Autogas taking off by ‘leaps and bounds’
Vancouver, Wash.—As technology has progressed over the past several years, conversions of gas- or diesel-powered vehicles to propane or autogas has become more viable. And the leading company in the Northwest for such conversions is Wolff Specialties LLC, said Dan and Penny Wolff, founders and owners.
Conversions are not anything new to Dan Wolff, who said he has been working with autogas conversions since the 1980s and his personal transportation has used propane since the 1990s. While the company was originally founded in 1992, the LLC became effective in 2014 when Penny Wolff said, “We saw the autogas industry begin to take a turn and the knowledge of the [conversion] industry that Dan was the perfect fit to carve out a niche in the Northwest.”
To be clear, the Wolffs define propane as the fuel for generators, barbecues, home heating, etc., “but when applied to a motor vehicle the industry prefers the word autogas,” they said. “What we perform are not the old school propane conversions anymore as the technology has grown by leaps and bounds and the systems are EPA-approved to be compatible with modern day vehicles.”
Wolff Specialties is housed a 3,000-square-foot facility that includes service bays, a machine shop, parts room, offices, as well as a large fenced-in outside storage area for autogas tanks, fork lifts, agriculture and other equipment in process of conversion.
Along with ASE-certified Technician Taylor Bray, the Wolffs have converted more than 100 fleet vehicles in the past few years, plus handful of 4x4 units and about six consumer vehicles. The company also performs several small engine conversions each year ranging from fork lifts to quads.
“The regular consumer is not going to find that the expense for conversion will justify the return unless they drive a lot of miles,” Penny Wolff said. “Some may find they just like the power they receive from autogas, they want to burn a cleaner fuel, or they may need the range that being bi-fuel would give them,” Dan Wolff said.
More inquiries have been made at their shop since a local conversion customer, a member of the Vancouver Broco Club, won first place in a 4x4 event in Moab, Utah.
State and municipal fleet conversions
In a contract with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) for the past five years, the Wolffs said a variety of commercial vehicles have been converted. They have performed a large amount of conversions in the WSDOT Southwest Region, and are now scheduling for the Olympic and Northwest Regions for 2018.
“We are finding that municipalities are the ones who benefit the most from the conversion process,” Penny Wolff said. “We recently were awarded a contract with the city of Longview to convert their fleets and that contract has opened the doors for fleets in Washington and Oregon to become a ‘green fleet’ with autogas.”
During a recent visit by Parts & People, the Wolff staff was converting a Ford transit van, the 10th conversion with two more to complete the entire fleet to autogas.
“There are engineered kits for converting Ford products that are EPA-approved, so each one of these conversations is a one-day process,” Dan Wolff said, adding that this conversion, like all the company performs, allow for bi-fuel use.
Meeting fueling challenges
In the past, fueling stations have been an issue for both consumer and fleet operations.
“When a fleet decides to convert, they usually have an infrastructure installed so vehicles can be fueled on-site,” Dan Wolff said. “The fleet will ‘partner up’ with an autogas distributor and in turn will benefit from substantially lower prices than the open market. We’ve seen prices well more than a dollar per gallon lower than gasoline.”
While the company uses several conversion products, the Wolffs said they are industry partners with ICOM North America and serve as their Northwest distributor and certified installer.
“We install ICOM conversion systems as well as service, maintain, and repair their products, plus we promote ICOM at all the events we attend in the Northwest each year, including the Green Transportation Summit and the Clean Cities of the Willamette Valley, and fleet managers’ meetings,” Dan Wolff said.
The company is also involved with the UPAS Group that was created to facilitate autogas use as a seamless and positive source of alternative fuel. UPAS works with many partners to minimize autogas costs to users, as well as to develop maximum industry growth.
Autogas has several advantages the Wolffs said, including fuel costs currently $1.50 less per gallon than gasoline, a reduced carbon footprint, lower maintenance costs, extended vehicle life, better performance, and longer range.
“The advantages to using this green product are really substantial and for government or private fleets there is a very measurable cost savings,” Dan Wolff said. “We’re proud to provide safe, reliable propane conversion service through innovative business practices. We’ve earned the trust and respect of the communities we serve and promote healthy sustainable growth using alternative fuels.”