Natural Gas Vehicle Activities Signal NGV Choices Ahead

Honda, still the only automaker to offer a factory-built, compressed natural gas (CNG) passenger vehicle in the U.S., plans to promote its 2012 Civic Natural Gas model more aggressively. Besides changing its model designation from the previous ‘Honda Civic GX’ to highlight its use of CNG, American Honda has selected environmental consulting firm Gladstein, Neandross & Associates to help market it in 19 states in the Midwest, Northeast, and Mid-Atlantic plus the District of Columbia. The Honda Civic Natural Gas is currently available in 33 states and will be offered in five additional states by the end of the 2011.
Newly redesigned for 2012, the CNG-version uses the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine as the Civic sedan and coupe, but with unique fuel injectors and intake exhaust valves for operating on natural gas. Stronger connecting rods and special pistons are used to handle the higher 12.7:1 (versus the gasoline variant’s10.6:1) compression ratio. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard. Civic Natural Gas models are produced at Honda Manufacturing of Indiana.
The Civic Natural Gas has an estimated fuel economy rating of 27 city/38 highway mpg on a gasoline-gallon equivalency basis. Compared to the 2011 model, city fuel economy is improved by 12.5 percent and highway fuel economy is up by 5.5 percent. Better fuel economy is achieved partly through aerodynamic features like flat underbody construction and strakes in front of the tires. The 3600 psi, aluminum-lined composite CNG fuel tank located between the rear wheels carries the equivalent of 7.8 gallons of gasoline.
The Civic Natural Gas engine is the cleanest internal-combustion vehicle certified by the EPA. California rates it as an Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), which is achieved by meeting SULEV standards and maintaining emissions durability for at least 150,000 miles or 15 years. Purchase incentives currently pending under legislation HR 1380 (the NAT GAS Act) would make the Civic Natural Gas more affordable than its as-yet unannounced base price, which is expected to be in the $26,000 range.
Ford says half of all its vehicles will be capable of running on alternative fuels, especially natural gas, by 2012. Of course these are commercial vehicles like Transit Connect and E-Series vans, E-Series stripped chassis and cutaways, E-Series wagons, F-Series Super Duty trucks, F-350 through F-750 Super Duty chassis cabs, and F53/F59 stripped chassis. Ford does not build natural gas vehicles, but rather has developed and tested a CNG/LPG Gaseous Engine Prep Package to be installed by third party upfitters that handle the CNG/LPG tank and hardware installations.
General Motors, which began selling vehicles with natural gas engines to U.S. fleet buyers last year, has entered into an agreement with Westport Innovations to bolster its place in the natural gas vehicle field. Both GM and Westport will bring their extensive expertise in developing CNG engine control, emissions, and performance strategies.
Westport will open a new Technical Center in Michigan to develop technologies for CNG vehicles aimed at business, government fleets, and personal use. This includes applying hybridization, smaller-displacement with turbocharging, direct injection, and other fuel-saving technologies now used in gasoline and diesel engines.
Chrysler Group plans to start selling CNG vehicles by 2017. Chrysler, partly own by Fiat SpA, is in an ideal position to develop and market NGVs. Fiat is a CNG market leader in Europe with 80 percent of the market for methane gas-powered cars and 55 percent of the light truck market. For example, Chrysler is looking at the possibility of adding CNG powered engines to its Ram truck line.