Gasoline fuels growing number of commercial vehicles
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Ford’s new 7.3-L V8, to be available in all Ford commercial trucks, RVs, stripped chassis, and cutaways, could further increase a move to gasoline engines in Classes 3-7. (Ford)

Gasoline fuels growing number of commercial vehicles

Biodiesel may be the top alternative fuel for work truck fleets, according to the 2019 Fleet Purchasing Outlook Survey conducted by the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), but another “alt fuel” is gaining momentum in certain commercial vehicle (CV) segments: good old gasoline.

Survey respondents listed biodiesel, at 16%, as their top alternative, followed by E85 and electric hybrid trucks, including plug-in hybrids. Extended range electric and propane/autogas both increased usage compared to 2018 results.

Biodiesel and electric hybrids are the top alt-fuel vehicle options planned for future acquisition. Interest in CNG has been steadily waning in recent years, while diesel has stayed consistently strong, likely due to low U.S. oil prices, the survey suggests. The percentage of diesel-powered trucks is expected to grow in 2019 for 11% of responding fleets, remain the same for 65%, and decrease for 24%.

Gasoline was not considered in the NTEA survey; however, it is becoming a popular alternative in some CV applications. “Gasoline engine penetration has increased in some lighter medium-duty applications, particularly so in LCFs [low cab forward trucks],” said Michael Eaves, Vice President, Consulting, Rhein Associates, Inc.

Drivers for the move to gasoline in this segment are many—the most straightforward being, “gasoline trucks are easier,” he said. For example, the complicated exhaust routing for diesel engines and DEF (diesel exhaust fluid) tank locations can impact body installations.

Isuzu has been selling gas-powered Class 3 and 4 models since 1994, and Fuso added a Class 4 gas engine in 2018. “Gas penetration in these models has risen since 2007 and 2010 emissions added price and complexity to diesel engines,” Eaves said. 

Now both companies will add Class 5 gasoline models, both of which were revealed at the recent NTEA Work Truck Show in Indianapolis.

New Class 5 gas offerings

The new Fuso FE180 Gas cabover truck for the North American market provides power and performance allowing for increased payload—up to 11,885 lb (5390 kg)—compared to traditional Class 4 gasoline-powered trucks. The FE180 Gas is powered by a Power Solutions International (PSI) supplied General Motors 6.0-L V8 engine delivering 297 hp (222 kW) and 361 lb·ft (489 N·m) of torque and is combined with a commercial-grade Allison 1000 Series six-speed automatic transmission that’s PTO-capable. FuelSense 2.0 featuring DynActive Shifting from Allison can provide a 2% to 6% improvement in fuel economy.

“That gap between diesel fuel miles-per-gallon and gasoline has narrowed,” said Bill Lyons, VP of Sales Operation for Mitsubishi Fuso Truck of America, adding that the lower price of gasoline at the pump is another plus. “Gasoline-powered trucks are the new standard in Class 3-5 segments if you look at the figures, [which] are showing constant year-over-year growth as small-business owners look for more-simplistic work truck solutions.”

According to Lyons, 60-70% of Class 3-4 vehicles are now gasoline powered. This trend is moving up the GVWR range, not only at Fuso and Isuzu but also at domestic competitors that are heavy into Class 5 (and above) vehicles like Ford.

“The drivers in our segment are not really truck drivers—they are landscapers, plumbers, electricians. With a gasoline truck, you don’t have the SCR, EGR, DPF, the DEF fluid—those things make it difficult for a regular user,” Lyons said.

The entire FE Gas series is built at Freightliner Customer Chassis Corp., a Daimler Trucks plant in Gaffney, South Carolina. The FE180 Gas truck on display in Indy is part of Fuso’s final product validation testing before production begins later this year. It’s expected to arrive in dealerships in the final quarter of 2019 as a 2020 model year truck.

