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Say goodbye to gas guzzlers

Nov. 8, 2010
Business owners and fleet managers have a variety of green vehicles from which to choose
The Transit Connect Electric.

With constant roller-coaster gasoline prices at the pump and an increasing interest in being eco-conscious, many business owners and fleet managers want their employees to drive fuel-efficient vehicles or alternative-fuel vehicles (AFVs). When it comes time to replace that old, gas-guzzling vehicle your service technician, installer or sales representative is driving around town, there are more fuel-efficient vehicles and AFVs than ever before to choose from.

Current AFVs

General Motors, Ford and Dodge offer a variety of alternative-fuel trucks and cargo vans for contractors and service technicians.

The GMC Sierra Hybrid and Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid pickups use 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 300V battery pack is located in the chassis, under the rear seat. GM’s hybrid trucks are available in 2WD and 4WD versions.

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

Chevrolet’s 2500 and 3500 Express cargo vans, featuring a 4.8L or 6.0L V8 engine, are also FLEXFUEL capable vehicles. New features of the Express cargo vans include six-speed automatic transmission standard on 2500 and 3500 series; standard Stabilitrak stability control system; remote vehicle starter system, including a remote keyless entry; and two transmitters that have a remote panic button.

"We recognize the value in providing our fleet and commercial customers with a range of fuel saving and alternative fuel technologies,” says Mike McGarry, marketing manager of Alternative Fuels Fleet and Commercial Operations at GM. “In late 2010 we are adding Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) and Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) vehicles to GM’s expanding alternative fuel portfolio, which will include more than 20 E85-capable vehicles, five hybrid models, B-20 biodiesel capability in all of our diesels and the very first extended range electric vehicle, the Chevy Volt."

The 2011 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid.

CNG powered versions of the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana cargo vans will be on the market this fall. The 2011 model cargo vans have specially designed engines for the gaseous fuels and come direct to the customer with the fully integrated and warranted dedicated gaseous fuel system in place.

“We’re listening to our fleet customers and dealers about offering options that help them achieve their business objectives,” says Brian Small, general manager of Fleet and Commercial Operations at GM. “The industry commitment to expand the CNG and LPG infrastructure in key fleet markets was an enabler to allowing us to introduce these options now.”

“Customers tell us coordinating the upfit for their CNG vehicles takes away valuable time that would be better used running their business,” says Joyce Mattman, director of Commercial Product and Specialty Vehicles at GM. “Our CNG vans come with a fully integrated CNG fuel system, a comprehensive warranty, emissions compliance and strong dealer support.”

Business owners and fleet mangers can also consider Ford engine prep packages that convert vehicles to operate on CNG or propane. These engine prep packages are available on the Ford Transit Connect, E-Series and Super Duty, and come with hardened exhaust valves and valve seats for improved wear resistance and durability for gaseous fuel systems. Ford will also provide required calibration specifications for the CNG or LPG conversion.

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 horsepower, torque and towing,” explains Mouw. “It reduces fuel and maintenance costs and is better for the environment without compromising vehicle performance or warranty.”

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.

Besides offering engine prep packages, Ford offers E-85 capability on a wide range of vehicles, including E-Series equipped with the 4.6L or 5.4L engine; on F-150 pickups equipped with the 5.4L engine; and on Ford’s new Super Duty 6.2L engine. Also available is biodiesel (B-20) capability on the new Super Duty 6.7L diesel and on Ford's F-650 and F-750 trucks.

The Dodge Ram 1500 and Dodge Dakota, featuring a 4.7-liter V8 engine, are also capable of running on E-85 fuel. Plus, Dodge Ram Heavy Duty pickup trucks, featuring the 6.7-liter Cummins Turbo Diesel engine, utilize a diesel particulate filter reducing particulate matter emissions and an absorber catalyst reducing nitrogen oxides by as much as 90%, according to Chrysler’s website. There is also a cooled exhaust gas recirculation system with a piston combustion bowl and a high-flow, electronically controlled Variable Geometry Turbocharger, matching boost pressure with the engine’s performance needs, thus, reducing emissions.

The electric powertrain in the Transit Connect Electric.

