LOS ANGELES -- Propane doesn't make many lists of "green" vehicle fuels.
But for some Ford dealers, a factory-authorized program to convert pickups to run on a propane blend looks like a way to boost fleet sales and service business.
Propane-based fuel burns cleaner and costs less than gasoline. It qualifies for incentives from the federal government and every state except Wyoming, according to the U.S. Department of Energy Web site.
Other automakers' approaches differ, with General Motors delivering converted vans to dealers. Chrysler and Toyota, the other major sellers of light trucks in the United States, do not offer propane conversions.
But some Ford dealers see propane-powered vehicles as a promising long-term business -- and good for their green image. They say that fleet customers are warming to propane.
"We are offering our customers an alternative," says Phil Englander, head of commercial accounts at Galpin Ford in North Hills, Calif. "It shows our commitment to helping our clients go green."
Propane is used in vehicles in a blend called autogas: 95 percent propane and 5 percent other gases. The blend is also called liquefied petroleum gas or LPG.
Autogas, when burned, emits 25 percent fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. And it costs less -- between $1.50 and $2.50 a gallon. But the fuel has a lower energy density, giving it a 10 to 15 percent fuel economy disadvantage.
An autogas conversion costs between $10,000 and $13,000, Englander says. Galpin Ford sold 5,010 new and 2,430 used units in 2010. The dealership did about 40 autogas conversions last year, all on F-150 pickups, Englander says.
Autogas accounts for about 70 percent of the dealership's alternative fuel business and about 10 percent of its fleet business, he says.
Englander says he expects Galpin Ford to do about 80 conversions this year. Many businesses replacing aging fleet vehicles are considering autogas, he says. Pickup sales will get a boost, Englander figures, because "you have to have a vehicle to put propane on."