Saddle Creek Transportation, headquartered in Lakeland, Florida, with operations throughout Florida, Georgia, Texas and California, is one of many commercial trucking fleets that has experienced the benefits that Allison Automatic-equipped compressed natural gas (CNG) tractors bring to their operations.
"Last year, we took a look at ways we could really make a significant difference both to our cost structure and provide additional value to our customers, according to Mike DelBovo, president of Saddle Creek Transportation. "We looked at a lot of things that could incrementally improve our company and then we found something that could make a big difference… natural gas technology for our trucks."
Their fleet consists of about 400 trucks, including several new Freightliner M2 tractors equipped with compressed natural gas (CNG) powered Cummins engines and Allison fully automatic transmissions. They've been so pleased with these CNG tractors that they have purchased more units that are scheduled for delivery yet this year.
"Savings is a big part of it. We're looking at (diesel) fuel again at $4 a gallon and we're able to procure our natural gas for just a little bit more than half that," according to DelBovo. "It's a great savings and helps pay for the investment of the trucks. The rest of the story is really one of sustainability and providing that sustainability edge to our customers."
"We're a regional hauler and that means we do some shorter haul moves. Delivering to cities, we have a lot of stop-and-go traffic and we're backing into tight places all the time," said DelBovo. Saddle Creek wanted these trucks to be lighter weight and have a tight turning radius for better maneuverability. And, according to DelBovo, "One of the best parts about them from a driver perspective is the Allison six-speed automatic transmission."
John Erwin, Saddle Creek's director of transportation, said, "This was a big change for us, going to the automatic transmission. A lot of our drivers had never driven the automatic, so it was a big unknown for them." According to DelBovo, "Every driver has loved the trucks. We've had not only no complaints, the drivers want to drive those trucks over the diesels with the manual transmissions."
Saddle Creek driver, Edward Hadley, commented, "I felt like I was cheating because I didn't have to change any gears. You just push a button and you're ready to roll."
Allison's Load Based Shift Scheduling (LBSS) has been very beneficial for Saddle Creek according to Erwin. "Our tractors and trailers pull from 80,000 pounds at times. Sometimes we're empty. So we have a variety of weights that we pull every day. With the load-based shifting, it adjusts to optimize as we change every day. It helps on the fuel economy."
"The truck is perfect," according to Hadley. "You don't have to worry about shifting gears or anything like that. I pull away from a lot of diesels just on takeoff alone. So the knock against CNG trucks not having the power or torque is incorrect."
Company ordered 40 Business Class M2 112 CNG tractors, with an additional 40 CNG tractors to be implemented in early 2012.