For Richard Evans, the decision was easy. Go with a company that knows trucks; knows natural gas; and go with a company that will fully support you at the local as well as national level.
"When we decided that we wanted to be an early adopter of natural gas trucks, and not sit on the sidelines, we looked at all our options and PacLease was clearly the leasing company to work with," said Evans, who serves as fleet manager for Valley Proteins, one of the country’s largest rendering companies.
With 21 locations and 12 rendering facilities that process and recycle animal byproducts to create renewable resources (such as feed and oil for bio-diesel), Evans said rendering plants are the country’s original recyclers, which benefits everybody.
"We take in used restaurant cooking grease; fats, oils and grease from grease traps; plus inedible meat, fat and bone by-products, and in turn create useable products for our customers.”
With a fleet of 455 Class 8 trucks nationwide, Evans said the decision to put in 10 CNG trucks in its Gastonia, N.C., facility was the first step in its move toward natural gas vehicles, and "we’re very excited about the future of CNG going forward. It’s also in line with what we do – we recycle and we’re into sustainability. Using natural gas is a natural extension for us, plus it supports our own domestic fuel supply."
Like most companies, putting into service something new, means breaking from tradition and dealing with unknowns. According to Evans, that burden was lifted when Valley Proteins signed a full service lease agreement with MHC Truck Leasing’s Charlotte, N.C., location, the local PacLease franchise. Ten Kenworth T800s (116.5 BBC) were spec’d with Cummins Westport ISX12 G engines rated at 400 hp and Eaton 10-speed transmissions. The trucks also feature Trilogy 100 gallon diesel equivalent fuel tanks which give the trucks a range of more than 400 miles on a single fueling.
According to Evans, Valley Proteins has historically owned its own vehicles due its size and ability to handle maintenance at each of its locations. "But natural gas is different and we wanted a turnkey program that gave us the benefits of fuel savings and sustainability without having to deal with maintenance and any potential down time. Leasing made sense."
But who to lease from became the next question. "I talked with all the large national firms and everything lead us back to MHC and PacLease,” said Evans. "It was very evident that MHC and PacLease, through its connection with PACCAR and Kenworth, were ahead of the others. They never wavered in what they could do for us. They had a program in place and the experience to move us forward with no risk. It allowed us to put into service CNG trucks without having to worry about ‘what if?'"
Through the lease program, PacLease handles all maintenance, and if there is any extended downtime, PacLease will supply a substitute vehicle to ensure seamless deliveries. "That was important to us," said Evans. "We haven’t had any problems with any of the vehicles – we just started the program -- but it does guarantee we will continue with our service to customers. It gives us peace of mind."
Evans said each of the T800 CNG tractors, hauling dump body trailers filled with poultry by-products, will run about 80,000 miles a year and make pick-up and deliveries within a 100-mile radius of Gastonia. Fuel is readily available in the area. The rigs run fully loaded at 80,000 pounds GCW, one way to the rendering plant.
The initial fuel savings with CNG is making a huge dent in Valley Proteins' fuel bill. "CNG is paying off," said Evans. "Since we’re paying $1.71 for CNG, versus $3.38 for diesel in our area, we’re doing exceptionally well in saving money at the pump. If you project those savings out over a year, it would mean a $22,000 savings in fuel per unit. It’s helping pencil out the advantages of CNG and has the potential to give us a great ROI. What’s more, we’ll be putting about 15 percent fewer emissions into the air thanks to the cleaner burn of CNG."
According to Evans, the transition to CNG was seamless, thanks to MHC and PacLease’s very thorough orientation with Valley Protein drivers. "That really was a great way to get started," said Evans. "They explained natural gas and how things would be a little different and how things might stay the same – the performance of the engine is really quite similar to the diesel equivalent. But, there are safety things to go over, and fueling. We even went out to a fueling station and went over procedures. This ensured that our drivers were ready to go from day one."
Thus far, feedback from drivers has been excellent, said Evans. “They really like the Kenworths. They’re a higher-end truck than what we’ve been used to running – the comfort and visibility is just excellent. When the trucks need service – every two months or at 25,000-mile intervals -- we take them to nearby Charlotte for servicing."
Looking back, Evans said working with MHC Truck Leasing and PacLease has been a great business decision. "We couldn’t ask for a better relationship," he said. "I’ve dealt with other national leasing companies and they just don’t know equipment like PacLease. They don’t have the connection to the factory like PacLease does. And, we could spec the trucks like we wanted them – for example we wanted a 10-speed transmission and another national leasing company we talked with wouldn’t take that spec – they wanted to put us in automatics. It speaks volumes when your leasing company will work with you and meet your needs. MHC and PacLease focused in on our business with product and service that we just couldn’t find from anyone else."