Natural gas engine technology expert Westport Innovations Inc. (NASDAQ:WPRT) also makes an advanced liquefied natural gas, or LNG, tank and fuel system for heavy-duty trucks. While compressed natural gas, or CNG, has gotten a lot of press as the fuel of choice so far for NGVs, LNG offers a number of specific benefits for trucking applications.
Westport's market development manager, Eve Grenon-Lafontaine, sat down with Motley Fool contributor Jason Hall at Act Expo in Dallas, Texas, in May. They discussed Eve's experience working with heavy-duty trucking customers and the benefits of LNG for certain applications, as well as the considerations that a truck operator would make when deciding which is best.
Jason Hall: Hey, Fools! It’s Jason Hall here. I’m in Dallas, Texas at ACT Expo and the folks at Westport Innovations were kind enough to give us an opportunity to speak to some of their great folks. I have somebody with me today. I’m going to let her introduce herself.
Eve Grenon-Lafontaine: My name is Eve Grenon-Lafontaine, I’m the sales and market development manager at Westport, and thank you for having me.
Hall: Absolutely, for sure. So, Eve’s job is tied to the ICEPACK program, which is their LNG system, and I’d like to hear a little about what you do there, what’s your background with Westport, how you got into what you’re doing and we can go from there.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Sure. I’m a mechanical engineer and I decided that I didn’t want to really do design, I wanted to do technical sales. Right out of university, one of the only companies hiring at the time was Caterpillar. So, I started with them, got into their truck engine division -- because I found that product really interesting -- and it’s been about 12 years now that I’ve been in the trucking industry.
Hall: That was diesel at the time.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Yeah. At the time is was diesel, then I progressed to a few different companies and eventually found Westport, which came and recruited me and I found the whole natural gas industry fascinating.
Grenon-Lafontaine: I’ve been with Westport for five years, I started out selling the 15 liter engine out in the northeast, and then joined the ICEPACK team about a year and a half ago at the headquarters in Vancouver.
Hall: So, talk about the 15 liter program -- viewers may not know, that was the original HPDI -- High Pressure Direct Injection -- system that was developed and commercialized. It was a relatively low volume product. It was a little bit niche-y, but it really fit specific applications. It sold really well, it was hugely successful. There are customers now that have millions of miles on those engines and still love them.
Hall: So, that specific product actually leans towards the LNG fuel source. So, one of the questions that’s still out there that investors have, and something that the market’s still trying to figure out is, when it comes to natural gas you can run CNG -- Compressed Natural Gas -- or Liquefied Natural Gas. So, talk about -- from the perspective of Westport, why has Westport developed, specifically, the ICEPACK LNG system versus CNG?
Grenon-Lafontaine: Well, LNG is really the business we’ve been in for about 20 years. That’s how we started. Like you said. HPDI technology was one of the first things that we develop, and our LNG tanks came as a response to us needing that high injection pressure needed for HPDI. So, we just stayed with our expertise. Not to say that we never looked at CNG tanks, or we’ll never look in the future, but right now we’re just staying with our expertise, which is really the LNG realm.
The whole LNG/CNG – both fuels are very good fuels. There is a different application for each fuel.
Hall: And that’s the key, right?
Hall: It depends on what the user is trying to do.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Right. What type of operations are they running? How much weight can they allow in the chassis? So, LNG would be a little bit lighter than CNG in the fuel systems. In terms of filling time LNG is a lot faster and you get a more complete fill. So, it just depends on what fuel source is available closer to customers, the weight, and filling time; things like that. You really have to look at the complete operation to be able to make an educated decision and consult your customer and recommend the right solution.
Hall: And that’s a big part of your job today.
Hall: I can gather. So, let’s talk a little bit about the way that Westport fit. If I’m looking at Westport form the outside in today versus a few years ago, it’s a company that’s going through a massive transition from a highly development focused R&D company that was building an engine -- in a lot of cases, selling an engine -- to a company that’s really finding its footing as an OEM provider, and providing the technology that the OEMs can then introduce into their production lines and build an engine.
It seems like it’s going to fit better, and it’s an interesting turn, and it’s taking time to do. So, what I’m curious to understand is, for the ICEPACK team, in your part of the business, how do you guys work? Who do you interact with? Are you selling to the end users? Do you work with OEMs? Resellers? I’m going to shut up and let you talk.
Grenon-Lafontaine: No, you’re doing good. We work with many different channels, really. We’re always growing and expanding. So, customers can get a quote from me directly, and then they can go back with whatever dealer they want to work with. They can get a quote through any OEM dealer and then they decide what installer they want to go through, or they can get a quote directly from any of our certified installers.
Grenon-Lafontaine: And that list is always growing. As we get customer interest in different areas, and we’re always willing to sign up new installers and new dealers -- we have a lot of OEM dealers that are interested in installing. So, there are a lot of different ways to go about it.
Hall: Right. So, it’s really demand based more than anything.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Exactly, yeah.
Hall: Sometimes it’s building and continues to build more momentum.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Exactly. Yep.
Hall: So, another thing that’s kind of specific to this industry is the outfitters; the guys that are in between. Where, you might buy your truck, you’ve got your truck, but then you want your truck specific to how your application’s going to be and your needs. So, you might have an outfitter that’s doing those things. That’s the installers that you’re talking about.
Hall: So essentially, depending on -- and I’m gathering that a lot of it’s probably based on the comfort level, the relationships that user already has, who he may have been buying trucks from for the past 30 years is going to guide where he’s going to go. And you guys are able to support all of those channels directly, or indirectly as needed.
Grenon-Lafontaine: Exactly. And it depends. Often the customer will choose their -- depending on proximity -- either the OEM factory, or the OEM dealer that are receiving the trucks.