While the environmental benefits of natural gas may still be up for debate, that isn’t stopping from some major names getting into the CNG game. GM has signed a deal with Westport Innovations to develop a light-duty natural gas engine
A prototype of this light-duty CNG engine could be completed in as little as 18 months, giving GM an entry into a field of alt-fuel vehicles that has received a lot of attention lately, though there is little in the way of competition. Natural gas is touted by many as a domestically available alternative to oil en masse, even though there is currently only one OEM-produced CNG vehicle on the market right now, the Honda Civic GX.
GM seems to be aiming for a different kind of consumer though; fleet buyers. The kind of people who need to buy multiple vehicles, and for whom tax credits and rebates add up to huge savings. Perhaps GM is banking on the passing of the NatGas Bill, which will make the $7,500 tax rebate for electric vehicles available to natural gas vehicles. What would help set GM apart is that they are apparently building this CNG engine from the ground up with the help of Westport. No half-assed CNG conversion here. That is, if a preliminary study finds the engine and market suitable for such an engine.
So why do I think GM is targeting fleet buyers? Well Westport Innovations is a global leader in CNG and LPG technology, from fleets of big trucks and construction equipment to small forklifts putting around a warehouse.
Then there is the Cummins Westport engine, which combines heavy duty diesel engine components into a CNG-powered engine that offers up to 1,850 ft-lbs of torque. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Westport is a heavy hitter in the CNG world, and I think it is unlikely (though possible) that GM would go to them for, say, a four-cylinder CNG engine designed for a compact car. What they have in mind is probably something a bit…beefier, perhaps to power an SUV or pickup truck.
That said, I’ve been wrong before. I’m all for fuel choices, and natural gas seems to have a broader appeal (for now) than EV’s. It’s a fuel that is easy to tout as all-American, and cars can still go really fast on natural gas too. Is this the super-American niche fuel that GM has been waiting for?
Source: The Truth About Cars
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.