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Commercial vehicle sales are expected to see a boom as the year comes to an end, thanks to an expiring tax deduction.
Ford Motor Company has announced that it is pursuing a number of avenues aimed at easing the financial burden on small businesses and fleet companies, many of which are feeling the pinch of current gas prices.
A big aspect of Ford’s plan will be the introduction of a North American version of the ubiquitous Ford Transit commercial van, designed to supplement the long-running E-Series (née Econoline).
When it begins production at the Kansas City, Miss. assembly plant next year, the Americanized Transit will be offered with Ford’s 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and also a diesel engine (though the automaker has yet to provide specifics on what this oil burning motor will be).
As a result, Ford says the Transit will achieve around 25 percent better fuel economy than the current E-Series, which is no doubt welcome news to many fleet operators.
In addition, during the Automotive Press Association conference in Detroit this week, Ford’s director of North American fleet, leasing and re-marketing programs, Kevin Koswick, said that the automaker is committed to providing a range of options to help fleets lower their operating costs. Besides introducing more fuel thrifty vehicles like the Transit, that also includes alternative fuel sources such as hybrid, plug-in hybrid, pure electric, biodiesel and Compressed Natural Gas (which the current E-Series vans are designed to run on besides gasoline).
Also, in order to enable fleet operators to better keep track of their costs and monitor emissions output, Ford is also introducing a new tool dubbed the “Vehicle Emissions and Fuel Cost Calculator.”
This shows, via information such as the type of vehicle used, the type of driving situations, as well as local traffic conditions and energy sources available in a particular location, a specific map of fleet fuel consumption and emissions output.
The idea is that fleets can make an informed decision as to which type of vehicles they use and for what purpose when it comes to reducing costs and impact on the environment.
The proprietary program, which must be used in conjunction with the support of a Ford representative, enables customized scenarios to be created for fleet customers, using special formulas and variables to determine the actual level of environmental impact and fuel costs of specific vehicles.
The controversial London (UK) Emissions Zone strikes again, this time with more stringent smog rules due to come into effect on January 3rd, 2012.
These new regs will require that all heavy goods vehicles (essentially large trucks, buses and other specialist vehicles like mobile cranes) entering London be Euro 4 emissions compliant, otherwise their operators will face fines of £1,000 (around $1,600) or a daily charge of £200 (roughly $300).
For drivers of smaller commercial vehicles, such as light delivery vans like Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters, their vehicles will have to meet Euro 3 emissions requirements or risk fines of £500 (approximately $800) or a daily charge of £100 ($160).
However, for small businesses and independent tradespeople operating within the city limits of London, the new regs are yet another fly in the ointment, as they eliminate the ability to operate older vans (those more than 10 years old), without facing hefty fines. To make matters worse, officials are taking a hardline stance on the issue.
“The penalties are such that non-compliance is simply not an option,” said Natalie Chapman, head of the UK Freight Transport Association’s Policy for London.
Given that so far, London’s Low Emissions Zone has had a marginal effect on reducing pollution in the city, putting added strain on the shoulders of small businesses, especially at a time of economic austerity in Britain, is hardly sound thinking when it comes to government policy.
There’s no question that Nissan‘s recently introduced full-size cargo van, the NV is a credible attempt at establishing a foothold in the commercial sector, however despite doing it’s homework extensively before launching the vehicle, sales have been rather sluggish.
According to Ward’s Auto, NV inventory supplies at the end of September, stood at 205 days, a stark contrast to just 48 for the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and 116 for the GMC Savanna.
The two biggest selling vans in the marketplace, the Ford E-Series and Chevrolet Express, stood at 73 and 69 days supply respectively. In it’s first nine months on the market the NV has sold just 3,035 copies in the US, by contrast, Ford shifted more than 69,000 E-Series vans in the same period.
So what’s the problem? Certainly not the product. According to Ward’s; Nissan spent a lot of time researching the wants and needs of existing van customers before developing the NV, addressing many of their concerns, such as a lack of both regular and high roof options, as well as ease of maintenance.
Rather, the problem seems to be distribution; Ford and GM have been long established players in the marketplace with proven fleet sales channels and even the Sprinter, the most recent challenger; has an established commercial vehicle distribution channel via the Freightliner brand, which is owned by Daimler AG.
