Driving green

Driving green

Contractors cut costs, decrease carbon footprint with green fleet vehicles

As a way to cut fleet operating costs, contractors and fleet managers in a variety of construction industries, including HVAC and plumbing, continue to look for new and improved fuel-efficient and alternative fuel vehicles and technologies that will help save money while being environmentally friendly. Gone are the days of driving gas guzzling trucks and cargo vans to service jobs and jobsites — contractors and fleet managers have a variety of green vehicles and technologies to choose from.

Green vehicles on the market

The Ford Transit Connect, showcased at the 2010 AHR Expo, Orlando, Fla., offers contractors and fleet managers double the fuel economy of full-size vans, accessible cargo space and the maneuverability to operate in urban areas. The vehicle offers double the fuel economy of full-size vans, delivering an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Powered by a 2.0L, I-4 engine with a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission, the Transit Connect has a cargo payload of up to 1,600 pounds, and is available with the Ford Work Solutions, a suite of technologies, providing contractors connectivity, flexibility, visibility and security to better run their business. Contractors can get aftermarket storage systems installed by companies like Weather Guard, and Ford’s upfit suppliers are Sortimo, Adrian, and Legg and Platt.

Besides the Transit Connect, Ford offers contractors and fleet managers a variety of other alternative fuel vehicles — Roush Propane F-150, F-250 and F-350 pickup trucks, and E-150, E-250 and E-350 cargo vans are all propane injection vehicles.

According to Todd Mouw, director of sales and marketing at Roush Enterprises, a supplier of engineering services, Livonia, Mich., the company did extensive research about alternative fuels, including hydrogen, electric and propane, to find out that propane is the best positioned alternative fuel.

“The nice thing about propane is that it has the same performance as gas — same horse power, torque and towing,” explains Mouw. “It reduces fuel and maintenance costs and is better for the environment without compromising vehicle performance or warranty. These are the economic and environmental advantages to having a propane fleet.”

Propane also provides fleet managers a significant cost reduction in fuel and maintenance, reducing a fleet’s carbon footprint — it is an EPA clean burning fuel and has the most extensive fueling network of any alternative fuel.

“If you were to look at it [propane] from the eye level, it’s cheaper, lower cost and domestically produced in North America (90% is produced here, so there is less reliance on foreign oil),” says Mouw. “It’s the third most common engine fuel in world. It’s a safe fuel — lowest flammability range of any fuel (gas and diesel included). The end-user experience is almost the same as gas or diesel, but with propane they get the benefits of lower emissions and fuel cost.

“We are going to need propane, electric and hydrogen, but a lot of these technologies are not ready to be commercialized yet,” adds Mouw. “Why are we going to wait five years when we can start reducing dependence on foreign oil today and also help fleets reduce their costs?”

General Motors also offers contractors and fleet managers a variety of alternative fuel vehicles. The GMC Sierra Hybrid pickup uses GM's patented two-mode hybrid system and 6.0L gas V8 engine. The hybrid technology uses two modes for city and highway driving. At low speed and with light loads, the first mode operates by electric power or engine power, or any combination. The second mode is for highway speeds and integrates electronic controls, Active Fuel Management, cam phasing and late-intake valve closure for efficient operation. The system allows for compact packaging since electric motors are designed to fit within the same space as an automatic transmission. The 300V battery pack is located in the chassis, under the rear seat.

The Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid also uses GM’s patented two-mode hybrid system and a 6.0L gas V8 engine. The Silverado Hybrid delivers efficient performance while maintaining full-size pickup capability. It is available in 2WD and 4WD versions.

Besides hybrids, GM offers FLEXFUEL vehicles — automobiles that run on gasoline, E85 or any combination of the two fuels. E85 ethanol is a mostly renewable biofuel, consisting of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, and can be made from biomaterial, helping lower greenhouse gases. FLEXFUEL trucks available at this time include the Chevrolet Silverado, Suburban and Tahoe, and GMC Savana, Sierra, Yukon and Yukon XL.

The Chevrolet Express cargo van, showcased at the 2010 AHR Expo, is also available as a FLEXFUEL vehicle, and new features include six-speed automatic standard on 2500 and 3500 series; remote vehicle starter system, including a remote keyless entry; two transmitters that have a remote panic button; and 4.8L and 6.0L V8 engines on the 2500 and the 3500 are FLEXFUEL capable.

Not only can contractors cut their fuel costs and decrease their carbon footprint by having service technicians and project mangers drive fuel-efficient and alternative fuel cargo vans and pickup trucks, contractors can also cut costs and be environmentally friendly by having their sales representatives drive green vehicles too.

