Prototype Natural-Gas Vehicles Use Gasoline As Range Extender Page 3

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Natural-gas vehicle prototypes, Los Angeles, May 2013 - gasoline & natural-gas fillers in gas door

Natural-gas vehicle prototypes, Los Angeles, May 2013 - gasoline & natural-gas fillers in gas door

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The trunks and load bays are the same size as factory-built cars, and the natural-gas fueling inlets are hidden away under the same cover as the gasoline filler.

Carlab did some significant structural re-engineering to fit small tanks for compressed natural gas (CNG) into spaces formerly occupied by spare tires.

The company's engineers placed the tanks and designed the structures to comply with all current and future crash-test requirements.

Because Carlab works with many automakers on product development, it used its knowledge of structural development and testing procedures to do the work to the standards of production auto engineers, rather than aftermarket conversion firms.

Projecting the costs

A second fueling system doesn't come free, of course.

Carlab's experience in creating bills-of-material for future vehicle development projects let it accurately project the costs that automakers would pay for the components of these smaller natural-gas systems when bought in volume.

Their projections don't shoot for the moon; they assume a volume of 20,000 units a year--or about the number of Chevy Volts sold last year.

But whereas the Volt, a compact four-seater, costs $40,000--or roughly twice as much as a five-seat Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan--the price increase for the secondary natural-gas system is much lower.

In volume, Carlab projects, the added tank, plumbing, and fittings would cost $2,600 to $2,900 at a volume of 20,000 vehicles a year. That's less than a 10-percent increase in any of the vehicles prototyped.

Payback depends on compressor cost

The difference in cost between a gallon of gasoline and a gallon-equivalent of natural gas has soared from about 70 cents in 2009 to more than $2.00 today.

That means that the payback period for the added fueling system is only a few years.

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

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

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One variable remains unknown: The cost of buying and installing a home compressor appliance to fuel such a vehicle.

If it costs $5,000, the payback may never arrive. But, said the natural-gas proponents, if it could be bought and installed for more like $2,000, payback becomes reasonable.

What's next?

With the prototype vehicles being shown publicly today for the first time, natural-gas vehicle advocates want to get the attention of both policymakers and the public.

This summer, they'll go on tour through regions that already have ample supplies of natural gas--and where sales of bi-fuel vehicles are already established.

The goal will be to get consumers thinking about the idea that they might be to drive large portions of their daily miles on a domestic, much cheaper fuel--in a car that looks completely normal and without having to compromise on performance, cargo space, or any other feature.

Best selling point: money saved

With increasing domestic supplies of natural gas and gasoline prices remaining high, the natural-gas industry believes it has a better shot than ever before at saving consumers money.

natural gas vs. crude oil prices

natural gas vs. crude oil prices

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Natural gas costs have fallen dramatically over 15 years, and there seems to be no sign that they'll rise again anytime soon.

So what's your take on the concept of using natural gas to fuel cars for less than 100 miles, with a gasoline tank as a range extender?

Would you buy such a vehicle? What do you think of its pros and cons?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

The American Natural Gas Association provided airfare, lodging, and meals to let High Gear Media bring you this first-hand report.


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Comments (22)
  1. So, it has the disadvantages of an range-extended electric vehicle (more complex drive drain, long alt fuel refill time, limited alt fuel refill points and range) and none of the advantages (zero local emissions on alt fuel, ability to run off solar power, superior performance of electric). It's only supposed advantage is upfront cost, but that's not worth speculating on until compressor costs are known.

    And they will look mighty silly in a few years when natural gas prices rise and battery costs continue to fall. I would be very surprised if they sold 20,000 units.

  2. Α simple but novel idea… using alt. fuel tank just big enough for average daily use!

    Obviously a second fuel injector is needed for NG in addition to gasoline. The ability to home (or fleet) fill the NG is significant as reduces time at gasoline pump. Time saved is added value, in addition to avoiding seasonal gas pump price volatility!

    What would a home NG compressor cost to install? Under $1500 would keep vehicle payback period reasonable, making it a desirable option.

  3. Far easier to put in a 30A charger than a natgas compressor, especially if your house doesn't get gas service.

  4. I have been wondering when any one would take CNG seriously as a vehicle fuel. A good boat cost 40-50 bux to fill up and uses all of it in a hour or so of running around. Natural Gas is suppose to be clean burning so there is that. for a boat which would be very much tied to a "Home Base" I think it will work out just fine. Much better than the electric ski boats that cost another 10,000 just for the battery and its only Lithium Ion battery tech.

  5. Home fueling is great. But how much electricity is used to run the compressor? How does that compare to just using that electricity to charge a PHEV?

