By on June 28, 2011

Smell that? It’s the gathering scent of a new industry trend towards natural gas. Honda’s expanded its pioneering Civic GX to 50 states, Sergio Marchionne wants to replicate his Italian CNG success at Chrysler (eventually), and now GM is jumping on the bandwagon while it’s still relatively uncrowded. The Winnepeg Free Press reports that GM has signed a development deal with Vancouver, B.C.-based Westport Innovations which could see a prototype light-duty natural gas-powered engine completed “within 18 months” if preliminary study proves promising. A Westport spokesman boasts

If both parties agree to move ahead with commercialization this would be one of the first pure OEM [natural gas-powered] products

You know, except the Civic GX which has been prowling American streets since 1998. Still, with Chrysler targeting CNG commercialization no earlier than 2017, GM could have a strong head-start on a fuel technology that promises to be a viable and promising gasoline alternative, especially if the NatGas Bill [PDF] passes, expanding $7,500 plug-in tax credits to natural gas vehicles. And GM’s got a strong partner in Westport, which has heavy-duty commercial deals with Cummins and Caterpillar. With Nissan all-in on EVs and years ahead of the competition in terms of global EV production capacity, look for other competitors to hedge their alt-energy bets… and natural gas is rapidly becoming the most popular alternative.

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27 Comments on “GM Signs Natural Gas Development Deal, Light Duty Prototype Possible In 18 Months...”

  • avatar

    Hard to believe that this company demonstrated a roadable HCCI engine (in a Cruze). CNG is easy.

  • avatar

    550 hp and 1850 pounds of torque?

    Is there a way Chrysler can put that in a Chrysler 300 SRT?

  • avatar

    Hey, that’s great! Where do I fill up?

    It seems like we’re paying a lot of people to dream up a great deal of “new” fuel/power sources for the car. What about support for those fuel/power sources?

    • 0 avatar

      Where do you fill up? I have a natural gas line going to the water heater in my garage already… I seem to remember the gas company running a few trucks off of gas a few years ago, but it’s been a while since I remember seeing one.

      • 0 avatar

        Home CNG systems work. But, the problem is that the NG line that goes to your hot water heater is low pressure (5-20psi, IIRC), so you need a pump to increase the pressure to the point where you can store useful amounts of it in your car.

        There used to be a unit called Fuelmaker Phill that pumped the NG into your car, but it cost about $5k and wasn’t really available the last time I was thinking about doing a CNG conversion for my truck. Also, this unit takes hours to fill the tank — which is fine when you’re at home, but it’s also comparable to charging an electric car.

        A higher pressure CNG filling system (like at a filling station) could do the job much faster.

        On one hand, I want to hold out for a plugin car. But CNG conversions are still easier to get, for the moment, and they do have some advantages. Maybe turn my Ranger into a CNG vehicle and buy a plugin family car to replace the Prius? Still debating this against what actually exists and actually works.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve seen reference to NG compressors for home use as a solution, but the concept makes me nervous. There have been homes destroyed near me by ignition of leaking low pressure NG, with serious damage to neighboring homes. I worry that a NG compressor in my neighbor’s garage could be an even more serious risk if it weren’t inspected regularly.

      • 0 avatar

        @ ClutchCarGo: Your concerns are very valid.

        However, not using a natural gas compressor doesn’t get you off the hook when it comes to being concerned. If there’s natural gas in your neighborhood, that’s a concern, and the explosive/flammable/poisonous liquid in your car’s tank and at the local gas station are another similar concern. Most people ignore the risks with gasoline and low-pressure NG service to their hose, because these risks are familiar…

        But, then again, I’m one of those who thinks that driving is dangerous and I do that, so why not ride a motorcycle too! :-)

  • avatar

    So, flaming tap water for everybody?

    • 0 avatar

      The flaming tap water thing from Gasland is mostly BS. Plenty of wells have naturally occurring methane.

      • 0 avatar

        And plenty of wells have unnaturally occurring methane. Researchers can trace the signature of the natural gas, based on the exact chemical mix — and natural gas does occasionally leak into drinkingwater. The real question is what drilling screw-ups are causing this, because the oil & gas companies are correct that it shouldn’t happen in theory. Since we need NG, and I acknowledge that this fact distasteful to a lot of the greenies that I hang out with, the question is how to fix the drilling best-practices so that people *like* the guy in gasland don’t get f-ed over.

        The controversy about the flaming tapwater in Gasland isn’t whether this happens — it’s about whether this happened on that particular guy’s water.

        Here’s a relevant Science Friday episode that discusses the issue in depth:
        (I think this is the right episode — they have done several episodes on fracking recently.)

      • 0 avatar

        Really? Was it frequently possible to ignite your tap water before fracking?

      • 0 avatar

        ClutchCarGo: Yes.

        It’s like suddenly there’s this new out-of-control technology threatening everyone’s drinking water supply. We have wells on our land that were fracked more than 30 years ago. The really old ones there were completed with 200lb shots of nitroglycerine. The most recent one, drilled five years ago to the Marcellus shale, was fracked with good old fashioned water, like many if not most are.

        There is a lot of seriously hysterical info out there about fracking right now.

      • 0 avatar


        In case you haven’t noticed, a few things have changed over the last 30 years… Relevant to this discussion is that there are suburbs where there weren’t before, and there are natural gas wells where they weren’t before. Also, NG production been expanding and techniques (such as fracking, horizontal drilling, and others) have made a lot of new territory attractive for drilling. It doesn’t take a genius to do the math and see that these things are colliding, and why.

