Propane Shuttle Case Study: Big Cedar Lodge
Fueling the Great Outdoors at Missouri’s Premier Wilderness Resort
Organization: Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cedar Lodge
Industry: Resorts/Golf Courses/Hospitality/Transportation
Location: Ridgedale, Missouri
Vehicles: 2021 Chevrolet G3500 Hybrid Shuttle Van
Fueling: On-site propane autogas station
Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cedar Lodge is a premier Wilderness Resort in southwest Missouri. The resort’s shuttle van fleet is responsible for transporting over 1.5 million visitors annually to restaurants, lodging, golf courses, and other activities across the 4,600-acre property. Big Cedar recognized an opportunity to lower fuel costs and reduce emissions by converting its fleet to propane autogas.
By the end of May 2022, Big Cedar converted 17 shuttles to autogas. The Big Cedar transportation team saw immediate benefits from the switch to propane in the form of fuel savings, improved mileage, and lowered emissions. Big Cedar has plans to convert other property vehicles to autogas in the near future.
- Missouri Propane Education & Research Council
- Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cedar Lodge
- Alliance AutoGas
About Big Cedar Lodge
Located in the heart of Missouri’s Ozark Mountains, Big Cedar Lodge is America’s premier wilderness resort. A passion of Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, the 4,600-acre lakeside retreat connects families to the outdoors with a variety of nature-based experiences including fishing, shooting, boating, hiking, spa and wellness offerings, hosting over 1.5 million guests annually. Signature attractions include Top of the Rock, home to world-class golf, dining, and entertainment; and Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre nonprofit wildlife preserve. Named “#1 Resort in the Midwest” by the readers of Travel + Leisure four years in a row, the resort offers genuine Ozarks hospitality and a convenient location just south of Branson.
Big Cedar Shuttles By the Numbers
- 38 total shuttles, 18 will be converted to propane autogas
- 18 hours of operation per day
- 25 gallons of propane autogas per shuttle per day
- 11-14 mpg on propane autogas compared to 6 mpg on diesel
- Up to 40% annual fuel savings
Big Cedar and Johnny Morris live by the mantra that “we all live downstream.” A central feature of the Bass Pro Shops brand is preserving wildlife and the beauty of the great outdoors. A challenge to that mission is how to responsibly provide transportation services to guests. Big Cedar Lodge utilizes a fleet of 38 shuttles in daily operations, operating both gas and diesel fuel vehicles. From transporting guests to the many restaurants and golf courses on the property, to picking up guests from the airport, each Big Cedar shuttle stays on the road an average of 18 hours a day and logs an average of 700,000 miles per year.
During the Missouri Propane Education and Research Council’s 2021 board meetings at Big Cedar Lodge, the MOPERC Motor Fuel Committee took advantage of the opportunity to present the benefits of propane autogas to the transportation staff and Bass Pro Shops executives. Autogas, the name for propane when used as a vehicle fuel, is the third most popular automotive fuel in the world and is increasing in popularity among fleet vehicles, shuttles, and buses.
“We had something to offer,” said MOPERC board president and district manager of MFA Oil Company, Luke Fitzpatrick. “We had been doing board meetings at Big Cedar for several years and thought, why not tell them about the benefits autogas can provide alongside their mission.”
As an environmentally-conscious outdoor brand, the Big Cedar ownership, including Johnny Morris, was on board with the switch to propane. And, for MOPERC, the resort was the perfect candidate for a propane shuttle project.
Liz Stanley, the Safety and Logistics Coordinator at Big Cedar, said that before hearing MOPERC’s presentation, her team was not familiar with the potential for propane as a motor fuel.
“We had no idea propane even existed in that capacity,” she said. “We made an agreement to try it on a test basis, and we liked it.”