  6. The article acts like this is new technology. I did a trip to Lima, Peru this spring and I estimate 40% of the vehicles in Lima run on NG. Half of the pumps in the service stations are NG. As a Taxi Driver told me its cheaper, cleaner and Peru has a surplus, why wouldn't we use it. The government offerred incentives and the consumers converted their cars. What is stopping the USA. I did not see one Hybrid. I have an Old Porsche 914 I would love to convert if the compressor becomes affordable.

  7. The oil industry is a powerful lobby in the District of Corruption. Money makes the difference, not logic or good intentions.

  8. @Victor: As the article clearly states, the difference here is that the natural-gas tanks are sized so they can be incorporated into the existing vehicle structure without compromising load space.

    I suspect those Lima taxis had most or all of their trunks filled with natural-gas tanks. That's a compromise that most U.S. buyers are unlikely to accept.

  9. if you are at the Expo, look around for me. i will try and swing by in the afternoon

  10. Here in the Netherlands we have two companies that make most of the CNG pumps here. These companies are CNGnet and OrangeGas (which provides only bio-CNG). There about 100-130 CNG pumps here, which make a pretty dense network. I think this is a much better solution than refueling at home, because it's fast-filled (about 5 minutes). This also takes away the upfront cost of installing a compressor at home and makes long trips feasible.

    I believe the best way to short-term green transport, especially transport by trucks or vans, is to use bio-CNG provided by landfills, sewer sludge, manure and compost.

    Even better; costs are about 40% less than diesel and specially gas. One KG of CNG costs about €1,00. And can travel as far as 1.5l diesel!

  11. How does the cost of running such a hybrid on natural gas compare to a EV hybrid like the Volt?

  12. This is a great idea as long as it doesn't use up too much space. How about going one step further and having hybrid-gas-natural gas. That would really cover all the bases but probably fill too much space.

  13. 1. Way late to the party.
    2. Still pollutes.
    3. Uses more overall energy than a EV or PHEV.
    4. Have to rely on a costly to maintain ICE.
    5. Car market is growing with OEM made EVs and PHEVs.
    6. Seem to be some sort of desperate distraction from well established EVs and PHEV technology mean to fool non-tech consumers.

  14. BRC FuelMaker has marketed a home Phill unit for several years and with the $1000.00 federal tax credit, purchase price is getting closer to $2800.00 plus installation. So the price is coming down on a unit that's been in production since 2005.

  15. Sure, it cost less upfront. But its so called "mpg" for NG based vehicles are in the low 20s. Even if the cost of NG is about 60%, but its mpg is about also 2/3 of what a comparable vehicle is. So, what are you really gaining in effiency?

    Isn't a hybrid better and cost less? Sure, emission is less and the fuel can be domestic sourced.

    I think a PHEV/EREV running on NG is even better.

  16. Your MPG comparison may not be correct.


    "In EPA fuel-economy terms, the CNG achieves 27 and 38 mpg (in gasoline-gallon equivalence) compared with 28/39 for the Civic LX with the five-speed..."

    Personally, I'd rather have a full CNG rather than a hybrid anything (be it CNG or electric hybrid). I have been thinking about getting a Civic GX for a while to commute with, but not anymore, thanks to the Focus Electric. BEV is the way to go for small commuter cars.

  17. The measurement of CNG fuel in the tank is by Gasoline Gallon Equivalent (GGE), which means 1.0 GGE puts out the same MPG as 1.0 gallon of gasoline.

    On these 4 vehicles we proved this point with dyno testing to show no significant reduction in MPG.

  18. So this car will be filled up with natural gas, then needs to be filled up with gasoline, then in the future another hybrid EV system included...?

  19. All in all, it still is a clever idea..

  20. Nice idea, but I'd prefer full CNG for vehicles that are too heavy to make full-electric a viable option (i.e. full-sized pickups).

  21. The Michigan automotive engineering technical team that was contracted by CARLAB to design, engineer and build these 4 CNG prototype vehicles has embarked on another project to shatter another paradigm.

    We are proving the point that using CNG does not decrease horsepower by modifying a 2003 Mustang GT Street Muscle Car that currently puts out 470 HP at the rear wheels with alcohol injection.

    We will unveil this CNG Muscle Car at our beloved Dream Cruise event in August, see to track our progress and how to help by various sponsoring opportunities.

    Are you interested in helping us with this project?

  22. We completed the Mustang GT running on CNG in a high performance modified muscle car that puts out 470 HP at the rear wheels. See our website of a video of this car making "Skid Marks" on both fuels, gasoline and CNG. There is no difference!

    We will be on the dyno in the coming weeks to calibrate the engine for more HP using CNG as the fuel.

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