Propane Power For Pickups: The Inside Story

Propane Pickup Power

First of three-part special 



What contractors need to know about propane-powered work trucks; finding the big savings -and the right pickup


by Melissa Dohmen

Definition: Propane autogas; the term for propane when fueling an on-road vehicle


Uncertainty at the pump has become the new normal for a lot of construction contractors. Between summer blend price increases and volatility triggered by overseas conflicts, alternative fuels are gaining traction as a low cost alternative for pickups, work trucks and other on-the-job equipment.Propane pickup refueling

As contractors take a second look at the economics of alternative fuels, propane autogas provides construction professionals the best value for their fleets.

According to Michael Taylor, director of propane autogas at the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), a crucial first step in spec’ing any alternative fuel vehicle is ensuring the vehicle matches the application.

“Fleet managers need define the specific purpose of the vehicle,” says Taylor. “Power, hauling capacity, range, mileage are all crucial factors to consider when choosing a vehicle because each fuel has its advantages.”

According to Taylor, propane autogas trucks provide comparable torque, horsepower, towing capacity, and performance compared to the conventional model.

“Today’s propane vehicles provide performance characteristics comparable to their gasoline counterparts.  Liquid propane injection systems require less than 300psi, which is much lower than CNG, gasoline or diesel high-pressure systems,” he says.

“Add to that the fuel and maintenance savings propane can deliver over gasoline or diesel, and you have a winning combination.”

Dedicated OEM Propane Offerings

Contractors will need to consider the up-front costs of switching to alternative fuels, including whether they need a dedicated or bi-fuel propane autogas system.

2013_PERC_MK_15A0039_01An OEM dedicated vehicle is designed specifically to operate on propane autogas as the primary fuel.

Bi-fuel or dual fuel vehicles are typically conventional gasoline powered vehicles converted in the aftermarket to operate with propane autogas as the primary fuel and gasoline as a secondary fuel.

Taylor recommends determining what size and specification of truck you require and then researching and testing options.Dedicated OEM-supplied vehicles from Ford and GM offer the greatest savings and lowest emissions.GM, in partnership with CleanFuel USA, and Roush CleanTech, a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier, offer contractors and other businesses excellent solutions with extended manufacturer warranties on a variety of vehicles.As for price, Taylor notes there is an up-front cost with a dedicated propane autogas truck just as there is with diesel and CNG engine options.

“Propane autogas trucks are typically $9,000 to $10,000 more than conventional fuel trucks,” he says. “However, with the higher fuel prices today, it doesn’t take long for a crew to make up that cost in fuel savings and pay for the truck.”

Navigating Aftermarket Propane ConversionsAds_2013_PERC_MK_MG_9082 2

For fleets that want the cost benefits of propane autogas but aren’t ready to buy new or need a OEM model that’s not available, EPA-certified bi-fuel conversion kits are available for installation on existing vehicles through aftermarket suppliers.

Bi-fuel vehicles eliminate driving “range anxiety” and provide contractors with flexible options on remote job-sites as they can operate on propane autogas and switch to gasoline if necessary.

Conversion costs can range from $5,000 to $7,000 depending on vehicle type from aftermarket suppliers such as Alliance Autogas, Roush CleanTech, American Alternative Fuels, IMPCO and ICOM.

(A complete list of EPA and CARB certified dedicated and bi-fuel systems can be found on PERC’s website.)

Taylor is confident propane autogas has a dedicated or bi-fuel propane autogas truck for almost any construction fleet’s needs.

“With growing equipment options from Ford, GM and Freightliner,” Taylor says, “the days of questioning propane’s, or any alternative fuel’s, performance are behind us.

“Propane autogas is the leading alternative fuel in the U.S. and there are thousands of propane autogas vehicles on our roads today. It’s a viable ‘green-green’ solution that’s good for the environment and saves contractors money. Propane autogas is easy to transition into any fleet and it’s performance is proven,” Taylor says.

But it’s up to the contractors and company owners out there whether or not propane autogas is the fuel of the future for their fleet.

(Next week, Part 2: Why infrastructure Isn’t Your Biggest Barrier to Alternative Fuels.)