September 10, 2012 10:00 AM, EDT

Survey Finds Growing Interest Among Carriers for NG Tractors

By Greg Johnson, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Sept. 10 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

A new survey found 51.4% of carriers are considering natural gas-fueled trucks when buying new vehicles, according to Transport Capital Partners and ACT Research.

Carriers are especially interested because of the significant price difference at the pump between natural gas and diesel fuel, TCP Partner Richard Mikes said in a statement.

Despite the interest, 75% of carriers said they would need an investment return within two years to justify the higher purchase price of the vehicle, the survey found.

“The good news about natural gas as a source of energy for transportation is that the diesel gallon equivalent compared to diesel is relatively insensitive to major swings in domestic natural gas spot prices,” Ken Vieth,  ACT’s senior partner, said in a statement. “Diesel, in contrast, is highly sensitive to crude oil prices globally with major price swings possible.”

Natural gas can be about $1.50 to $2 a gallon less, when compared with an equivalent gallon of diesel fuel.

The study also highlights the complexities of choices in terms of type of fuel, fuel supply systems, effects of payload and fuel station availability, Mikes said.

For example, 49% of respondents cited fuel-station availability as an obstacle, while almost 90% are concerned about higher truck purchase prices.

The study also noted that 51.4% of motor carriers are concerned about product specifications and performance, while 50% worried about secondary market value. Product specification includes choosing the type of natural gas and what it takes for an engine, storage tanks and method of ignition and how these factors affect tractor weight, Mikes explained.

Almost half of the carriers surveyed said they would require a commercial natural-gas fuel station within 100 miles of their operations. The study also found that liquefied natural gas is preferred over CNG by 38% to 28%, although CNG is preferred by the larger carriers, Mikes said.

“We are finding strong interest across the country by private fleets, for-hire carriers and shippers in natural gas-fueled trucks,” said Jim Harger, Clean Energy Fuels Corp.’s chief marketing officer.

Clean Energy, Seal Beach, Calif., is building a network of natural gas fueling stations on key truck routes at Pilot Flying J travel centers.