BRC Headquarters in Chisiamo, Italy
Many longtime dabblers in the home-fill CNG market have feelings about Fuelmaker products that border on visceral hatred.
In the past customers have had to deal with indifferent quality control, price gouging, insanely restrictive sales policies and a customer service manner that had the same sort charm and efficiency that might have marked the Moscow Driver’s Licence Bureau during the Brezhnev era.
This guaranteed that anyone who owned a Fuelmaker product was going to pay dearly for that fact in every way the company could invent. Some have said that the only people who willingly bought a Fuelmaker were those who weren’t skilled enough to adapt a Coltri or some other high pressure air compressor to fill their CNG tanks.
However Fuelmaker has come under Italian ownership in recent years. BRC corporation purchased the assets of Fuelmaker in May of 2009. It’s taken a couple of years to bring sanity to Fuelmaker, but BRC has changed some of its pricing and policies recently, and that change is for the better. While it could be argued that the changes are not wholly altruistic, but rather have been produced by a shaky Italian economy hungry for paying business coupled with the fact that everybody and his uncle is clamoring to enter the CNG compressor market. We at the CNG Times don’t particularly care what caused this volte-face. We are simply pleased that it has happened.
The price of the FMQ-2-3600 home fill unit (.9 gge/hour when it’s in a good state of repair) has dropped significantly. So has the price of wear items like fill hoses.
Perhaps the biggest change is that the dreaded 4,000-hour-blue-screen-of-death has been dropped altogether. Formerly a Fuelmaker product would shut down without warning when the internal timer hit 4,000 hours. You had to uninstall the unit (or have it uninstalled) and ship it to a rebuilder. Now Fuelmaker will let them run beyond 4,000 hours. The compressor will continue to run until it fills so slowly that the customer is ready to send it in.
Another significant change is that the compressor heads will no longer be rebuilt. These are now consumable items. They are replaced with brand new heads, and the old ones are destroyed in the presence of a factory representative in order to insure that no black market for used heads ever develops. The cost of the head plus replacement? $1600 plus shipping, according to the information we were able to glean. That, too, is a sharp drop in price.
There’s still some improvements to make. We’re still stuck with the policy which says that only a Fuelmaker dealer can install the unit, and if he has to drive seven hours to get to your house, you’re going to have to pay him for the 14 hours of drive time plus the installation. Like most Europeans, the new owners of Fuelmaker don’t really seem to comprehend the vastness of this country. Some of Fuelmaker’s best potential customers are 500-600 miles (800-960 kilometers) from an authorized dealer. Would they really expect a customer in Frankfurt to pay for a technician to drive up from Rome to install a compressor? Yet that is precisely the situation facing the U.S. market. That makes an already expensive item prohibitively expensive. That is killing sales for the company, and the sooner they realize that, the better it will be for all involved.
In reality there is no need for this policy. Any licensed HVAC technician can easily install a Fuelmaker unit with a little bit of training and a modest investment in equipment. A better strategy going forward would be to allow the regional dealers to keep their sales business, but develop training seminars and a network of licensed local installers. Couple that with consumer financing or an aggressive leasing program, and Fuelmaker could do very, very well in the U.S. market. Under such a regime, dealers could easily make up in sales volume what they would lose in installation labor.
Having said that, the new policies are a giant step in the right direction. We at the CNG Times salute BRC for making these important and substantive changes.
What the world most needs now, in this era of $100+ oil, is cheaper natural gas compression. What we need most is a “Model T Ford” CNG compressor. What is required is a CNG compressor that, like the Tin Lizzie, is not very sophisticated or particularly powerful, but is reliable and within reach of the common person. Whoever captures that market will be positioned to become a powerhouse in the global refueling market for the next century. BRC has made some significant strides towards that goal. Ben fatto, BRC!