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CHICAGO, Ill. — Windy City Limousine is preparing to eventually move to a new 25,000 square-foot facility, close to its current headquarters in Franklin Park. The company also has started converting its fleet of more than 200 vehicles to propane and natural gas fuel.
The new location, to open in 2014, will have two acres set aside for a fueling center that will enable Windy City to replenish its propane, natural gas, and regular fuel vehicles quickly and efficiently.
Sal Milazzo, vice president of Windy City, worked on the fuel conversion project and sought out and bought the new land. The idea for the fuel conversion started in November of 2011. “In business, the landscape always changes, and as our company was growing, the fuel costs were rising and we realized that we had to adjust.”
The company took a hard look at its fuel efficiency using GPS tracking to analyze the routes, and then evaluated alternative fuels such as compressed gas and propane to see if the conversion would be viable. After crunching the numbers, taking into account conversion costs and also how the new tanks would affect trunk space, Windy City decided to go propane in its sedans and natural gas in its larger mini-coach vehicles.
Factoring in a rebate for the conversion, Milazzo said the company recoups its investment in about two to three months on each vehicle. The fuel runs longer, cheaper, and cleaner, and Milazzo believes that as conversions become more popular, and more fueling stations built, propane and natural gas will become more prevalent in the industry.
“Of course it is the next wave,” he said. “It is the next best thing in our industry. That’s why we’re building our own fueling station so we know where to fill our vehicles. There are more fueling stations now popping up across the country, but they’re not as frequent as we’d like to have them.”
As Windy City makes its conversions, it is keeping the vehicles under a dual system, where regular gasoline will still be kept in tanks on the vehicles in case the propane or natural gas runs out. Milazzo thinks that it will still be about five to 10 years before propane and natural gas is widespread enough to enable a full switch.
The new facility will have underground tanks for regular fuel, above ground tanks for the propane, and compressors for natural gas.
The propane tanks fit into the trunk of the sedans, but are positioned on the ceiling of the compartment so that luggage space is not compromised. And as for the safety, each of the propane tanks has a safety shut off valve that can be switched off in the event of an accident.
The goal is to have 100 vehicles converted by the end of this year, and to have construction on the new land finished by 2014. It’s been a long time planning for this modification, but the results will be well worth the effort and wait.
Milazzo believes the benefits of propane and natural gas can help revitalize the limousine industry. “I’m more than willing to be an ambassador for propane and help companies convert if they feel it’s a fit for them,” Milazzo said, and stresses that it’s important for operators interested in converting that they find a vendor who is EPA certified. Switching to propane and natural gas is a great opportunity to reduce fuel costs, and it also gives you the added benefit of being able to market your fleet as a greener and cleaner alternative.
— Tim Crowley, LCT senior editor
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