        The conflict over fracking is just going to continue until one side forgets why they’re there — and I don’t see that happening for either environmentalists or gas companies.

  • avatar

    That’s weird.
    Here in Vancouver I’ve seen fleet vehicles with the CNG diamond on them for years. Not a lot of them, but there not that rare.

    • 0 avatar

      When I was in college (97-2002) the university had a small fleet of CNG-converted S10 pickups for light-duty workman runabouts. I never quite understood what the point was, because they were short beds that had the front half of the bed consumed by a diamond-plate box concealing the CNG tank and you couldn’t put a shovel in the bed without it bouncing out as the handle rested across the bed rail. They seemed to run reliably enough.

      The engineering department there had in the late-90s a 318 Dakota with either a CNG or LPG conversion (can’t remember) that was tuned as a performance upgrade from a past student competition and it had vapor-lock and cold start issues, but pulled the department’s dual-axle enclosed car trailer with the current project’s electric Lumina in it when it ran.

  • avatar

    So.. we can mine the gas, send it to a power-plant, (almost all new power-plants in the US are natural gas) turn it into electricity, send it through the power-grid and charge the rare-earth element batteries in our EV’s (phew).


    We can mine the gas, send it to our homes and businesses (most of which already have NG lines) and power our simple and cheap ICE’s.

    Kind of like the difference between buying bottled-water or pouring it from the tap right? Except this time I’ve little doubt the greenies (and probably the government) will push the bottled option. Oh how they love their Lithium Ions!

    • 0 avatar

      In the short term, you are correct, which is why I think that natural gas will be a big deal when it comes to transportation in the future. However, electric cars have the benefit of being agnostic about our fuel source, and also in changing emissions and many kinds of pollution from a non-point source problem to a point-source problem.

      Back on electric cars being agnostic about the energy source, here’s what the energy flow looks like for the USA:
      In principle, an electric car can be powered by any one of these energy flows. Electric cars are currently powered by a diverse mix of energy sources.

      So, natural gas has a lot of advantages. But I, personally, would rather drive an electric car.

      • 0 avatar

        Good reply Luke. I have seen charts like the one you linked to before, and I think we can all agree that the total lack of energy diversity in our transportation is a major problem. While I would always prefer the mechanical simplicity and familiarity of a ICE, consumers should have choices, as opposed to petroleum or nothing.

  • avatar

    We had CNG conversions many years back but the power losses werea killer LPG proved much more successful

    • 0 avatar

      Remember that, with a CNG conversion, you usually are dumping a new (and different) fuel into an engine that’s optimized to run on gasoline. An engine that’s optimized for CNG would likely perform much better.

      • 0 avatar

        @Luke42: That’s similar to the cars set to run on E85 or any blend of ethanol. With an ethanol optimized engine, they perform much better.

        During the first big energy crisis in the early 70’s, there was a cottage industry of converting vehicles to run on CNG (or LPG) and gasoline. I think it went by the wayside because of the extra complexity involved, and that gasoline prices went back down.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford has solved that problem with a dual injection system (the The direct injecton (Gas, CNG, LPG) is for powering the car, while a port system is used to inject small amounts of ethanol which cools the cyl. between cycles allowing for a huge increase in pressure, what they ended up with was a 5.4 triton downsized to a TT 5.0 that produced the HP and emmissions of a traditional ICE while delivering the torque and MGP of a Diesel.

      One the Gasonine side -Think about it, in the US, since gas is required to have ethonal, wouldn’t even need to have seperate tanks, just a seperator and two pumps (But believe that CNG would be were the furure would be)

      Would solve two huge problems, fuel choice, the US would be self sufficient (They’ve also developed a method on injecting steam (or CO2 from industry) into coal seams that break apart the simple HC’s while leaving the sulfur, mercury and all the other fun stuff behind.

      Yes batteries are going to be part of the future, but what ford was able to do with triton would make alot more sense and could be put into place with 2 years. (Oil Companies happy, they produce the CNG and LPG. Farmers Happy, still get to have thier corn sold or maybe even doubly happier if they produce butinol, which can be transported through pipelines)

      Don’t know if true but I remember them also placing a flywheel (Mech. KERS) under the car, powered by the exhaust that was hooked into the rear transaxle via a Var. Trans. for starting and acceleration

  • avatar

    Natural gas is a “natural” replacement for expensive gasoline/diesel. Oil prices have to go up long-term (because nature isn’t making any new oil in human timescales), and natural gas is the next best thing when it comes to cost/convenience.

    Natural gas only kicks the can down the road, though. Sustainability-minded folks may want to look elsewhere, though, and I’ve got some good suggestions — but that’s offtopic.

  • avatar

    There have been all kinds of cars that run on natural gas, but they seem to be mostly for fleet usage, particularly in utility companies. Up until several years ago, the local natural gas utility had a slew of Chevy Cavaliers that were converted. Honda is only unique in the idea of marketing these cars to consumers directly.

  • avatar

    I have owned and run LPG vehicles in the past and from my experience the higher fuel consumption rates, poor re-sale value, being banned from underground parking garages, and my home insurance not covering any damages to the home if parked any where near it, make it a non starter. Electric cars staring on fire in an enclosed garage is bad enough, massive LPG explosions in residential garages is something else entirely.

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    Ed, it’s probably before your time as a reporter, but you should look into the Arizona alt-fuel tax credit fiasco from the 1990’s. It’s pretty entertaining in hindsight.

    Added on edit – alt fuels was in 2000. One does tend to get one’s Arizona scandals mixed up, between Keating, Meacham, AzScam, Symington…

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