Click Wholesale Distributing expects to see a savings of nearly $50,000 per truck, per seven-year lifecycle, thanks to switching part of its fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG).
“It was just the right thing to do.” That’s the simple reason why Click Wholesale Distributing made the switch to alternative fuels, explained Vaughn Sommerseth, Click’s Operations Manager.
In 2010, Click began researching ways to shrink its petroleum use and environmental footprint. The company turned to its local Western Washington Clean Cities (WWCC) coalition for guidance about finding an alternative fuel to fit their fleet’s needs. Five years later, the company now operates nearly 60% of its trucks on CNG—the remaining vehicles run on B5 biodiesel.
A Blossoming Business
Click Wholesale Distributing and its affiliates distribute wine, craft beer, and specialty spirits throughout Washington and northern Idaho. The company’s drivers travel an average of 25,000 miles per year, delivering beverages to restaurants, bars, and grocery stores.
Click’s interest in alternative fuels emerged as the company experienced rapid growth. With a growing number of deliveries, its aging diesel truck fleet was increasingly prone to breakdowns and costly repairs. Most of the fleet’s 21 trucks would soon need to be replaced. Another problem, Sommerseth noted, was that the company’s dependency on diesel fuel didn’t fit well with Click’s environmental principles.
New Path Forward
With the blessing of upper management, the company began looking at alternatives to business as usual. Throughout the process, WWCC helped Click with its decision by providing technical and cost/benefit information about alternative fuels. Hybrid technology appeared to have potential, but the company’s drivers determined that the hybrid trucks did not perform consistently enough for everyday use. Click next considered propane and CNG, which would both require off-site fueling.
Once the company crunched the numbers, the clear winner was CNG. Over an expected seven-year lifecycle, a truck fueled by CNG would save the company nearly $50,000. When Click made its final decision, WWCC helped the company negotiate competitive rates from publicly accessible CNG fueling stations. By converting to CNG, Click could also avoid the price volatility of the diesel fuel market, allowing them to make clear economic projections for further company expansion.
One challenge the company experienced in switching to CNG was solving the refueling question. Like most fleets of similar size, Click previously employed a diesel fuel supplier to refill each vehicle after work hours. Now, Click must allot drivers’ time to refuel the trucks at nearby public CNG stations. Sommerseth says it hasn’t been a problem. Drivers spend 20 minutes a few times a week refueling their own trucks—something Click is very willing to accommodate.
It’s easy to understand why. Overall, Click’s average payback period for the CNG retrofit of a new truck is estimated at only 3.8 years—a figure that includes the added cost of labor from the refueling pit stops.
The company has also noticed other benefits from the switch to CNG. The new trucks, retrofitted by World CNG, run more quietly and require fewer repairs. Click’s drivers are fans too. The drivers say they have noticed the new CNG engines offer more power compared with the previous diesel engines, and the fuel produces a less pungent smell.
Benefitting from Biodiesel
Click is moving forward with other alternative fuel efforts as well. Starting in 2015, the company began fueling its remaining (non-CNG) vehicles with B5. The move supports Click’s intent to minimize impact on both the environment and the neighborhoods it serves. Biodiesel produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and is a locally produced fuel that can be made from waste grease or plant oils. Aside from checking fuel filters after the switch to biodiesel, Click anticipates a smooth transition for its trucks and drivers alike.
So What’s Next for Click?
The company intends to power its entire fleet with CNG by 2018. Although Sommerseth is happy that Click is receiving plaudits from others, he admits that every organization can make a business case for making the switch to alternative fuels.
“It just takes a bit of initiative to do the right thing,” he said.
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- Western Washington Clean Cities Coalition