Automakers unveil natural-gas pickups

The fuel is a cheaper alternative to gasoline, and there's plenty of it. Now if only there were more fill-up stations.

By Kim Peterson Mar 5, 2012 2:39PM
Image: Truck drivers (© Exactostock / SuperStock/SuperStock)The price of gas has climbed to an average of $3.77 a gallon nationwide -- a tough break for an economy just starting to recover.

But there's another gas in the United States that's awfully cheap and in abundance: natural gas. In fact, new drilling technologies have made this country the largest natural-gas producer in the world. Why aren't automakers looking at more ways to use it?

As it turns out, some are. General Motors (GM) says it will start taking orders next month for pickups that can run on gasoline and natural gas. It will sell the Chevrolet Silverado and the GMC Sierra 2500 HD with a natural-gas option. One executive said that because natural gas is so much cheaper than gasoline, the new trucks could save drivers as much as $10,000 over three years, Bloomberg reports.

Natural-gas trucks are more suited for fleets. There are only about 500 natural-gas fueling stations in the U.S. open to the public, Bloomberg reports, so at this point it's tough for consumers to jump on the technology.

But as demand for alternative fuels increases, automakers and fueling stations are starting to respond.

Chrysler is expected to announce Tuesday its first from-the-factory pickup that runs on natural gas and gasoline. It will build at least 2,000 specialized Ram trucks starting in June, The Wall Street Journal reports.

People have been able to get trucks retrofitted to handle natural gas, but that's complex and requires additional costs, the Journal reports. Building in the natural-gas option at the factory reduces the friction and the expense.

"If the opportunity presents itself, we wouldn't turn our back on a CNG-powered passenger car," Chrysler executive Peter Grady told the Journal. "We aren't working on it now, but we do have it in the back of our minds."

Honda Motor (HMC) sells a passenger car that can run on natural gas, the Civic NG, at about 200 dealers starting at $26,200, the Journal reports.

Some stocks were seeing a lift Monday from the news. Clean Energy Fuels (CLNE) was up nearly 5% to $19.60 in the early afternoon, while shares of Fuel Systems Solutions (FSYS) rose more than 5% to $27.47.

The price of natural-gas futures is at a decade low, CNBC reports, trading below $2.50 per million BTUs. One reason is because inventory is very high, at about 45% above the 5-year average.

Mar 5, 2012 3:36PM

From what I've read, the cost of converting existing trucks and cars to natural gas is inflated enormously by federal and state taxes or fees not to mention a plethora of regulations.  It wouldn't be a quick fix, but if Obama proposed to forego  federal fees and encouraged  states to do the same while simplifying regulations the high cost of conversion would be cut by about 50% at least. Of course, people with existing natural gas service to their homes could have personal LNG  equipment installed to fill their cars, but again fees and regulations are in the way.


Everybody wise up and contact your local, state and federal government representatives.












Mar 5, 2012 5:14PM
Natural gas then hydrogen. We should switch right to hydrogen but BIG OIL don't want that.
Mar 5, 2012 4:24PM
And WHAT is the cost of this factory installed CNG option??????
Mar 5, 2012 7:36PM
Crazy 8, you're a fool who is obsessed with politics and name calling.
Mar 5, 2012 6:59PM

Actually many countries use natural gas as an auto fuel. Thailand requires all taxis to run on it in Bangkok and it seems to work fine although the tank takes up a lot of the trunk space in a small taxi.

Once out of the city the taxi can use either fuel, gasoline or natural gas, with a flip of the switch on the dash.



Mar 5, 2012 6:26PM
And highly overpaid sports players!

Usual suspects:  To get to Hydrogen, they have to crack NG.  Might just as well burn the NG and forget about spending money to get the hydrogen out.     In the mean time the real job makers,  entrepreneurs, will find other sources of fuel.   The Gov't needs to keep their hands out of it.


Mar 5, 2012 5:24PM

OhBummer.  I cant fill my tank because it costs so much, but i can't but a CNG/or change my car to that because its to expensive.



OhBummer 12!

Zerosum:  Don't trains get about 300 miles to a gallon of diesel?  They only run the diesel to make electricity to run the wheels.  I don't think solar panels would keep up to the train's needs.  Wind power, solar and hydro on trains would mean large batteries, of which we don't have yet.  Even the new liquid metal batteries being designed probably wouldn't be big enough to operate a train.  See Popular Science magazine on the big liquid metal batteries a university is working on.
Mar 5, 2012 7:18PM
Of course natural gas is already being used as a transportation fuel, but only on a relatively small scale. It will never be used on a large scale because it is impractical and uneconomic.
Mar 5, 2012 7:12PM

No rail service to your job? I guess you'll need to get a job within walking distance, because nature doesn't care. And what will natural gas cost when we start to use it on a large scale as a transportation fuel? We'll be painted into a corner once again. Future trains could run on electricity, produced by the sun, wind and hydro, much more efficiently than electric cars. And then there is always the option of walking or riding a bike.

Mar 5, 2012 6:25PM
First, doesn't anyone worry about the explosive characteristics of natural gas - I see entire neighborhoods wiped out when there is a leak in the natural gas pipeline?  

Second, isn't it great that the government can implement all these clean air mandates, and the only people who will be able to afford the "clean air" vehicles are movie stars, politicians and wealthy members of Congress!
Mar 5, 2012 5:29PM

The problem with natural gas is that is a gas, not a liquid at  standard temperature and pressure. Gases are less energy dense than liquids and it takes extremely high pressure to liquify natural gas. It will not replace gasoline as a transportation fuel. Move to rail and abandon the combustion engine automobile.

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