By on December 9, 2009

2009 Ford Focus CNG 018

Ten years ago I test drove the then new to North America Ford Focus ZTS. “Give it some gas,” the salesman prodded as we entered a freeway onramp. I showed her the whip. “Can you feel that,” he yelled enthusiastically over the buzz of the straining engine. “Well, it’s certainly making a lot of noise,” I thought, “but we don’t seem to be getting anywhere very fast.” A decade later it’s deja vu all over again, except my copilot has the good sense not to pretend that this 2009 Focus is any kind of street demon. And rather than fouling the atmosphere with noxious gasoline exhaust, birds are singing and bees are sweetly humming as I explore the green virtues of driving with Compressed Natural Gas.

2009 Ford Focus CNG 020My test car, provided by Zeit Energy of Dallas, Texas, is a bestickered homage to the company and the natural gas industry. Other than the black beauty mark on its right rear heinie (the CNG refueling receptacle), it is the same kaleidoscope of geometric shapes that is the Ford Focus.

The S-trim package is a throw-back to the good old days of manual doors locks and window cranks – perfect for the fleet buyers that are most likely to delve into the realm of natural gas powered vehicles. The ergonomics are perfectly satisfactory in every respect for a vehicle at this price point. The car’s greatest feature is the five-speed manual stick shift that’s smooth, accurate and forgiving.

The only indication this car isn’t like all the rest is a square regulator control button at the base of the center console that glows green or orange, depending on the fuel pressure, and reads NG or OFF, to indicate whether the engine is drawing natural gas form the CNG tank or unnatural gas from the gasoline tank. A progress bar below the NG indicates how much CNG is left.

The bi-fuel CNG conversion kit, manufactured by Altech-Eco Corporation of South Carolina, operates seamlessly in the background. For the most part drivers simply sit behind the wheel, turn the key, and drive it like any other car. If the system determines that the CNG tank is empty a computer controlled regulator switches to gasoline. 2009 Ford Focus CNG 005

The 9.1 gallon CNG tank is made of half-inch aluminum reinforced in a cocoon of fiberglass is as subtle as Akebono Tarō in a dohyō. It has to be in order to contain the gas, which is 90% methane, at 2900-3200 pounds per square inch. But the weight devours the 140 hp 2.0-liter Duratec I4 engine. Be sure to make reservations before attempting to merge into traffic.

The tank resides in the trunk. It dominates the trunk. Not to reinforce the unsubstantiated fear that the CNG tanks can rupture explosively in an accident, but when the trunk is wide open it looks like Bruce the shark in his final scene in Jaws.

With both fuel tanks filled, the car averages about 35 mpg and has a cruising range in excess of 700 miles. That’s a good thing because public CNG refilling stations are few and far between. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there are only eight of them. These high-pressure CNG fueling stations can fill the 9.1 gallon tank in about the same amount of time it takes a gasoline pump to fill the 13 gallon petrol tank.

2009 Ford Focus CNG 011My tester cost Zeit Energy $12,500 for the Focus and $9500 for the conversion kit and installation. The Focus with an EPA certified CNG kit like this one qualifies for a $4000 federal tax credit, so the net cost of the upgrade was $5500. In other words, you would pay $18,000 for a $12,500 car that is slower and has a fraction of the trunk space of the original. That’s a hard sell for most people. Currently in DFW, an equivalent amount of CNG costs about $0.50 less than a gallon of regular gasoline so you would have to drive 385,000 miles burning only CNG to recoup the investment.

Owners would have to take consolation in the fact that CNG emissions are fee of lead and benzene, and produce 70% less carbon monoxide, 87% less nitrogen oxide, and 20% less carbon dioxide.

The bottom line is that right now CNG-powered vehicles are not ready for Prime Time in America. The EPA has its boot on the throat of natural gas transportation. How? It requires a $10,000 annual fee per engine type per year of manufacture. These fees ensure that few shops will offer installation and that prices will remain impractically high for those that do.

As for the Ford Focus CNG? If you want to conserve gasoline at an affordable price, you would be much happier with a Honda Insight.

[Car and fuel were provided by Patrick Zeiter of Zeit Energy.]

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25 Comments on “Review: Ford Focus CNG...”

  • avatar

    So apparently the part of the government run by people that constantly scream for cleaner, greener, and “energy security” is the very roadblock to that end.  I guess if they actually achieved what they said they wanted, they wouldn’t have a job would they?

  • avatar

    Nope – This country has far to much invested in the current infrastructure.  LNG and LNG derived Diesel (looks like water and no sulfur or other contaminants) would be the best way to greenness without the sacrifice people aren’t willing to make, automotively it would be simple (DI can run LNG in place of petrol) and the changes to infrastructure would be minimal (most of the country has NG lines running, just put the liquidification in place at the stations or build hubs and transport as gas is).

