By on April 29, 2009

Ok, it’s not really a secret. But I sure wasn’t aware that the Italian automaker is “the biggest player in the market for natural gas engines,” selling 68k natural gas-powered rides last year and aiming for 120k unit sales this year. Thanks for the heads-up, NY Times! In yet more evidence of Fiat’s politically-savvy strategy, Italy’s scrappage scheme currently doubles the rebate for paisans who junk their clunker for a natural gas hoopty. Naturally though, one government incentive isn’t enough: “Fiat is collaborating with fuel companies and the Italian government to provide more than 1,000 stations where motorists can fill their tanks with natural gas.” Though most NG Fiats are “dual-fuel,” US infrastructure will have to be significantly upgraded (with help from taxpayers) to cash in on NG’s green promise stateside. Nonetheless Fiat’s natural gas technology is raising hopes for Chrysler’s future, if a deal is done, if infrastructure is upgraded, and if US consumers spring for the emerging fuel. But a word of warning: eco-tech enticement sent several billion GM bucks down the Fiat rabbit hole in search of competitive diesel technology not that long ago. And we all know how that turned out.

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21 Comments on “Fiat’s Gassy Secret...”


  • avatar
    Lumbergh21

    The big new thing in emissions control/fear is CO2, and natural gas isn’t going to help reduce CO2 one bit. It’s dead before it started.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    CNG is not a bad thing if your aim is to reduce noxious emissions, but storage and transport are a problem. If it was a viable option, non-fleet users would use it.**

    Honda threw in the towel on Phil and the Civic GX for about the same reason. Even hybridizing CNG is problematic (big effin’ cylinder + big effin’ battery pack = no trunk space)

    ** Fair disclosure: when I buy my obnoxious sports car, I will be converting it to CNG.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    On the bright side, if you have natural gas service in your house you can have a CNG filling station in your garage. I’m OK with that as long as it’s cheaper than gasoline.

  • avatar

    Forget the gassy stuff, I want my veggie-oil powered Alfa Spider JTDM!

    –chuck

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Cars are trivial compared to livestock. Skip meat once a week and buy a G8 GXP.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    Also, remember, when considering the emissions of a Fiat it’s not the emissions of the Fiat itself that you have to consider but rather the emissions of the tow truck that’s pulling the Fiat.

  • avatar
    NN

    no_slushbox…that was funny.

    so we’re going to replace Saudi Arabia as the western world’s energy supplier with Russia? no thanks.

    See Europe/Russia gas issues. Essentially every winter, like clockwork, Russia proves they should never be trusted.

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    This is nothing but a smokescreen. How is this Fiat technology supposed to make its (or even Chrysler’s) vehicles more salable in the US? How many Civic GXs did Honda manage to sell even with that Phill apparatus?

    Fiat’s diesel engines would be more useful to Chrysler at this point than any of this CNG stuff.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    ” … eco-tech enticement sent several billion GM bucks down the Fiat rabbit hole in search of competitive diesel technology not that long ago … ”

    GM has shown little competence at making joint ventures work, which I suspect is why the GM-Fiat venture fell apart. GM’s alliances with Isuzu, Subaru and Suzuki also came to nothing. Then there is GM’s purchase of Saab, which took an ailing automaker and turned it into a full-on basket-case. I suppose that GM’s Chinese adventures are the only ones which seem to actually be working out.

  • avatar
    charly

    Aren’t the Iranians the biggest maker of natural gas cars?

  • avatar
    Cicero

    Isn’t natural gas just another form of greenhouse gas-generating hydrocarbons? And don’t you have to despoil pristine natural environments like Texas and ANWR to get it? And doesn’t it have to be transported in big ugly ships whose captains drink too much to avoid the rocks, which gets the the cute little seals and polar bears all greasy?

    So, what’s the argument for natural gas over the high-test at the local Mobil station?

  • avatar
    Stein X Leikanger

    Works OK for me – both LPG and natural gas.

    Here are more details.

    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/282702/

    (And btw – I searched for this article using the site search, no hits. Entered the same search string in google, and immediately got the link …)

  • avatar
    RedStapler

    The failure of the CNG Civic sell was more a function of the huge price premium Honda was putting on it versus the actual merits of the technology.

    Purchasing one only made sense if you lived in CA, VA or some other social engineering jurisdiction that gave you solo diamond lane privileges.

  • avatar
    bluecon

    When I worked on the Ford V8 engine lines they made natural gas engines. Just a head with harder valve seats was the only difference. If they were short of the regular heads they put on the natural gas heads.

