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Key Takeaways from the Green Fleet Conference (Part II)

October 28, 2010

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Here's where we left off from last week's blog on the Green Fleet Show in San Diego. It's a lot of material, and I didn't get to half of the presentations!

Where and How Will We Charge?

We're not expecting battery range to improve dramatically any time soon, so the country is scrambling to improve EV infrastructure with faster and cheaper charging stations and tech-based fueling aids.

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The government has set a goal to have 20,000 EV charging stations by 2012 and 3 million by 2015. Expect a house charger to cost about $1,000. Utilities are interested in subsidizing this cost to figure out their electricity load profiles. GM said it is working to get government incentives to fund charge points at the workplace.

When asked how many people in the audience at the Tuesday morning keynote had an EV charging station at work, five people raised hands (in a room of about 90 people). In this audience, about two-thirds indicated they have hybrids in fleet.

Two or three new retail Level II chargers are coming to market in the next two months that will be 15-20 percent under current retail prices, one vendor said. GE is introducing the GE Wattstation. Its appealing design is meant to "look good in a city park."

Level III fast charging stations are the holy grail of charging. With a charge time of less than 30 minutes, they open up a bunch of vendor possibilities (charge while you shop, for instance). One issue with them is there is no standardization of the plug yet.

Look for smartphone apps to aid the refueling process. GM has developed an app that works with OnStar to give the vehicle charge status and remote start capabilities.

GPS systems are integrating with EV technology to calculate driving behavior with recharging station locations and then alert drivers as to when and where to refuel.

Electric Vehicle Facts

In 1890, electric vehicles outsold gas-powered cars 10 to one. In 1912, there were 38,000 EVs on the road. EVs were very popular in New York, where horses pulling carriages produced 2.5 million pounds of manure daily. (And you thought fossil fuels were polluting?)

Peter Hagan and Gerry Dameron of Boulder Electric Vehicle

CNG on the Rise

The government has forecast our domestic supply of natural gas to last about 100 years.

Like most alt-implementation, infrastructure is an issue. California only has 89 CNG refueling stations, but government help to build more is on the way. (Where would the alt-fuel industry be without government help? There wouldn't be one.)

Brian Heldebrandt of Verizon said he is working through the challenge of making sure his fuel card provider works with CNG fueling stations.

Right now there's a $1 per gallon difference between CNG and gas. That figure may separate further as gas prices rise.

GM is reentering the CNG market with the introduction of its Savana and Express vans with fully-integrated, OEM-installed CNG fueling systems. The automaker had a CNG van on hand at the show.

The author inside a GM van with its new factory-installed CNG fueling system. The box on the floor contains one of four fuel tanks.

The automaker produced 16,000 CNG-powered vehicles from 1993 to 2003, but in 2003 the business dried up, said Joyce Mattman of GM during a vehicle walk around. "We're happy to be back in as an OEM," Mattman said. "The demand is there."

The beauty of the factory upfit, besides the factory warranty and no order-to-delivery delay, is that there is no "reverse engineering" done by an aftermarket company. There are no extra control modules or aftermarket parts, which mean "less opportunity for things to go wrong."

The new CNG vans have four tanks, the largest one in the van, which offer a 250-350 mile range at 3,600 PSI. GM will have a three-tank model soon with a 175-250 mile range. Payload capacity for the ¾ ton is 1,849 lbs, for the 1 ton, 2,814 lbs.

MSRP on the upfit is $15,910 all in, including destination charges, but not including fleet incentives. Some $5,000 to $8,000 of that will be returned in government rebates right now. The CNG industry is hoping that those rebates, which expire at the end of year, will be renewed in a new bill before Congress.

GM also said it is planning a factory-installed LPG (liquefied petroleum gas, essentially liquefied propane) system on its cutaway vans.

A New Name for Propane

The U.S. has more available propane than any other alt fuel, but fewer than 300,000 propane-powered vehicles are on the road today. That should grow with the help of ROUSH and CleanFuel USA (on the equipment side) and Ferrellgas, CleanFuel USA and Delta Liquid Energy (on the infrastructure and supply side).

To avoid the confusion of alt-fuel acronyms, the industry is now using the term propane Autogas, or just Autogas, which is used in other parts of the world.

At the show ROUSH introduced its new company, ROUSH CleanTech, which will provide its liquid propane injection system that can be used in Fords E-Series vans and F-series pickups.

ROUSH unveiled the first of ThyssenKrupp Elevator's new propane-powered cargo van fleet.

James Thomas of Frito said the company will be cycling propane vehicles into its fleet.

