By on October 31, 2012

Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne finds it “most shocking” that the U.S. auto industry is not throwing its might behind natural gas, which has been found in abundance in the United States:

“A rapid adoption of CNG as a fuel source for automotive applications would almost instantly kill the reliance on foreign oil, and it would bring about a substantial reduction in emissions. Those are opportunities that need to be grabbed and they need to be industrialized. Especially with large vehicles like pickups and large SUVs, we could probably accommodate the installation of CNG tanks within the next 24 to 36 months.”

Marchionne said this on the sidelines of an industry convention in Shanghai, China, over the weekend, but it wasn’t reported. Reporters instead pestered Marchionne with inane questions whether bringing Jeep production to China would cost jobs in the U.S., or Italy. Both of which Marchionne answered for the umpteenth time with a no. Poor reporting by unscrupulous bloggers has been blamed for the rumor that Jeep production would be outsourced to China, but correspondents of major U.S. newspapers tried their best in Shanghai to keep the rumor alive. At the same time, they buried the story on how to end U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to put an end to global warming – at least as far as Sergio Marchionne is concerned.

Sergio by the way doesn’t think ethanol has much future in the U.S. Sergio thinks alcohol as fuel works for Brazil where, “from a global standpoint, producing ethanol probably is the most efficient use of their sugarcane.” It was tried in Africa, and it failed. And, said Marchionne, he is “making no comments on the U.S. side of ethanol production which relies on grains.” We take it, Sergio doesn’t think it’s a good idea.

Asked why alternative fuels aren’t adopted in wholesale fashion the world over, Marchionne started “the dominance of oil …” Then he checked himself, took a big breath, and said “I am not pointing fingers on big oil being responsible for anything.” He continued to say that the existence of big oil as a big business with established refinery capacity in most of the developed countries is a force to be reckoned with.

A day later, on Monday, it turned out the Chrysler doesn’t need two or three years to install tanks on trucks. The first Ram 2500 Compressed Natural Gas pickup trucks started rolling off the line at Chrysler’s Satillo Truck Assembly Plant.

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34 Comments on “Marchionne: CNG Would Kill Our Reliance On Foreign Oil...”

  • avatar

    Mr Marchionne speaks like a Business Man, not a Automotive Engineer, he is not trained as a Automotive Person, I think he needs to study the matter before making his comments!

    • 0 avatar

      Well, FIAT basically owns the commercial CNG and LPG market in Europe, and I’m not talking about commercial vehicles only: I’m talking about regular mass market cars. Over there, where apparently people are genetically different from their US cousins, this technology has been embraced and it works just fine.
      Cars that are engineered from the get-go with gasoline+CNG in mind don’t have any space issues (the tank is no longer in the trunk, but under the floorpan, integrated in the overall design), and not only engines switch automatically AND SEAMLESSLY between one fuel and the other, they actually produce better HP and Torque number while they are on CNG. Google 2013 CNG FIAT Panda and check it out for yourself.

      So, in short, I would say he probably knows a thing or two about this…

  • avatar

    I agree that CNG is a great alternative fuel. Cheap, abundent, and easily adaptable to exiting powertrains. More power to them.

    • 0 avatar

      CNG is good, but it’s not really space efficient and there’s not much infrastructure for consumer refueling. I think that CNG has use in commercial fleets, but not in the consumer market.

      In commercial fleets, vehicles could refuel at the depot, and range is less of a problem because operators know the routes beforehand. Also space efficiency isn’t too important because these vehicles are either big, or don’t require trunk space.

      • 0 avatar

        With CNG you can also refill at home with the appliance, as long as your home is plumed with Natural gas.

        When I have my house built in the next 2 years I will have a home fueling appliance installed in my garage, and a Ford F-150 dual fuel in my driveway.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s also hard to store, transport, slow to fill. That said, those are someone else’s problems, which is why the people selling CNG and the automakers who want to sell you CNG powered cars, ignore them. Mr. Marchionne and Fiat/Chrysler (and T. Boone Pickens, for that matter), for example, don’t have concern themselves with transport, storage or long fill times. That’s Someone Else’s Problem.

      I like CNG, but it’s a niche energy source and wholly unsuited for transport. We’d be better off investing in a mix of hybrid powertrains, weight savings and, most importantly, trying to avoid the kind of short-sighted urban planning that causes this problem in the first place.