Three Roto-Rooter franchises are using Smart Cars for their sales personnel, and All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Huntsville, Al., is using two Chevy Aveos for its comfort advisors.

Roto-Rooter sales representatives have been driving the three-cylinder Smart Car Passion model for a couple of months. Over the next year, management will receive regular reports, regarding the cars’ mileage and usefulness.

A franchise manager reported that the car gets 39 mpg to 41 mpg around town, according to Paul Abrams, public relations manager, Roto-Rooter Services Co., and if the Smart Cars in use at the three franchises prove to be helpful and efficient, the company will field more of them, or possibly some hybrid sales cars, plus, the company is researching the possibility of using fuel-efficient cargo vans.

According to Donna Lanier, president and owner of All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, the Chevy Aveos are very fuel efficient and unique; the cars are getting a lot of attention when on the road, which increases company marketing.

“The car is getting 28 mpg to 32 mpg in the city and 35 mpg to 38 mpg on the highway, giving the company the opportunity to save on fuel,” says Lanier.

Powered by vegetable oil

If contractors and fleet managers are not in the market to buy a brand new fuel-efficient or alternative fuel vehicle, and happen to own a diesel vehicle, they can convert it to run on vegetable oil. Clint Kershaw, owner of a Mr. Rooter Plumbing franchise in Pleasant Valley, N.Y., did just that — he decided to buy a conversion kit and use filtered vegetable oil from restaurants in his F-350, 1-ton pickup truck.

In order to use vegetable oil as a fuel, he purchased and installed the necessary parts and system from PlantDrive, a division of NBT Building Products Ltd. that provides kits and components to convert diesel engines to use 100% vegetable oil as fuel without the chemical processing or the addition of harmful chemicals.

According to Kershaw, restaurants have been receptive to him reusing their vegetable oil.

“I get vegetable oil from restaurants that were literally throwing the vegetable oil away when they were done with it, now I fuel my truck with it,” explains Kershaw. “You get the same mileage as with diesel fuel, and the engine knows no difference. There is no conversion to the engine; it’s just putting valves in to switch back and forth between the vegetable oil and diesel fuel.

“I have to filter it and heat it because vegetable oil gets thick in the cold, so it has to be heated, so now in the winter, I can use it, but not all the time,” adds Kershaw. “I have both fuels in my truck, but if you live in a warm climate it’s crazy not to do this because you can use it all the time.”

Kershaw says there is a possibility of converting other trucks at his franchise to run on vegetable oil in the near future.

“My septic truck and pumping truck can be converted — any diesel engine truck can be converted,” comments Kershaw. “The difficult part of this is the supply end, a busy restaurant will put out 10-15 gallons a week, so you need a lot of places to get the oil from, so the sourcing can be difficult.”

The future of green vehicles

Contractors and fleet managers will have more alternative-fuel vehicles and technologies to pick from in the future since demand for green fleet vehicles will most likely increase and automotive companies will continue researching alternative fuels and technologies.

According to a new study from Pike Research, a market research and consulting firm that provides analysis of global clean technology markets, a large number of fleet managers are utilizing hybrid-electric vehicles as a solution with hybrid fleet sales expected to surpass 830,000 vehicles in 2015, says Aaron Fowles, corporate communications specialist for Sanyo North America, a component provider that works with automobile manufacturers to design systems based on their needs.

“The best application of the type of technologies used in hybrid electric-gasoline vehicles is for vehicles with a larger number of starting/stopping trips,” says Fowles. “Cargo vans and trucks, if for local applications, would be ideal for this type of system as the constant city traffic driving is ideal for regenerative braking, coasting that Sanyo is known for. While the initial cost may be higher for these types of vehicles, in the end, there is less pollution, and the economic standpoint shows a strong return on investment for consumers that own and use hybrids on a regular basis for city driving.”

Two new automotive companies, Bright Automotive and Phoenix Motorcars, are developing alternative fuel fleet vehicles.

In January 2008, Bright Automotive, an engineering services company, based in Anderson, Ind., started developing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The company’s concept vehicle is the IDEA. Fleet leaders and industry professionals were given a preview of the IDEA last April in Washington, D.C., and Automotive News, reported in January that Bright Automotive Inc. is on the verge of an agreement with an unnamed major automaker on a joint venture or acquisition.

Phoenix Motorcars, based in Ontario, Calif., manufactures zero-emission, electric fleet vehicles, utilizing lithium titanate battery packs. The all-electric sport utility truck can travel on the freeway at up to more than 100 miles on a single 10 minute charge.