Ron Mercer wasn't part of Monday's presentation to several officials from the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C.
Others were pitching the idea he and friend Bob Hammack launched on YouTube more than two years ago, giving Mercer an opportunity to focus on the reaction rather than the presentation.
He said he watched Thomas Day, the Postal Service's chief sustainability officer, as he listened to a proposal that could save the struggling agency more than $500 million a year.
Mercer's group is trying to sell the Postal Service on the benefits of switching from gasoline to compressed natural gas to fuel its vehicle fleet.
Their plan — dubbed MERVAN Project after Mercer and car dealer John Vance, who has served on advisory boards for several U.S. automakers — would begin with a pilot in Oklahoma City.
Mercer said Day's attention didn't wander during the presentation by Vance, project director Dave Evans and a representative from Ford.
“He was very intrigued,” Mercer said.
Evans said he went into the meeting hoping Postal Service officials would consider the CNG proposal, but they seemed ready to embrace it.
The meeting was supposed to last an hour, but stretched to 90 minutes because officials were so engaged.
The postal service is wrapping up its fiscal year, but Evans said officials are eager to set up two more meetings to go over additional logistics and potentially sign contracts. He said those meetings could come in late September or early October.
One of the issues that must be overcome is the innovative lease program proposed by the Oklahoma City group. The proposal involves leasing 500 Ford Travel Connect vans to the Postal Service, replacing its current fleet of 20- to 30-year-old vehicles.
Evans said the Postal Service has never leased vehicles before, but the arrangement could save it about $600 million a year in maintenance costs if the MERVAN Project is taken nationwide.
Postal Service officials still has questions about the proposal, which will be addressed at future meetings. For now, the group is focusing on building grassroots support for the project.
“We want to make it very difficult to say no,” Mercer said.
Tuesday, the group met with Louisiana state Rep. Henry Burns and other local leaders to discuss the benefits of using natural gas as a vehicle fuel.
Mercer said more individuals and businesses will embrace CNG as infrastructure becomes available since it is cheaper than gasoline. Natural gas also is a clean, abundant, American fuel source that will help the country reduce its reliance on foreign oil, he said.
The Postal Service could save more than $500 million a year in fuel and maintenance costs by switching, according to the MERVAN Project. Evans said the MERVAN Project could return $250 billion a year into the U.S. economy in 10 years if enough drivers switch to natural gas.