As it turns out, there was much for Big Cedar to like about propane autogas. Derek Poe, Executive Director of the Missouri Propane Safety Commission, summed up the benefits of autogas, stating, “it checks all the boxes.” By turning to a clean, alternative fuel like autogas, MOPERC explained that through the conversion process, Big Cedar would have fuel savings, a reduced carbon footprint, and an overall better resort experience for all.
The Conversion Process
Once everyone was on board, the first step was to determine a system that worked for Big Cedar’s fleet and infrastructure. MOPERC connected Big Cedar with Alliance AutoGas (AAG), a national alternative fuel company based in Asheville, N.C., to get the process started.
In November of 2021, the project officially launched with MOPERC funding the transition of the first two guest shuttles to autogas. MOPERC also provided Big Cedar’s transportation team with a mobile refueling unit.
When making the switch to propane, fleet managers have two options: convert existing vehicles or purchase new propane shuttles. To help make this determination, AAG sent a representative to Missouri to assess the fleet. Based on a number of factors, it was determined that AAG would create a custom conversion kit for the resort’s shuttles. According to Josh Budworth, Business Development Manager for AAG, “choosing to convert to propane is about one-third of the cost of completely upgrading a fleet to new vehicles.”
The first of the passenger shuttle conversions featured a 2021 Chevrolet G3500 with 6.6 liter direct-injected engine, converted with an Alliance Engineered System featuring technology from Prins, a pioneer in fuel system development for more than 35 years.
MOPERC, AAG, and Big Cedar then worked together to establish a service center close to the fleet where the remaining conversions would be completed and where the fleet will be routinely serviced. A real benefit to service managers is that repair and maintenance facilities do not require modification to service autogas vehicles. As part of the partnership, AAG provides the propane training to the service centers needed to convert and maintain the vehicles.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s one vehicle or if it’s 100 vehicles, we’re going to set up service close,” said Budworth. For fleet managers and their service partners, Budworth says propane vehicles are also easier to maintain than diesel.
After a service center was secured and the staff was trained on the conversion process, Big Cedar moved forward with converting the rest of the fleet and training drivers on the propane autogas refueling system. The resort currently uses a mobile refueling system, courtesy of MOPERC, but is in the process of installing a 10,000-gallon propane tank and on-site refueling center for their shuttles.
Since the switch, Big Cedar is seeing benefits across the board on costs and performance, from fuel savings to better mileage to increased pulling power. Before converting to propane autogas, Stanley said her shuttles were going through 25 gallons of fuel per day.
“When we converted to propane, we’ve knocked that down to fueling one time a week, so 25 gallons per week per shuttle,” she said. “We basically went from about six miles per gallon up to 11 to 14, depending on if we’re in town or out on the highway.”
Budworth explained that when fleet managers switch to propane, “cost per mile goes down substantially.” This is because of the density of propane, meaning drivers get more range out of the same amount of gallons. Not only that, but propane also is better for idling, an important piece for shuttles that make frequent stops, pick-ups and drop-offs.
“With propane, it actually idles higher than normal gas,” Stanley explained. “You don’t have to kick it into high idle, which burns more fuel. The only time you’re going to use that is if it’s super cold, but it’s eliminated a lot of steps and saves fuel, as well.”
The autogas shuttles in the Big Cedar fleet are bi-fuel vehicles, also operating on gasoline, eliminating range anxiety for drivers. If the shuttle is running low on propane autogas, it will automatically switch to gasoline until there is an opportunity to fill up. Once the autogas is refueled, the vehicle will switch back over to propane. Stanley says it’s a “seamless” system where the driver doesn’t have to touch a thing.
The fuel savings of propane goes past regular fill-ups. By ordering autogas in advance, Big Cedar is also receiving a discount on their total propane deliveries. Stanley said that all of those small savings add up.
“By going completely to a propane fleet, we’re probably going to get at least a quarter knocked off our propane cost,” she said, “which may not sound like much but when we buy 10,000 gallons a week, it’s a huge amount of money.”
The cost savings for Big Cedar come from more than just fueling. Propane requires much less maintenance than diesel or traditional gas shuttles.
