With 103 stores and two distribution centers across seven states, and more to come, Wegmans’ geographic footprint continues to grow, but at the same time, its taking steps to reduce its carbon footprint. The company delivering on this commitment by maintaining a well-tuned, efficient fleet. The stars of that fleet: a pair of new compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks, equipped with near-zero NOx emissions Cummins engines, and one, featuring a Hyliion Hybrid CNG system for increased power. These trucks that allow the company to imagine our fleet in a completely different way.
Compressed natural gas is the cleanest burning transportation fuel on the market and the only sustainable, near-zero emission fuel currently available. Compared with their diesel counterparts, natural gas vehicles produce significantly lower carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and other toxic emissions, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Because of this, compressed natural gas is a key component of Wegmans' fleet management strategy to reduce emissions and our dependency on diesel fuel, an initiative that has been in place since 2014, and to date, has resulted in more than a 10% reduction in emissions. While CNG trucks are more expensive to purchase than diesels, the fuel cost savings realized over the life of the truck more than makes up the difference. On average, we’re seeing a 65% savings on fuel costs per truck when using natural gas, and we expect to keep the trucks in service longer – seven to 10 years, compared to five years for a diesel.
“Our early model CNG trucks were everything we hoped they would be from a diesel reduction standpoint. However, when compared to our diesel-powered trucks, it was clear that if we wanted to continue to increase the ratio of CNG trucks in our fleet, improvements in the trucks’ performance were needed,” says Matt Harris, Wegmans Fleet Maintenance Department Manager. “Historically, one of the biggest limitations with the CNG driveline, which holds true for our first-generation CNG trucks, is its lower horsepower and torque output that limits the amount of weight you can haul. In Wegmans’s case, this is important because we often pull tandem trailer sets on the Thruway, and that requires a lot of power.”
Just months after bringing CNG to the Rochester fleet, the Wegmans transportation department partnered with Hyliion, a leader in electrified powertrain solutions for Class 8 commercial vehicles, to retrofit an existing Wegmans’ CNG truck with an electric drive axle. The goal: give the truck the power it would need to make pulling tandems possible. After testing the system, it was clear it was a viable option.
In addition to the limitations in power and performance for hauling, the first generation CNG trucks lacked a high-performing transmission and had a lower fuel capacity than their diesel counterparts. This decreased the distance the trucks could go on a single tank and caused range anxiety for the drivers.
Enter two new Volvo CNG trucks. For more than two-and-half years, our fleet team has worked to build a CNG-powered truck that offers the power, performance, range, and driver comforts that allow for a completely reimagined, diesel-free fleet. Both Volvo CNG trucks offer a completely different transmission for improved shifting performance, as well as nicer comforts for our drivers in the cab, with heated windshields, automatic wipers, and a back-up camera with an 8-inch screen. The trucks’ CNG systems, built by Agility and filled with fuel from our NYS CNG partner, American Natural Gas, eliminate range anxiety with a 30% increase in fuel capacity over the older models, which puts them on par with any of our diesel trucks.
The first Volvo CNG truck we added to our fleet was designed to improve upon our older CNG models and to be used exclusively for pulling a single trailer. The second is a hybrid Volvo truck with a Hyliion Hybrid CNG system, a true performance game changer that gives the truck enough torque and horsepower to pull a tandem set. As the first-ever Volvo truck fitted with the system, the two engineering teams worked together on the design and installation of the electric drive axle. While tweaks have been needed along the way, the truck can now consistently and confidently pull tandem trailer sets.
“Until now, we could only use diesel trucks to pull tandem sets. They’re our most powerful engines with the lowest fuel economy (MPG), making them the highest diesel consumption trucks we have,” explains Harris. “With this one hybrid electric CNG truck, we’ve flipped that on its head and taken the dirtiest job on the highway and made it the cleanest part of what we do.”
“Like Wegmans, fleets want the fuel savings and emissions benefits that come with transitioning away from diesel, but also need practical solutions that are going to meet the needs of their businesses. That’s why we designed the CNG Hybrid system,” said Thomas Healy, CEO and founder of Hyliion. “We’re proud to work with Wegmans to not only bring this first-of-its-kind technology to market, but to collaborate on achieving the company’s long-term sustainability initiatives.”
“For many years, we’ve focused on running our fleet as efficiently as possible, from our driver training programs and our mile-per-gallon initiative, to the addition of compressed natural gas vehicles and collaborative partnerships with leading technology suppliers. It’s the right thing to do for our company and the environment,” explained Harris. “What we’ve accomplished over the last several years with Hyliion, ANG, and most recently Volvo, allows us to completely rethink the makeup of our fleet, how we run it, and shows the rest of the industry what’s truly possible with the right combination of technologies.”
While the idea of a diesel-free fleet is now a reality, it will take time to achieve. Wegmans is currently operating 19 CNGs in its fleet of nearly 175 trucks, and two of those are equipped with the Hyliion system for tandem use. Wegmans plans to increase their overall number of CNGs in 2021, while continuing to make a case for more widespread use of tandem trailer application CNG trucks in the future.