2012 Honda Civic Natural GasEnlarge Photo
The relationship between natural gas vehicles (NGVs) and natural gas stations is a 'catch-22' situation.
Without the former, companies are reluctant to built more natural gas stations, as the demand won't be there. But without the latter, manufacturers see no reason to produce natural gas vehicles, because customers who can't fill them up won't be interested in buying them.
It only takes one side to make the first move, and according to Pike Research, it looks like the manufacturers are the ones to do it.
As the EPA is revamped its certification process for NGVs, carmakers have started releasing more models.
The 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, originally available only in a select few states, is now available nationwide. Chrysler has launched the RAM CNG pickup, Ford has released pickups and vans, and GM too has released a natural gas pickup.
Dave Hurst at Pike Research has revised his sales forecast to 20,000 NGVs sold in 2012, over 4,000 up from his previous 2012 forecast, as the selection of new models meets greater demand.
With the catch-22 broken, it's now up to the infrastructure to catch up, with several companies--including GE and Shell--investing in the NGV infrastructure, and even home refueling once again becoming available.
Same route for hydrogen?
The question some will ask is whether carmakers should take the same lead with hydrogen vehicles, given the similar conundrum faced by supporters of hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicles.
Hydrogen's use is currently limited by both vehicle availability and lack of infrastructure. It's a worldwide problem, too. The 2012 London Olympic games might be using a fleet of hydrogen black cabs, but with one refueling station out of action they're having to be taken on a flat-bed truck to refuel 130 miles away.
Germany is making strides to improve the network first, ready for hydrogen-supporting carmakers like Daimler to produce vehicles that use it.
California too is improving its network, with 68 hydrogen stations to appear by 2015. But elsewhere there's still very little in place, and carmakers don't seem to be making the first move either.
Chicken and egg
Ultimately, the success of any alternative fuel needs somebody to make the first move, or a suitable plan put in place that allows the chicken and egg to appear simultaneously.
That appears to be happening to some extent with plug-in vehicles, but with natural gas, hydrogen and others, the process may take a little longer.