Nissan, by contrast doesn’t currently have one for the NV. To make matters worse, many commercial fleet buyers still don’t see Nissan has a serious alternative to the likes of Ford, GM and Mercedes.
“The first thing that comes to mind [for van buyers] is not a Nissan,” says Chris Brady, president-Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting. “The Nissan brand is not considered to be a commercial brand.”
Nevertheless, Nissan plans on expanding the NV range next spring, introducing a passenger version and perhaps other features down the road. In addition, more commercial vans will be entering the market over the next few months, though the latest trend seems to be importing European offerings and localizing them, rather than developing new product specifically for North America, since it saves on R&D and tooling costs as well as enabling potentially greater profits.
Among the vans slated to make the grade include the Ford T-Series (Transit in Europe) and versions of the Fiat Doblo and possibly even the Ducato and IVECO Daily under the Dodge umbrella.
With more competition in the marketplace than ever, it will be interesting to see how the NV fares in the near future, though with Ford currently having no plans to drop the E-Series and the Sprinter proving quite costly, there’s definitely potential for a competitively priced, practical full-size van.
Perhaps the introduction of the smaller, global NV200, for which Nissan has already snagged a 10-year contract with the New York City Taxi and Limousine competition, will help establish the brand as a player in the commercial van market. One thing’s for certain, it certainly won’t hurt.
[Source: Ward's Auto]
For its Ram division, since the loss of the Sprinter, Chrysler has been looking at a large van to fill the void. With no indigenous offerings at home, the logical step would be to tap Fiat’s resources in Europe and bring over variants of commercial vans already on sale across the pond.
Rumors have been circulating for some time, that versions of the small Fiat Doblo (a Ford Transit Connect competitor), the Fiat Ducato and larger IVECO Daily (shown), are all being considered.
If all three vans do make it over here, theoretically it would give Ram division a one-stop shop when it comes to catering to small and medium sized business, for in addition to these, the division already offers a commercial variant of its Dodge Caravan minivan.
In terms of cost effectiveness and durability, the Ducato and Daily probably make the most sense. The former, despite being front-drive, has a fairly low cost of ownership and a flat cargo floor ensures maximum space utilization. Maximum Gross Vehicle Weight Rating on the Ducato is 8,818 lbs.
The rear-drive Daily by contrast, boasts a GVWR that’s almost double the Ducato’s and is offered with both single and dual rear-wheel configurations along with high roof van bodies, plus chassis cabs, making it adaptable to a wide variety of different roles.
However, although Ram’s Marketing Manager, Bob Hegbloom, in conversation with Ward’s Auto World has said the division plans to introduce two new vans to North America, so far, he’s stopped short of saying which ones.
If two, or even all three of these vans make it over here, it will be interesting to see how they fare. The large commercial van segment is currently dominated by Ford and General Motors, the Sprinter, of which Mercedes now handles sales and service, along with it’s Freightliner commercial truck division, is still very much a marginal product in the segment, it’s high price and relative complexity, seen as drawbacks by many fleets.
The only other current competitor in the segment is Nissan’s recently launched NV (see our review here), which adopts much the same approach as the current Ford E-Series and Chevy Express/GMC Savanna.
Whether the Fiat sourced vans can make much of an impact against the current best sellers remain to be seen, a lot of it will no doubt hinge on pricing strategy, servicing and overall running costs, not just fuel consumption. We’ll likely find out soon enough.
[Source: Ward's Auto]
When most people think Toyota and hybrid, the Prius naturally comes to mind. Indeed, Japan’s largest automaker has been capitalizing on the car’s brand equity, expanding the range to include the A/V wagon and plug-in variants.
But cars aren’t the only thing on Toyota’s mind when it comes to hybrids. In fact, for it’s next major thrust into the North American market, the company is literally thinking bigger when it comes to internal combustion/electric powered vehicles, in this case, commercial trucks.
In the last two decades, Japanese light and medium-duty trucks have made sizable inroads in the North American market and now Toyota, through it’s heavy truck division Hino, is hoping that it can add hybrids to the mix.
In Japan, Hino has developed a diesel/electric version of it’s light and middle weight Dutro cab-over-engine truck. Compared to it’s diesel only predecessor, the latest Dutro is said to boast an improvement in fuel economy by around 50 percent, making it particularly attractive for fleet customers, especially those that use trucks for local delivery work in urban areas.
