- Photo: Aleksejs Bergmanis/Pexels

Photo: Aleksejs Bergmanis/Pexels

For some fleets incorporating hybrid, natural gas, or propane powered assets may be a viable solution for fleets who are trying to reach sustainability initiatives without worrying about things like range anxiety and a lack of widespread EV charging solutions for BEVs. Different options are there, it’s just figuring out what works best, case-by-case.

“It's a great time to be a fleet manager because they have more alternative fuel products, vehicles and types of technologies at their disposal than ever before,” said Eric Foellmer - director of marketing for XL Fleet. “There is obviously a great deal of investment and interest right now, particularly in the electrification space, whether that's battery electric or plug in hybrid or hybrid. There is a wider range of options now than there was even a year or two ago, and it's a really exciting time to be part of this industry.”

At NTEA’s Work Truck Show this year, XL Fleet debuted two new hybrid-electric Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck options: an upfitted hybrid electric Silverado 2500 HD and Silverado 3500 HD.

These vehicles are seeing a lot of interest with construction companies, utilities and municipalities, said Foellmer of XL Fleet.

“Because these vehicles offer an electric assist during acceleration, they’re a great choice for any application where a customer is driving with variable speeds, with a lot of stop and go traffic, and they’re not on the highway all the time,” he said.

And since some of these assets sit on platforms familiar to drivers, it is easier for drivers to familiarize themselves with the vehicles and setup.

“Being able to utilize a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid option, particularly one that is readily available and installed on their favorite vehicle platforms they’re already using, is a cost effective way for a fleet manager to make immediate progress on reaching sustainability targets,” said Foellmer.

One notable takeaway that Foellmer has gleaned from the high adoption of hybrids and PHEVs is that it indicates an interest in engaging more with battery-electric vehicles in the future, and that this may support the trajectory of the technology’s continued development.

“Corporate and municipal sustainability mandates have definitely increased the demand for electrified fleet technologies, which is helping to move the ball forward for all types of EVs,” said Foellmer. “But I think people are recognizing that they're still years away from being able to deploy battery electric vehicles more broadly. And for the foreseeable future, internal combustion engines are still going to be the norm, not the exception. So fleets are adopting hybrids and plug-in hybrids in larger volumes as a way of moving that needle right away, which accelerates and paves the way for the long-term adoption of battery electric vehicles down the road.”

Other fueling options available for fleets include compressed natural gas (CNG), and ANG technology is particularly well suited to the light-duty vehicle segment, and ANG bi-fuel trucks are designed to be cheaper than gasoline only, use less energy, fuel faster than CNG and emit fewer GHG emissions.

“The historical challenge of viable alternative fuel options for large light-duty vehicles created an opportunity for natural gas to reemerge as a simple, readily available and affordable solution for this segment,” said David Newton, commercial director, performance materials, Ingevity. “By tapping into the abundant supply of natural gas in the U.S., light-duty pickup trucks are beginning to leverage ANG vehicle technology, a lower-pressure fueling solution that costs less, is more efficient and is even more environmentally friendly than CNG and diesel.”

Offering these alternative fuel options may also be a practical forward-thinking solution to thrive in future crises if they arise, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

“Whether a weather-related event, an electrical blackout, or today’s unprecedented viral outbreak, readily-available fuels like natural gas demonstrate the importance of fueling flexibility and reliability and the value of reducing recovery time when critical infrastructure is impacted,” said Newton.

Interest in natural gas technologies has remained consistent with NGV system developers and installers continuing to receive U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification for new model-year vehicles that are modified to become bi-fuel and/or dedicated natural gas trucks.

Steve Whaley, the director of on-road business development for the Propane Education & Research Council, also observed the increasing engagement of alt-fuel vehicles for fleets, with overall interest coming from several different voices in the industry.

“The automotive industry is moving more and more toward environmentally friendly energy solutions,” said Whaley. “Not only are companies forced to contend with new government regulations to meet lower emissions and increased CAFE standards, but pressure from communities and customers is requiring many companies to make the switch to alternative fuels.”

For the propane fuel side of the alt-fuel industry, current new technological developments include new ultra-low NOx engines, which are 90% cleaner than EPA standards, and Propane Autogas Hybrids, which work in a similar way to gasoline hybrids but produce reduced emissions.

Fleets are continuing to find practical functions in their operations for different types of fuels, and these fuel providers are still creating solutions to best serve audiences that are depending on them.

“We’re continuing to look for innovative ways to improve the environmental impact of propane vehicles and are in the prototype stage for a new engine that will help more fleets reach their sustainability goals once it comes to market,” said Whaley.

Additionally, offering these alternative fuel options may also be a practical forward-thinking solution to thrive in future crises if they arise, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

“The impact of the novel coronavirus outbreak and the state of the global economy on alternative fuels continue to underscore the importance of having many fueling options across vehicle segments,” said Newton. “Whether a weather-related event, an electrical blackout, or today’s unprecedented viral outbreak, readily-available fuels like natural gas demonstrate the importance of fueling flexibility and reliability and the value of reducing recovery time when critical infrastructure is impacted.”

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