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Pickens' natural-gas plan may prove boon to truck builders

January 22, 2010

T. Boone Pickens, founder and chairman of Dallas-based BP Capital LLC, said converting the U.S. trucking industry to natural gas will benefit manufacturers including Columbus-based Cummins Inc. and Paccar Inc.’s Peterbilt.

Pickens wants buses and trucks that run on natural gas to replace the diesel and gasoline engines that some think contribute to global warming and increase U.S. oil imports that cost the country about $1 billion a day.

Legislation to spur investment in natural gas vehicles over diesel, which doubles a 2005 tax incentive, has enough support in the House and Senate to pass by the end of May, Pickens said Thursday during an interview in New York. Truck makers with natural gas technology will boost production when the bill passes.

“Kenworth’s got it, Peterbilt’s got it, Volvo, Cummins, they’ve all got it,” Pickens said. “This is going to happen.”

Peterbilt in August began taking orders for two new natural gas truck models made in Texas that use Cummins Westport engines. Cummins Westport is a venture with Westport Innovations Inc. Paccar, based in Bellevue, Wash., builds Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks.

Sweden’s Volvo AB, the world’s second-largest truckmaker, also makes trucks that run on natural gas, as well as flex-fuel vehicles that use either gas or diesel, the company said on its Web site.

The bill offers tax credits to cover 80 percent of the added cost to buy natural gas-fueled vehicles over conventional engines. The credits would reach as high as $12,500 for passenger cars and light trucks and as much as $64,000 for heavy vehicles, according to a summary of the legislation. Filling station tax credits would be doubled to as much as $100,000.

There are more than 250 million vehicles on the road in the United States and, of those, 142,000 are powered by natural gas, Pickens said. Pickens, whose plan for autos would initially emphasize heavy-duty trucks, said he’d like to see 1.3 million trucks running on natural gas by 2014.

Pickens in 2008 started a $60 million promotion for a national energy plan that relies on domestically produced natural gas and wind energy to cut U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Now he’s focused on replacing fleet cars and trucks that run on gasoline with those that use cleaner-burning natural gas.

The Pickens measure has the support of Senator Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and the majority leader, as well as Senators Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican.

Pickens said the investment in refueling stations would pay off in decreased dependence on oil from overseas. While a proliferation of natural-gas vehicles would raise the price of the fuel, he said it would still be cheaper than using gasoline or diesel.

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