Introducing a variant of the Dutro hybrid to North America is part of Hino’s goal to quadruple sales in our market, to approximately 140,000 units annually by 2015.
For US consumption, the Hino hybrid will be available in either 14,500 lb or heavier-duty 19,500 lb configurations (called 155h and 195h respectively) and will feature an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission. The battery system is reportedly the same as that used in the Lexus LS hybrid and the battery packs themselves will be sourced from Primearth Electric Vehicle Energy Co., another Toyota subsidiary.
Given the current cost of fuel prices and commercial truck operators looking to save fuel any way they can (look at all the trailer fairings appearing on large over-the-road rigs to help reduce wind resistance and improve mileage), the announcement of the Hino hybrid will no doubt be good news , especially as many Japanese commercial trucks currently offered in the US are largely employed as urban delivery vehicles, where frequent stop-start driving is the norm.
However, for those that aren’t quite ready to take the plunge, Hino has said it will offer conventional diesel versions of the truck alongside the hybrid models, with deliveries slated to begin in August.
[Source: Automotive News]
On it’s path to global domination, Volkswagen has made another official takeover bid, this time for German heavy truck maker MAN.
VW said that on May 9th, that it held more than 30 percent stock in MAN, which under German law, means the company was required to make a bid on all remaining shares in the truck company.
VW’s offer to third party shareholders for the remaining stock, included a price of 95 Euros ($136.80) for ordinary shares and 59.90 Euros ($86.81) for preferred shares.
The acquisition of MAN is part of a wider plan for VW to create a commercial vehicle powerhouse, having already acquired controlling interest in Swedish truck maker Scania.
However, anti-trust laws have placed a few obstacles in the path of bringing MAN, Scania and VW’s own commercial operations under a single umbrella. Nevertheless, the company remains undeterred and is looking to continue the process bit by bit, acquiring between 35 to 40 percent of the outstanding shares in MAN.
This will give VW multiple strategic options to pursue as well as potentially saving some 200 million Euros per year thanks to joint purchasing of all three brands. Both MAN and Scania are somewhat unique in the commercial vehicle sector in that they don’t rely on proprietary sources for major components such as engines, choosing instead to build their own. This aspect alone will give the new triumvirate a very solid position in the commercial vehicle market.
Besides acquiring MAN, VW is also finalizing its takeover of Porsche AG, which, once completed will become the company’s 10th individual brand.
Given the reasonable success of its Sprinter over here, along with other recent commercial transplants from Europe, namely the Ford Transit Connect and upcoming Fiat based offerings from Chrysler, it probably isn’t surprising that Mercedes is looking at importing the Sprinter’s baby brother, the Vito, as an option.
On sale in European markets since 1996 both as a commercial panel van and passenger carrier, the Vito is currently offered in three different lengths across the pond, along with two roof heights, a choice of rear or all-wheel drive and a range of CDI direct injection diesel engines.
If the idea of importation goes beyond merely a suggestion, it is likely Mercedes might uncover a sizeable niche for mid-size cargo vans with the Vito, since currently, neither Ford, Chrysler, nor GM (since the demise of the Astro/Safari) has anything that would directly compete with it at present, though if Chrysler does offer a version of the lighter duty Fiat Ducato, things could get interesting. Watch this space.
The city of New York has chosen Nissan as the supplier for the next generation of taxi cabs. This decision will give Nissan an exclusive 10-year contract for the city’s massive fleet totaling 13,200 taxis.
The Nissan design was chosen over the Ford Transit Connect van as well as a design from Turkish builder Karzan. The Nissan fleet will slowly replace the Ford Crown Victorias as well as the hybrid Ford Escapes.
The Nissan van is based on the NV200, a model Nissan sells in both Europe and Asia and only recently brought to market here.
Selecting just one automaker and just one vehicle has its opponents with owners of big taxi fleets saying they don’t want to be stuck using only one model. Advocates for the disabled, meanwhile, oppose any vehicle that isn’t wheelchair accessible. Only Karsan’s entry met that criteria although Ford and Nissan both offered the ability to make some of their vehicles wheelchair accessible.
