Tim Stevens, president of Stevens Sausage, decided in 2013 to move away from spec’ing more diesel engines for the company’s 13-vehicle delivery fleet.
“EPA regulations for diesel vehicles were becoming increasingly complex and we wanted to find a logical and more affordable replacement for our diesel vehicles,” he explains.
“After doing some research, we discovered propane autogas would not only be an easy transition, it would also fit our vehicle needs with less maintenance, reduced fuel costs, and low installation costs. It also suited our drive and duty cycles.”
Propane also happens to fire the boilers the Stevens Sausage plant uses for heating and cooking. Deciding to convert its 13 vehicles to propane autogas, the company worked with a local propane retailer to install a single refueling dispenser off its existing 12,000-gallon LPG tank.
Not only was that installation simple and inexpensive, but the vehicle fuel cost is also lower, because the company buys the propane in bulk for the processing plant and fueling its trucks. “We use about 1,200 to 1,300 gallons of propane autogas a week and see about a 50% savings on fuel,” Stevens notes.
A Clean Fuel Advanced Technology grant secured from North Carolina Clean Energy at $8,500 per vehicle reduced the cost of installing LPG injection bi-fuel conversion kits on six Ford F-650 trucks.
The bi-fuel capability lets drivers switch over to gasoline when they can’t return to a centralized refueling station. Stevens says the company likes having that option, but he encourages drivers to use propane autogas whenever possible because it’s more cost-efficient.
“We keep a chart that shows at which point it would make economic sense for us to switch over to gasoline,” he says. “Even with the decrease in gasoline prices recently, we haven’t reached that threshold.” What’s more, it was the rising cost of maintenance on its diesel engines that helped drive the fleet to switch. “Every time the EPA increases restrictions, diesel engines become more complex and fleets need to worry about additional training and maintenance.”
Stevens says post-EPA-2007 diesel engines can require preventive maintenance and costly replacement parts that propane autogas engines do not, such as filters, coolants, anti-gels, valves and injectors. “Complicated diesel engines equate to additional parts and a higher likelihood of something going wrong. Propane autogas cuts downtime due to reduced maintenance and repairs, ease of refueling and training.”
The propane-powered fleet also includes Ford Transit Connects, Silverado pickups, a GMC Sierra pickup and a Chevrolet Colorado pickup. Stevens reports the fleet annually uses 60,000 gallons of propane autogas to run 234,000 miles and in doing so is saving $100,000 in fuel alone vs. running with diesels.