British Columbia recently revealed that its natural gas reserves should last 150 years, not 75 years as previously estimated. One way to immediately benefit from all this natural gas would be to use it as a vehicle fuel. Canadian Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT) designs and builds a variety of engines that would help Canada and other countries enjoy the financial and environmental advantages of natural gas. Here are three strengths that should help drive this company to profitability.
A lot of engines that can
One major strength Westport enjoys is the diversity of natural-gas-burning engines it designs. These include engines for passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and heavy-duty trucks. Westport even makes generators for electricity production at drilling sites. Some of these engines can use both diesel (or gasoline) and natural gas, enhancing their flexibility.
The variety of natural gas vehicles offered by Ford (NYSE:F) exemplifies this diversity. The F-150 pick-up comes with a 3.7 liter engine, the E-250 and E-350 van with a 5.4 liter engine, and the F-450, F-550, and F-650 chassis cabs come with a 6.8 liter engine. While more expensive than gasoline-burning engines, Ford claims customers can see payback in two to three years.
These dual-fuel engines utilize Westport's so-called WiNG Power System technology that is installed by Westport on the premises of a Ford production plant. Typically, it costs about $9,500 and three days to install. As a further incentive, Westport will supply free natural gas vehicle fuel in partnership with Clean Energy Fuels.
Partnerships for more sales
Westport leverages other partnerships in building natural gas engines. In North America, Westport joined forces with Cummins to build and market its heavy-truck engines. Additionally, Cummins frequently makes natural gas adaptations to its diesel engines using Westport technology. The Cummins-Westport joint venture was renewed for 10 more years in 2012. Westport currently owns a 50% stake in the business.
A potentially huge and lucrative joint venture is Westport Weichai in China. Sales of natural gas engines have grown like a weed and, even better, natural gas fueling stations are growing almost as fast. Westport owns a 35% equity stake in this venture. This venture has been profitable since 2008. Given the growth of engine sales and fueling stations in China, this partnership should continue producing profits for years.
One different sort of joint venture involves Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD). Pioneer finds and develops oil deposits, primarily in Texas. Read its latest investor presentation and you'll see Pioneer focusing on high-margin oil plays, improving costs, and touting its vertical integration. It's making good money in the process.
What you won't read is the company's effort to completely convert its vehicle fleet to natural gas by 2015. Buying mainly Ford F-250 bi-fuel trucks with Westport WiNG Power Systems, and Peterbuilt heavy-duty trucks with Cummins-Westport engines, Pioneer claims to operate one of the greenest truck fleets in the business. Pioneer anticipates buying another 200 or so Ford trucks and 10 more Peterbuilt trucks by 2015. The company worked with Westport in both selecting the appropriate vehicles and dealing with any problems that emerge with any new endeavor. Pioneer seems very pleased with how it's been treated by Westport.
Right place at the right time
According to BP's latest Energy Outlook 2035, the U.S. will continue using oil as the major transportation fuel source, but its market share will decline as natural gas and biofuels increase. Currently, oil accounts for 95% of transportation fuel. BP projects this will decline to 83% by 2035 as natural gas becomes more popular and energy efficiency continues to improve.
Similarly, the Energy Information Administration projects U.S. consumption of liquefied natural gas for transportation will grow by 11.3% annually through 2040. Use of pipeline natural gas will grow by 0.5% over this same time.
Which means, Westport currently supplies the engines, fuel tanks, and know-how to an industry slated to grow by more than 11% a year for the next 36 years. This compares to relatively little growth in natural gas as a vehicle fuel from 2011 to 2012, as reported by the EIA. The past has not been kind to Westport with regards to earnings; that could all change in the coming years.
Final Foolish thoughts
Natural gas offers drivers an inexpensive, cleaner alternative to diesel and gasoline for vehicle fuel. Westport Innovations provides the technology to effectively use natural gas in vehicles of all sizes and applications. The company's diverse offerings and various partnerships mean Westport can meet the needs of a growing industry as it begins an anticipated significant build-out. These strengths could reward the patient investor.
Robert Zimmerman is short Feb 2014 $16 puts on F. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and Westport Innovations. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Westport Innovations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.