Natural gas replacing gasoline?

By Rod Meloni - Reporter, CFP ®

DETROIT - It's the hot new trend.

Chrysler on Tuesday in Geneva rolled out for the world to see its newest vehicle: a Ram 2500 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) pickup truck.

It comes a day after General Motors did the same thing, showing off CNG Silverado and GMC pick ups.

Is this our next big trend? Will this succeed where E85 did not? Can this wean us off of foreign gasoline? Will it bring pump prices down? All good questions; yes it is the hot new trend, even though Honda has been selling a natural gas Civic for 15 years.

It seems everyone is interested in voting for anything other than gasoline. But this has all the feel of the E85 fiasco. Gasoline stations all across America started carrying E85 only to see its price shoot too high to be a good deal and petered out.

Natural gas might just wean us off of foreign oil and force pump prices down; then again it might not.

We have more natural gas supply than ever before, more than we can even store. New technologies have brought this on which has driven the price down to a very attractive place. But we would have to see compressed natural gas filling pumps at gas stations recently burned by E85. That's a tough sell right out of the gate. Who is going to pay for the installations? Another tough question that will affect price.

Also, it's not like you know anyone who is driving a CNG Civic which means there isn't exactly a great demand for the vehicles in the first place.

So, you wonder how this will play out? 2953 Analytics analyst Jim Hall says cng makes a world of sense for fleet operators. One central CNG filling station or group of pumps can put the gas in the vehicles [usually trucks] overnight and the trucks leave the garage for business the next day and get refueled again at night.

Here's why that makes more sense. The natural gas you likely heat your home with is the same fuel but it's coursing through your home's pipes at a very low pressure. In order to use it in a car it needs to be compressed. The thought of people putting natural gas compressors in their garages at the cost of some $1,000 to $2,000 is a bit frightening in that it is a big investment and while they are likely perfectly safe, we all know what natural gas can do if it leaks in a home. Often there aren't even timbers left intact if it explodes.

Problems like this are certainly solvable but they do put impediments in the way of making the next technology/alternative fuel cost effective. And let's face it, the only reason to accept a new technology is its ability to improve on the current system. This is a concept that eludes government regulators trying to force Americans into smaller cars and new technologies before they are proven or a market even exists.

In the end, in say five or 10 years, CNG may be widespread. And Hall believes it is most likely to be with big trucking fleets.

You see, diesel fuel is the really costly one, and the one more likely to be improved upon with a new technology/alternative fuel first. So, CNG is intriguing, the auto companies are ready to respond if the market moves in that direction.

Right now, both the Chrysler and GM CNG trucks will have both CNG and gasoline tanks giving them considerable range.

But until the market does respond, you'll still be pumping gasoline.

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