Isuzu’s two new Class 5 gasoline engine models, the NQR Gas (with a target GVWR of 17,950 lb) and the NRR Gas (target GVWR of 19,500 lb) will be available next year. A prototype was on display at the NTEA event.

“We’re thrilled to bring the convenience and low cost of ownership of our N-Series gasoline truck to Class 5 and a whole new group of customers,” said Shaun Skinner, president of Isuzu Commercial Truck of America and Isuzu Commercial Truck of Canada.

Both models will be powered by a GM 6.0-L Vortec V8 supplied by PSI and will be mated to an Allison 1000 RDS transmission with PTO gear. Production is expected to begin in mid-2020.

Shifting fuels for school

School buses are another segment where gasoline is growing in popularity as an alternative to diesel fuel. Blue Bird recently delivered its 5,000th gasoline-powered school bus, following its claimed “first-to-market” introduction in the fall of 2016. The Type C gasoline bus, delivered to WE Transport in Plainview, New York, along with 59 other Blue Bird Vision Gasoline buses, has become an appealing option for bus fleets due to low upfront costs, reliable cold-weather startup and heating capabilities, ease of fueling accessibility, and maintenance cost savings.

“This is the first time WE Transport has brought fuel other than diesel into our bus fleet,” said Bart Marksohn, owner of the school transportation contractor. “We foresee gasoline being a big part of our future operations.”

The bus is built on the Ford 6.8-L V10 engine and equipped with a ROUSH CleanTech fuel system.

IC Bus also offers a gasoline Type C bus with its CE Series, powered by a purpose-built PSI 8.8-L gasoline engine. When the company announced the gasoline CE, Trish Reed, VP and general manager at IC Bus, stated that a shift away from diesel to other alternatives would continue beyond 2020, driven by the many aforementioned factors.

The OEM forecasts that by 2020, diesel will decrease to about 60% to 65% of the Type C and D school bus market (down from about 92% in 2015), with gasoline, propane, and compressed natural gas accounting for about 35% to 40%.

Domestic players

GM and Navistar’s all-new Class 4-6 conventional cab is available with diesel only, but a gasoline entry is promised for the future—“probably the newly introduced 6.6-L direct injection V8 to be offered in 2500/3500HD models,” according to Eaves of Rhein Associates.

Derived from GM’s longstanding small-block engine architecture, the V8 produces an SAE-rated 401 hp (299 kW) and 464 lb·ft (629 N·m), respective increases of 11% and 22% compared with the outgoing 6.0-L V8 for Silverado HD trucks. The engine has an iron block and aluminum heads, as well as a forged-steel crankshaft. 

“The latest gasoline engines are much improved over earlier engines in reliability, durability and fuel economy,” Eaves said. “Gasoline engines are also adaptable to alternative fuels—mainly propane, which can have an installed cost in line with diesel, but also some natural gas (the high price of CNG tanks limits application). For lower annual mileage applications without excessive idle/PTO operation—typically up to 25K miles—gasoline makes economic sense.”

Ford offers gasoline in all its commercial vehicles; in some models like the E-Series cutaway, gasoline is the only available power. The F-650/F-750 offer an exclusive gasoline engine with about 50% penetration, according to Eaves.

“Rental truck buyers are a prime customer because of its lower cost and renters can find fuel everywhere with no DEF fill, DPF, or regen complications,” he said, noting that Ford’s gasoline engines can be used with propane and CNG.

Ford’s new 7.3-L V8 engine, which reverts to an OHV design as opposed to the V10 OHC, was purpose-designed for commercial application with the promise of much improved low-end torque (Ford has yet to publish performance data, but hinted they will best in class, according to Eaves). 

To be available in Ford’s F-Series Super Duty pickups, the all-new F-600 chassis cab (www.sae.org/news/2019/03/ford-debuts-f-600-chassis-truck), F-650 and F-750 medium-duty trucks, E-Series, and F-53 and F-59 stripped chassis, the 7.3-L V8 could further increase a move to gasoline engines in Classes 3-7, Eaves noted.

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