    But it’s never going to happen, high tech is the way because it sounds flashy, is always at some point in the future, consumes huge amounts of “tax payer” money and doesn’t change the status quo.

  • avatar

    Owners would have to take consolation in the fact that CNG emissions are fee of lead and benzene, and produce 70% less carbon monoxide, 87% less nitrogen oxide, and 20% less carbon dioxide.
    I don’t know if rural people can appreciate this, but those numbers are huge for urban dwellers.  The economic numbers make further sense if you manage a fleet and own your own refuelling station (like many PDs and taxis do).  If you full-CNG without the gas tank, the trunk situation is mostly resolved.  For fleets, this all works very well.
    I’ve been entertaining the idea of a CNG-powered sports car, and there are Mustang and Corvette kits available.  I know it blunts the power and adds to the weight, but it’s a nice touch if you’re like me and have trouble reconciling being somewhat environmentally conscious with really, really wanting a sports car.  The problem is the “acquiring a sports car” part, not the CNG.

  • avatar

    Just a week or so ago I was filling up when a mid 2000’s Cavalier pulled in that sounded like it had 50 holes in its exaust. They came to probably pick up a pack of cigs or something, but I noticed then it had the CNG sticker on the back, didn’t look like a state vehicle and I couldn’t tell you where we actually have a CNG station in southern CT.  Who knows who owned it, but pulling out of the station it sounded like it and looked like it couldn’t get out of its own way.
    I don’t think the general public would ever adjust to a slow loud car that reminds them of diesels of yore.

  • avatar

    The bottom line is that right now CNG-powered vehicles are not ready for Prime Time in America. The EPA has its boot on the throat of natural gas transportation. How? It requires a $10,000 annual fee per engine type per year of manufacture. These fees ensure that few shops will offer installation and that prices will remain impractically high for those that do.
    Any idea why? Safety concerns? Out of date laws? Oil interests blocking changes?
    In Hong Kong, and maybe in all Chinese cities, all the taxis run on CNG. How come they can do it and we can’t?

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not a China expert, but I’d guess that there was some government mandate back from the old Communist days that set it up like that and since the infrastructure is in place they continue to use it.
      I know in many cities a large number, if not all, of the public busses run on CNG, and I have seen CNG Taxis in the USA as well.  However, with private ownership of business and the freedom to chose the way you want to fuel your fleet, you have a lot of fleets that prefer gas.

    • 0 avatar

      Any idea why? Safety concerns? Out of date laws? Oil interests blocking changes?
      I hear from fleet guys is that CNG use is caught between the hammer of greenies emissions regs and standard rent-seeking protection from the diesel lobby. Of course, there’s also the earth-mother’s-milk of modern fuels, Ethanol. I’m sure Big Corn has an interest in knee-capping CNG too.
      I’d like to know if that $10K vig per engine per year is actually written into law or is a federal reg…

  • avatar

    My parents bought a 1987 Chevy Celebrity (with the 2.8 MPFI engine) new 22 years ago. My dad got it converted to run on NG/gasoline due to rebates that were being offered by the Federal and Ontario government in Canada. That car was a POS to begin with, but converting it to CNG didn’t help it any. It liked to stall a lot on NG, but usually ran okay on gas. That is when fuses weren’t blowing for no apparent reason. It also had a giant black tank in the trunk that weighed the back of the car down heavily. It had an LED fuel guage for the NG tank, but it wasn’t smart enough to switch to gasoline if the NG tank got too low. It was up to the driver to do that.

    It’s too bad to see that so little progress has been made in the last 20 years. I still think diesel is the way to go, but NG could be another alternative if they cold solve storage problems with the fuel. Nice review though, it brough back memories of the car stalling and my mother freaking out and yelling at my dad.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    The NG Civic runs about $3,000 more than the EX-L

  • avatar
    cRacK hEaD aLLeY

    You guys do not know what performance is until you’ve driven a 1.0L CGN-powered popular car in Brazil.  The Fiat Uno 1.0 CNG is a great one to test-drive. My 35 year old Honda CB5o is faster to 80km’/h.
    And when they go “booooom’ refueling at gas stations its spectacular.

  • avatar
    George B

    I wonder how Diesel/natural gas dual-fuel engines compare to gasoline/natural gas bi-fuel?  With a dual-fuel engine some percentage of diesel is always used to ignite the fuel and higher percentage of diesel can be used when needed.

