Natural Gas Is “Happening”, Kenworth Says

Vocational truck customers are converting to the more modern T880 (far left), though T800 (center and right) still has its followers. Photo: Tom Berg

CHILLICOTHE, OH — The resurging construction industry is pushing sales of vocational trucks so much that Kenworth wants to expand the compressed natural gas (CNG) truck market.

“I’m a true believer (in natural gas). It’s no longer a science experiment. It’s happening. The question is not if, but when,” said Andy Douglas, Kenworth’s national sales manager for specialty vehicles. “Eighty years ago, diesel was the alternative fuel. It took 25 years for it to become common.”

But Kenworth doesn’t think natural gas will take 80 years to catch on. The company expects the segment will grow by up to 20-percent by 2020.

The newfound interest in compressed natural gas (CNG) has helped drive sales of Kenworth’s new-for-2013 T680 road tractor, which can be outfitted with a concealed bank of CNG tanks. Since it was introduced about a year ago, about 18,000 T680s have been sold, accounting for close to half of truck sales in that segment.

As for vocational trucks, road building in particular is increasing sales of Kenworth’s T800 and T880.

Option content on the T880 now covers 85 percent of all vocational applications, said Alan Fennimore, manager for that segment within KW’s sales and marketing departments. More options coming include a front-engine power take-off and a wide-hood version with a larger radiator for low-speed heavy-haul operations.

“The cost advantage of gas motor fuel [equivalent to about $1.50 to $2 per diesel gallon] alone makes the case for natural gas,” Douglas continued. “Fleets really don’t need government subsidies to make it financially attractive.”

“I’m telling everybody who will listen to me at Cummins to build the 15-liter,” he said, also adding that Cummins is again considering building the big CNG engine.

Cummins has been thinking about building a 15-liter natural gas engine for use in combinations exceeding 100,000 pounds, but shelved the idea for a while thanks to gas truck uncertainties, according to Douglas.

While Kenworth is exploring the possibilities in CNG, the company is not abandoning diesel any time soon.

“Kenworth is very committed to diesel. By no means do we say that diesel is going away. We’ve invested a tremendous amount of money in it,” Douglas said.

So committed, in fact, that more money is being invested in next year’s Paccar 10.8-liter MX-11, which will be some 300 pounds lighter than the current 12.9-liter MX-13, Fennimore said.

With files from Tom Berg. 

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