By on June 30, 2010

Today, natural gas is a rational alternative to gasoline that can provide a near-term environmental solution on the road to vehicle electrification. It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country’s reliance on oil

Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne tells the Detroit News that despite not having an electric vehicles in the works until 2012 (can you believe ENVI was just vapor), Chrysler can sell environmentally-friendly vehicles sooner than that. After all, Fiat sells a grip of natural gas-powered vehicles in Europe (130,000 last year), offering the alt-energy drivetrain on nearly every model. Of course, there’s a hitch. Or three.

Fiat’s European natural gas offerings are entirely the product of hefty subsidies, and in order to roll out the technology stateside, Chrysler’s going to need more government help. Go figure. And not just for consumer incentives (which have since ravaged the Italian market in particular), but in subsidized infrastructure. You know, like the kind of infrastructure that the US government is already subsidizing for electric cars. Sorry Chrysler, I like natural gas as much as the next windbag, but spending more government cash on an interim technology while numerous EV projects and subsidies are already underway just doesn’t make a ton of sense. Unless, as is the case in Italy, the entire program is designed to specifically help a domestic automaker… but then, Chrysler’s already had its bailout.

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13 Comments on “Without EVs, Chrysler Gets Gassy. Will Washington?...”

  • avatar

    Try saying “sbusidizing” a few times.

    It’s a shame there wasn’t more thought put into this fuel source as an alternative to the evil dino juice. North America has huge deposits (or whatever they’re called) of natural gas. I drove many miles in CNG-fueled line trucks while I was in the Air Force. Easy to fuel, ran just like they had gasoline in them. Couldn’t tell the difference. Tanks are a little small/heavy, though.

    By small I mean capacity, not dimensionally.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree that CNG cars would be good *alternative* to gasoline cars. Wasn’t it a couple of years ago that the CNG Honda Civic was deemed cleaner than an equivalent hybrid? Car companies have been building CNG cars for years; no mysteries there.

      Too bad we couldn’t get the same push behind relatively simple technological changes (like non-food ethanol and CNG) as has happened to HEVs and all the other variants of EV…

      I would be nice to have some diversity in your fueling options.

  • avatar

    If CNG is combined with hybrids, the CO2 emissions fall to almost nothing.

    Even in a conventional car, they’re about a third of the gasoline.

    In Italy, almost ALL manufacturers offer a LPG or CNG version of their cars. And… AFAIK, Italy is one of the leaders in gaseous fuel technology for cars.

    I think the all the world should move toward CNG as an alternative fuel. It’s infrastructure could maybe eventually being used for hydrogen if it ever comes (putting my fire suit on).

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Strangelove

      “If CNG is combined with hybrids, the CO2 emissions fall to almost nothing.

      Even in a conventional car, they’re about a third of the gasoline.”


      Natural gas is methane, CH4. Petrol is essentially (CH2)n. The energy content (delta H of combustion) of H2 is approximately half that of C. So, the energy released per mole of CH4 burned is roughly 4/3 of that of CH2 burned. Therefore, with CNG the CO2 emissions per quantity of energy is roughly 3/4 that of petrol.

      More trouble than it’s worth.

  • avatar

    Stingray – you’re exactly right re: Hydrogen.

    CNG-capable vehicle technology is a good bridge to Hydrogen fuel cell/electric vehicles. Up and coming fuel cell technologies are designed to run from natural gas directly without reformers (such as Bloom Box). Having CNG storage on board, whether used for ICE fuel or as an H source for fuel cells, is a good starting point. Personally, I don’t think that direct Hydrogen storage will ever be suitable for automotive applications. CNG is perhaps the next best substitute.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The difference between CNG and all electric vehicles is that the technology is well in hand to build CNG vehicles in volume today. Electric vehicles, on the other hand, are constantly just over the horizon as we wait for the killer battery to materialize.

    CNG makes much more sense for the next several decades than all electric vehicles do.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      I dunno about you, but I’m not keen on sitting on top of what amounts to a huge propane tank…

    • 0 avatar

      Methane. And it’s about 2000 psi pressure, and you have more chances that the fuel tank of a car explodes than a CNG tank.

    • 0 avatar

      @SVX: You do realize your car carries 10-15 gallons of gasoline, correct?

      In today’s regulatory environment, I firmly believe that the automobile would never be allowed to go into production, just because of the fuels and chemicals we use.

      Imagine explaining to the patent board: Yes, it carries it’s own fuel on board. Why yes, the fuel IS highly combustible. Yes, we will store it in a thin walled steel or plastic tank. Yes, it’s a possibility that it could rupture and spill in an accident…

      Let’s see that specification get past the consumer safety products commission…

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      SVX Pealrie – Given that some huge proportion of Australia’s cars and trucks are on LPG, which is not quite the same as CNG but close enough for the alarmists, you’d think we’d have a massive incidence of fireballs etc.

      I think you’ll find firefighters PREFER gaseous fuels – they don’t sit around in a pool, they go up in the air.

  • avatar
    George B

    The US already has tax incentives for natural gas powered vehicles and for refueling stations too. In addition, natural gas is much less expensive than gasoline. The problem is CNG tanks are big, heavy, and expensive. In the case of the Honda Civic GX, you pay about $7000 extra minus $3000 tax break, have to give up half the trunk, and tie up lots of money in a slow cheap looking car that only works where CNG refueling is available. Got a quote close to $10000 to install my own industrial type CNG refueling pump at my house. Couldn’t make the economics work even if natural gas was free.

    Unfortunately most CNG cars are sold with lower trim levels at high prices to government agencies. I would rather own a bi-fuel CNG and gasoline car with a smaller CNG tank plus a gasoline tank and nice upgrades like leather upholstery and aluminum wheels. Need smaller, less expensive CNG tanks installed in cars that are very desirable except for their fuel cost to make the economics work. Chrysler should think CNG Challenger, not CNG econobox.

  • avatar

    Don’t worry, like Stinray explained, a car w/ this won’t explode on you. It’s a different gas.

    Some time ago my home state started a state company to promote and distribute this kind of fuel. In futuere it would even exploit some gas reserves that apparently the state has. When ethanol made its comeback though, this fuel was basically left to wither. The reasoning was that you’d have to drive over 100km per day for 3 years to make up the difference in performanceXcost to runXconversion.

    FWIW yes Fiat is a world leader in this technology. And they offer down here a Siena Tetrafuel (4 fuels), which car run on Brazilian gasoline (25% ethanol content), pure ethanol , pure gasoline (only available in neigboring countries) and natural gas. The cilinder to keeps the gas takes up about half of the trunk, but since the trunk in this car is huge (500L) is can be a good trade off is you travel a lot.

    A others have said, YMMV as structural (read governmental) decisions affect your decision. Right now it’s not a winner.

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