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FCA trucks switched to CNG (with video)

by David Zatz on

FCA Transport, a company owned by FCA, announced that it had entirely converted its Detroit terminal’s 179 Class 8 tractors from diesel to compressed natural gas. That makes it the largest entirely-CNG fleet in Michigan — a step requiring investing in their own fuel terminal on Lynch Road, to the tune of $5 million.

CNG-truck

Benefits include lower pollution, more investment in Detroit, reduced oil imports, but mainly reduced costs. Even at current low diesel prices, annual cost savings are around 35% — even after the investment costs are brought in. The fleet travels 16 million miles per year, and fill-ups appear to be as fast as they would be with diesel.

cng tractor

CNG pricing is generally stable, compared with diesel, avoiding surprises.  The trucks emit 20-30% less carbon dioxide “from well to exhaust” and 16,000 tons per year — the equivalent of the annual energy use of nearly 1,500 houses. Nitrogen oxides and small particulate matter emissions were also slashed.

Mike Tadajewski, an FCA transport driver, said that he drove around 57,000 miles per year, and was part of the pilot test of five trucks. They were trained in the operation of the CNG tractors, and, after giving the new trucks “the thumbs up,” trained other drivers.  He noted that the fuel cost reduction would help to preserve more jobs.

Observers may note that the tractors shown are Peterbilts, a premium truck, rather than the Freightliners used under DaimlerChrysler (which also owned Freightliner). TruStar energy helped in the project. The Peterbilts are powered by Cummins engines.

The tank capacity is around 640 miles, due to the length of the trips. Trucks have four tanks behind the cab, with the equivalent of 160 gallons of diesel. The transition took place even as the garage and fueling facilities were being upgraded.

Automotive News reported that the total cost was $40 million, though that likely includes the cost of newer and better trucks.  Annual fuel costs are to drop by $2.5 million per year, for a 16-year payback, not including loan costs — presumably assuming diesel prices do not suddenly rise. The trucks have been in service for six months, and the company’s experience may be valuable in selling more CNG-powered vehicles. Ram is the only pickup with an in-house CNG setup, rather than an aftermarket conversion.

David Zatz founded Allpar in 1998 (based on a site he had begun in 1993-94), after years of writing reviews for retail trades. He has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. Before making Allpar a full-time career, he was a consultant in organizational psychology. You can reach him by using our contact form (much preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304

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