LIVONIA, MI – Roush Performance says it’s looking to create “green-collar” jobs at its facility here to support a new line of Ford-brand commercial fleet vehicles that run on liquefied propane-gas.

Roush, a Tier I supplier and powertrain specialist, already has an LPG-powered version of the Ford F-150 on the road. Plans call for the addition of an E-250 fullsize van in the next three months, followed by the arrival of an F-250 Super Duty pickup within the next 12 months.

LPG powertrains offer a viable solution to gasoline, Roush says, noting they reduce greenhouse-gas emissions 18%, create 20% less oxides of nitrogen, produce up to 60% less carbon dioxide and emit fewer particulates.

Roush’s LPG-powered vehicles, in development for the past three years, will meet Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board certifications, ensuring availability in all 50 states, the company says.

“By focusing on propane, Roush has been able to engineer green technology that is proven to reduce emissions now,” says Jack Roush, chairman of Roush Enterprises. “And the upside is that we are hoping to add nearly 100 new ‘green-collar’ jobs.”

To do that Roush must meet its volume goal of 5,000 units annually, which marks the threshold point for profitability, says Joe Thompson, vice president and general manager of Roush Performance.

“If we hit 5,000 units, it will create about 78 new jobs in this facility,” he tells Ward’s at an event here. “And if we can get up to 10,000 units, we’re up to 130 new jobs. Those are the models we’ve put together.”

All three vehicles are equipped with Ford Motor Co.’s 5.4L 3-valve V-8 engine, which in order to burn LPG must be outfitted with Roush’s proprietary propane-injection system, including new fuel-rail assembly and fuel injectors. The vehicles boast a range of some 500 miles (805 km), Roush says.

The LPG engines provide the same horsepower, torque and towing capacity as their gasoline counterparts.

Fleet owners can order the new trucks directly from a Ford dealership, which then are shipped to the Roush facility here where the LPG powertrain is installed at a cost of $8,900.

For those looking to modify their current vehicles, Roush sells an LPG conversion kit for $7,795 that can be installed by the owners. However, the company will send technicians to a customer’s location to provide installation training.

Thompson says offering the conversion kits greatly expands Roush’s customer base, helping the technology to spread more quickly. “The number of F-150s and F-250s that are on the road today is much bigger than what is at the plant. So we should make a kit that people can install themselves.”

Although the conversion kit carries a hefty price tag, Thompson says an LPG powertrain pays for itself within a year. “Propane on average is about 30% the cost of gasoline. Last summer, when gas shot up to $4 or $5 per gallon, propane was at $2.12 per gallon. In those scenarios, you get payoff a lot quicker.”

Additional cost savings come courtesy of a federal tax credit of up to $4,500 for LPG-powered vehicles, as well as a $0.50 tax credit per gallon consumed.

Although most people think of propane as a good way to fire up their outdoor grilles, the fuel is used to power vehicles in many parts of the world, says Brian Feehan, vice president of the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC), which assisted Roush in the project.

“(LPG) typically is called Autogas,” Feehan tells Ward’s. “About 22% of the propane used in South Korea goes into the Autogas market. In Australia, about 12% of the overall vehicle population runs on (Autogas). (LPG) powers over 11 million vehicles worldwide now.”

Roush has an advantage over other aftermarket outfitters due to its close collaboration with Ford, which provides engineers access to its engine codes, Bob Brown, Roush’s manager of vehicle operations, tells Ward’s.

“We have the same ability to calibrate vehicles the way OEs do,” he says, noting Roush has access to Ford’s control systems. “Our vehicles have a unique calibration to optimize fuel economy, emissions and other requirements.”

Roush uses a sequential-liquid injection system in its vehicles that pumps LPG via injector rails into the inlet valve, where it turns into a gaseous form. Air is added, and the mixture is transferred to the combustion chamber.

When the propane and air are mixed, the air is cooled, which makes it denser. That enables the powertrain system to retain the same horsepower and torque characteristics as its gasoline counterpart, despite the fact propane is less energy dense than gasoline.

“Other engineers around the world don’t have that capability,” Brown says. “Because there is less energy in propane, they lose power and torque. We use more fuel, but the performance is absolutely equivalent to a gas engine.”

Refueling LPG vehicles is a non-issue, Roush and PERC say. The fuel can be purchased at any recreation-vehicle center in North America.

Installing a propane-refueling tank is a relatively low-cost venture for fleet operators, Thompson says. “(Roush’s) infrastructure costs us about $30,000. If you compare that to other refueling infrastructures, it’s pretty favorable.”

Plus, more LPG pumps are on the way through a partnership between oil-giant ConocoPhillips Corp. and Clean Fuel Technology, one of several groups that provide some of the technology for Roush’s propane system.

The partners plan to install LPG refueling pumps in 10 U.S. cities that are yet to be named.

bpope@wardsauto.com