      • 0 avatar

        The Mother-frackers also don’t give a hoot about polluting the groundwater supply or destabilization of the subterranean formations they are dissolving with their poisonous chemicals.

        Trading oil dependence for non-potable groundwater doesn’t seem like such a hot idea to me.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        Psar, natural gas is inexpensive and easy to transport in pipelines to fixed fuel stations. The problem is it’s expensive to transport on a moving vehicle. Only makes economic sense if the end user saves more in fuel costs than the cost of the fuel tanks.

        Robert, hydraulic fracturing has been done for decades. The big innovation of George Mitchell and Mitchell Energy was to figure out how to do it economically using huge quantities of cheap water with the minimum of added chemicals and sand to go after the deep shale deposits. The pollution problem isn’t the drilling or the hydraulic fracturing a mile below the ground water. The problem is simple stupid spills of used fracing fluid pumped out of the wells. Naturally occurring salt and petroleum in the used fluid pumped out, not the chemicals pumped in, is the potential problem. I’m pretty sure that salt water and chemical spills from Hurricane Sandy caused more environmental damage than the entire history of hydraulic fracturing.

  • avatar

    It’s nice to see Sergio endorsing the technology. Whether or not that translates to action, who knows.

    Where’s CJ to tell us that environmentalists have conspired against CNG vehicles because they’d be too cheap and efficient?

    • 0 avatar

      Scoff at CJ’s “conspiratorial” notions all you want, but there is decent evidence in Louisiana that some environmental groups are willing to trade with the enemy to advance their own immediate interests.

      • 0 avatar

        “Public lands are a relatively recent phenomena in America stemming from the time of Teddy Roosevelt.”

        It’s nice to see that the Randian nutjobs are just as antiquarian as we already knew.

        Snipes at Audobon aside, the entire “drill baby drill” movement is ignorant of economic reality. The “proven reserves” of ANWR are nowehere near what’s claimed in the article (considering it was published 7 years ago, it’s not surprising that a lot of the information is out of date.) It’s a symbolic fight that is designed to appease the lowest end of the conservative demographic.

  • avatar

    I’m not against the developement of electric vehicles, but if we spent half as much time and energy developing infrastructure and vehicles for CNG, our economy and environment would be better off much sooner. And while we wait for infrastructure for the CNG, why not make vehicles that can switch to gas when CNG is not readily available. The DIY kits have this option.

    For the life of me I can’t figure out why car companies and gas companies aren’t teaming up to make this a reality in the same way that car companies are teaming up with power utilities to make EVs practical. CNG is running an equivalent of about $.90/gallon right now. We really need a more diversified approach to reducing depence on foreign oil.

    I don’t think the space issue is really an issue. Engineers get paid good money to figure out solutions to those kinds of problems. A compact vehicle design that could reasonably accomodate a 10 gallon equivalent CNG tank is entirely possible.

    • 0 avatar

      The Ram 2500 CNG pickups have Cummins dual-fuel diesel/CNG engines. I’ve quickly scanned a couple things written about these trucks that are just starting to be produced, but I can’t recall if it’s a true switchable dual/fuel or if it’s a blended diesel/CNG or both, but the ability to run on diesel should eliminate any range or fuel availability concerns.

      • 0 avatar

        They are Hemi gasoline/CNG dual fuel, not Cummins diesel. The factory ones anyway.

        They cold start on gasoline, then switch over to CNG. If the CNG runs out, they switch back to gasoline to get you where you’re going or to the next CNG refilling station.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Alternative Fuels Data Center website: You can use the pull-down menu to search for CNG. Closest CNG to me is 2 hours away. They might build more, closer CNG stations if more people buy CNG vehicles. A Ram Tradesman that runs on CNG? I’d be getting my codger on.

  • avatar

    Seems to me Sergio may want to fly his jet over to Williston, ND, to see the steps taken to address the oil part of the “energy independence” issue. That place, almost by itself, has helped this nation drop the percentage of oil imports down to its lowest level in more than 20 years.

  • avatar

    So what is he doing about it? Guess what, pal, you’re part of the US auto industry too!

  • avatar
    Freddy M

    He’s probably waiting for Government subsidies to begin. Or maybe this is another call to action to the rest of the big manufacturers, “hey let’s all start developing mass-market CNG (because I don’t want to be the only one doing it, let’s all lose out at the same rate).”

