Avoiding a natural (gas) disaster

Blogs Jason Cannon April 16, 2014

Natural gas.

Think back over the last 12 months. How many articles have you read, or how many discussions have you been involved in, about natural gas?

Dozens or more, right?

There’s no question that finding a viable alternative fuel is a – if not the – hot button issue in trucking right now.

The reaction from the aftermarket with regard to natural gas has been slow, and that’s because action in the natural gas market has been splintered.

Is CNG the next big thing, or is it LNG? And what about other alternative fuels, like propane? Hybrid?

The answer is yes. All of the above.

The natural gas market isn’t likely to define itself anytime soon, and if you need proof, just look to the leaders in the industry.

In March, UPS – the largest truck fleet in the country – announced plans to purchase 1,000 propane package delivery trucks and install an initial 50 fueling stations at UPS locations across the country. That’s  a nearly $70 million investment.

UPS already boasts one of the largest private alternative fuel fleets in the nation with more than 3,150 alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles.

However, that stable of green technology includes all-electric, hybrid electric, hydraulic hybrid, CNG, LNG, propane and bio-methane.

If you’re a distributor, how are you supposed to service a customer with a fleet that large, that broad and that different?

That’s seven different green technologies under one umbrella. SEVEN.

You can drive yourself out of business trying to corner the market and becoming the “go-to” guy for AltFuel parts and service. If you go all-in on CNG and your local school bus fleet converts to propane, whoops!
Forget Shoeless Joe. If you build it, they may not come.

But ignoring this market segment isn’t an option either. It may not be a significant portion (or any portion) of your business right now but more and more of your traditional customers are increasingly willing to experiment with AltFuel, and they’re going to want your tried and trusted brand to support them.

So what do you do?

You learn.

Some of the components in CNG, LNG and propane engines are the same, and several of the components in a diesel engine are the same. What are those common parts? You may already carry a lot of them.

Think back to your first day on the job, the first day in this industry.

You probably didn’t know everything there was to know about how to service your company’s customers using a certain type of suspension, or a select type braking system. But you figured it out. The more time you put into learning about the industry, the more you could help your customer and, in turn, you became a more valuable resource to them.

Imagine this scenario: You get a call from a customer who says, “I’m thinking about a NatGas retrofit for my 2012 XYZ truck. What do you think? Could I get parts and service for it?”

What would that customer’s reaction be if you replied, “Well, that retrofit kit costs about, $X and you can have that done at XYZ location. It only takes about X hours. We carry X,Y and Z components for that model and I’m somewhat familiar with what you’re looking to accomplish, and I’m familiar with a lot of the component suppliers for that model, so we’re ready to help you whenever you need us.”

You built your brand by being the kind of person who knows the answers to customer’s questions, and you got those answers by learning.

NatGas engines aren’t going away, and even if you’re not in a position to service those trucks, you’re always in a position to help a customer get the kind of help they need when that call comes.

Not having critical information for your customer, even if it’s a little out of your wheelhouse, would be a (natural gas) disaster.

Jason Cannon is Online Managing Editor for Truck Parts & Service.

You can follow me on twitter at @By_Jason_Cannon