This article is a supplement to January’s edition of Truck Parts & Service, which focuses solely on the rise of natural gas engines in the medium- and heavy-duty industry.
While natural gas engines are slowly making a dent in the commercial heavy-duty truck market, other alternative fuels, such as hybrid and electric engines, are showing almost no increase in popularity, says Nadine Haupt, director – alternative fuels at Navistar.
“Those engines seem focused in the medium-duty marketplace, you don’t see many of them at all in the heavy-duty market,” she says. “With the hybrid engines, the battery technology is very advanced and very expensive. In the heavy-duty market the payback isn’t very good, either. I see the same thing with the electric engines.”
According to Haupt, optimal uses for hybrid-electric and electric engines are short-haul distances. Like natural gas, some of the first adopters of these alternative powered commercial engines were transit buses and refuse trucks.
Government incentives spurred these fleets to use these green engine options, and short, controlled routes increased their value. The payback of these alternative power options is limited when a truck travels long distances, like an on-highway carrier. And payback on these engines is extremely important to fleets, due to the increased costs of the engines.
Natural gas engines also are more expensive than standard diesel engines, but with fuel costs that regularly run 30 to 50 percent below diesel prices, payback is more attainable.
With other alternative fuels, payback on long-haul trucks can take much longer.
Gaps in infrastructure also have slowed the growth of these alternative engines nationwide. Natural gas is not as readily available as diesel, but efforts from multiple organizations to add natural gas to service stations is eliminating availability gaps and increasing interest.
Other alternative fuels don’t have that, says Sam Stevenson, general manager at JX Truck Center.
“Natural gas seems to be the hot topic in North America. I think that’s because of our infrastructure. That’s what we have, and we are built for it,” he says. Seeing European countries leap ahead of the West in the use of the alternative fuels is logical, Stevenson says. “They don’t have the natural gas resources we have here.”