March 10, 2016

Uncertain future for natural gas vehicles? Think again!

The future of the natural gas vehicle market in an era of cheap diesel fuel and gasoline was a headline topic at last week’s 2016 NTEA Work Truck Show in Indianapolis. A record number of fleet owners and managers, OEM reps, equipment suppliers, government delegates and other industry professionals turned up to learn the latest.

Westport’s Brad Douville, VP of Business Development and a mechanical engineer by trade, spoke at the premier industry event, which incorporated the Green Truck Summit and hailed Jay Leno as a key note speaker. So what’s in store? In this article Brad talks about new tech, GHG wins and the stable customer base that’s not going anywhere.

Brad Douville, Westport VP of Business Development

New natural gas vehicle technology

I had a clear goal for my presentation. For industry professionals to leave knowing that, while the natural gas work trucks that we have on the roads right now are great, next-generation technology will make them even better and deliver more compelling benefits than ever before.

To demonstrate this, I showcased Westport’s advanced powertrain technology, which we call Enhanced Spark Ignition (ESI), as well as the new conformable CNG tank technology from San Francisco start-up company—Volute.

So what’s exciting about Westport’s ESI technology? For the first time we have a spark ignited natural gas engine solution that exceeds the power, torque and performance of state-of-the-art diesel engines and provides substantial fuel economy improvements. Up to this point, the peak torque output of spark ignited natural gas engines has been 15% to 25% lower than the counterpart diesel engines. Through our ESI technology, we have re-imagined the possibilities. By relieving the constraint of retaining the diesel cylinder head and designing an entirely new spark ignited optimized head, natural gas engines are able to outperform diesel for the first time. Plus they can do it in a way that improves the robustness of the combustion and reliability of the engine components.
Demonstration engine featuring Westport’s next-generation Enhanced Spark Ignition (ESI) technology – smaller, lighter, more powerful, and more fuel efficient than today’s natural gas engines

For anyone who hasn’t heard of Volute technology before, it’s new, conformable CNG tank technology that uses standard Type IV CNG cylinder materials (i.e. carbon fibre wrapped polymer liner) in a novel hose-like or sausage-link configuration. This makes it a lighter, lower cost system that can be folded to fit on any vehicle using existing available spaces—a real challenge with today’s bulky, standard CNG cylinders. This exciting new natural gas technology has been developed with funding from the US Department of Energy’s ARPA-E MOVE program, combined with investment and expertise from Westport (as an equity owner).

Volute CEO, Dan Recht showing Ernest Moniz, Secretary of Energy, conformable CNG tank technology which was recently featured in online news publication

GHG wins for OEMs

Stringent upcoming phase two GHG regulations are set to shift the burden on OEMs away from the engine and onto the vehicle itself. This trend leaves few existing options in the work truck segment, other than costly electrification and hybridization. Westport's ESI approach can provide OEMs with a natural gas engine solution that complies with the tough 2027 EPA regulation levels well ahead of time without electrification/hybridization. We believe this will offer the best value for fleet owners (end-users) due to the low purchase price and lowest cost of any fuel on the market.

Stable customer base regardless of current oil price

Waste Management fleet using natural gas

In a time of cheap oil, we have seen fleets that have made natural gas (NG) work continue to stay on this path. Mike Britt, from UPS, did a great job of sharing how NG makes good business sense for them even in the current environment.

We are witnessing savvy fleet owners foreseeing volatility in oil prices and stability in NG prices over the medium- and long-term. This is because running a payback analysis on today's fuel cost differential doesn't do much good when the vehicle fleet will operate over many years. The trick is to compare the average fuel cost differential over time, taking into account that most experts predict the price of oil will go up in the coming years. Using this equation, we believe that many fleet owners will see clear financial benefits for converting to natural gas.

So what’s next for Westport?

Through my interactions with other industry professionals, I am regularly told that many view Westport as a leading innovator within the NGV industry. A company that looks to the future and pushes the boundaries of what is possible to keep advancing technology and creating new solutions for customers. This is a role we will continue to play.

To learn more about the 2016 Ford F-150 and other Ford products with CNG contact us at 855-978-9464, or visit To find an OEM using larger natural gas engines visit the Cummins Westport webpage. Or contact Brad Douville via to learn more about Westport’s ESI technology or Volute technology.

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