2009 Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle logo

2009 Honda Civic GX Natural Gas Vehicle logo

We've written a couple of times about natural gas, "the other alternative fuel" (besides diesel). It's easy to ignore, since most of the 100,000 natural-gas vehicles in the States are commercial, including roughly one fifth of the country's transit buses.

Now, a bipartisan bill has been introduced to speed the development of both engines that run on natural gas and the infrastructure to fuel them. It would also provide healthy tax credits for buyers of those natural-gas vehicles, or NGVs.

The legislation--called S.1408, or NAT-GAS for short--was unveiled yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). He was joined by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

For consumers, the bill's most notable provision raises the tax credit for purchasing NGVs to $12,500 from the present $5,000. That's even higher than the maximum credit of $7,500 that will be available to early buyers of such electric vehicles as the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or the 2010 Coda Sedan.

The bill also includes a provision to deploy more filling stations for natural gas-powered vehicles.

But natural-gas vehicles will need far more of a kickstart to have an impact in the market than will plug-in cars.  Already, General Motors, Nissan, Ford, Mitsubishi, and several other carmakers are planning to launch electric vehicles in the US by 2012.

Of the world's 10 million natural-gas vehicles, a mere 142,000 are found in the US. And you can only buy one NGV direct from any car dealer: the 2009 Honda Civic GX, of which roughly 2,000 are sold each year (more than half to fleets).

Oil magnate-turned-clean tech tycoon T. Boone Pickens has advocated converting and manufacturing up to 1 million big rigs to compressed natural gas, of a total of 6.5 million on the roads. No battery pack is even imagined that can run long-haul heavy trucks, so natural gas may be one of the few fuels that could give the trucking industry a path to move away from petroleum.

GreenCarReports.com will keep you posted on this bill as it makes its way through the legislative process.

T. Boone Pickens with President Barack Obama

T. Boone Pickens with President Barack Obama