Be prepared to service future natural gas customers

For the better part of the last month, I have been working on a series of articles about heavy-duty natural gas engines, and their slow but steady entrance into the commercial trucking industry.

(These articles will be the focus of January’s Truck Parts & Service edition.)

While currently only 1 to 2 percent of heavy-duty trucks on North American roads are using natural gas engines, projections moving forward this decade have natural gas engines taking anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of the market by 2020. If they come anywhere close to 15 percent, that’s a considerable amount.

One thing is for sure, that 1 to 2 percent number is going to rise.

According to Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, less than 70,000 natural gas trucks and buses are expected to be sold worldwide in 2012. That number is expected to rise dramatically in future years, with annual sales exceeding 180,000 by 2019. Pike says nearly one million heavy-duty natural gas vehicles will be sold between 2012 and 2019.

Combined with the rising popularity of natural gas conversion kits — which can turn diesel engines into dual-fuel or natural gas engines — there is no doubt these engines are going to become a considerable part of the heavy-duty market.

But what does that mean for you, the parts distributor or independent service provider?

A lot, actually.

Even though these new engines rely on a different fuel, an overwhelming majority of the components on the vehicle and engine itself are the same as a diesel-powered truck.

Sources say more than 80 percent of the engine components in a natural gas truck are identical to a diesel truck, and even some of the components that are different are only slightly altered from their original diesel engine state.

I think it is important to work with your fleet customer base and see if they are using these natural gas engines, or plan to in the future. If they do, I think these are parts you are going to want to stock. As a distributor, there is no reason not to.

And if you also are providing service, don’t turn these trucks away when they start showing up because of their alternative fuel. You can outfit your currently facility and train your technicians to service these vehicles in 90 days. Sure, it’s going to cost some money, but don’t all business improvements?

Besides, if up to 15 percent of your customers turn to this technology, isn’t that too much of a customer base to lose?

–          Lucas

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