Business owners and fleet managers can also consider an electric vehicle — the electric version of the Ford Transit Connect, which is available this fall. The 2011 Transit Connect Electric will use a Force Drive electric powertrain manufactured and integrated by specialty upfitter Azure Dynamics, a company that develops hybrid electric and electric drive technology for shuttle buses and commercial trucks.

“Transit Connect Electric exemplifies how we are leveraging our relationships as well as our hybrid and advanced powertrain programs to bring energy-efficient technologies from the laboratory to the street,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development at Ford. “Not only is this an ideal vehicle for eco-conscious fleet operators, it is an important part of Ford’s future.”

Drivers of the Transit Connect Electric will have the option of recharging the vehicle with either a standard 120V outlet or preferably a 240V charge station installed at the user’s base of operations for optimal recharging in six to eight hours. A transportable cord that works with both types of outlets will be available for recharging at both kinds of locations. The vehicle’s charge port is located above the passenger-side rear wheel well. The onboard liquid-cooled 28-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack is charged by connecting the charge port to a power outlet. Inside the vehicle, an onboard charger converts the AC power from the electric grid to DC power to charge the battery pack.

Fuel-efficient cars

Three Roto-Rooter franchises are utilizing Smart Cars.

Besides having installers and service technicians drive alternative-fuel trucks and cargo vans around town, business owners may also want their company sales representatives to drive green vehicles too. Three Roto-Rooter franchises are using Smart Cars for their sales personnel, and comfort advisers at All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, Huntsville, Ala., are driving Chevy Aveos.

“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,” said Paul Abrams, public relations manager, Roto-Rooter Services Co. “A franchise manager reported that the car gets 39-mpg to 41-mpg around town.”

According to Donna Lanier, president and owner of All Seasons One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning, the Chevy Aveos the sales representatives are using are very fuel efficient.

“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.

Lanier adds that the cars are getting a lot of attention when on the road, which increases company marketing.

Future AFVs

Business owners and fleet managers will have more AFVs to pick from in the near future since demand for green trucks, vans and cars will most likely increase and automotive companies will continue to research fuel-efficiency and alternative-fuel technologies.

According to a 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.

“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 and 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.”

The IDEA is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Bright Automotive, an engineering services company, based in Anderson, Ind., started researching and developing a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the IDEA, in 2008. And just this August, Bright Automotive and General Motors announced they have agreed to pursue a strategic relationship.

GM also provided funding to the automaker, allowing Bright Automotive to begin the development of the production program for the IDEA in the third quarter of 2010.

“We talked with several leading automakers, but GM clearly had the right vision, the most capable technology, and the closest alignment with our business approach,” says Michael Brylawski, executive vice president at Bright Automotive. “We are thrilled to work with GM to create American jobs, stimulate technology development, and build an innovative American vehicle that will help reduce oil dependence and cut costs for businesses.”

To develop the IDEA, Bright listened to customers and took an approach to product development, focusing on lightweighting, aerodynamics and a highly efficient drivetrain, resulting in a multipurpose vehicle for business fleets. The vehicle delivers a positive total cost of ownership to fleet customers by providing greater fuel efficiency than current fleet vehicles in its class.

The IDEA operates in electric mode for 40 miles before switching to an estimated 36-mpg hybrid mode for 100+ mpg potential based on daily driving behavior.

Another automotive company, developing alternative-fuel fleet vehicles, is Phoenix Motorcars, based in Ontario, Calif. This summer, the company presented its newly configured Sports Utility Truck at the FedFleet 2010 Conference in Phoenix.

Phoenix Motorcars’ sports utility truck.

"Phoenix Motorcars is proud to introduce the first all-wheel drive electric pickup truck ready for fleet procurement," says Bryon Bliss, vice president of sales and marketing for Phoenix Motorcars. "We will begin deliveries later this year."

The advanced battery-electric, zero-emission truck can travel at freeway speeds while carrying four passengers and a full payload. Phoenix has developed a battery agnostic drive-train, providing two unique battery solutions to achieve a 70 mile and 100 mile range option.

The vehicle comes with an integrated on-board 7kW charger that plugs into 220V power for a five to six hour charge, and a separate fast charge connector to utilize faster direct DC charging. The 70 mile range option will be available later this year, and the 100 mile range pack option will be available for delivery in 2011. Each solution is equipped with lithium batteries.

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