Kenworth still bullish on natural gas

CHILLICOTHE, Ohio — Natural gas-powered trucks could make up 15-20% of the Class 8 market by 2020, according to Andy Douglas, national sales manager, specialty markets with Kenworth.

Douglas was speaking Friday at a Kenworth press event at the company’s Chillicothe, Ohio plant. He reminded journalists that diesel was once an alternative fuel in the early ’30s, and it took about 25 years for it to dominate the market.

“Please understand, we’re well past the science project stage of this,” Douglas said. “The jury is not out, the jury has decided this is happening. The only question is to what degree and how fast this market will grow.”

Kenworth is getting rave reviews from customers using the ISX12 G natural gas engine released last year. That engine is on pace to sell about 11,000 units industry-wide this year, while the smaller-displacement ISL G will account for about 3,000 sales.

“The real growth will be with the 12-litre going into heavy-duty applications,” Douglas said. He also said customers continue to face pressure from shippers to adopt natural gas so they can green-up their supply chains.

“While carriers have been a little reluctant to engage, they are now getting pulled in by their shippers who are asking for natural gas to be used,” Douglas said. “That story is growing like wildfire and that’s going to be a big driver of the market this year and next.”

One customer Douglas spoke of is saving $37,331 a year in fuel for each truck running compressed natural gas. That’s over 160,000 miles, paying US$2.20 per diesel gallon equivalent for CNG compared to US$3.90 per gallon for diesel.

Some high-mileage fleets are achieving a payback in one to two years, Douglas claimed.

“This market is taking off on economics alone,” he said, noting government grants are welcome, but not necessary.

Customers can expect to pay a $35,000-$42,000 premium for natural gas-powered trucks, could see maintenance costs increase by a couple cents per mile and will see fuel economy suffer by 8-12%. And there’s still a spotty fuelling network in place. There are 90,000 places to fill a truck up with diesel but just 698 truck-friendly CNG fuelling stations and only 56 selling LNG.

But these barriers to adoption are being overcome, Douglas said, noting the costly fuel tanks are coming down in price as competition and production volumes increase.

Asked about the absence of a 15-litre natural gas engine in the marketplace, Douglas admitted it’s an issue for certain markets, including Canada. He noted Cummins appears to have changed the status of its ISX15G from being “on pause” to “under consideration.”

“I would love to have the 15-litre for mountains-west, 100,000-lb gross (vehicle weight) and for Canada,” Douglas said. “I’m telling anyone who will listen to me at Cummins, if you build it, I’ll sell it.”


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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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