    With bi-fuel (all gasoline or all natural gas) vehicles, the compression ratio that works for gasoline is too low for maximum power with natural gas and the low density of natural gas limits the amount of fuel and air that can get into the cylinder.  However, if the engine could transition between gasoline while accelerating and less expensive natural gas for cruising, the driving experience could be improved.  The other obvious change for individual users would be using a smaller, lighter, less expensive  tank combined with a home refueling station.

  • avatar

    I know in Germany it costs about $ 3000 – $ 4000 to convert your regular gasoline car to LPG. ($ 2000 when you have it done in Poland ;-). I know, LNG is higehr pressure, but the price of $ 9,500 is ridiculous. Maybe I should do those conversions and get rich…
    I could buy a hybrid (most likely there is a $ 2,500 price difference to a non-hybrid) and be better off financially and possibly environmentally and I still have msot of my trunk.
    did they also consider the enrgy needed to compress natural gas?

  • avatar

    Why a $9500 conversion when you can buy a factory CNG Civic (in almost equivalent to EX trim level) for close the cost of the tax credit.  The equivalent fuel cost savings is closer to $1 a gallon here in CA.  Of course a dedicated, not bi-fuel model has advantages and disadvantages. Without the gasoline system, the engine can be tuned for optimum power and economy on methane and there is little or no wieght penalty. Trunk space is reduced by the fuel cylinder. You are pretty much confined to the big metro areas because range is poor and very few refuelling stations exist outside of big cities. Forget about weekend trips to Vegas in it.  Biggest advantage, you can still get single occupant HOV lane stickers. The allotment of hybrid vehicle stickers is gone, but not for CNG.

  • avatar

    Why such a small car to convert to CNG? It only makes sense to convert a larger vehicle to CNG, it gets you cheaper fuel, the loss of boot space is less intrusive, or you get a decent size tank in the process. Now CNG is a questionable choice as well. LPG would have been better. More power (although still less than petrol) go dual fuel and switch to petrol when you need the power to over take and then back to gas for the cruise. I had a dual fuel Ford Falcon (XC and then transferred to an XE) with the 4.1l six with a 85l LPG tank, cost $2000 to convert, no extra registration costs, no extra insurance costs as the gas fitters are licenced and no safety concerns. With that car I would get at least 300km out of 76l of gas in city driving, approx 600 highway and when LPG was approx a third of the price of petrol, worked out to be very economical driving. It seems that someone (perhaps the “Big Oil” or “Big Ethanol” conspiracy) doesn’t want altenative fuels to be available.  the only caveat with LPG is the price, when it is approx half price and below that of petrol, it’s ok. Above the half price mark it is less attractive and take more kms to amortise the cost. I do not know what the price of CNG is in America, but at present the price of fuel down under in Adelaide is $1.29 a litre for unleaded (94 octane) and around $0.55 for a litre of LPG. At those prices driving a LPG powered vehicle makes sense.

  • avatar

    The tax advantage is exactly what Thailand is doing to encourage CNG conversion.  CNG is simply much cheaper that pure gasoline, and many folks dislike Gasahol.  Many taxi and truck fleets are converting.  With a dual fuel set up, many people will start a cold engine on gasoline and switch it over to CNG after warm-up to address driveability issues.
    With Bangkok’s pollution, anything they can do to reduce emissions is welcome.  I’m betting that they are offering incentives for fuel stations to carry CNG, as I saw many more stations carrying CNG than two years ago.
    I agree with RNC above, with the US’ ample natural gas supply, and in place pipeline network, it would make sense to encourage CNG usage here.  My guess is the safety weenies and fear of ambulance-chasers in the event of a mishap is holding up the works.

    • 0 avatar

      vehicleexpert, Ford Motor Company is now working with Conversion Companies for Propane or CNG conversions. The crash test is not required unless the conversion is done by the Manufactor or as a factory order item. The way most conversion companies operate is you buy the vehicle then have the conversion done.

      As far as the warranty, the law states that they cannot dismiss the warranty with EPA certified conversions. However if they claim the problem was because of our conversion we have a Life-Time warranty that will take effect. If you would like a copy of that warranty please email me at [email protected]

      I would like to talk with you about your needs and see if you would like our product.

  • avatar

    After reading your description, I’d like to see a picture of the trunk.

  • avatar

    It costs about $100 bucks to make a homemade convertion in the Dominican, Everycar I drove there had a BBQ like gas tank in the trunk. In such a poor country were gas is twice as much, it seems to make perfect sense. I drove a couple Corollas with 6+passengers all day with no problem on natural gas. I had no meter though, I ended up running out in the middle of a traffic. Then I just pressed a switch and went back to regular gas. Fun driving down there. I also gave the guy at the filling station a tip, so that he’d put the gas in slower, supposed to give me more gas and less air.

