National Alternative Fuel Corridor: Michigan to Montana

National Alternative Fuel Corridor: Michigan to Montana

Episode 4004 , Episode 4015
Auto Value and Bumper to BumperTire Rack "The Way Tire Buying Should Be"

The freedom to hit the open road has always been at the center of our love affair with the automobile. But for some drivers and fleet operators, trying to choose a vehicle powered by a cleaner domestic fuel like natural gas or electricity has meant limiting that freedom due to gaps in the nationwide fueling and charging infrastructure.  Well, that is rapidly changing as more and more major highways and roads are being designated Alternative Fuel Corridors, knocking down the final barriers for making clean fuels the best alternative no matter where the road takes you!

The National Alternative Fuel Corridor Network includes parts of 220 heavily traveled interstates and highways in 49 states and DC, covering more than 145,000 miles. 

One vital link, the Michigan to Montana I-94 Alternative Fuel Corridor, or M2M, is the result of a joint effort between clean cities coalitions and critical government and industry partners, like the Gas Technology Institute, throughout the Midwest. Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy, it runs 1500 miles along Interstate 94 from Port Huron, Michigan at the Canadian border, all the way to Billings, Montana. 

It passes through the major cities of Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis, but also countless small towns, and miles upon miles of rolling farmland. The M2M corridor is a vital link for long-haul trucking as well as a prime mover for expanding the use of propane, biodiesel, ethanol, natural gas and electric with regional fleet operators.

SAMANTHA BINGHAM: "This project and projects like it across the country,  help those fleets to expand their use of alternative fuels, to use it along more routes. And then also it helps encourage fleets that aren’t using alternative fuels currently, they can see that these routes are supported and that it encourages them to adopt alternative fuel vehicles and switch out their petroleum-based vehicles." 

Compressed natural gas is an affordable and abundant U.S.-sourced fuel that can help to reduce greenhouse gases and other harmful emissions.  Ozinga’s red striped trucks are a common sight around Chicago and northwest Indiana, and since 2013, the company has been converting its fleet of 500 ready-mix trucks to run on CNG.  At the same time, it expanded its own business to become a regional natural gas fuel provider, now operating seven public-access CNG stations in the area, which makes it more practical for other fleets who want to switch to CNG. 

Propane is another popular alternative fuel option, especially with fleets. Along the alternative fuel corridors, uniform signage nationwide indicates which type of fuel is most plentiful. But in our 3,000-mile trek for this story, we found that word of mouth travels faster still.

TIM RAHN: "And there are vehicles out there. We've got 10 or 15 people that stop every single week. Coming through, going to the cabin, coming home..and they support us, they know we have it, it's easy to use, it’s safe to use, and it’s cheap. The last three months we’ve been 80, 80 to 85 cents a gallon cheaper than regular gasoline. It was a diversity, it’s something that nobody else has in this area, and we wanted to be the first to have it." 

Schwan’s frozen foods has a fleet of more than 600 propane-fueled delivery vehicles and has also built out their own fueling infrastructure, but smaller fleets, like Groome Transportation, are also reaping the benefits of the M2M corridor.

SCOTT HAYES: "Before, when we ran down to Minneapolis, we would run out about halfway up, so now with this corridor being built out, it’ll give us more opportunities to fill up with propane and we will have the opportunity to run cleaner, longer."

Also included in the Alternative Fuel Corridor designations is the availability of electric vehicle charging stations, especially fast-charging, convenient to the interstates.  

The EV charging infrastructure has been expanding rapidly for the past decade.  At the far end of our journey, in Fargo, North Dakota, three new fast-charging sites are coming online, helping to make frontier destinations like these, once considered remote, more accessible and convenient for EV drivers. 

CHAD BROUSSEAU: "It’s a win-win, we’re a member-owned electric cooperative, not for profit, so it’s good for the members, good for us, uh, not only is it electric sales for Cass County Electric but an electric vehicle in the right circumstance, can be a money-saver for the electric vehicle owner in reduced operating and maintenance costs."