  • avatar
    Macca

    Cicero :
    April 29th, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Isn’t natural gas just another form of greenhouse gas-generating hydrocarbons? And don’t you have to despoil pristine natural environments like Texas and ANWR to get it? And doesn’t it have to be transported in big ugly ships whose captains drink too much to avoid the rocks, which gets the the cute little seals and polar bears all greasy?

    So, what’s the argument for natural gas over the high-test at the local Mobil station?

    Natural gas (methane) burns very cleanly, due to its molecular simplicity (CH4). It is estimated that a CNG-powered car has 25% lower CO2 emissions over a conventional gasoline engine. Particulate and evaporative emissions are pretty much eliminated.

    As far as ruining the environment to get it, I think you need to visit a well site, before and after, to get an idea of how well controlled the entire operation is these days, and how minimal the surface impact is for a producing natural gas well. This isn’t the 1920s – operators follow environmental regulations closely, and well-site operations from pre- to post-drill are efficient and clean. In some areas, operators are even shifting toward putting the well-head below ground level in small concrete ‘cellars’ and then covering them with grates to make their appearance and impact minimal.

    Natural gas reserves are plentiful in the midcontinent and gulf region – no need for seafaring ships when it’s already within the continental US, right? Realize that it’s already piped in to approximately 80% of the homes in the US for heating purposes, too. Not to mention that unless it’s in the form of LNG, it’s a gas, not a ‘greasy’ liquid.

    The primary argument for switching to methane-powered cars over gasoline is provenance. The US imports around 60% of its oil, which is refined to create gasoline. If OPEC decides to cut production to get a little more bang for their buck, you’ll see it instantly at the pump. If there is political unrest in a major oil-exporting country, expect the same. On the other hand, we can be mostly self-sufficient with natural gas, seeing as we have extensive reserves in the US. As as exploration geologist, the primary pursuit of the (independent) company I work for is natural gas. It’s plentiful throughout many of the nation’s sedimentary basins, and could be extracted profitably if only it were worth something. The primary reason natural gas prices are in the dumps at the moment is the massive surplus we’re enjoying.

    We want independence from foreign fuel but we don’t want any oil/gas exploration on our turf. In this case, we can’t have our cake and eat it, too.

  • avatar
    tony7914

    “On the other hand, we can be mostly self-sufficient with natural gas, seeing as we have extensive reserves in the US.”

    Mostly in DC ;)

    That was very interesting thank you Macca.

  • avatar
    kaleun

    NG production in the US , Canada and Mexico has been declining. hence the LNG imports from the middle east. too much of it being used to heat and run power stations.
    sure, it is cleaner than oil, and could be a transition fuel…. but not the final solution.

    The natural gas market is even more volatile than the oil market. Adding millions of cars and trucks to the demand, and you’ll be rich whne you have a well.

    and no, drilling more won’t give us that much more and will be more expensive assuming we first drilled where it was easy to get (the same is true for oil, coal etc.)

  • avatar
    Edward Niedermeyer

    Hey, if I can have one of these and two of whatever evo’s photo editor is having, natural gas is fine with me.

    Stein: Google searches have worked best for a while.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    CNG cars are getting faster and better, too (at least in Europe):
    http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/vw-and-opel-just-say-yes-to-cng/

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    Germany has a good enough network of CNG stations. Mostly local CNG suppliers working together with the gas stations.

  • avatar
    Macca

    NG production in the US , Canada and Mexico has been declining. hence the LNG imports from the middle east. too much of it being used to heat and run power stations.
    sure, it is cleaner than oil, and could be a transition fuel…. but not the final solution.

    The natural gas market is even more volatile than the oil market. Adding millions of cars and trucks to the demand, and you’ll be rich whne you have a well.

    and no, drilling more won’t give us that much more and will be more expensive assuming we first drilled where it was easy to get (the same is true for oil, coal etc.)

    Part of the reason production has dropped in the last 6 months is that nearly 50% of the rigs in operation last year have been shut down. A well’s production declines over time; halting drilling results in lesser production volumes.

    Yes, the natural gas market is volatile. And yes, if there were more demand, you’d see an increase in price – but it would likely settle to a reasonable level to allow for economic drilling. There has to be some incentive to drill (like a minimum ROI) or why would anyone drill?

    I’m not sure you’ve heard about some of the latest natural gas discoveries. There are several new plays throughout the country with massive reserves – but yes, the wells require deeper (and often directional) drilling, which makes them more expensive. At current prices, such wells just aren’t economic. But that doesn’t mean extensive reserves don’t exist, it just takes a certain price environment to make it happen. I live and breathe this stuff – and I don’t work for a major.


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