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Truck Stop Natural Gas May Spur On Alt-Fuel Car Adoption

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2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011

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Natural gas has forever been a "nearly" fuel. While offering several advantages over gasoline or diesel, such as low cost of refueling, HOV-lane stickers in California and cleaner running, the disadvantages are even greater.

One of those has been the availability of natural gas, limiting its suitability for longer trips, where access to a natural gas pump might be scarce.

That could be about to change, according to Associated Press. Natural gas developer Clean Energy Fuels Corp. is planning to equip truck stops all over the country with natural gas pumps, increasing the total by 150. All will be located on major interstates.

While the main aim of this is to encourage heavier, thirstier vehicles to use natural gas, it will be beneficial for the passenger car market too. Currently, the natural gas vehicle market is dominated by buses, taxis and garbage haulers. Refueling is less of an issue for commercial vehicles, as they're often refueled each night at the company running them.

At the moment, only one production natural gas vehicle is on sale, the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas. We drove it recently, and found it to be very similar to the regular Civic to drive.

However, with fewer than 1,000 public natural gas fueling stations across the U.S. and a lower range on gas than on gasoline, it's a less practical choice. It also costs more than the equivalent gasoline Civic - as much as $10,000 over the basic model - giving it similar limitations to an electric car.

If the number of stations increased, the low price and low greenhouse gas emissions - a third lower than the equivalent gasoline model - could make it a more logical option, at least for owners keeping their cars for several years.

Honda is expanding sales to 37 states next year, up from only four. "We think we are expanding the car at the right time with the expansion in public infrastructure," explains Honda's Jessica Fini. Honda plans to boost sales from 1,000 cars annually to 2,000, still less than one hundredth that of regular gasoline Civics.

150 more stations still sounds like a small expansion, but it's certainly a step in the right direction and should help Honda sell a few more natural gas Civics. Whether it will stimulate greater demand and encourage other car makers to follow suit is a different matter.

Would you consider a natural gas vehicle, or is infrastructure still too much of an issue? Let us know in the comments section below.
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