The decision to go with Nissan is a major loss for Ford’s plan to offer the new Transit Connect as a taxi in New York. Furthermore, none of the three competitors are currently built in the United States. The NV200 is, however, slated to be built in Mexico. Close enough?
Bringing commercial vans from Europe to North America seems to be a growing trend among Detroit Automakers. It first began with the Dodge Sprinter (a Mercedes in all but name), then Ford followed with the tiny Transit Connect.
Now Chrysler, thanks to its alliance with Fiat is at it again, this time looking at bringing the IVECO daily to North American shores.
“It’s part of what we’re considering,” said Ram Truck CEO Fred Diaz in a recent statement. The Daily has long been a direct competitor to the Sprinter in Europe, where it’s offered in cargo and passenger configurations, with a choice of single and dual rear wheels and as a complete van or chassis cab.
Powertrain options across the pond include 2.3-liter and 3.0-liter four-cylinder diesel engines. Ram division is also considering Americanized versions of the Fiat Ducato light commercial van and confirmed that a version of the Fiat Doblo, which in Europe, competes directly with Ford’s Transit Connect, will also becoming to our shores.
But considering that the Daily and Ducato virtually occupy the same segment in their home market, is there room in North America for both vans? Difficult to say at this point in time, though in the short-term, it’s likely only one will get the green light. Given that the Daily boasts higher gross vehicle weights and load capacities than the Ducato, it probably makes more sense to import the former, especially for specialized school bus and larger camper conversions which require heavier-duty chassis. Stay tuned for more developments.
Since Daimler and Chrysler went their separate ways, the latter faced somewhat of a dilemma in the commercial vehicle segment, since the Sprinter van was essentially a Mercedes vehicle.
Now the Ram division is jumping back into the fold, with a commercial variant of the Dodge Caravan. Similar in concept to the original T-wagon based models of the 1980s, this one is appropriately enough, named Ram Cargo Van and features solid side panels in place of glass windows and a flat load floor to maximize carrying capacity, which stands at 144 cubic feet.
Although the Ram Cargo Van or (RCV for short), is powered by the same 283 horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 found in the Dodge Caravan, it has a retuned , heavier-duty suspension with load leveling aimed at commercial use, plus a heavy-duty radiator and transmission cooler to better cope with frequent stop/start delivery driving.
Switchable transmission gear shifting, low drag rear bearings and brake calipers, along with a standard rear spoiler are designed to save fuel, especially important among many small business owners who rely on such vehicles.
Options on the Ram Cargo Van range from a satellite navigation system and in-dash media center with 30 gigabyte hard drive to a rear back up camera, cargo divider and vinyl window shading. Ram Cargo Vans will be produced at Chrysler’s Windsor, Ontario assembly facility and will go on sale in the third quarter of this year as 2012 models, pricing is expected to be announced at launch time.
Nissan North America recently announced a new program for customers who purchase its full-size commercial van, the NV.
Through the program, qualified businesses will be able to have an up-fit package or graphic wrap installed free of charge. The up-fit packages, available from Adrian Steel, include a Cargo Management system with a steel/cabin partition and three 44-inch shelving units, or a Utility Package with the partition and a choice of exterior or interior mounted utility racks (the latter is available only on high roof models).
In addition, the no-charge graphic packages include up to 70 feet of customized wrap material and free installation. Buyers who choose not to go with these packages, can receive a rebate of $300.
According to Joe Castelli, vice-president of Nissan Commercial vehicles, the packages are designed to provide fleet customers with an “innovation for business,” solution, especially as the company tries to make an impact in the full-size commercial van market, which is currently dominated by the Ford E-Series, Chevy Express/GMC Savana and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter.
The 2012 NV, built at the firm’s Canton, Mississippi plant, uses much of the hardware from Nissan’s F-Alpha truck platform, including a ladder type rear-wheel-drive chassis and a choice of 4.0-liter V6 or 5.6-liter V8 engines. Like most competitors in the segment, it’s offered in 1/2 ton, 3/4 ton and 1 ton payload capacities. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard on all models. Base MSRP is $24,590.
Large panel vans are perhaps the ultimate form of mobile blank canvas – the acres of sheetmetal representing the perfect opportunity to install your own logo. Increasingly, companies are using vehicle wraps to market their product or service on their own vehicles and it’s proven to increase public awareness.