    Kinda similar to his call to all European brands that “we have a definite overcapacity issue.” Well, then deal with it. Whoops, Ford started reducing capacity over there. Serge?

    But a more direct answer to his question why the Gov’t doesn’t invest more in Natural Gas, well that’s because right now they have a very robust relationship with Oil, foreign or otherwise and too many groups have too much interests at stake with it at this point.

  • avatar

    The one thing that going to make CNG viable isn’t CNG but rather “LNG” or “Liquified Natural Gas.” Autoweek had a story on it a few weeks ago. The best “one paragraph” on it I coudl find was this:

    Natural gas provides 25% of all energy in the United States, including 3% of the transportation sector’s power. Producing 30% less carbon dioxide than petroleum, and 45% less carbon dioxide than coal, it is the cleanest of all fossil fuels – but unlike other fuels, it’s extremely difficult to transport and trade. Liquefied natural gas is created by cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it becomes a clear, odourless, colorless liquid that takes up just 1/600th of the space. LNG can be used in modified vehicles, or shipped, reheated and used as natural gas. It currently accounts for 2.8% of the US’s natural gas, but the US Department of Energy wishes to increase this proportion to 16% by 2030.

    • 0 avatar

      “Liquefied natural gas is created by cooling natural gas to -259 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it becomes a clear, odourless, colorless liquid that takes up just 1/600th of the space.”

      That is why it will never be used. It will not stay a liquid unless you either:

      a. Maintain it at -259 F (massive refrigeration unit)
      b. Allow the pressure to rise with temperature; in which case, you are dealing with a high pressure vessel, and will lose some over time due to venting.

      Google “LNG tanker” to see what it takes to transport the stuff. Then, Google “BLEVE LNG” to find out what happens when an LNG tank in an auto is involved in an accident.

  • avatar

    I honestly believe there’s resistance to CNG purely because it solves so many problems.

    If our transportation fuel was cheap, almost 100% domestically produced and EXTREMELY low emission (actually lower than many sources of electricity) suddenly you can’t sell a vision of the world on the verge of blowing up. It’s much easier when you have turmoil in the Middle East, oil shortages and price shocks.

    Remember that when you hear the hysteria about fracking.

    • 0 avatar

      “Remember that when you hear the hysteria about fracking.”

      So, you’d be okay with your water being fouled, then? It’d be totally okay for someone to start hydrofracking right next to your supply?


      Let’s be honest: the only reason CNG gets touted as a preferred option is because a) energy companies like it because the business model is the same as oil; it’s not disruptive, and b) automakers like it because it doesn’t cost much to bolt on, and c) the problems of transport, filling and pollution from extraction are easy to externalize for both a) and b).

      Oh, and d), it’s a conservative political darling because it eschews all the hippie-ism of electric cars and hybrids, hybrids, sensible urban planning and so forth.

      I don’t deny it has a place, but it’s not the silver bullet it’s proponents make it out to be, and it behooves people to ask why they’re pushing it.

      • 0 avatar

        “Let’s be honest: the only reason CNG gets touted as a preferred option is because a) energy companies like it because the business model is the same as oil; it’s not disruptive, and b) automakers like it because it doesn’t cost much to bolt on, and c) the problems of transport, filling and pollution from extraction are easy to externalize for both a) and b).”

        You don’t think that these are good enough reasons to further proliferate the use of this fuel? I don’t hear anyone saying this is an either or propostion “CNG or NOTHING!”.

        The business model works great for fleets who can set up their own refueling stations. It’s a silver bullet for them.

      • 0 avatar

        Fracking is nothing new, it’s been around for several generations. And the dishonesty on the other side of the debate is downright disgusting (like lighting tap water on fire) Movies like Gasland have even been condemned by the government environmental agencies as being dishonest.

        Now Matt Damon has a new movie coming out about the horrors of fracking, and surprise, it’s funded by wealthy Arab oil interests. Can’t have those Americans becoming energy independent.

