Natural Gas Is Abundant in America. Natural Gas Cars? Not So Much

There are 12 million natural gas cars and other vehicles worldwide, but less than 300,000 of them are in the U.S. Even with its major price advantages as a fuel, and increasing demand for Honda's Civic CNG, Ford and GM have yet to make a real effort beyond pickups and vans.

Feb 16, 2014 at 1:26PM

The United States is undergoing a domestic natural gas boom unlike anything seen in more than a generation. Passing Russia in 2012, the U.S. is the largest producer of natural gas in the world, and there is strong evidence that domestic reserves can support that production for as long as a century.

The domestic supply is so large that Cheniere Energy's LNG export facility in Louisiana, the first of its kind in the country to support massive exports of natural gas, will begin sending cheap American natural gas to overseas markets in less than one year. Less than a decade ago, almost nobody in the energy business would have imagined this. The U.S. was importing more than two-thirds of its oil, and most natural gas producers were fearing domestic supplies would run out within a few decades. 

Natural gas has remained an inexpensive fuel versus diesel and gasoline, and a large number of operators of commercial bus, taxi, and trash truck fleets have migrated to this cleaner burning alternative over the past several years. However, natural gas cars are almost as scarce today as they were a decade ago. Honda Motor Co (NYSE:HMC) introduced the Civic CNG in 1998, and 16 years later it's still the only factory-built natural gas car sold in the United States. Sure, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), Chrysler's Ram, and General Motors (NYSE:GM) offer various natural gas-powered pickup trucks and vans, targeted at fleets and as work vehicles, for a number of years, but besides the Civic, consumers looking for an economical daily driver have been left out of the mix. The result?

Of the more than 12 million natural gas cars on the planet, less than 300,000 are in North America. The vast majority of them are either commercial or government vehicles, heavy-duty trucks, or gasoline-powered that have been converted to CNG. So far, that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.

Images

The 2015 Chevy Impala will be sold to retail customers and to fleets. Source: General Motors

First new entry in 16 years, but more of the same compromises
General Motors has announced that the 2015 Chevy Impala will be available in a bi-fuel configuration, with a CNG tank that holds eight GGE (gasoline gallon equivalents) of CNG, which will provide around 150 miles of range on natural gas. Combined with the standard gas tank, the bi-fuel Impala will have a total range of 500 miles. For commuters with natural gas at home, this could make for a compelling car, especially as a larger alternative to Honda's Civic. However, there are sacrifices, as the CNG tank is mounted in the trunk, cutting the roomy trunk on the 2014 Impala in half, from 19 cubic feet down to 10. 

General Motors expects to have the vehicle at dealers by this summer, and has stated that it will be available to both fleets and retail customers.  

Images

Typical in most bi-fuel pickups, the 2015 Silverado CNG tank is in the bed, meaning a compromise between payload and fuel costs. Source: GM

More trucks and vans for fleet owners and work vehicles
Ford, Chevy, and Dodge (now Ram) have offered factory-approved conversions for a number of years on limited vehicles, but the process has usually involved a third party to convert the vehicle and be responsible for warranty coverage. Not only does this add additional cost, but adding another party if there's a problem could lead to the customer being stuck in the middle while the two parties point fingers at one another about responsibility.

But this is quickly becoming a problem of the past with new vehicles, like Chevy's Silverado 2500 and 3500 HD model pickups. The CNG tank is installed in the bed by a third party, but delivered to the customer by Chevrolet's dealers like any other OEM-built vehicle, and all of the CNG components are covered by GM's factory warranty, a definite step forward.

G

Image courtesy of Westport Innovations

Ford's partnership with Westport Innovations (NASDAQ:WPRT) will give buyers of America's best selling truck -- Ford's F Series -- a similar experience. As the image above describes, what has historically been a multiple-step process involving the manufacturer and a third party is quickly becoming a seamless experience for buyers and fleet managers.

While Westport provides the warranty on the new components that it adds, all repairs are performed by Ford dealers, and Westport works with the dealer directly to supply necessary replacement parts -- a winning combination for customers. The Westport video below features a testimonial from Lynn Lyon, Director of Fuel Market Development for Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE:PXD), which is a large user of natural gas for its own fleet of trucks:

 

Ms. Lyon told me the following, with regards to how the transition for natural gas from large fleets to the consumer is heading:

Historically, large fleets can afford the expense of a private refueling stations. The change is that there is growing demand for public stations. For example, Central Freight has opened the largest public CNG station in the U.S, located in Houston. It is being used by largely Central Freight and Swift Transportation, but is also open to the public. This is just one example of a growing trend of privately built public stations, which will open up the market to both smaller business fleets, as well as consumers. In addition, multiple companies are working on a portable, reliable option for home refueling. Natural gas is already in 50% of U.S. homes, and available for consumers to use.

Lynnlyon Boone Pickens

Lynn Lyon with T. Boone Pickens. Courtesy Ms.Lyon's Twitter

Stuck in neutral
America's producible supply of natural gas -- estimates range from 50 to more than 150 years of accessible gas -- is higher than it's ever been. Even as access to CNG and LNG has exploded, with several thousand natural gas fueling stations in the U.S., individuals interested in buying a natural gas car have about the same options today as they did a decade ago.

Will that change in the coming years? Access to fuel is growing. If automakers step up, there could be demand from consumers.

This report may save you a ton of money on your next vehicle purchase
You don't know it yet, but you probably spent $1000's more than you should have on your vehicle. In fact, the auto industry can be such a dangerous place for consumers that our top auto experts are determined to even the playing field. That's why they created a a brand new free report on The Car Buying Secrets You Must Know. The advice inside could save you thousands of dollars on your next car, so be sure to read this report while it lasts. Your conscience, and your wallet, will thank you. Click here now for instant access.

 

Jason Hall owns shares of Westport Innovations. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Westport Innovations. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Westport Innovations. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers