By the end of this year, Honda says it will have more than 200 dealers certified to sell the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas across the U.S.
Much cheaper than regular gasoline and cleaner-burning, many states offer incentives to encourage drivers to make the switch to natural gas.
But there’s one problem: finding somewhere to fill up.
Find a station
At the moment, there are around 930 natural gas filling stations in the U.S. Of those, more than half are open to the public, but many more are private filling stations ran by local businesses and governments exclusively for fleet use.
The number of stations varies greatly from state to state, with prices per gallon also varying dramatically.
Interestingly, Oklahoma has a large number of natural gas filling stations, and also some of the cheapest natural gas in the U.S.
By contrast, South Dakota has none.
Take a detour
As a consequence of the difference in popularity of natural gas from state to state, distances between natural gas stations can vary greatly, as AOL Autos senior editor Scott Burgess recently discovered.
During a 600-mile trip from New York City to Detroit in Bi-fuel 2012 Ford F-250CNG, Burgess took a 94-mile detour just so he could fill up with natural gas.
Burgess was lucky. In bi-fuel vehicles like the fleet-only 2012 Ford F-250 pickup, there’s a backup gasoline tank, meaning you can drive on gasoline or natural gas, essential if you’re traveling somewhere without natural gas refueling stations.
But natural gas vehicles, like the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, ONLY have a natural gas tank.
That, as our own John Voelcker found out in 2011, can lead to some range anxiety.
For reference, the Civic Natural Gas has a real-world range of 150 to 180 miles per fill.
While that’s more than the range of most plug-in cars per charge, electric car owners do at least know there’s normally an outlet nearby they can use to refuel in an emergency.
Or pump your own
2013 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD bi-fuel (natural gas & gasoline) pickup truck
2013 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD bi-fuel (natural gas & gasoline) pickup truckEnlarge Photo
You may think we’re predicting doom and gloom for the natural gas car, but we’re not.
In some states, where natural gas stations are plentiful, a natural gas car can make a good purchase if you’re looking for a green car with a range larger than that of an all-electric car.
California, for example, offers natural gas perks similar to electric car drivers, including purchase incentives and single-occupant use of HOV lanes.
Like electric cars however, the best refueling solution for a natural gas car could be the installation of a home refueling system.
Using around 800 watts of electricity, these systems take an existing natural gas domestic supply and compress it, enabling you to refill your car at home every day.
A tough sell
At the moment, because of the challenges in refueling them, natural gas cars represent a tiny proportion of private vehicles on the roads of the U.S. today.
With Honda keen to encourage car buyers to make the switch to Natural gas and more dealers becoming certified to sell the car, that may slowly change over the coming months.
But with Honda recommending any dealer wanting to sell its Civic Natural Gas being less than 20 miles from a public natural-gas fueling station, we think that change will happen (if at all) very slowly indeed.