      • 0 avatar

        psar – I would be OK with fracking right next to my 200′ deep water well, as long as it was a half mile or so deep. Then it truly isn’t ‘next’ to my well. On the other hand, I wouldn’t necessarily be happy with a fracking operation that was half a mile away on the surface, but only a few hundred feet deep. Depends on the geology between my water source and the fracking. But I think fracking tends to be deeper than water wells, deeper even than the deep wells into aquifer fossil water that people in the US are stupidly draining to keep their lawns green.

        Regarding your point d), sensible urban planning runs hard up against unconscionable urban political corruption and pandering, and mostly loses. Oh, and hybrids are sensible, but electric cars still burn coal.

  • avatar

    He’s right. CNG is an easy way to sidestep our foreign dependence on pricy oil while still being able to reuse most of the existing investments in ICE technology. There are some technical issues to be resolved but solutions to these are much more within reach than the sheer mountain of technology challenges associated with electric cars.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    Yes I am sure there are problems. The nation that sent a man to the moon (when we had a NASA that was not for public relations) and made Nuclear weapons and power should be able to solve the infrastructure problems. There are farmers in the midwest who run irrigation engines off gas coming directly from the ground. The Pipeline right of way behind my house makes me think that transportation is a problem ready to be solved. I would recommend that we all look at the problems through glasses that are not filtered for right or left wing viewpoints.

    Sergio is backing up the rhetoric with action. Boone Pickens applauds him I am sure. So do I.

  • avatar

    The only issue I’ve ever had with them is that the tanks aren’t space efficient, and I have a lot of experience of the systems in Jeeps and various Land Rover products. Even in Jaguars and BMWs.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly. Vehicles that had factory options are much better than the aftermarket add-ons that weren’t necessarily incorporated into the design of the vehicle. Crown Vics and Town Cars were commonly equipped with LPG or CNG as their trunks still had a ton of space after the tanks were installed.

      CNG is widely used in fleet applications where they can set up their own fueling stations as natural gas service is fairly common nowadays.

      I don’t have any experience with it, but the Civic is available with CNG as well.

  • avatar

    Propane aka LPG & CNG were quite popular 20 yrs ago, suddenly just cant give it away, perhaps now is a real comeback.

    CNG does help US of A in a great way, is bringing back manufacturing jobs here, logistic/ transportation cost goes down which is a great help and the hydro power which can use CNG instead of Coal.

  • avatar

    Not sure if that’s a typo on your post, but propane is not “aka LPG & CNG”. 2 different things. LPG is indeed propane, but CNG is a different animal. LPG was once quite popular here in Western Canada due to abundant and cheap supply. Eventually various levels of government began taxing it as a motor fuel, same as gas or diesel. This eliminated a lot of the price advantage, in most cases to the point of making LPG conversions uneconomical. The other problem was getting LPG vehicles to meet emissions standards, particularly oxides of nitrate. I would expect similar problems killed it in any areas in the US where it was popular as well.
    CNG was never as popular, partly due to the higher cost of conversions and storage/pumping equipment required by much higher pressures. I don’t recall what CNG sold for, but at one time in the (pre-tax)’80s LPG was maybe 1/4 the price of gasoline. Until the cost/weight/emissions issues are solved I don’t think you will see widespread use of either of these fuels.

  • avatar

    ‘Nuff Said—

    Anybody who doesn’t believe that CNG is the future of US Energy Independence….Join the climate change deniers; evolution deniers and assorted right wing ignoramus’s (usually republican)…

  • avatar

    …furthermore…those who insist upon riding with crude oil…ride with al-Qaeda!

  • avatar

    CNG is the way to go. I have an interesting idea on how to do a simple retrofit…wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this

    How about current cars are fitted with low-to-medium pressure removable CNG tanks in the trunk. You’d have a small compressor at home, and fill up while parked in your garage.

    An extremely simple secondary fuel system would be attached. It’d have a sensor on your pedal, and a venturi-style inlet. Gas injection would be metered based solely on temperature, airflow, and throttle position, and it would just be a conservative estimate on how much fuel the engine needs. The gas would provide about 50-85% of the cars energy needs under normal operating cruising conditions. Meanwhile, the car’s O2 sensors would handle most of the rest of the fuel metering duties, injecting enough gasoline to make up the difference, or for transient conditions and sudden high-power needs.

    When you need extra trunk space, just remove the tank and burn gasoline.

    Such a system could be extremely affordable and offer, well, 50-85% of the benefit of a CNG car much more quickly and affordably.

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