GE showcases alternative fuel vehicles at new fleet operator test center
The brightest potential for electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles may be in fleets, and General Electric just set up its Test Center for Alternative Fuel Vehicles to help organizations test alternatively fueled vehicle technology. One of GE's businesses, GE Fleet Services, owns and leases a huge number of vehicles to fleet operators, and in 2010 GE committed to buying 25,000 electric vehicles some of which will be leased out to fleet operators.
The test center, located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, opened this week. It features a test track, and a small fleet representing all kinds of alternatively fueled vehicles, including Chevy Volt's, Nissan Leaf's, and other automobiles and trucks, with electric, plug-in hybrid, natural gas or hydrogen drive trains.
The center also showcases GE's full range of technology solutions for electric vehicles and natural gas. This includes charging stations in the WattStation and DuraStation lines, and GE's solar carport integrated with electric vehicle charging stations. GE also manufactures natural gas fueling stations targeted at fleet operators.
Fleet operators can better exploit the operating cost savings to make up for the higher purchase price of alternatively fueled vehicles. That is, because electric, plug-in hybrid, or natural gas vehicles are still developing technologies, they have a higher up-front purchase prices. But because their fuel is more efficient and cost effective than gasoline or diesel, owners of these vehicles can save money over the lifetime of the vehicle. Fleet vehicles are driven every day, and driven more distances than privately owned vehicles.
For example on a vehicle driven 25,700 miles per year, with gasoline prices at $3.50 per gallon and compressed natural gas (CNG) at $2.09 per gasoline gallon equivalent, a CNG-fueled vehicle owner would see cost savings at the pump of up to 40 percent, or a savings of $1,500 per vehicle per year. The savings with a vehicle fueled by electricity are even steeper.
Fleet operators have several advantages that make it easier to realize the benefit of these savings. Because fleet vehicles return to a central parking depot, refueling facilities can be located in the depot, removing a dependency on public charging infrastructure. Businesses generally pay lower electricity rates than regular consumers, and can more easily use time-of-use electricity rates. Fleet operators also frequently collaborate with fleet leasing organizations, like GE's Fleet Services, to change the cost model.
GE recently unveiled an online application, IntelliGauge, that calculates fuel consumption, fuel savings, and a carbon dioxide calculator for all sorts of alternatively fueled vehicles. Every day the application pulls fresh mileage and fuel costs data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy to deliver the most accurate results. While it was originally developed for vehicle fleet operators, but families and car owners can use it too.
GE’s Ecomagination platform takes on environmental problems with solutions offering business advantages and economic growth. “Electric and natural gas vehicles are helping us increase efficiencies – such as lower fuel costs – while improving environmental performance,” said Keshav Sondhi, chief engineer at FedEx.