Pickens Dream come true: GM says yes to natural gas vehicles

  • Detroit (MI) - Big U.S. transportation companies are obviously hearing the noise coming from T. Boone Pickens’ campaign. Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development, recently revealed on the company’s blog that GM has taken a positive stance in regards to the utilization of natural gas for vehicles. This comes as a surprise, considering the fact that GM has been pushing biofuels and their Volt program a lot more than they have made any decisions or had any major discussions regarding natural gas vehicles.

    In his blog post, Burns mentions that natural gas powered transportation is “enticing because it is abundant, affordable and relatively clean.” He claims that GM already has “extensive experience with natural gas vehicles.” The vehicle he is speaking of is the Opel Zafira compact van, which is a compressed natural gas vehicle for use and purchase in the European market.

    Burns’ mentions that GM is now “exploring a dual-fuel approach with natural gas and gasoline for U.S. customers. While we are not ready to commit to a future production plan, we are taking a serious look at natural gas in the U.S. as yet another way to diversify our portfolio of affordable and sustainable transportation energy solutions.”

    Past the development of dual-fuel natural gas cars, Burns also mentions that natural gas can be utilized to aid in the creation of electricity for the Volt, but he does not provide any further details.

    The difficult part of this plan is pursuing the customer base to drive natural gas vehicles. This will require more than an interesting design for the car. It also requires building out the energy supply infrastructure of the vehicle. But if GM is serious about this technology, the company may be willing to do for natural gas vehicles what they have recently begun doing for biofuels and invest in both the promotion and distribution.

    In any case, Burns states that “governments will likely need to provide incentives to encourage early adoption of the technology and to jump-start the fueling infrastructure.”

    At this time there is only one natural gas mass production vehicle on sale in the U.S. Honda sells the Civic GXNGV on a very limited basis for prices starting at $25,260 (including destination and handling). The car has a 113 hp 1.8l engine rated at a gasoline equivalent fuel consumption of 24/36/28 mpg (city/highway/combined), giving the car a driving range of about 250 miles. Refueling typically happens at home through FuelMaker’s Phill refueling station that is connected to the home gas line and can be installed in a garage.    

    Refueling the GX may take up to 16 hours if the tank is virtually empty, Honda said.