discount provided to propane fuel supplier/marketer members who convert their vehicles to propane, but the “one-stop shopping” aspect is the main benefit of the network. The group helps fleets to get the optimal propane pricing, the best propane marketer to supply the fuel, the best fueling infrastructure, and the best propane system installer/service point.

Venezio has worked with buying groups during his years in the automotive industry and noted they work well. He added, “It’s comforting. The fleet is not just dealing with a company in Michigan when they’re in Alabama or Arizona, for example. After they find the right propane vehicle system manufacturer, who do they call next for fueling infrastructure? How do they find the propane marketer that understands autogas in their area and prices them competively? We just made it a lot simpler for them. It works well. We take away that unknown factor.

“We found out as ICOM we could often demonstrate the benefits of propane autogas over other options and convince the fleet to start utilizing propane, but we needed the right partners on fuel supply and infrastructure to make it all happen. If one leg of that three-legged stool was not in place, the project was a no-go. We learned quickly how to put it in place, and we are expanding upon it with the UPAS Group.”

Opportunities Recognized

The idea for the network has been in the works since Venezio’s conversations several years ago with Steve Moore, who is part of Energy Distribution Partners (Chicago). Venezio accelerated his efforts a couple of years ago when ICOM, which has approximately 20,000 vehicles using its systems and technology in North America, analyzed the approximate utilization of propane in those vehicles over the past 10 years and realized it totaled more than 250 million gallons of propane. “That’s a lot of propane. We can assist marketers in growing their gallons with autogas. We have been very successful at it, and with a concentrated effort with key partners we can grow gallons exponentially.

“About a year or so ago we started focusing on facilitating one-stop shopping for fleets and assisting propane marketers to grow gallons sold by selling autogas and also to utilize propane in their fleets from pickup trucks to bobtails. Propane marketers are great at running their businesses, but often they need help to make autogas an easy choice for fleets. So we put in place a program for marketers to intelligently move into autogas,” commented Venezio.

For example, if a plumbing company operates 25 vans and is interested in converting to propane, the UPAS Group will connect the business to a propane marketer in its area familiar with autogas that can provide an autogas price, a station builder if that is not included in the propane marketer’s service, and a fueling system installer/service point. The group plans to add companies with vehicle fleets as members.
Meeting Fleets’ Challenges
“That’s kind of the three-legged stool that we bring to the table that solves all the fleet’s challenges to move to autogas. We’ll help and support the propane marketer members in starting or expanding their autogas business with autogas fleet development specialists from the manufacturing partner members. ICOM has seven autogas fleet development specialists across the USA and Canada,” Venezio added.

Ralph Perpetuini, CEO of ICOM and treasurer of the UPAS Group, noted “ICOM has many hundreds of satisfied fleet accounts utilizing propane autogas, and we found a path to better facilitate the move to propane autogas and make it easier for the fleet.”

“I think this is another example of market maturity, or evolution, and how the market has changed,” Moore added.

Formation of the UPAS Group is still in the early stages, but the group has already joined the National Propane Gas Association (NPGA) and some Clean Cities chapters. The official kickoff will take place in April at the NPGA Southeastern Convention in Nashville, Tenn. UPAS Group will be the sole sponsor of the Autogas Pavilion at the Southeastern show and it plans to get involved with all of the state propane gas associations.

UPAS Group will allow its members to set up their own company displays at the UPAS Group booth at various shows.

In February, the group attended its first event, the American Correctional Association Show, in New Orleans. The UPAS Group booth featured a State of Alabama propane-fueled prison van to transport inmates on work programs. The project of approximately 70 vans using the ICOM liquid injection propane system installed by Buddy Gamel of Precision Sales & Service Inc. (Birmingham, Ala.) reduced fuel costs and emissions. Andy Farquhar, director or Alabama Correctional Industries, conducted a presentation on the project.

Dave Biggs, a sales manager for IPS Industrial Propane Service (Byron, Mich.) and serving as executive director of the UPAS Group, noted that increasing awareness of propane autogas is a main goal for the group. “How many people know how many different propane dispenser options are out there?” Biggs asked. “There are a lot. Believe it or not, many don’t realize that. There are probably four or five of us that manufacture an autogas dispenser that looks like a gasoline dispenser today.” He welcomes his competitor dispenser manufacturer companies to join the group and hopes propane marketers become the largest segment of the membership.

Membership Criteria
The group lists general criteria on becoming members. Propane dispensing systems manufacturers must have CETP- and hazmat HM126-certified installers and must offer contemporary, gasoline/diesel-style dispensers. “We need to make sure we’re doing it right,” Biggs noted. Propane system installers must install EPA-certified kits.

For propane marketers to join the group, they must have a “propane autogas champion” on staff. Marketers must also be committed to using propane-fueled fleet vehicles. “How are you going to sell propane autogas if you’re driving a diesel vehicle?” Biggs asked. He added that IPS runs eight vehicles on propane, including some Ford F-550 service trucks, a Dodge Journey, and a Dodge van. Marketers must also be a member of NPGA or their state association.

UPAS Group also plans to conduct educational sessions for its members on the benefits of propane autogas and how to sell it. Members of the group’s training committee will conduct training at various locations, with a bigger goal of holding larger training sessions across the country. The group also includes a safety committee.

Another Big-Picture Goal
A fueling network from coast to coast is another big-picture goal for the future, and Biggs envisions the group hosting a website with fueling locations nationwide.

Biggs sees the network as a way to bring the various sectors of the autogas industry together as one.

Propane People (Waterloo, Ind.), a propane marketer and a member of the UPAS Group, provides propane for home heat and appliances as well as for farm and commercial accounts. Speaking with BPN in early February, Propane People owner Mark Gibson said he had yet to attend his first meeting with the group, but he was excited about the venture’s potential. His company includes a propane autogas business as well as a heating and plumbing business. The propane autogas business, Propane AutoGas LLC, which converts vehicles using ICOM Systems and operates fueling stations, is also a member of the network.

“I think there is so much opportunity to get a group of people together and run ideas by each other to grow the industry,” Gibson said.
—Daryl Lubinsky