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While adding “green” vehicles to chauffeured transportation fleets hasinterested operators somewhat in recent years, it’s now become a constant topic and pursuit. Clients are asking for hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles more often as many operators and their staffs seek more ways to improve the environment. While gas prices skyrocket, governments are pushing regulations that limit mileage and emissions.
Although the media promotes plenty of green coverage, operators remain unclear on which green vehicles make the most sense. They haven’t tested these new vehicles enough to develop clear plans. Hybrids are a top candidate as companies try out the Toyota Prius and Camry, the Chevrolet Tahoe, the Lexus RX and LS, and other hybrid options. Flex-fuel Chevrolet Suburbans are being used in fleets, especially if ethanol fuel stations are accessible nearby. Vehicles fueled by natural gas, propane, and bio-diesel are other possibilities being tested in fleets.
METRO CARS FUELING UP WITH PROPANE
Metro Cars, based in Taylor, Mich., has been converting much of its fleet over to propane vehicles, says Jeff Pardonnet, general manager. Metro Cars has converted more than 85 vehicles in its Detroit-area operation and expects to increase up to 145 units in the next few months. The conversion process will roll out to its Florida operations, where the company expects to eventually convert to about 1,100 units including sedans, taxicabs, full-size vans, and cutaway mini-buses. So far, the company has converted Lincoln Town Cars, Ford E350 vans, and Ford E450 minibuses over to propane in its Michigan office.
How did Metro Cars choose propane? The company began searching for alternative-fuel options several years ago to control expenses and to be a positive corporate citizen, Pardonnet says. Metro Cars liked the ability to install the vehicle fuel conversion kits in-house, the cost of propane, and the willingness of a supplier to work with the company to develop the necessary delivery process.
It costs Metro Cars about $4,500 to convert a sedan over to propane power; as for timing, it takes a day and a half to convert a sedan and up to five days for a mini-bus. The company has installed, or is working on installing, propane fueling stations at its largest facility locations. “These stations meet all state and local requirements and are retail compliant,” Pardonnet says.
How do these vehicles compare to gasoline? “It’s our experience that propane has a decrease in efficiency of approximately 18% versus gasoline,” he says. “However, this decrease is more than offset by the positive impact on the environment, and although propane costs have marginally increased, they have been much more stable than the gasoline market.”
And what about operating these propane vehicles over time? “The major issues we have seen to date are related to gasket failure and corroded electrical connections, as well as making adjustments to computer settings,” he says. “We do have active units with more than 100,000 miles that function very well.”
Clients are giving Metro Cars positive feedback about riding in propane-powered vehicles, but some have safety concerns. “We’ve had clients that were concerned with riding in a vehicle that’s equipped with propane storage tanks, but we continue our education process to make our clientele comfortable. . . and continue to reassure them of the safety of the system,” Pardonnet says.
NATURAL GAS ANOTHER VIABLE OPTION
Operator members of the Limousine Environmental Action Partners (LEAP) want to reduce vehicle emissions as much as possible and take advantage of new technologies as they come off the line, says Patricia Charla, LEAP president. “Hybrids are a natural place to start — there are more coming out and are adaptable,” she says. “Operators are also investigating natural gas powered vehicles, such as Town Cars. Natural gas is the next good step — a pathway to fueling hydrogen cars.”
LEAP has partnered with LimoGreen, which provides compressed natural gas converted Lincoln Town Cars to limousine operators. LimoGreen, based in New York City, is also working with Aleph Computer on a system that will allow end users to order natural gas-powered vehicles and track their environmental effects, says Dean Sloane, managing director of LimoGreen.
LimoGreen also is partnering with Empire Coachworks, based in East Brunswick, N.J., on developing natural gas powered Town Car limousines.
“Using compressed natural gas (CNG) is cleaner and safer, and is produced domestically,” Sloane says. These benefits can help operators sell these options to corporate clients, especially managers in the Office of Sustainability, an environmental action program being adopted by several corporations and organizations, he says.