Gas tractor units were now comparable with diesel in terms of appearance and power, but there was a £20,000 capital cost premium for gas.
The only way in which a business case could be made for gas was if it generated a total cost saving over the life of the vehicle. Trialling an Iveco CNG demonstrator against a diesel Mercedes showed that the gas truck generated a fuel cost saving of £13,000 a year, meaning that the extra cost of a gas truck would be paid-back in less than two years.
“Gas is getting there in terms of infrastructure, Mr Thomas said. “In terms of its everyday work, a gas truck is no different for us than diesel. Gas should not be seen as a fad; Scania and Volvo are now involved with gas trucks as well as Iveco.”
When it came to choosing between compressed or liquefied gas, the prime consideration was operational range.
“The CNG truck’s range of 550 km was fine for us,” he said. “Using liquefied natural gas extends the range to 15,000 to 17,000 km: or 800 km if a 6×2 chassis is required.
“We had early range anxieties,” he admitted. “We pushed one truck to the limit to find the true operational range.”
He cautioned that the dashboard fuel gauge gave only an approximate reading: a truer indication was pressure – indicated on the tank itself – particularly when refuelling.
“Is gas a ‘future fuel’ or for the here and now?’ he asked.
“Well, we’ve got 29. We took the first five trucks in August, and had the rest by the end of the year.
“The drivers like them, they don’t seem to notice that at 400 hp they are 30 hp less than the diesel trucks they replaced. In terms of noise, they are 10 dB quieter.
“So they are for the here and now: they are the ideal alternative to diesel for 4×2 trunking operations. Our operation lends itself to CNG, because our deliveries are almost like bus routes in their predictability. The only problems that may arise are if roads are closed unexpectedly and traffic congestion and long diversions result.
“When it comes to acquisition, building the gas refuelling structure takes longer than ordering the truck and taking delivery.”
He had three tips for fleet managers considering gas trucks: (1) Get a demo; (2) Engage internal stakeholders; and (3) think about infrastructure early.
“Our gas trucks are leased: the manufacturer is supporting the residual value and is itself working away from diesel. We have had no issue with insurance: either for the trucks or the refuelling facility; and no issues with planning.”