Which alternate vehicle or fuel do you know least about?

You've almost surely heard about hybrids. You may have seen ethanol, even biodiesel, debated in the news. And if you read this site, you're likely to know that cars that plug into grid power to recharge their battery packs are now on sale from Chevrolet and Nissan, among others.

But did you know that Honda has been selling a natural-gas powered version of the Honda Civic for more than a decade?

Natural-gas vehicles exist in most parts of the world--more than 12 million of them, in fact--but they're concentrated in Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, especially in countries without adequate gasoline refineries like Iran and Pakistan.

In North America, though, they're confined almost entirely to fleets--and most natural-gas vehicles are larger than passenger cars, including buses, municipal repair vehicles, and other heavy trucks.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

The problem is the lack of refueling stations. After a century, gasoline is ubiquitous--and so is electricity. But natural gas fueling stations are few and far between, though they do exist.

Nonetheless, according to a pricey recent report by Pike Research, sales of NGVs will grow from 1.9 million a year today to as much as 3.2 million per year by 2016.

That's still only a fraction of the 80 million or so vehicles built globally, and that 12 million total is a tiny percentage of the world's roughly 1 billion vehicles.

Pike Analyst Dave Hurst updated his predictions in a recent blog post, suggesting that oil prices are likely to continue rising over the long term, despite short terms dips and spikes.

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

That will only increase the running-cost advantage of NGVs, which can cut per-mile costs in half despite their pricier window sticker price tags.

But they'll remain a niche product for passenger vehicles, with the bulk of the growth coming from corporate and government fleets. The fleet share of total NGV sales, in fact, will rise from 59 percent to 65 percent, according to Hurst.

And most of that growth will happen outside the U.S.

Honda plans a limited nationwide rollout of its 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas (the new name for the model previously called the Civic GX), which it has priced at $26,905 with delivery.

But that car is still likely to find its best reception in places that have lots of native natural gas: California, Texas, Utah, New York, and parts of the Midwest.

We'll be driving a new 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas in a few weeks. If you have questions about NGVs, or about that car in particular, please let us know what they are.

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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