This is the Honda Civic GX, a vehicle that runs on
propane and propane accessories compressed natural gas. Despite the Civic GX’s title as one of America’s “Greenest Vehicles“, the Civic GX is pricey, and CNG refueling stations are few and far between – apparently there are only 830 in the entire United States, with not all of them open to the public. Honda wants to change that – but it wants dealers to bear the costs, monetary and otherwise, of building new fueling outlets.
Honda’s Steve Center, in charge of environmental business development, wants to put CNG fueling stations in at least two dealerships in California this year. Center told Bloomberg
“If the dealer had a fueling station, it would really reduce some of that concern for the customer,” Center said at Honda’s U.S. headquarters in Torrance, California. “It’s not our place to create infrastructure, but it’s a chicken-and-egg situation and we’re going to have to nurse that egg along.”
So, it’s not Honda’s place to build infrastructure - but the dealers can go ahead and do it. The costs of the project weren’t disclosed, but off the bat there appears to be some value in installing these stations; getting customers to keep coming back to the dealer can help them build relationships, sell aftermarket parts, servicing other vehicles and build good will among customers.
Honda’s pitch appears to be in the beginning stages, but one can guess how they’re going to market the CNG Civic; great fuel economy, from a clean, domestic energy source that’s also free from serious range anxiety (the Civic GX gets about 225-250 miles per tank). In addition to the dealer filling stations, there are home units available too – but they take about 8-10 hours to fill the car up (since the gas isn’t pressurized like commercial stations) and cost about $3,400 for the unit alone.
The days of Jim Cardiges and kickbacks are long over, but there’s no reason to think that there may be positive incentives to signing on with the program. Maybe there will be a better allocation of cars. Maybe warranty claims would get paid quicker. Maybe co-op advertising campaigns would get a bigger share of their costs picked up by Honda. For now, this looks like a test program, and Honda will be helping dealers get financing, incentives and approval from local governments. Yesterday’s initial article on natural gas vehicles (yes, including LPG/Propane as well as CNG vehicles) had great commentary from the B&B, particularly on the drawbacks of natural gas vehicles. I’m confident that the increasing price of gas along with the eminently marketable angle of a domestic clean energy source means we’ll be hearing a lot more about natural gas in light vehicles, regardless of the fuel’s merits.