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Activating alternative efforts

It’s been interesting to watch the suddenly furious pace of activity taking place where “alternative power” is concerned in the commercial vehicle world – and we’re not just talking about natural gas, either.

For example, take the recent “strategic partnership” announced between Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America and eNow to offer a range of solar-based auxiliary power unit (APU) options for Fuso’s Canter FE/FG Series model medium-duty trucks via its network of over 200 dealerships in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.

The eNow solar-powered APUs range in size from 30-watt systems to help keep batteries charged to 6,400-watt systems capable of powering liftgates and refrigeration systems and are designed to help fleets meet strict engine idling and tailpipe emissions regulations, according to Todd Bloom, Fuso’s president and CEO.

“Our new partnership with eNow is another step in assuring our customers have access to vehicles that consistently offer lower cost-of-ownership while maintaining as small an environmental footprint as is practical,” he said. “And in this case, environmentally sound technology also solves specific operating issues for some of the auxiliary equipment our customers install on their trucks.”

Now shift gears over to FedEx Express, which is planning to add 1,900 new composite-body Reach vehicles built by Spartan Motors, a division of Utilimaster, to its fleet – joining some 400 such models already in service that offer a 35% improvement in fuel efficiency over its traditional delivery vans due to its lighter weight and smaller four-cylinder 3.0-liter Isuzu diesel engine.

FedExExpress  is also working with hybrid-electric powertrain manufacturer XL Hybrids to convert 10 of its conventionally-powered panel vans into more fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles – a conversion the delivery giant expects will not only reduces fuel consumption and emissions but will also extend the engine life in fleet vehicles by supplementing the necessary power with their hybrid-electric drive train.

As part of its long-range alternative power efforts, FedEx Express is working with the Advanced Vehicle Testing group at Argonne National Laboratory – with funding from the Department of Energy – to test and compare different models of all-electric vehicles, collecting performance data under various operating conditions to help determine the total cost of operating an all-electric vehicle fleet.

FedEx Corp. says it is seeing a return on such efforts, too, as by March of this year the company's FedEx Express division achieved a more than 22% cumulative improvement in fuel economy for its vehicles – beating its target of a 20% cumulative improvement in fuel economy by 2020 set back in 2008 by some seven years. As a result now plans to improve the fuel efficiency its vehicle fleet 30% by 2020.

Even shippers are getting into the "alternative" act, with Procter & Gamble announcing plans this week to convert a significant percentage of its for-hire truck loads to tractor-trailers operating on natural gas. 

Beginning in July, P&G said it will work with eight transportation carriers to convert up to 20% of its North America truck loads to natural gas vehicles within two years – an effort that by extension should help convert approximately 7% of the company’s total North America for-hire transportation network to natural gas powered trucks during the initial phase, said Yannis Skoufalos, P&G’s global product supply officer, in a statement.

“P&G is investing in carriers with a commitment to natural gas vehicles to help boost the emerging natural gas industry, while continuing to seek more sustainable options for our supply chain and operations,” he noted. “Sustainable logistics is a critical part of achieving this bold vision, so we’re taking important steps to make our supply chain more efficient.”

Skoufalos added that P&G’s “natural gas truck load” conversion effort will initially focus in 16 states with an average length of haul over 280 miles, including two 1,000 mile truck lanes.

“The use of for-hire transportation carriers for natural gas in the market will enable P&G to use them on routes far longer than is the average in the dedicated fleet model, he noted. “High capital costs of vehicles and limited fueling stations are often barriers to growth for the natural gas industry, and P&G’s commitment helps to remove the obstacles to the resource becoming mainstream for large scale shipments [while] supporting the growth of public natural gas refueling stations.”

Such efforts are part of P&G’s effort to  meet what it dubs its “long-term sustainability” vision, which includes plans to use 100% renewable energy at all of its plants, use 100% renewable or recycled materials for products and packaging, and to have zero of its manufacturing and consumer waste go to landfill.

Ambitious stuff indeed and it will be interesting to see how far trucking can travel along such alternative pathways.

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