For Today: Continental testing out robo-taxi technology, Proterra announces longer range drivetrain

Continental joins robo-taxi movement:  Major auto supplier Continental is making moves to join the futuristic robo-taxi world, starting with an autonomous shuttle called CUbE at its Frankfurt corporate campus. Continental won’t become a manufacturer – CUbE is a testing ground for automated technology that can be supplied to OEMs. The German supplier is watching several OEMs – including General Motors, Ford, Renault-Nissan, and Daimler – making moves toward autonomous mobility services. That might be through an alliance with Lyft, Uber, Maven, Waymo, or another partner committed to the new technology and ride services it has to offer. While the robo-taxi label has stuck in the past year, it’s much more than a taxi ride. This will include shared rides, point-to-point short trips, transporting groups, taxi rides, and shuttle services.

Propane-powered Ford E-350:  Roush CleanTech is now offering a propane-powered Ford E-350 single-rear-wheel and dual-rear-wheel cutaway targeted to buyers of transit shuttles, Type A school buses, and delivery trucks. The company has delivered over 1,000 Ford E-450 propane autogas cutaways to fleets across the country. For agencies and companies looking for smaller, lighter clean vehicles, the new propane Ford E-350 will be available at the beginning of the 2018 model year. They will be certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board and compliant with heavy-duty onboard diagnostics.

Proterra makes two announcements:  Electric bus maker Proterra just introduced the DuoPower drivetrain for its Catalyst all-electric vehicles. The Catalyst bus will be five times more efficient than a standard diesel bus with a lot more horsepower and acceleration. It offers a 20% increase in efficiency over Proterra’s standard ProDrive system. For the Catalyst E2 max model, the DuoPower drivetrain enables a nominal range of 426 miles on a single charge, which the company says far exceeds the average distance of North American transit routes. Separately, the company announced that major bus and coach manufacturer Van Hool has selected Proterra to provide its highly efficient battery platform for Van Hool’s first all-electric motor coach. Van Hool’s CX Series electric vehicle will utilize the E2 battery technology.

 

 

What fleets think about investing in alternative fuel technologies while pump prices stay low, according to Worthington Industries

Worthington Industries CNG tankFor Worthington Industries, displaying at 2015 ACT Expo was a smart move for announcing new product technologies to fleet operators interested in natural gas and propane autogas vehicles. Wayne Powers, alternative fuels general manager at Worthington Industries, talked to Green Auto Market about what fleets are thinking about alternative fuel vehicles during a time when gasoline and diesel prices stay down; and the experience Worthington Industries has in storage and transporting of compressed natural gas, propane autogas, LNG, and hydrogen, plus lightweight materials used in passenger and commercial vehicles.

At ACT Expo, the company introduced its largest-diameter compressed natural gas fuel cylinder – a 26.2-inch-diameter Type III carbon fiber-on-aluminum tank. Its inner aluminum liner dissipates heat during fast-filling allowing for an additional 15% to 25% more fuel storage compared to Type IV cylinders of similar size, Worthington Industries said. Fleet operators of Class 8 heavy-duty and refuse trucks were very interested in the cylinder, which is expected to reach final certification in late June, Powers said.

Worthington Industries staff also connected with fleets interested in propane autogas vehicles during ACT Expo. Last year, Worthington won approval by American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) of its propane autogas fuel tank designed to avoid wasting cargo space; the steel tanks are at the forefront of leak prevention, Powers said, and Worthington Industries is the only North American company to offer the toroidal tanks that have been popular throughout Europe. Worthington saw the need for the convenient tire-sized tanks in the U.S., and faced the stringent ASME propane autogas fuel tank regulations head-on to earn approval, the company said.

Pump prices for gasoline and diesel have dropped dramatically in the past year. During ACT Expo, Worthington Industries saw both sides of the issue from fleet operators, Power said. Fleets deploying CNG and propane-powered vehicles continue maintaining their interest in vehicle acquisitions, albeit at lower demand than a year ago. Fleets and transit bus operators will continue acquiring the vehicles, tanks, and infrastructures. However, fleets that are new to the technologies say they’ll continue to stay “on the sidelines” for now, Powers said.

Stationary storage and fuel transport delivery also have been strong markets for Worthington in the US and overseas, and that includes hydrogen. Bulk gas transport to industrial gas producers and fueling sites have seen strong demand in the hydrogen market, he said. Powers says it’s been helpful for the company to remain “fuel neutral” and make its storage technologies available for users of hydrogen and other alternative fuels. Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is seeing a lot of interest in the market, especially for LNG transport trailers.

The “lightweighting” trend in vehicle manufacturing, tied to US Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy and emissions mandates, has also paid off for Worthington Industries. The company has been known for several years as a maker of composite cylinders using a wide variety of metals. All of the OEMs have alternative fuel programs; Worthington cylinders reduce overall weight in fuel systems and provide the right tanks for OEMs to meet emissions and safety standards, Powers said.

