Craig Johnston /
08.20.2008 12:00 AM
ENG Van Makers React to Gas Prices
SEATTLE
Only someone living in a cave, without heating requirements, could escape awareness of the skyrocketing price of fuel. TV station and network news departments are not only reporting the story, but living it every time they fuel up their ENG vehicles.

And they’re starting to ask ENG vehicle makers to offer some alternatives.

“I think it’s been on the minds of folks for a while,” said Brad Gleason, director of new vehicle sales at Television Engineering Corporation (TEC) in St. Louis. “People pre-NAB were looking for quicker, more nimble and easy-to-use vehicles. And now, with gas prices hovering around four dollars a gallon, that’s done nothing but expedite the process.”

Rex Reed, director of business product development at E-N-G Mobile Systems in Concord Calif., agreed. “The price of fuel has only accelerated the interest in this,” he said. “The return on investment only gets better and better the higher the fuel costs get. So we’re finding the interest in green in a lot of things.”

LIGHTENING THE LOAD

This has led ENG vehicle builders to look at new high-MPG vehicles, as well as search for ways to lighten the ENG payload, allowing use of smaller vehicles.


(click thumbnail)
At the 2008 NAB Show, E-N-G Mobile Systems introduced a news van without a generator.
“We’re offering a variety of platforms and potential ‘green’ vehicles for broadcast customers,” said Steve Williamson, director of sales for Frontline in Clearwater, Fla. “They include smaller, conventional fuel-based vehicles like the V-8 Tahoe and Ford Escape. We’re also offering the flex-fuel options, as well as the hybrid option.”

Not everybody in the ENG vehicle field sees it that way, however.

“There are a couple of [green alternatives] we’ve put up, but my customers aren’t asking for that,” said Fred Gerling, president of Gerling & Associates in Sunbury, Ohio.

Gerling re-counted a typical ENG van sale discussion:

Gerling: “We can make this lighter, we can do this and that, we can do a lightweight package to get the weight down.”

Customer: “How much is that lightweight package?”

Gerling: “It’ll add $6,000.”

At that point, Gerling said the news director thinks of all the other things he can do with that $6,000, and he opts for the standard package.

That sticker shock is also a consideration when it comes to hybrids. But the hybrids also present another problem: payload. “That is going to be an issue,” said Jack Feldman, sales manager for Latin America for Shook Mobile Technologies in Schertz, Texas, “because the hybrid vehicles that are out now are electric, and you have a whole bunch of batteries in the vehicle, which causes you to lose payload.”

Payload isn’t the only bugaboo with hybrids, according to E-N-G’s Reed. “One thing that the [Chevy Tahoe hybrid builders] did to reduce weight and aerodynamic drag is that they removed the rooftop roof rack. From a [ENG van builder’s perspective] that’s disappointing, because we relied on those engineered-in mounting points.”

ENG vehicle builders and customers will be keeping a sharp eye on the automobile industry’s new product announcements this year. “We’re hoping that the next generation of vehicles—the 2009s—will have a wider availability of options as far as hybrids are concerned,” said Shook’s Feldman.

ENG vendors are also keeping their eyes peeled for alternative fuel vehicles that could fill the bill.

ENGINE POWERED

Meanwhile, there are some ways ENG vehicle builders are finding to reduce the weight in the vehicles.

“In the Chevy Tahoe class, we’re integrating an under-hood power solution,” said TEC’s Gleason. The 5 kW generator, which runs off the vehicle’s own engine, “really gives the news station that wants to use a full lighting package the ability to use this size vehicle.”

E-N-G’s Reed pointed out an additional benefit to the under-hood generator: “As it turns out, it uses less fuel.”

Such vehicle engine-driven generators do not appear to be possible with the hybrids, according to the van builders.

Frontline’s Williamson also pointed out that “there are certain technologies available for both non-traditional or alternatives to fuel based generators.”

With all this attention paid to smaller, greener vehicles, is it signaling the death knell for big ENG vehicles?

“From NAB [April of this year] on, it’s been nothing but Sprinter vans,” said Gerling. The diesel-powered Dodge Sprinter carries more payload than full-sized gasoline alternatives, provides full standing height, and a low center of gravity. “The Sprinter has an increased payload capacity, and offers a longer expected life than the E350 Ford, gasoline powered,” said Shook’s Feldman. “So there is a tradeoff. Obviously it’s a more expensive vehicle, but it gives you a lot more for the buck.”

“There’s a lot of momentum in Sprinters,” said E-N-G’s Reed. “It’s just the overall cost of the product that could change that momentum. It’s still a very popular vehicle, and there’s a lot of activity, a lot of interest in the Sprinter platform.”


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