What if you could fill up your car for less than $1.00? And what if you could do that at home? Jean Durdin owns and operates the massive Parkway Family car dealerships; Parkway Chevrolet reports $100 million in sales annually. In 2009, Parkway began converting vehicles to natural gas. Today Parkway NGV leads the industry in conversions. It’s a game-changer and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) will probably change our lives over the near future. Jean is right on the leading edge of that revolution. This is an interview EVERYONE should hear.
Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on the show and we're gonna do something unique to day because our category is NGV; that's natural gas vehicles. This is where CNG - compressed natural gas - meets the road because my guest is Jean Durdin, the owner of Parkway Chevrolet NGV. Jean, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Jean: Well thank you for inviting me.
Russ: Well great. So, uh, just to set the record straight right up front, you're pretty serious into natural gas vehicles, right?
Russ: Okay, but also to set the record straight, you sell all vehicles, right?
Jean: Right, we sell gas operated as well as the Volt by Chevrolet and we also sell, um, NGVs from the factory.
Russ: Okay, okay, really cool. Now, uh, you do that because your basis is a traditional Chevrolet dealership that has actually been in the family for quite some time, right?
Jean: Yes it is.
Russ: Okay, give us as overview of that.
Jean: Well Parkway Chevrolet was purchased by my husband and I thirty years ago and - up here in Tomball, Texas and, um, he was in the business for a long time. I took over about eleven years ago due to his illness and, um, we truly are family owned and operated. I have, uh, three children that work in the stores with me. We also have Parkway Family Mazda and Parkway Family Kia in Kingwood.
Russ: Okay. Now when you describe it as a family-owned business there might be people that kind of think oh, it's a small family we're here right now incidentally, this is a big operation; you move lots of cars, right?
Jean: We do. Our Chevy store is a hundred million a year in sales.
Russ: Okay so - when you call them stores I get a kick out of that - but why we're here today is because you sort of have gotten on the leading edge of this CNG; using natural gas as a fuel, right?
Russ: So describe how your CNG business is today.
Jean: Well we actually take vehicles and convert them to run - most of the ones that we convert run on bifuel. We leave the gasoline portion intact because the infrastructure isn't available today, um, we're all working on that to have CNG available at every gas station. Then we convert it where it runs on either natural gas or gasoline and the conversion's done right here on the property. We're licensed by the Railroad Commission which is necessary to work on any NGV and, um, and we sell them to our customers. Some people already have their vehicles and if they are less than 30,000 miles and if they - we do an engine compression test and if the engine meets the standards well we will convert one that's not new; we also convert Fords and Dodges as well.
Russ: Do you care to share sort of some volume numbers? How many do you do in a big month?
Jean: You know I really don't know a month breakdown, uh, we've done over 700 in the last couple years and we're excited about growing that number. I think the natural gas is absolutely the way to go. I get so excited it's like preaching the gospel of CNG.
Russ: Well, number one, at least these days, it's economically justifiable, you - there's a return on investment that happens pretty quickly, right?
Jean: Right. I can fill up at my home with a home fuel unit - which we also sell I can fill up at my house for about eighty-seven cents a gallon equivalent.
Russ: Okay, gallon equivalent, it's whatever capacity of natural gas that equals a gallon of gasoline, eighty-one cents versus way North of $3.00, in that range now; really, really cool. So seven hundred is quite a bit so you are seeing, uh, popularity and demand grow on the conversions, correct?
Russ: Okay. And I do know also as well that it's mostly popular and effective, uh, with fleet conversions because usually the infrastructure problem of being able to get the fuel is solved; what percentage of your business is, uh, is fleet business would you say?
Jean: Well I'm just gonna take a guess at that, I would say probably at this point we're still about 95% commercial fleet businesses.
Russ: But it's pretty interesting now too that individuals are coming in and saying hey I want you to take my gas vehicle and make it bi-fuel or make it CNG and that's happening, right?
