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Fuel Prices Fall, Propane Autogas Business Rises

By January 26, 2016March 10th, 2016Blog, Fuel for Thought

Fuel Prices Fall, Propane Autogas Business Rises

Gasoline and diesel prices are at the lowest they’ve been in a decade. The oil industry “with its history of booms and busts, is in its deepest downturn since the 1990s, if not earlier,” according to the New York Times.

Yet alternative fuel business is up. How is this possible?

The failure of clean technology is clearly laid out in billionaire investor Peter Thiel’s book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.”

He rewrites the cause of death. But along the way, he also lays out a path to business success that explodes common myths — and gives us all fuel for thought.

After describing the decline of clean technology in recent years, Thiel writes, “Why did cleantech fail? Conservatives think they already know the answer: as soon as green energy became a priority for the government, it was poisoned. But there really were (and there still are) good reasons for making energy a priority. And the truth about cleantech is more complex and more important than government failure. Most cleantech companies crashed because they neglected one or more of the seven questions that every business must answer.”

Of course, from where I sit, clean technology hasn’t failed, but more on that later.

The seven questions Thiel proposes in “Zero to One” are:

  1. The Engineering Question: Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  2. The Timing Question: Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  3. The Monopoly Question: Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  4. The People Question: Do you have the right team?
  5. The Distribution Question: Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  6. The Durability Question: Will your market position be defensible 10 to 20 years into the future?
  7. The Secret Question: Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

I’ll focus on Thiel’s engineering question in this post and look at the others in upcoming posts.

In response to Thiel’s first question, yes, of course you can create breakthrough technology.

At ROUSH CleanTech, we leveraged breakthrough technology by perfecting a liquid injection system for propane autogas. Within five years, we deployed more than 9,000 Ford trucks and vans and Blue Bird school buses fueled by propane autogas to public and private fleets across the U.S.

The breakthrough is essential, Thiel says, because just incremental improvements that move us from an existing product or service to iterations of that same product or service (1 to “n”) won’t lead to the business success or growth reached by blockbuster companies like Google that created something entirely new, moving us from 0 to 1.

ROUSH CleanTech’s sales are up, even at a time when gas and diesel prices are down. I attribute this growth to propane maintenance benefits over diesel vehicles, the desire for proven green technology and the lack of stability of foreign energy sources. Are these growth factors applicable to your market sector?

So here’s your fuel for thought: What breakthrough could you envision that would improve your business?