  • avatar

    The CNG Ford Focus will price about the same as a comparable Honda. In State Bidding, it was less and the Truck space is about the same. Converting a vehicle to CNG in the United States is costly but depending on the size of the vehicle, your cost saving in fuel and Tax Credits will lower that cost by thousands. If you will follow the Nat Gas Act Bill in Congress – HR1835 and S1905 the cost will be lower more. However, EPA is working on streamlining the process for approval, but we need to make sure that any vehicle converted is EPA approved. Many of the conversion kits on the internet are cheap and actual may produce more pollution than Gasoline. The idea of converting to CNG is not so much cheaper or cleaner fuel it is to make our country safer by using American Fuel instead of sending Billions of Dollars per/year to Countries that harbor Terrorist that wants to do us harm. The mid-East countries are now converting their vehicles to run on CNG, so they can sell us more Crude Oil and make more money. How stupid are we? If you would like more information about CNG vehicles visit or email me at [email protected]

  • avatar

    Altech-Eco is located in Asheville, North Carolina. And there is one big difference between the insight and the cng focus. The insight still uses gasoline, which runs on foreign oil. Cng or (Compressed Natural Gas) is made here in the USA. Also keep in mind that cng cost varies from area to area. In Utah average cng price is $1.08, in Oklahoma CNG is an average of .93 cents, in Wisconsin CNG is an average of $1.08, Asheville, North Carolina average is $142.50. People can also fuel a cng vehicle at home and it is even cheaper, Asheville, North Carolina residential cng rate is $1.05 a gallon. With a gasoline gallon average of $2.65 a gallon, paybacks vary significantly. We have to get off foreign oil, making America less dependent on foreign oil is a national priority. Lets all work together and help generate jobs for American citizens. Stop supporting oil from overseas. We have enough natural gas for 100 years. I have a CNG focus from Altech-Eco and it drives awesome. Keep up the good work Altech.

  • avatar

    I think there is some confusion here between CNG and LPG. They are not that similar, other than being simple paraffins at the molecular level.  Compressed vs Liquid makes a huge difference in tanks, lines, valves and dispensing eqipment. A mixture of Propane and Butane is liquid at room temperature and is handled at very low pressures. Methane is a gas and has to be compressed to very high pressures to be useful.  On the other hand, Methane (natural gas) has a single carbon atom, so the CO2 output is less. The biggie here in the US is that we have huge domestic supplies of natural gas, and Liquefied Petroleum Gas is made from the same crude oil that we import to make gasoline.

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    In Europe, CNG cars are not that special, and with forced induction you can offset the performance drop completely. Volkswagen has a bi-fuel 1.4 twincharged Passat and Opel has a turbo Zafira. Both are very impressive.
    Both companies have multiple non-turbo CNG cars as well, which are only intersting because of the cheap fuel.

  • avatar

    It sounds like most of you are talking about the conversion systems available in the 90’s.
    The first and most important difference, we do not remove the Ford Factory fuel system. Today’s vehicles are completely controlled by a very sophisticated computer system, which requires the fuel system to remain intact to operate properly. Most of the converter companies re-Flash this computer, which means the Ford Computer-System can no longer analyze the engine performance as designed. The control system we use does not require flashing the factory computer instead we install a slave computer system so the Ford Service Computer-System will still work properly. This means to you that any service requiring Ford Computer-System will show the proper codes so your technicians can get your vehicle back on the road quickly. The Altech-Eco system is so dependable we have insured the conversion for lifetime engine protection for the listed purchaser’s ownership of the vehicle.
    I travel from Arizona to Nevada to Utah to Colorado to New Mexico and the elevation goes from 1800 feet above sea level to 8500 feet above sea level. I drive at highway speeds as much as 85 mph keeping up with traffic and still maintain an average of 32.5 MPGGE. The CNG Ford Focus has the same feel on any Ford Focus Gas and cost a whole lot less to drive. Plus when you drive using CNG you are doing your part to make America Safer and less dependent on Foreign Oil.

    • 0 avatar

      Has the Focus with the  CNG conversion passed a barrier crash test in ordanance with the FMVSS that is in affect? Has Ford Motor accepted this conversion and commited to not dismissing the manufacturers warranty? I would be interested in these vehicles for my company if these two requirments have been met.

  • avatar

    That is a pity
    the price difference is nbot much to promote anything.
    In India CNG costs 30 rupees a litre and petrol costs 53 rupees a liter
    so the difference is worth enough the hassle and the loss in performance.
    and only eight pumps of CNG
    man I got 10 in delhi where i live within a distance of 5 kms

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