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Transports Houtch: our trucks run on natural gas
May. 13 2021
Working alongside his brother Hugues, Alain Houtch is CEO of Transport Houtch, founded in 1965. Today, 21 of the 200 trucks operated by this family-owned SME are ‘green’ trucks. More specifically, they are Renault Trucks D-Wide models running on compressed natural gas and biogas. Here’s the story in Alain’s own words.
“I remember all the excitement of summer 2015. From our base at Fresnoy le Grand in the Aisne department of France, our company had already been engaged in our own energy transition for several years, and we’d already signed the transportation industry CO2 charter. Together with my brother Hugues, who runs our 400-employee family business with me, I took the decision to take an eco-responsible approach to clean and sustainable mobility. So let's hear it for green trucks!
In purely practical terms, we were looking for an alternative to diesel for our fleet of 200 vehicles, 50 of which are rated at between 3.5 and 19 metric tons. In the end, we opted for natural gas! So we decided to invest in new vehicles using this environmentally friendly alternative form of energy, and to build our own 24/7 fast refuelling station to spread the word. It’s open all day every day to serve other transportation companies in the region, as well as private motorists.
Natural gas: giving trucks a range of up to 500 miles
So the next question was: Which green trucks to choose? When our father founded the company in 1965, he had one vehicle and three customers. He was always faithful to Renault, and even today, the vast majority of our trucks carry the diamond logo on their radiator grille. So it was perfectly natural for us to look to Renault Trucks to supply us with vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).
The 21 Renault Trucks D Wide 320hp double-range vehicles we bought were developed specially for our company and our precise requirements, which are delivery rounds of between 250 and 370 miles. In standard form, these trucks carry two racks of four gas cylinders each. For us, Renault Trucks has added two more to increase the maximum range from 250 to 500 miles. We tested this solution over three weeks with a prototype vehicle, refuelling at our own in-house filling station. The test was successful, and we’ve had no problems ever since. Renault Trucks looks after the maintenance, and we’re totally happy with their work, but eventually we’ll take care of our own maintenance in our own on-site workshop to be totally independent.
70% lower CO2 emissions
Another advantage of CNG is that unlike liquefied gas there’s no need to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when refuelling. It's as easy as with diesel, and takes no more than fifteen minutes... which is something our drivers really appreciate! In terms of the mechanical aspects, and over and above the appeal of new trucks, our drivers are particularly keen on the low noise levels and more flexible gearbox of the Renault Trucks D Wide. And the positive image of natural gas is definitely not to be overlooked: our employees are very proud of ‘driving clean’ and their ‘green’ trucks and customers regularly congratulate us.
But the bottom line is that every part of the business benefits from this solution, both in terms of our image and our CSR assessment. The environmental gains are enormous, because CNG trucks emit 15% less CO2 than the equivalent diesel version, and up to 70% less when they use biogas produced from the methanization of agricultural waste, which is what our trucks run on. Their emissions also contain virtually no fine particulates, which qualifies them for the Crit'Air windscreen sticker scheme and unrestricted access to downtown Paris or Lille during pollution peaks. And all with no smell and no exhaust smoke!
In terms of operating costs, this form of energy is definitely beneficial over the long term, thanks particularly to the low cost of biogas, government incentives and local authority support. The bottom line is that I’m very pleased with the choice we’ve made while we wait for the range of electric trucks to be increased so that we can test the e-mobility solution as well. But whatever happens, Transports Houtch will always choose the most eco-friendly way forward, and that’s something we are very proud of.
Alain Houtch (56) is the CEO of Transports Houtch, the company set up by his father in 1965, and which now generates €59 million in annual revenue and employs 400 people across six business sectors. From its base at Fresnoy-le-Grand in the Hauts-de-France region, it offers transportation, logistics, distribution, packaging and energy supply services.