Natural gas fleets tout fuel savings, call for return of 15L engine

TORONTO, Ont. — Fleets attending the Natural Gas Vehicles Canada conference here today expressed dismay over the lack of a 15-litre natural gas engine, but also optimism that currently available product can provide savings worth pursuing in the right applications.

Fleets who’ve experienced the Cummins Westport ISX12 G engine indicated it is performing well and delivering substantial fuel savings, but it is limited to 80,000 lbs GVWR, which for many applications is inadequate.

Mauro Fantin, national transportation manager with Labatt Breweries of Canada, said the beer company has tested the viability of LNG transport using Robert Transport’s Peterbilt trucks with the now discontinued 15-litre Westport engine. Labatt saved $3,000 in fuel costs over the 30-day trial but without the ability to purchase a 15-litre natural gas engine to handle heavily-loaded quad-axle trailers, Labatt found natural gas to be impractical for its Ontario and Quebec routes. Fantin said Labatt has a handful of trucks that haul no more than 80,000 lbs but those trucks don’t run the mileage needed to justify the investment in natural gas.

However, Labatt is on a quest to reduce its emissions and hasn’t yet given up on natural gas; Fantin said the company is exploring some dual fuel options.

The potato chips hauled by Frito-Lay weigh much less than beer, however national fleet manager Danny Vettoretti came to a similar conclusion about natural gas, since many of the company’s routes (40% in Western Canada and Quebec and 25% in Ontario) are done via long combination vehicle (LCV) requiring, by law, at least 425 hp. (The ISX12 G caps out at 400 hp).

Frito-Lay’s gross weights typically range from 80,000-140,000 lbs.

But while some carriers are shelving plans to adopt natural gas vehicles until a higher displacement engine becomes available, others are forging ahead with the ISX12 G and realizing major savings.

The success of Cold Star Freight’s natural gas program has been widely told of late, with president Kelly Hawes singing the praises of the ISX12 G. He deployed 10 such engines inside Mack Pinnacle regional haul tractors last year and is saving about 30% on fuel. Hawes took advantage of a Fortis B.C. incentive that paid back to Cold Star $45,000 of the $60,000 cost premium per truck. This reduced the risk in switching to gas, helped convince the banks to lend Cold Star the capital required to fund the remainder of the purchase and ultimately led to a payback in less than one year.

Hawes said even without the incentives, the engines would pay for themselves in less than three years.

“Our drivers are extremely happy with the trucks,” Hawes said. “They’re quiet and clean. We’ve had great feedback from the community.”
Cold Star will soon be taking delivery of three five-ton Freightliner trucks with the 8.9-litre Cummins Westport engine.

Ira Pearl, president and chief operating officer of Mansfield Energy, visited from the US to share his company’s experience hauling fuel with trucks powered by the ISX12 G. Pearl referred to the engine as a “game changer.” Mansfield leases the trucks from Ryder Systems and they usually pull the 80,000-lb limit.

Pearl said Mansfield is saving about 16.6 cents per mile compared to its diesel trucks, which amounts to about $19,000 per truck each year.

When you can create your own natural gas from the product you haul, the savings are even greater. Olivier Sylvestre, director of development for natural gas in transportation with Quebec trash hauler EBI, shared his company’s success story. Last year, EBI displaced about four million litres of diesel fuel by instead burning renewable natural gas the company creates from the residential waste its trucks collect.

Sylvestre cited a fuel savings of 40% and noted the company has run more than 100,000 hours with its natural gas fleet this year alone. The savings to date have totaled in the millions of dollars, he noted. Sylvestre said EBI operates two fuelling stations in the Montreal area and now offers free 10-day trials of natural gas-powered vehicles as well as a long-term rental program for trucks powered by the ISX12 G with 400 hp.

One attractive option for fleets looking to enjoy the benefits of natural gas without the high up-front capital costs is to lease those trucks. Scott Perry, vice-president of supply management with Ryder, noted his company has invested in the vehicles, facilities and technician training required to successfully deploy and maintain natural gas-fuelled vehicles.

When buying natural gas vehicles, Perry said, “Finding an appropriate service provider is the last thing that’s thought about, and one of the most important. Not every dealer has that capacity and that needs to be factored into the equation.”

Ryder also has the experience and expertise to work with a fleet to determine whether or not natural gas is viable for them.

Perry warned that natural gas trucks typically incur an extra penny per mile in maintenance costs compared to their diesel counterparts but if deployed into the right application, the higher running costs will be offset by the fuel savings.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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