“I think we got the biggest reaction when we talked about the reduction of cost and maintenance due to their oil changes, preventative maintenance, and just wear and tear on the engine,” said Poe. “They were looking more at the dollars and cents from what they were going to save in fuel costs, not realizing that it was going to also be potential for reduction in repairs.”
Because propane is a clean alternative fuel, overall maintenance is made simpler.
“There really is no maintenance on a propane shuttle,” said Stanley. “You do a routine filter change like you would an oil change, but that’s it.”
Prior to propane, daily wear and tear was a big part of the maintenance equation because of the location of Big Cedar – on a property made up of rolling hills, valleys, and cliffs. Now, Stanley said her drivers are really enjoying the pulling power propane autogas provides.
“It gives you about a third more power,” Stanley said about autogas. “We go up and down hills constantly, and we were going through transmissions in our shuttles about every year to year and a half because it just didn’t have the power to pull the hills. When we did this conversion, it actually upped our pulling power by at least a third, which did away with all of our transmission issues.”
Preserving the Natural Environment
Converting to propane autogas has brought additional benefits to the resort and the surrounding environment.
“Big Cedar’s motivation was really to be clean and go green,” Budworth said. “The fuel savings, performance, and range were all benefits, but they really wanted to go green.”
When compared to gasoline, autogas substantially reduces greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, non-methane hydrocarbon and nitrogen oxide.
“If the number one goal of your organization is to have the cleanest energy possible, from production to tailpipe, autogas is the cleanest energy you can use,” said Poe.
For Big Cedar specifically, the CO2 emission reductions from one shuttle alone are the equivalent of 584 trash bags of waste being recycled instead of going to the landfill or the carbon sequestered by 16.8 acres of U.S. forest in one year.
According to Budworth “propane should be the top tier” in terms of fuel choice for resorts and other properties like Big Cedar,
“I think that everybody should be looking at their downstream emissions,” he said. “A lot of people focus on upstream emissions, but you need to look at what’s coming out that tailpipe and how you’re actually affecting the environment.”
But, perhaps the best benefits of converting to propane autogas are the ones that extend to Big Cedar visitors and shuttle riders. Shuttles and buses that run on propane are exceptionally quiet, substantially reducing noise pollution. The emissions from the tailpipe of an autogas engine are primarily carbon dioxide and water, emitting virtually no soot. Propane autogas is also a non-contaminant of soil, air and water, a key benefit for a property centered on natural features.
The simple, yet impactful switch to autogas separates Big Cedar from any other wilderness resort in the nation. Golfers, hikers, and those seeking peace and quiet at the Big Cedar property will enjoy nature to the fullest extent. Those catching a shuttle ride will no longer be subjected to exhaust fumes or noisy idling stops.
“I love the way our team came together, had this idea, and ran with it,” said MOPERC Director, Steve Ahrens. “So proud to have a board of volunteers that extend our ability to tell the propane story.”
Big Cedar Lodge is a great example of what can happen when Missourians help fellow Missourians. MOPERC was able to help Big Cedar satisfy all its requests: cleaner energy, less cost, ease of transition, and higher customer satisfaction.
Currently, autogas is the third-most-popular fuel for vehicles worldwide, fueling more than 26 million vehicles. Furthermore, when compared with the whole spectrum of electrical energy creation, autogas is a cleaner and cheaper alternative than electric vehicles.
The advantages that Big Cedar Lodge now enjoys can be scaled up or down to your fleet or vehicle. It really is as simple as contacting MOPERC to get the ball rolling. And once the ball gets rolling, allow its momentum to carry you into a greener and more cost-effective future.
Propane is a safe, clean and efficient power source that is readily available.
More people, in Missouri and around the country, are choosing propane as their fuel of choice because it is affordable, efficient and versatile. Propane is a dependable energy source that can power appliances, transportation, commercial, agriculture and more.