American drivers hungry for powerful pickup trucks that are kinder to both the environment and their wallets will get a taste this year of what one Big-Three automaker has planned for the near future.
Chrysler Group LLC, the Detroit automaker now controlled by Italian automaker Fiat, said it will start selling natural-gas–powered pickups in the U.S. this year. Sergio Marchionne, the CEO of both Chrysler and Fiat, made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Jan. 10. The first deliveries will be made to fleet customers.
Marchionne said that natural-gas vehicles — liquid natural gas (LNG) for large commercial trucks and compressed natural gas (CNG) for cars and pickups — are the best green option for automakers. Electric hybrids are too expensive and the recharge times for all-electric cars present too large an obstacle for mass consumption, Marchionne said.
According to Fiat, the additional cost of a natural gas engine is $3,000, compared with $3,300 diesel and $8,000 for an electric hybrid.
Fiat already has CNG vehicles throughout Europe and plans on bringing them to the U.S. by 2017. Ultimately, Fiat would like to bring CNG vehicles to the retail U.S. market faster, but the company cited a lack of infrastructure for refueling natural gas vehicles. There were only 1,000 refueling stations and 112,000 natural-gas vehicles in the U.S. as of Dec. 2010, according to the International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles.
Currently, Honda is the only automaker selling CNG cars to U.S. retail customers. Its Civic Natural Gas sedan, formerly the Civic GX and now branded the Civic NG, is sold by 200 dealers in 36 states.
Do you own a CNG car? What about your business? How is it working for you?
“Chrysler to Begin Natural-Gas Truck Sales,” Bloomberg, Jan. 11, 2012.