F-650 CNG Runs with Power

March 27, 2014

This test drive originated more than two years ago, when Ford entered the stark-white crew-cab dump in a “truck of the year” competition in North Las Vegas, Nev., in October 2012. It didn’t win, but several judges who drove it commented on its power, comfort and good handling, and of course its forward-looking natural gas fuel setup.

A year ago, Ford sent the truck to me for a week-long evaluation, but there was a problem: Its dump body wouldn’t tip. That meant I couldn’t load the bed unless I wanted to export the material to Detroit, where the truck is domiciled. So my driving experience was limited to a few dozen empty miles, and I sent it back without writing about it.

Ford F-650 Test Set

Truck: 2012 Ford F-650 Crewcab XLT, w/ single C-channel high-strength steel rails, 80,000 PSI, GVWR 26,808 lbs.
Engine: Ford Triton V-10, 6.8 liters (415.5 cubic inches), w/ hardened valves and valve seats, 362 hp @ 4,750 rpm, 457 lb-ft @ 3,250 rpm, w/ IMPCO natural gas fuel system
Transmission: Ford TorqShift automatic, 6-speed double-overdrive
Front axle: 10,000-lb. Meritor MFS-10-122A I-beam, on 12,000-lb. parabolic taperleafs
Rear axle: 21,000-lb. Dana 21060S w/ 7.17 ratio, on 20,000-lb. Vari-rate multileafs
Wheelbase: 212 inches
Brakes: Bosch Quadraulic split-system discs w/ Bosch ABS
Tires & wheels: 11R22.5, Hankook front, Michelin rear, on chromed steel discs
Fuel tanks: Three 14.9-gasoline-gallon-equivalent Type 1 steel for CNG, total 44.7 gge
Body: Truck-Tech Engineers 10-ft. steel dump

Over the next year I was busy with other matters and forgot about it. In the meantime, the Ford folks fixed the glitch. When I inquired about it this past February, they said the bed was working and agreed to send the truck back. The timing was ideal, because I was in the midst of preparing a pad for a new carport at my house in central Ohio, and needed to haul some stone for it. The F-650 arrived on a cold Monday morning, and when I parked it in the driveway my wife came out to look at it and said, “That sure is a pretty truck.”

My excavating contractor, Jerry Perkins, said the F-650 would be ideal for this because it wouldn’t be so heavy that it would break up my asphalt driveway. And I observed that it was maneuverable enough to make right-angle turns from the driveway onto the new path leading to the pad. “That’s a good-looking truck,” Jerry remarked before starting to work.

He used the backhoe bucket on his small Kubota excavator to scrape sod off the lawn, and loaded it into the truck. I took it to a Kurtz Brothers materials facility in Westerville. From there I made several trips hauling nearly 20 cubic yards and $499.19 worth of number 57 crushed limestone to my building site. “That’s a nice-looking truck,” the guy in the big Volvo wheel loader said before he poured the stone into the bed.

During those trips, I checked the truck’s fit and finish, which were rather good, and how its SuperDuty crewcab was trimmed much like an F-350’s. In fact, this F-650 cruised along a lot like a big pickup, at least while the dump bed was empty, and I punched on the cruise control and enjoyed the ride. At 45 mph the engine loafed at about 2,000 rpm, and at 65 mph it spun at 2,400. It was quiet except when I had my foot in it, but even then wasn’t noisy.

Five tons was the correct payload because the Class 6 truck’s tare weight was about 15,500 pounds. While loaded, it definitely felt more hefty; the engine had to work during acceleration and its beefy 11R22.5 tires whined on the cold pavement. The 6.8-liter V-10 had plenty of power, but, like most gasoline engines, it had to rev to make the horses. With a light or moderate foot on the go-pedal, the tachometer needle climbed to nearly 3,000 rpm before the 6-speed TorqShift transmission upshifted. Under load and with a heavier foot, it would go to 3,500 and, out on the highway, to 4,000 rpm before a gear change. With 10 cylinders a-workin’ it sounded busy but was always smooth, as was the tranny.

I said “gasoline” because that’s what the V-10 is made to run on, and it runs the same way when converted to natural gas. Ford’s “gaseous preparation package” includes hardened valves and valve seats to make up for the dry fuel, according to Todd Kaufman, the F-Series chassis-cab manager. It will burn propane as well as natural gas, and approved vendors have conversion kits for either. This truck had three Type 1 steel tanks for compressed NG in a cabinet behind the cab; the fuel could also be stored in liquefied form, but a cryogenic tank is more expensive and the extra range possible with super-cold gas would not be necessary in this type of truck.

Most guys would prefer a diesel, which in the F-650 and 750 is the Cummins ISB6.7. But the upcharge is about $11,000, which includes a stronger Allison automatic instead of the Ford tranny used with the gasoline/CNG V-10, according to a customer who has bought a group of trucks much like this. He’s Gerard Huvaere, the fleet manager at DTE Energy, the Detroit-based gas utility. He has 20 F-650 SuperCabs toting covered utility bodies whose compressors are run off transmission-driven PTOs. He also has 250 E-350 vans and two F-450 utility trucks, all with V-10 power and CNG conversions, which DTE itself produces.

The cost of the CNG conversion in the F-650s is $14,800, or $3,800 more than for a diesel, Huvaere said. That outlay is offset somewhat by what the company saves on fuel. It pays $2.94 per gasoline-gallon-equivalent for CNG vs. $3.49 a gallon for gasoline. Huvaere knows that’s not a cheap price for CNG, but that’s what’s charged by a DTE subsidiary that runs the Detroit NG filling station.

Still, it’s 56 cents a gallon less than gasoline, and his CNG F-650s get about the same fuel economy as a pair of gasoline V-10s also in the fleet. Each truck gets 7 to 9 mpg while toting a lot of tools in its utility body and pulling a heavy equipment trailer. The engines run 12 hours a day, much of it idling or powering PTOs to run compressors. A diesel, which DTE also has in its fleet, gets 9 to 10 mpg.

Besides, being “the gas company,” DTE is setting a good example by using what it sells. Gas burns cleaner than the other fossil fuels, and needs only an oxidation catalyst in its exhaust. A modern diesel requires a particulate filter and urea dosing. And whether it burns gas or gasoline, “The V-10’s a good engine,” he said. “We have not had any problems with them.” 

The big 10 in my demo truck gave me no trouble, either. The PTO for the dump bed’s electric hoist was a little fussy, but it did work; the engine revved up a bit and the bed rose and poured out the sod and stone. It did so only when the tranny was in Park and the parking brake set, and it would cut out if the brake or gas pedal were touched. But Jerry, the contractor, preferred to move the stone with the blade on his excavator, so no problem.

Before sending the truck back to Ford, I made it a point to find a CNG station and pump some gas into its tanks. I’d never done that before, so I watched a couple of YouTube videos beforehand to see how it’s done. It was easy and less messy than pumping gasoline or diesel, too. I paid $2.30 per gge, which was a little high, as the other six or so stations in the Columbus, Ohio, area had it priced at $1.80 to $2.00, according to an online listing. The catch was, they weren’t open to the public. The lesson here is to secure a fueling source with a long-term commitment before buying any gas trucks. Then drive to the bank.

Oh, and guess what the station attendant said: “That’s sure a nice-looking rig!”