Now, Nissan North America is teaming up with Lakewood, Colorado based Original Wraps Inc. to offer specific wrap applications for customers of the new NV commercial van. Original Wraps has developed a software program that allows owners of Nissan’s new commercial van to create their own logos and designs on the Nissan Commercial Vehicle Website. Once the design has been finalized, it can then be printed on 3M Scotchprint Vinyl and shipped to the customer within 7-10 days ready for installation.
“We’re pleased to offer high quality, customized vehicle personalization with hundreds of different graphic designs created specially for the new Nissan NV,” remarked Joe Castelli, vice president, Nissan Commercial Vehicles and Fleet, NNA. “It’s part of our innovative approach to thinking about how our customers use their vans – including as a vehicle for advertising their company and services.”
The program is scheduled to start in January 2011.
In other parts of the world, Nissan commercial vans have been a staple of the brand for years, but up until now, they were noted by their absence in the U.S. and Canada.
Not any more. For 2012, Nissan is introducing the NV, aimed specifically at our market. It follows the format of traditional American large commercial vans like Ford’s E-Series and the Chevy Express/GMC Savanna, featuring body-on-frame construction, rear wheel drive and a choice of relatively large capacity gasoline engines – in this case a 4.0-liter V6 and a 5.6-liter V8, plus a standard five-speed automatic transmission and a traditional hood design for engine access (Nissan vans in most other markets are a forward control design with the engine mounted under the floor).
At launch, the NV will be offered in two grades, S and SV, in 2500 (3/4 ton) and 3500 (1 ton) capacities, with a choice of regular or high roof configurations. Standard equipment includes a fold-flat front passenger seat, designed to double as a work table, Titan pickup derived instrument cluster and locking center console, plus heavy duty mounting points for cargo tie-downs, while SV models also feature a special ‘inner skin’ for the side panels to prevent large or sharp objects from denting the exterior body. Other features aimed at commercial operators include hard wearing seat materials and rear access doors that swing open a total of 243 degrees.
The NV will be built at Nissan’s Canton Mississippi assembly plant alongside the Titan pickup on which it is based and will become available in the spring of 2011. As for pricing, the regular roof S model will start at $24,995, while a full jam high roof, V8 powered 3500 SV will sticker at $32,190.
Given that environmental issues and the need to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil are currently hot button issues, the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have laid out fuel economy and emissions proposals for all commercial vehicles – i.e. medium-duty trucks, big rigs, buses, motor coaches and RVs.
Three categories are being proposed: those for over the road trucks (which the agencies have labeled combination tractors) would be phased in beginning in 2014 and aim to achieve a 20 percent reduction in fuel economy and emissions by the fourth year of implementation (2018). Those for heavy-duty pickups, also designed to be phased in beginning in 2014, will actually comprise two different standards – one for gasoline engines, the other for diesels, which aim at a 10 and 15 percent reduction in smog output and fuel consumption respectively. Lastly, the proposed standards for vocation vehicles, also slated for a 2014 phase in would aim to achieve a 10 percent reduction in emissions and improvement in fuel economy through 2018.
Ray LaHood, the current U.S. Transportation Secretary, declared that the NHTSA and EPA proposals are “a win-win-win for the environment, businesses and the American consumer.” He also stated that “through [these] new fuel-efficiency standards for trucks and buses, we will not only reduce transportation’s environmental impact, we’ll reduce the cost of transporting freight.”
Exactly how the cost in transporting freight will be reduced remains to be seen. Currently, the vast majority of freight in North America is transported by truck and these new standards are stringent – a 20 percent reduction in fuel economy over such a short time frame is going to be difficult to achieve, which is already causing bumps to appear on the horizon. If big rig manufacturers and fleets aren’t able to meet these targets, then it is likely they will face hefty fines which in turn will be passed onto consumers – raising the cost for goods and services, including such essentials as housing, clothes, food and fuel. So instead of reducing freight costs they’re like to increase quite considerably. Meanwhile, economic analysts predict that it will take the best part of a decade for the U.S. economy to rid itself of the most recent recession and these standards will hit at a time when many Americans will likely still be struggling to make ends meet.
