The market for Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) vehicles is changing rapidly. Honda which has been up to now the only seller of CNG vehicles announced plans recently to expand the infrastructure of CNG fueling stations. Meanwhile, GM will begin selling pickup trucks with duo-fuel CNG/gasoline options in April, with Chrysler right behind.
Even the Congress seems not to dispute that CNG has a future as a clean fuel in the US. The superabundance of North American natural gas, its low price, the wide distribution of natural gas across the country and the relatively mature state of CNG technology as a vehicle fuel (CNG and gasoline are readily accepted by most engines) all suggest that this is a real clean tech pathway. But what about delivery to the vehicle owner? Here the story is a little less sanguine. While there are now over a thousand natural gas stations serving some 100,000 plus CNG vehicles (a lot of them municipal vehicles), many more will be needed before a really wide-based infrastructure would be in place. It’s at this crunch point that the Honda announcement — that it will be putting in CNG pumps in its dealerships — is so interesting. Honda won’t be selling big CNG trucks but rather a CNG version of its economical Civic. Details of the Honda plan are sketchy at this point but most folks buy their cars locally and the Civic is a commuter/local driving sort of a car likely to be driven within a 30 – 40 mile radius of home. Topping up at the dealership may well be practical for at least some buyers. The Civic is rated for 31 miles to the gallon of CNG. At the current price of $2.13 a gallon for CNG, that might make good sense to a fair number of drivers. Cleaner, cheaper, energy independent: maybe there is something really major happening here.