Because of its high fuel use and average miles driven, the fleet sector using medium- and heavy-duty vehicles provides a global market plum waiting to be picked by the alternative fuel vehicle providers, including natural gas vehicles (NGV), according to a report from Navigant Research.

Navigant is forecasting that the global annual medium- and heavy-duty vehicle sales and conversions will grow from the current 4.3 million to 7.1 million vehicles by 2035.

Rising fuel costs and increased environmental restrictions are rapidly pointing the medium- and heavy-duty vehicle (MHDV) operators in commercial and government fleets to consider natural gas and other alternatives, Navigant’s report pointed out. Currently 94% of the MHDV vehicles operate on gasoline or diesel fuels.

While the MHDV vehicles represent less than 5% of the total vehicles worldwide, they consume a greater proportion of the total fuel and energy consumed by the transportation sector, according to Navigant. This is a byproduct of current low average fuel economy and high annual mileage totals by this fleet vehicle group.

“The MHDV markets’ dependency on oil has pushed governments to examine programs that will speed the adoption of alternative fuel technologies,” Navigant said. “Less expensive alternatives to petroleum-based fuels, such as natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas [propane] and electricity are beginning to make inroads as fleet managers can see a return on investment in as few as three years given the right circumstances.”

Navigant research analysts are confirming that there are “attractive business cases” for MHDV alternative fueled vehicles across the market. “Natural gas has significant advantage over most alternative fuels,” said Navigant Analyst Scott Shepard, adding that is true for both liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG) applications.

One of the incentives in the United States comes from the new greenhouse gas emissions standards for the MHDV sector developed earlier jointly by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Navigant’s report pointed out.

The DOT/EPA effort includes first-ever standards for heavy-duty big rig tractor-trailer trucks, including an effort to spur a 20% reduction in fuel consumption; heavy-duty pickups and vans up to about 15%; and delivery trucks, buses and garbage trucks up to 10% reductions.

DOT and EPA said they gained support from California officials, environmentalists, and the trucking industry for what they are calling a “groundbreaking national program” that is supposed to improve energy and national security, along with benefiting both the environment and the economy nationally.

The new federal standards for the three groups of MHDV trucks are designed to account for various different kinds of work, according to the DOT/EPA explanation in a past bulletin, “Paving the Way Toward Cleaner, More Efficient Trucks.”