Jean: That's happening and another thing that I hadn't thought of until my new daughter-in-law said you mean if I had one of those natural gas vehicles and a home fuel unit I'd never have to go to a gas station again?
Russ: Well I have to admit the home fueling station appeals to me as well. When I first thought of that - we've had the EVGO guys on and even their charging station at home seemed awfully convenient, uh, and then when I started realizing my god, most of us have natural gas coming into our house, why can't they bury a compression system and there are quite a few of them available right now too.
Jean: Yes, yes.
Russ: Okay. And which one do you guys sell?
Jean: We sell the VRC; we import it from Italy.
Russ: Okay, and have you sold many of those?
Jean: Two containers which would be about forty-something.
Russ: Okay. Do you see those perhaps really gaining steam and maybe resolving part of the infrastructure challenge?
Jean: I think they'll play a large role but I really see natural gas growing, um, as different convenience stores and gas stations add a CNG pump frankly.
Russ: Okay. Now I know from others in the space that you're fairly active in the movement and the movement is kind of an organized venture with an alliance here and there; give us an overview of that.
Jean: Well the alliance - it's the Houston NGV Alliance and it was started by Apache, Anadarko, Southwestern Energy and Centerpoint Energy and it's a 501C3 organization and it is - sole purpose is to promote natural gas vehicles.
Russ: Okay, and it consists of maybe others like you that focuses on conversions, people that are considering fleets and people that are actually building in stations right now, right?
Jean: Yes, yes, absolutely.
Russ: Okay. Well I'm so interested in this because it's a traditional dealership here and you've been running the business for eleven years so you were the one that made the decision to go to CNG?
Russ: Okay, describe for us what triggered the idea to step out there and how long ago was this?
Jean: A little over three years ago.
Russ: Okay, what - what triggered that idea to do this?
Jean: Well, our lobbyist - we have a small interest in a lobbyist in Austin came to me and said you know the oil and gas companies are gonna start really pushing these NGVs and it occurred to me that maybe you guys should look into this. And we did and as a matter of fact he facilitated a meeting with Steve Ferris who is the CEO for Apache locally and Steve was real excited that there was somebody locally that they could deal with and that they could get their vehicles and we could do a full service.
Russ: I mean, it seems like there's EPA regulations, Railroad Commission and you have to be pretty careful how you do it right now to sort of maneuver through all of those requirements, correct?
Jean: Right. We will not install a kit that is not an EPA approved kit and that's the way the Railroad Commission has set it up here. There are people unfortunately out there that will modify kits to fit different cars because each kit is engine specific.
Russ: And from what I understand, even though you can bring a private vehicle in to have it converted, there's some that you can't right now, at least in this state, correct?
Jean: Right, right, that's true unless, like I said, that - that specific kit or components for this has to be for that specific engine.
Russ: Okay. Now I mean the thing that gets me excited about the category is the abundance of the fuel now and the price and those are just so compelling together, but there's also the fact that it burns so clean and I think it eventually is gonna be endorsed and blessed by all the environmentalists, but it's significantly cleaner than burning gasoline, correct?
Jean: Yes it is, absolutely. And another interesting thing, uh, now I sell Volts and which is the electric car that Chevrolet has out, but you know where does most of our electricity still come from? Coal. So, I think about that and then I also think about, with my Volt and we get the Lithium from China. So we're trading one dependency for another.
Russ: Right. So the fact that the natural gas is right here, I mean it's great for the United States of America too.
Jean: It is and the number of jobs that have been created by this is just incredible.
Russ: Well that's really cool. Now I know that we're still kind of in the early stages of the industry and, uh, I want to stay in touch with you and see how it evolves out here. Well Jean, I really appreciate you sharing your story with us.
Jean: Well thank you for asking.
Russ: You bet. That's Jean Durdin, the owner of Parkway Chevrolet NGV and this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.