In the drive to curb emissions and make America less dependent on imported oil for transportation, spurring development of cleaner alternative fuel vehicles and building out a national network of convenient fueling points for natural gas, propane, hydrogen and electric vehicles goes hand in hand.

SAMANTHA BINGHAM: "Also the M2M Corridor really demonstrates that cities and states and utilities and fuel providers and retailers can all work together, across state lines to make this infrastructure, this clean fuel infrastructure, available."

The Michigan to Montana Alternative Fuel Corridor project is fast making these fuels a fine first choice for everyone!

EV Sales 4

EV Sales

Episode 4336
Auto Value and Bumper to BumperTire Rack "The Way Tire Buying Should Be"

The headlines are everywhere: electric vehicle sales are down! Dealers are swamped with unsold EVs! Car companies are doubling down on internal-combustion engines! The EV era is over before it began! And so on…

You know, there’s a lot of misinformation swirling around these days about the state of the current EV market. So, what are the facts and where might EVs go from here?

We’re in the midst of the most revolutionary shake up of the automotive market since the car replaced the horse as our preferred form of personal transportation back in the early 1900s. Then, as now, drivers faced the same decision of choosing petrol or electric power for their cars, and carmakers offered both options.

EV Sales 1

As it turned out, the rapid expansion of our interstate road system outpaced the electrification of rural America, paving the way for petroleum to take the lead in widespread availability, and to largely squeeze electrics out of the car market. Fast forward a hundred years: America is now wired from coast to coast, and advances in battery technology have made it possible for electric vehicles to perform competitively with gas and diesel models.

But more importantly, environmental concerns have become an important factor in determining our fuel of choice, fostering the second coming of the electric vehicle.

Now EV sales, including both plug-in hybrids and pure battery electrics, are surging beyond the early adopter and novelty stage, rising 46.5% in 2022 and 53.8% in 2023, achieving a record 9% of the total car market last year. After such rapid growth, some moderation was expected, but are EV sales really falling as headlines proclaim?

The short answer is no. While growth has slowed, plug-in vehicles still grew 17% in the first quarter of 2024, increasing their market share further as overall car sales rose only 5%.

images: Array
    [0] => Array
            [image] => 16613

    [1] => Array
            [image] => 16612


JOHN O’DONNELL: “There’s a lot of articles and media suggesting that we’ve already reached a plateau for EV sales, and that’s false, that’s incorrect. The rate of adoption is slowing, but it’s still increasing nationwide. State by state, it varies.The coasts, east and west coasts, have the higher penetration. The center of the country is adopting at a more slow rate, but make no mistake, this is not going away simply because somebody wrote an article.”

Another trend we’ve noticed is that consumers’ preferred type of EV is shifting. For all of 2023, about 80% of EVs sold were pure battery electric. But plug-in gasoline-electric hybrid sales are growing, and currently make up a quarter of total EV sales.

When faced with the EV market’s three-headed conundrum: limited number of affordable battery electric choices, fear of range anxiety, and a public charging infrastructure that’s still a work in progress, many buyers see plug in hybrids as a safe near-term bridge to eventually going all-electric. And that shift is now forecast to widen for the foreseeable future, as manufacturers release more new PHEVs into the market.

EV Sales

JOHN O’DONNELL: “Consumer affordability is always on our minds, representing the people who sell the cars, but it’s also on the mind of the state, local and federal governments. They know that they need to help us balance the amount of technology, which costs money through research and development, and what the average consumer can afford.”

The good news for consumers is that EV prices are already coming down, and, with dozens of new electric vehicles of all types expected to enter the market over the next 18 months, there is little doubt that such increased competition will cause EV prices to moderate even further. Thus, most market experts are still conservatively predicting EVs to pass the 12% market share point for all of 2024, and 15%, or over 2 million new EVs on the road, in 2025.

Add to that continuing improvements in driving range and charging infrastructure, and the future of EVs in America is still quite bright. American consumers are smart enough to question the naysayers. They know that the time is finally right for the electric automobile to come into its own. It’s not only the best thing for the environment, it just makes good driving sense.