Special Guest Article With Joe Thompson, ROUSH CleanTech

American Progress Toward Propane Autogas Adoption
By Joe Thompson, President, ROUSH CleanTech

“We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.” – Henry Ford

Historically, we Americans have prided ourselves on being the early adopters, the pacesetters and the innovative majority. But when it comes to adopting propane Autogas as an alternative motor fuel, our country has lagged far behind our friends in Europe and Asia. That fact was made especially clear last February, when I had the opportunity to speak amongst a panel of Autogas experts from around the world at the WLPGA’s North American-European Propane Summit in Washington, D.C.

As I listened to leaders from India, Poland, Korea, Australia, and various members of the EU, a feeling of mixed emotions overwhelmed me. I was frustrated that, as an American, we could be this far behind, but I was enthusiastic about the opportunity that was presenting itself.

Our brothers and sisters around the world already know we have a product that is as close to a “cure-all” as alternative fuels will ever see in our lifetime. Fleet managers in the U.S. are looking for viable alternative fuel options, but they have concerns about the economics, performance, environmental emissions, serviceability, quality and fuel infrastructure. Propane Autogas answers all these concerns.

So why don’t we have more vehicles running on our collective fuel of choice in America?

I think that, historically, propane Autogas has had three daunting challenges restraining it from becoming a more successful product in the U.S. The first challenge has been product quality; the installations, technology, performance and materials used were often poor, failing to meet customer expectations. Second, alternative fuels were, for a long time, of no concern to the U.S. public. Third, the propane industry has only embraced its own product for use as a vehicle fuel in limited use.

The good news is that times are changing in America, and they are changing fast. America’s automotive industry leaders are taking notice of the successes our international allies have seen with this clean burning, economical and sustainable alternative fuel — successes that have catapulted propane Autogas to the number one most-used alternative fuel in America. In every case, companies like Yellow Cab, Frito-Lay, ThyssenKrupp Elevator, and DIRECTV are showing us the way by adopting our fuel before we do.

New technology providers like ROUSH CleanTech have addressed the first issue of product quality, delivering high performance dedicated propane autogas engine fuel systems to the marketplace. Performance ratings are virtually identical to gasoline, delivering the same horsepower, torque and towing ratings you’d expect with a brand new vehicle. They are available for installation on a variety of light- and medium-duty Ford pickup trucks, chassis cabs, cargo and passenger vans, cutaways and even Type A and Type C school buses. The ROUSH CleanTech propane Autogas fuel system is covered by a 5-year/60,000-mile limited warranty — and can conveniently be purchased and serviced at authorized Ford dealerships across the country.

The second challenge, a lack of public interest in alternative fuels, has changed dramatically over the past five years, driven by consumers’ attention to the environmental impact businesses have in producing goods and services, and driven by steadily rising fuel prices. Propane Autogas delivers relief on both of these issues.

U.S. citizens recognize the importance of keeping our planet clean. Regardless of their political alignment, recent studies by the American Lung Association show that the American public “overwhelmingly supports” environmental protection and would prefer stricter clean air policies, and they trust the Environmental Protection Agency to set the appropriate standards. Through the use of propane Autogas instead of gasoline, vehicles can emit up to 24 percent fewer greenhouse gasses, 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, and up to 60 percent less carbon monoxide.

Economics have dealt propane Autogas a winning hand as well. As rising gasoline and diesel prices continue to drain disposable income and threaten companies’ bottom lines, Americans are thinking about alternative fuels for more than environmental solutions, but economic relief, too. The low cost of propane autogas is economically appealing to fleet managers looking to lower their fleet expenses. In some cases, our customers have seen a 40 percent reduction in fuel costs, and have been required to spend no out-of-pocket money to establish on-site refueling infrastructure.

Finally, our own industry adoption plays a key role in the slow advancement of propane Autogas in the U.S. America’s three largest propane suppliers are setting an example by running a portion of their fuel delivery trucks on propane Autogas. It’s a great start, but it’s not enough. With thousands of propane retailers nationwide, our country’s adoption and utilization of propane autogas could soar if these companies sign on to fuel their fleets with the product they specialize in. The infrastructure is at their fingertips; all they have to do is grasp the concept.

The American public sees electric companies touting the benefits of electric vehicles (EV), and reads stories about EV adoption in major utility company fleets. Our cousins in the natural gas industry talk about the benefits of compressed natural gas while using the technology to power their own heavy-duty delivery vehicles. In fact, I recently read an announcement of Southern California Gas’ intention to adopt 1,000 natural gas powered vehicles. Our story won’t be taken as seriously as it should until propane companies start using their own fuel to power their vehicles.

On the plus side, automotive companies and propane suppliers have banded together to develop a cohesive marketing message by introducing the globally accepted term “propane Autogas” to American fleet professionals in order to differentiate propane that fuels on-road vehicles from the propane that is used for residential or off-road purposes. This action has helped shed light on the fact that propane Autogas is already the world’s most widely used alternative transportation fuel, and created a solid foundation for propane Autogas product development and industry expansion.

I recently spoke with a fleet manager from a major nationwide office supply company. He gave an anecdotal example of our industry’s product that stuck with me. He said, “What if you switched the roles of gasoline and propane Autogas? Imagine that Autogas has been the primary fuel used for transportation for the past 100 years. And what if just recently, a scientist approaches the head engineer of a major automotive manufacturer with a gasoline-filled jar and says, ‘Look what I just discovered! It’s called gasoline. It’s not as clean, it’s not domestic and it costs more per gallon.'”

I predict that scientists might not get very far in that meeting.

Luckily for us, the fuel we all know so well is cleaner, domestic, and costs less. Our opportunity is here, and the rest of the world has proven it will work. We have analyzed the fleets of our top 70 customer prospects and have determined that they alone represent over 450 million gallons of new propane Autogas sales between now and 2016.

America’s usage of propane overall is declining, and the Autogas opportunity has the potential to reverse this trend. I strongly urge America to look to Europe and around the globe for leadership to grow our propane market.

(Joe Thompson, president of ROUSH CleanTech and a member of the Roush Enterprise Steering Committee, has overseen the deployment of more than 20,000 products. Passionate about energy, he resides on two energy boards, blogs at fleetblogs.com/fuelforthought, and can be reached at joseph.thompson@roush.com.)