With all this talk about sustainable mobility, automakers from around the world are trying all kinds of things. In Europe, Opel has one in the shape of this a “green” commercial concept, based on its Vivaro delivery van. On display at the IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Hannover, which runs from September 23-30th, the Vivaro e-Concept is, according to Chris Lacey (Director of International Operations for Opel/Vauxhall commercial vehicles), designed to “test the acceptance of our advanced propulsion technology for those attending the [IAA] show.”
The Vivaro e-Concept is a plug-in, extended range vehicle that uses technology similar to the Chevy Volt. It incorporates a 111 kilowatt electric motor that can provide a driving range of more than 220 miles on pure electric power, plus an internal combustion engine that acts as a generator to extend the vehicle’s range beyond that.
The batteries are stored under the floor to help protect them from the elements and can be recharged using a standard household 230 volt outlet. According to specs released from Opel, the Vivaro e-Concept can still haul loads of more than 1,500 lbs, which should make it a viable alternative to it’s regular, gasoline engined counterpart, particularly in parts of some European cities which are currently off-limits to cars and trucks because of noise and pollution restrictions. It’ll be interesting to see what the punters at IAA make of it.
Daimler Trucks has chosen the IAA auto show in Hanover, Germany as the venue to introduce its concept of a fully electric commercial vehicle based on a Mitsubishi/Fuso Canter 3s13 medium-duty cabover truck. Confused?
Well Daimler AG owns 85 percent of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corporation and the Canter has been a global best seller in its segment for years, so the reasons for choosing it to showcase electric drive technology aren’t quite as random as they might seem. Dubbed the E-CELL, the Canter uses an electric motor to drive the rear wheels, with the batteries mounted inside the frame. The result is a zero emission commercial vehicle, one rated at 3.5 ton gross weight.
The E-CELL is considered the next step from the current diesel engined Canter (recognized as one of the most fuel efficient medium-trucks currently available), as is a diesel/electric hybrid version – of which 1000 are currently undergoing trials in various markets around the world including Australia, Hong Kong, Ireland and Japan. The Canter hybrid is said to deliver fuel savings of around 15 percent over it’s conventional diesel counterpart.
However, whether electric power for commercial vehicle applications like the Canter E-CELL can prove a valid proposition remains to be seen, especially since the push for EV passenger cars is likely to further tax an already strained electricity grid in many parts of the world and heavier commercial trucks will likely require greater energy and storage capacity than cars to operate. Still, the E-CELL remains an interesting concept and proves that no matter what sector of the vehicle market, all kinds of different options for saving fuel and reducing emissions are currently on the table.
It’s a virtually unknown entity on this side of the Atlantic but in Europe MAN (Machinenfabrik Augsburg-Nurnberg) is a heavyweight contender in the commercial vehicle segment.
At the top end, where 44 tonne trucks rule the roost, MAN enjoys a more than 60 percent market share, but like other commercial vehicle makers, in an effort to improve fuel economy, it’s turning its attention to aerodynamics. Given that length restrictions are a significant factor in commercial vehicle design in Europe, conventional big rigs (those with hoods) are almost non-existent, with cab-over-engine (COE) trucks being the norm (a stark contrast to North America today, where drivers clearly prefer the conventional).
Cabover trucks, due to their flat fronted design, present significant problems in aerodynamic efficiency, but MAN is attempting to address them with the Concept S.
Although details are sketchy, the design features a cab with a narrower cross section than most current European large trucks, with flat top fenders, designed to improve airflow around the sides of the vehicle. It is in some respects a modern interpretation of some 1940s and 50s American Cabovers, including the heavy-duty Ford COEs and H-series Macks.
MAN says that the aerodynamics of the Concept S are said to reduce fuel consumption by around 25 percent, over a standard 44 tonne tractor on the market today. Given that truckers pay significantly more for diesel in Europe than they do over here, that in itself is worth noting. The Concept S will be on display at the IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Hannover, Germany which takes place this month.
With all the talk of environmental concerns, energy dependence and air quality these days, many commercial fleet operators are looking to alternative solutions to power their vehicles and perhaps save a bit of money in the process. In North America, one of the cheapest and certainly most practical alternatives has been Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). Taxi fleets have been using CNG fueled cars for years and increasingly other segments of the commercial vehicle sector are adopting it, including those that rely on pickups and vans for delivery or contract work.
