Propane Powers Overnites Lift Truck Fleet

June 1, 2004
Overnite Transportation has 1,835 lift trucks in its fleet, with nearly 90 percent running on propane. The company is in the process of shifting its entire

Overnite Transportation has 1,835 lift trucks in its fleet, with nearly 90 percent running on propane. The company is in the process of shifting its entire fleet to propane after having evaluated all available lift truck and fuel options in the market.

According to Dwayne Dagenhart, manager of operation services, the decision was made in part because of propane’s overall operating cost and productivity benefits. Overnite’s Nissan JC40LP lift trucks operate for more than 20 hours per day.

"The gain in productivity, uninterrupted operational capability and freeing up of valuable dock space that was otherwise occupied by battery stations are reasons enough to make the switch," he said.

Using propane has reduced the time Overnite lift truck operators spend refueling each vehicle — a critical performance factor for multi-shift operations. Replacing propane tanks entails removing the empty tank and inserting a full one, for a total refueling time of 10 minutes or less. “The easy switch-in and switch-out of propane tanks had an immediate impact on our productivity and efficiency,” said Dagenhart.

“Propane’s high-torque output means lift truck operators can push loads up to 4,000 pounds and accelerate faster,” Dagenhart adds. “Our warehouse personnel prefer propane because the lift trucks don’t lose power. Propane keeps them moving.”

Typically, propane-powered lift trucks carry a 33-pound fuel tank, which can provide up to eight hours of use. Overnite’s cylinder exchange program with its fuel provider ensures that there is a steady supply of available cylinders. Any additional fuel requirements are serviced by an on-site cylinder-filling station. According to Dagenhart, propane infrastructure requirements are minimal, freeing valuable warehouse space.

Overnite usually negotiates a 3-year, fixed-price contract with propane marketers to meet its propane fuel requirements. In 2003, Overnite purchased 2.9 million gallons of propane to keep its fleet running smoothly.

Maintenance and air quality

Lit trucks are maintained in-house by Overnite’s employee mechanics who are trained by Nissan. Overnite replaces its lift trucks every six to seven years to ensure an up-to-date, modern and efficient fleet.

“Our productivity and efficiency have increased substantially since our decision to switch to propane-powered lift trucks,” said Dagenhart.

Overnite’s lift truck fleet operates primarily indoors, and air quality is of prime importance. A non-toxic fuel, propane burns cleanly and can be used safely indoors with proper maintenance. Propane’s sealed, pressure-tight system eliminates toxic spillage and evaporative emissions, which can be a significant source of secondary pollution. Propane also produces less carbon monoxide, particulate matter, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides than gasoline or diesel — helping Overnite to meet OSHA, EPA and local air quality requirements.

The propane industry is determined to ensure that propane-powered lift trucks continue to meet national and local emissions requirements. To this end, the industry sponsors Maintenance & Training Programs for pre-2002 open-loop lift trucks, supports several fuel quality and lift truck equipment research grants, and is funding a $1.39 million fuel systems technologies research project to guarantee that propane vehicles will be able to comply with EPA 2007 emissions standards.

For more information about propane lift truck fleets, visit or contact Brian Feehan. executive director, Propane Vehicle Council. Phone: 202-530-0479; e-mail: [email protected]