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Freightliner expands natural gas offerings

NAPA, Calif. -- Who says natural gas trucks can’t be aerodynamic? Freightliner has partnered with one of the most experienced natural gas fleets in the US to create a new 113-inch BBC day cab Cascadia with advanced aerodynamics.

Freightliner's natural gas-powered Cascadia.
Freightliner's natural gas-powered Cascadia.

NAPA, Calif. — Who says natural gas trucks can’t be aerodynamic? Freightliner has partnered with one of the most experienced natural gas fleets in the US to create a new 113-inch BBC day cab Cascadia with advanced aerodynamics.

The first 10 of these trucks will go to Saddle Creek Logistics, which helped engineer the package based on 12 million miles of natural gas trucking experience. The truck will have a 120-gallon fuel system and will mark the first time a natural gas system has been fully enclosed behind the side and back of the cab in aerodynamic fairings. The set-up will use a roof fairing, chassis fairings (when saddle tanks aren’t required) and side extenders.

Under the hood, you’ll find the new Cummins Westport ISX 12 G natural gas engine, which can be fuelled by gas in compressed of liquefied form.

The new truck, as equipped by Saddle Creek, is expected to get 700 miles between fills.

Natural gas was the main focus of a press event held here today. Freightliner claims to have sold more conventional natural gas trucks than any other OEM, with 2,500 units deployed. It also says it’s the only OEM to factory-install the tanks, saving as much as $4,000 in freight costs that’s accrued when the truck has to be shipped elsewhere for tank installation.

The truck maker is excited about the arrival of the Cummins ISX 12 G engine, which makes natural gas viable across a broader set of applications.

“This engine has been touted for two or three years,” said Robert Carrick, sales manager, natural gas with Freightliner. “Everyone was waiting for it. Never in history was the cart so far ahead of the horse, with everyone thinking they were going to get engines before everyone else.”

Having gotten its own hands on a few of the engines, Freightliner is launching a demo program that will allow fleets to test a Cascadia with the ISX 12 G in their own applications, pulling revenue-generating loads. One of five such trucks is currently deployed in Eastern Canada and will cycle through the country.

I drove a Freightliner Cascadia with ISX 12 G in California and found it to be flush with torque and power, while running whisper quiet. The truck-engine combination seems at first glance to have an abundance of potential, including in Canada where higher horsepower than was available from the ISL G is needed.

Freightliner is also adding a 48-inch sleeper to its natural gas product line. Pre-series production will begin sometime this fall. Meanwhile, full production of the Cascadia 113 natural gas powered day cabs will begin in August.

The Cascadia 113 natural gas-powered truck with aerodynamic package will be available in mid-2014. It’s expected fuel economy will improve by 3% with the fairings, but keep in mind natural gas itself costs much less than diesel.

Next up, Carrick said Freightliner has its eyes on 7- and 15-litre natural gas engine options.

“Let’s face it, if we’re really going to get the product going, we need a 500-hp, 15-litre engine if we’re really going to take the natural gas project to the next level,” he said.

The good news is, a 15L ISX nat-gas engine is already in the works.

Still, despite all the progress, Carrick said fleets are mostly hesitant to commit to those initial natural gas-powered purchases, and he admitted the alternative fuel isn’t for everyone. A typical purchase process for a diesel truck takes 90 days, while natural gas sales can take as long as 18 months to close as the fleet does its due diligence.

Carrick said Freightliner and others are lobbying the US government to provide weight (and length, in the case of straight truck) exemptions for natural gas trucks, so that operators aren’t penalized for the extra weight or length needed to accommodate the tanks.

“Most people think this is going to pass at some point and that will take the weight factor out,” Carrick said.

The return on investment for natural gas trucks depends on many variables, including miles run and the cost of natural gas versus diesel.
“You have to be running the miles and sourcing the fuel at the right cost,” to get an ROI in two to three years, Carrick said.

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Truck News

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