Aftermarket kits that inject liquid propane into older diesel engines improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases. Look for more on that in the next issue of Business Fleet.

Rethinking Biodiesel

One fleet manager complained that the batches of B99 he was receiving from a reputable supplier was consistently inconsistent and dissolved his tanks and created engine oil sludge. This is with proper PM, he said. He'll never touch B99 again.

The movement in biodiesel seems to be away from a straight bio formula (B100 or B99) and toward B20 (20 percent biodiesel/diesel blend) and B5. These lesser blends mitigate many of the biodiesel problems. OEMs are becoming increasingly comfortable with B20 and are certifying their engines for its use. Don't touch anything that's not BQ-9000 certified.

Ethanol's Future?

Like biodiesel, ethanol's immediate future seems served in lesser blends. The EPA has given the green light to allow up to 15 percent ethanol (E15) in gasoline for 2007 model year vehicles or newer.

The industry has moved past using potential food-based ethanol to biomass (straw, wood, paper pulp and agricultural waste) and municipal solid waste production. Mary Beth Stanek of GM calls E85/flexfuel a "mature technology" and a "hedge against the future of fuel mixes," which is a big question mark at this point. Stanek said to look at E85 if you plan on keeping your fleet vehicles for 10 years.

GM has invested in cellulosic ethanol projects with two companies, Coskata and Mascoma, which are working on cellulosic (non-edible plant) ethanol fuel technologies. Stanek said to expect an announcement from Coskata soon.

E85 in fleet is all about location. In the next 18 months, alt-fuel pump maker Propel is set to open 75 retail renewable fuel stations in California that pump B5 and E85. That's good news, because there are fewer than 10 stations that pump E85 at present in the state. One wonders how many flex-fuel vehicles there are in California compared to that paltry number of pumps.

Hydrogen Isn't Dead, It's Just Hibernating

With all the talk focused on electric lately, hydrogen has taken a back seat. However, GM's hydrogen initiative, Project Driveway, is expecting to be ready for production of a hydrogen-fueled car by 2015 or 2016.

"This is the fleet vehicle of the future, no doubt about it," said Stanek in her keynote. "But we need infrastructure. It can't be a chicken or the egg scenario."

Sandra Koezler of Apple said her company is looking at jumping over electric and going straight to hydrogen. She says she's keeping a close watch on what the OEMs are doing.

Calculate CO2 So We Can Understand

Don't you hate when companies talk about saving so many thousands or millions of pounds of carbon emissions? How can you comprehend that figure when you have nothing to compare it to? Koezler has the right idea-calculate and state your carbon emissions figures in CO2 lbs or kg saved per mile per unit. As a point of reference, for each gallon of gasoline fuel consumed, 8.7 kg carbon dioxide is emitted.

Improving Driver Behavior is Green-and Safe

Bad (or good) driver behavior can impact your gas mileage by 8-9 mpg. Chuck Kukal of Infinity Insurance is working with Donlen to beta test a GPS device to improve driver behavior. He found that idling had stayed high because his drivers use their vehicles as a mobile office. The company rewards personal gas cards to improved drivers.

Kukal has also seen a dramatic reduction in at-fault accidents as a result of green driving practices.

Cool Product

The Physics Lab of Lake Havasu displayed a product called the Regen EV shock, an aftermarket shock system for electric vehicles. The system, in testing phase now, grabs energy from the movement of the shock absorbers, which in turn produces electricity and returns energy back to the vehicle's battery. The system, in testing phase, costs $1,500 a pair and works best on heavy vehicles.

This new shock system grabs energy from the movement of the shock absorbers, which returns energy back to the vehicle’s battery.

Ask for this "Fleet Delete"

A fleet manager recounted that an executive in her company wanted a premium vehicle but didn't want to advertise to clients that it was a decidedly non-environmental model. The manufacturer obliged and delivered the car without the 12-cylinder badging.

Conference Quotables

Mark Smith of the U.S. Dept. of Energy's National Clean Cities Program kicked off Tuesday morning's program. In terms of which alt-fuel or power to choose, he said, "There is no silver bullet. We need silver buckshot."

Later, Mary Beth Stanek of GM responded to the silver bullet comment, "Where do we place our bets? There are too many werewolves out there. Support mechanisms shift over time. It's hard to know where to go."

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Author Bio

Chris Brown

Executive Editor

Chris Brown is the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News. Through these publications, online newsletters, trade events and associations, Chris covers all aspects of the fleet world, including fleet management, manufacturer fleet activities, the fleet leasing industry, vehicle remarketing, rental industry news, car rental taxation and legislation.

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