More natural gas-powered vehicles will hit the market soon, as rising gasoline prices, booming natural gas production and proposed tax credits make them a more attractive option. But they’re a long way from being a common sight in U.S. driveways.
Starting in July, Chrysler will sell a Ram 2500 Heavy Duty pickup that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). The truck has both gasoline and natural gas storage tanks, and the engine shifts automatically between the two, without the driver needing to push a switch. The truck can run for 255 miles on natural gas and the range is extended to 367 miles using gasoline. Once the CNG tanks are empty, the vehicle shifts to gasoline. The dashboard has fuel gauges for both.
Chrysler will have competition. Late this year, General Motors Co. will sell natural-gas versions of two pickups Ñ the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD. The GM trucks will run on gasoline and natural gas for 650 miles. Ford Motor Co. has offered natural-gas ready pickups and vans since 2009.
Natural gas is appealing for a lot of reasons. It comes from domestic sources, for those concerned about importing oil. It produces 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than traditional gasoline or diesel. And it costs less than gasoline because of abundant production and supplies in the U.S. Natural gas prices have dropped more than 23 percent this year, reaching a 10-year low on Wednesday. Regular gasoline prices have climbed 23 percent over the same period.
At the pump, drivers paid an average of $3.37 a gallon for gasoline in January. That compared with $2.13 a gallon for compressed natural gas, according to the latest government data.
But U.S. buyers have been slow to adopt natural-gas vehicles, which make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the vehicles on American roads. Even the newest trucks aren’t intended for average buyers. They’re work trucks, capable of plowing snow and towing three tons or more. Chrysler will only sell its natural-gas Ram to fleet customers like local governments, utilities and construction companies. GM anticipates that 90 percent of its sales will be to fleets.
Push for US Cars to Run on Natural Gas
General Electric and Chesapeake Energy have formed an alliance to promote the use of natural gas as a fuel for cars and trucks, in a bid to capitalise on the US shale gas boom.
The two companies will work together on developing gas infrastructure for transport, including new units for compressing natural gas for use at filling stations.
The collaboration has an initial target of installing just 250 of those units, which would be a large increase from the 500 natural gas filling stations now open, but small in the context of about 159,000 retail fuel outlets in the US.
However, Mike Hosford, GE’s general manager for unconventional fuels, said he believed the alliance could have “a huge upside”.
Chesapeake, which is the second-largest gas producer in the US, and GE, which has been investing in technology for gas production and transport, share an interest in increasing demand.
The boom in production of shale gas, unlocked by the use of improved production techniques, has created a glut in the market and sent US gas prices tumbling to a 10-year low, putting pressure on Chesapeake’s finances.
GE, meanwhile, has identified energy infrastructure as one of its most important growth markets.