PERC’s Roy Willis on propane’s major milestone with UPS

UPS propane fleet vehicleUPS, along with Frito-Lay, have become testing grounds for alternative fuel vehicles in delivery fleets. You may have noticed that UPS was given a lot of attention last week for adding 1,000 propane-powered delivery trucks to its US fleet – joining up with electric, hybrid, CNG, LNG, biomethane, and nearly 900 propane-powered trucks in its Canadian fleet, in the corporation’s sustainability initiative. UPS will also initially install 50 propane fueling stations at UPS locations mainly in rural areas in Louisiana and Oklahoma with other states pending. That $70 million vehicle and fueling investment will allow UPS to displace about 3.5 million gallons of conventional gasoline and diesel per year. Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), a non-profit propane technology incubator, is playing a key role in integrating propane autogas and refueling with the UPS fleet. UPS and PERC were able to secure certifications with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the California Air Resources Board, in alliance with equipment manufacturers. UPS did a test run this past winter in Gainesville, Ga., with 20 propane-powered delivery trucks, and expanded its order with Freightliner Custom Chassis Corp.

“The opportunity to road test new propane vehicles and fueling equipment with one of the most sophisticated fleets in the country is a major milestone for the propane industry,” said Roy Willis, president and CEO of PERC. The UPS deployment of propane vehicles and refueling infrastructure is a smart move and good investment, Willis says – making greater use of clean, efficient energy resource with growing domestic supplies. Willis says that other fleets, such as beverage companies and bakeries, are starting to show a lot more interest in propane – as what UPS does is carefully observed. Fleet managers need to see a business case made that propane-powered vehicles are worth the investment. They know UPS takes logistics very seriously and tests out the technologies and fuels long before adding them to their fleet – such as the test fleet in Georgia.

PERC has been collaborating for several years with Freightliner, CleanFuel USA, and Powertrain Integration to build safe, clean, and efficient propane vehicles. UPS will be using CleanFuel USA’s Liquid Propane Injection (LPI) system in the planned purchase of the propane delivery trucks. CleanFuel USA will also provide several of the fueling stations out of 50 planned across the US. The UPS delivery truck is built on the Freightliner Custom Chassis MT-45 walk-in van with the LPI system, and a 6.0-liter engine by Powertrain Integration.

The school bus market has been adding a lot of propane-powered buses, Willis said. Bluebird sold about 3,600 of these propane school buses last year, and Thomas Built will be introducing a new model soon. PERC is also working on dual-fuel research projects combining diesel and propane. Direct injection of propane is also being tested by PERC with the Southwest Research Institute. Direct injection can bring better horsepower and torque, plus fuel economy improvements. While most propane vehicles have been deployed in medium-duty fleet vehicles, direct injection could be a bridge to bringing propane to more light duty passenger cars like taxis and police cars. It could be an OEM product with warranty coverage at its dealerships and may be announced by the end of the year, Willis said.

The technology is pretty well proven, according to Willis, with propane-powered vehicles widely used in fleets for several years. The fueling infrastructure is growing – such as school bus fleets adding them to maintenance yards and propane retailers bringing them to their local markets at public stations, which have been supported by state grants and incentives. The UPS announcement is probably a tipping point for more fleets to adopt propane in vehicle and fueling technologies.

AFVResale.com offering a much-needed channel for green vehicle resale process

AFV ResaleAFVResale.com is offering a service to alternative fuel vehicle owners that plays a major role in acquisition and lifecycle cost analysis – resale values. Launched last year, the site is offering a platform for alt-fuel vehicle owners, primarily fleets, to remarket used green vehicles and for buyers to find competitive deals on vehicles that are not easy to find at auctions or dealerships.

Propane autogas-powered vehicles has been the leading category on the site so far. Greg Zilberfarb, CEO and president of TSN Communications, the parent company of AFVResale.com, has worked closely for several years with leading companies and organizations in the field, including Roush CleanTech and Propane Education & Research Council; TSN Communications has worked with other alternative fuel organizations including the National Biodiesel Board. Electric vehicles have also been sold on the site.

Cummins is using the site to market its Ford compressed natural gas unit vehicles, and sales have been taking off, Zilberfarb said. Icom North America has also been selling on AFVResale.com, primarily propane-powered school buses in alliance with its partner, bus maker Blue Bird. Sellers are listing a number of used vehicles for sale, such as a propane-powered 2012 E25D Cargo Van. Buyers can find specification details to answer their questions and find out where the vehicle is located.

AFVResale.com was designed to be a straightforward platform for buyers and sellers to meet and do business. Zilberfarb says it’s a very simple sales process where anyone can create an account and post pre-owned alternative-fuel vehicles. Buyers can make a bid directly to the seller through the posted contact information. Vehicles are usually listed with photos, and buyers can contact the seller to negotiate the selling price. It’s a good platform for companies in the business to market themselves through detailed vehicle listings and photos, and through paid advertisements on the site.

Zilberfarb sees volatile gasoline and diesel prices as the key market driver for remarketing alt-fuel vehicles. The number of visitors to AFVReseale.com continues to increase. Zilberfarb is enthusiastic about the site being home to a growing community of alternative fuel vehicle buyers and sellers looking for the best opportunities in the marketplace.