However, many conversions were traditionally handled, not by the automakers, but outside contractors, which could potentially result in quality and reliability issues, not to mention the fact that such vehicles weren’t backed by the manufacturer’s warranty. However, General Motors is changing all that by performing CNG conversions on it’s full-size vans, the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana in-house.
The vans will be covered by GM’s standard three-year, 36,000 mile new vehicle warranty and a 100,000 mile, five-year powertrain warranty. In addition, with the CNG conversion, the vans will meet all required CARB, EPA smog requirements as well as federal vehicle safety standards, much like their regular gasoline engined counterparts.
“Our focus from the beginning has been to offer fleet customers a simple ‘check the box’ approach with our CNG Chevrolet Express and Savana vans,” declared Brian Small, general manager, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. “Our robust production process is a key enabler and certainly separates us from any competitive offering.”
GM will manufacturer 6.0-liter Vortech V8s for the CNG vans with hardened valves and seats to cope with the gaseous fuel, which will be shipped to the Wentzville, Missouri plant where the vans are built and installed into them, directly on the assembly line.
Part of making effective use of an alternative fuel such as CNG, is being able to successfully store and distribute it and for that, GM has teamed up with Productive Concepts, an Indiana based alternative fuels company, who will also be involved in the engine manufacturing process and helping ensure the required emissions standards are met.
Since GM exited the medium duty market with its Chevy Kodiak and GMC TopKick trucks in 2009, a number of dealers have been feeling the pinch. Gordon Moore, from McCormick Motors in Nappanee, Indiana, says that the lack of any mid-duty product on his lots is causing would be customers to shop elsewhere. The problem is that both Ford and Ram offer both light and medium duty trucks, essentially allowing their commercial customers to do one stop shopping at their dealers for their specific needs. “The more simple and direct solution you can provide people for the range of vehicles they need, the better off, they’re going to be,” he says.
With GM not currently offering any medium duty trucks it makes little sense for buyers to shop at one store for light duty pickups and then go to a different store to acquire different brand, medium duty vehicles. Although according to Moore, McCormick Motors has yet to feel the true impact of no medium duty trucks, sales of light duty rigs are so far up only slightly from last year and still significantly below pre-recession volumes.
GM sought a buyer for its medium duty trucks, but when deals with Isuzu and Navistar fell through, it pulled the plug on the Kodiak and TopKick. At present, there are rumors that the company is looking to re-enter the medium duty market, possibly via a joint venture with Freightliner or Navistar, but there’s been no official word from the General as of yet. In the meantime, those GM dealers (like McCormick Motors) that traditionally sold a lot of commercial vehicles are doing what they can to retain those customers, but it’s a tough battle.
[Source: Automotive News]
It’s no secret that Ford‘s Transit Connect, the small delivery van built in Turkey has been making waves among fleet operators since its arrival on these shores last year. In particular, the vehicle’s exterior dimensions, turning radius and interior capacity relative to its size have caught the eyes of taxi companies. An operator in Boston recently became the first to purchase an order of Transit Connects and now, Yellow Cab of California is following suit.
Tim Conlon, President of Yellow Cab in the Golden State, was also attracted to the Transit because of Ford’s alternative fuel prep package. Many local municipalities in California are mandating the adoption of standards for cleaner, low carbon fuels for commercial vehicle fleets, so for Conlon, purchasing Transit Connects for Yellow’s Santa Ana fleet and having them converted to run on Compressed Natural Gas seemed like a no brainer.
“California Yellow Cab started to use natural gas in 2002 before there were many refueling stations,” Conlon stated. “Now that the infrastructure has built up, we’ll be able to help protect Orange County’s air quality even more with the Transit Connect. It’s a perfect fit for our drivers, and its roomy, easy-to-access interior will appeal to our customers as well.”
Because of the Transit Connect”s interior configuration and packaging, a natural gas tank can be installed, while still leaving ample room for passengers and luggage, yet emissions can be reduced by as much as 40 percent over comparable gasoline fueled vehicles. Making the idea even more favorable for taxi companies like Yellow, is the fact that around 87 percent of natural gas in the United States is domestically produced, reducing overseas dependence on fuel sources for vehicles.
With the acquisition of the Transit Connect CNG taxis, Yellow will become the first cab company in Southern California with 50 percent of its vehicle fleet running on alternative fuels.