2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas, El Segundo, CA, Nov 2011Enlarge Photo
Last week, governors of more than 20 states joined together to ask the auto industry for a specific kind of car: a mid-size sedan powered by natural gas, rather than gasoline.
This week, the industry responded, with auto-company representatives gathering in Oklahoma City to discuss the request with Governor Mary Fallin, a member of the governors' group.
Fourteen of the governors signed a memorandum of understanding to support the effort, but as of this week, an additional eight states have signed onto a collective Request For Proposal (RFP) to buy the natural-gas sedans for use in state fleets.
Today, while there are several heavy-duty trucks that can run on natural gas, there's only a single passenger vehicle: the 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas.
It's built in Ohio, and has been for a decade, but sales have averaged 2,000 units a year or less.
The governors hope that the combined sizes of their state vehicle fleets--many thousands of vehicles--may be enough to persuade a carmaker, preferably one of the Detroit Three, to design and sell a car they could use to replace gasoline-powered vehicles.
The 20 states, including Colorado and Oklahoma, are those where natural gas is produced.
2012 Honda Civic Natural GasEnlarge Photo
There are roughly 1,000 natural-gas fueling stations nationally, against about 120,000 gasoline stations, meaning that natural-gas vehicles may require detours to fill up.
But the allure of a locally produced fuel--contributing to jobs, lower emissions, energy security, and reducing the national trade deficit--is a powerful one, and the governors urged the auto industry to take natural gas as seriously as gasoline, diesel, and plug-in cars.
The U.S. now has substantial proven natural-gas reserves--enough for much of this century, some say. And it's available more quickly than most had expected just 10 years ago.
With the new and controversial "fracking" technique allowing natural gas to be extracted from more sources, some have said the U.S. will literally be awash in the fuel within the current decade.
2013 Ram 2500 HD CNG pickup truck - natural-gas fuel system onlyEnlarge Photo
As a result, natural-gas prices have fallen substantially, reducing the cost of driving on natural gas in some regions to less than $2 per gallon-equivalent.
Today, natural-gas fueled vehicles are largely medium- and heavy-duty trucks, most often converted rather than factory-built. But that's changing.
The governors' effort is assisted by the Drive Natural Gas Initiative, a consortium that brings together producers and distributors of natural gas to advocate for more NGVs.