Vol. 23   No. 2
Summer 2017
  • MGE Talks Business
News Briefs

Pulvermacher Cartage Weighs in on Its CNG Truck Experience

Pulvermacher Cartage Weighs in on Its CNG Truck Experience

Pulvermacher Cartage has three CNG trucks in its fleet, each truck has about 200,000 miles.

Back in 2015, Toby Pulvermacher, general manager of Pulvermacher Cartage, decided to add three compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks to his fleet. The time was right because CNG prices had been stable while diesel costs were fluctuating and most of the company's routes (throughout Wisconsin and between Minneapolis and Chicago) had ready access to CNG.

"You can read reports that say CNG is the best thing since sliced bread and others that tell you why it's not, but I needed to see for myself," Pulvermacher said. "My drivers don't spend their days on the interstate—they're bouncing around cities, with lots of stops, and you don't get perfect fuel economy in those conditions. But you never know what the future holds, and I thought it was important to stay ahead of the curve in understanding my technology options."

Now that each of his CNG trucks has roughly 200,000 miles on the odometer, Pulvermacher shared the following about his experience.

Driver reaction

"Some drivers like them, and they're less popular with others—just like pretty much anything," Pulvermacher said. "Drivers have found the trucks to be considerably cleaner. They don't have to wear gloves to fuel up, and they're not sitting in a 'diesel-y' mess."

Learning curve critical

As with any new technology, drivers needed to get a handle on the differences between the CNG and diesel models. "Clean fuel filters are critical, and the drivers have to pay more attention to misfires," Pulvermacher stressed. "As long as they take action when there's the first sign of a sparkplug misfire, we're fine."

Lower maintenance costs—so far

To date the maintenance costs on the CNG trucks have been lower than an equivalent diesel truck. "We've been under warranty, and that will be changing," Pulvermacher said. "Now we're at about a breakeven point with diesel vs. CNG. Natural gas is cheap, and that's made up for any loss in fuel economy."

Advice for other businesses considering CNG

"Don't be afraid of new technology," Pulvermacher advised. "Do your homework, talk to people who own CNGs and analyze whether they're a good fit for you—it will depend on your needs."

When buying a CNG truck, remember that range can be comparable to that of diesel trucks but it's critical to pay attention to tank size. CNGs need larger tanks to travel the same distance as diesel.

Have the trucks been a good fit for Pulvermacher Cartage? "I'm not going to be able to determine that until the trucks are paid for and we have more firsthand data about maintenance and operation costs," Pulvermacher said. "I know how long a diesel truck lasts, but I don't have that data with the CNGs yet. Check back with me in 300,000 miles!"