Spurred by recent support from the U.S. government and rock-bottom natural gas prices, the big auto makers appear to be getting on board with natural gas-powered vehicles. General Motors announced on Monday that it will make two large trucks that will run on both gasoline and natural gas, and Chrysler plans to announce Tuesday that it, too, will roll out a heavy-duty truck that can run on both gasoline and compressed natural gas, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Consumers will be able to start ordering the dual-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended cab trucks starting next month. “The bi-fuel Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra provide customers with choices in advanced propulsion technology, and because CNG is a clean-burning, domestically produced fuel, it has wide appeal, “ Ed Peper, general manager of GM’s fleet and commercial operations, said in a statement.
Natural gas-powered passenger vehicles are scarce partly due to the limited network of fueling stations nationwide and a lack of commitment to the technology from the automakers. Those reasons might also explain why GM isn’t rolling out vehicles that run on natural gas only just yet.
But the economics of natural gas is a major driving factor. Some fleet managers have been buying converted natural gas buses, trucks and sedans that run on natural gas because the fuel prices are cheaper. There are two types of natural gas fuels: compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas, the latter of which is usually found in heavy-duty vehicles.
Rising gasoline prices may also help propel natural gas vehicles among consumers. President Obama’s big support for natural gas exploration as well as his support for using it for generating electricity and powering cars could also nudge more major car makers to launch natural gas models. The U.S. Department of Energy is looking to fund research for developing better compressors and new materials to produce cheaper and safer passenger cars that run on compressed natural gas.
Right now Honda is probably the best known maker of natural gas passenger cars in the U.S. It sells a Civic model that runs only on compressed natural gas and starts at $26,155.
Although GM is rolling out the heavy trucks with hybrid fuel designs, it’s not outfitting the vehicles’ fueling systems at its own factories. It will send the trucks from its Fort Wayne, Ind., factory to another supplier to install the fuel delivery and storage system instead, said GM, which will cover the fuel system until its warranty.