CNG, Chevrolet, and The Ghost of Auto Shows Past


Before we get on into what’s new at Chicago, let’s take a few minutes to talk about what’s not new. To do that, we’ll need to think back to February, 2011. “New” GM had been under the protectful umbrella of the Obama administration since the ’09 bankruptcy, spending all manner of taxpayer dollars in preparation of its November 2010 stock IPO. Part of GM’s marketing blitz back then (as now) is “green” technology, and if the Volt was Chevy’s Jesus car, its new-for 2011 CNG commercial van was Peter.

Peter, you’ll recall, promised commercial fleets hoping to reduce their carbon footprint that GM had dedicated itself to providing a cutting-edge, capable, AND cost-effective means of reducing harmful diesel emissions on the jobsite while reducing the fleet’s overall operating expenses (often by many thousands of dollars over the lifetime of the vehicle). Very good promises, in other words.

It’s worth noting, however, that GM was something of a political entity at the time … and you know how political entities are about promises.

Fast forward a year, and GM is back in Chicago, showing off its new GMC Acadia SUV (which, somehow, manages to be both boring and wasteful), new Buicks, new Chevrolets, new x, new y, new z. Past all that, tucked away at the back of GM’s display, GM’s 2012/13 commercial vehicle lineup. There was some good stuff here, like a new flex-fuel police Caprice, hybrid Silverado pickups, and this:

Not only did GM trot out a 2011 CNG commercial Express van, GM trotted out THE SAME 2011 CNG COMMERCIAL EXPRESS VAN.

I’m not usually very big on omens, but this didn’t seem like a good sign to me. I asked the nearest GM model about the van’s repeat status, and she said she didn’t know – but she did direct me to GM’s complimentary “Denali” coffee bar.

Not a good sign at all.

Sources: 2012 Chicago Auto Show, 2011 Chicago Auto Show.

About the Author

I’ve been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.

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  • Well, I’m not surprised about the “tactical” moves of GM. The only cng vehicle by GM in the U.S. is the Chevy Express/GMC Savana, its engine – a very big Vortec V8 6.0 litre – is quite the same that GM used on the last cng cars in the past. Till today I’m wondering why this engine is not yet mounted on GM pick-ups and SUVs. In North America it seems that car manufacturers reserves cng versions only for fleet as GM does. Other problem is the very high end cost of the cng van as the same happens with the horrible price of the Honda Civic NG.
    GM has a very good cng engine in Europe, the 4 cylinder 1.6 Turbo-CNG with 150 hp, which is mounted on the Opel Zafira and on the new Zafira Tourer. But also here in Europe GM did not developed other cng cars, GM loosed a fantastic opportunity of the Opel Corsa CNG some years ago which remained a prototype instead of being produced. And no other cng cars is expected by GM in the next future.
    By the way, cng costs here in Italy 1/3 than gasoline and it makes really sense in buying a cng vehicle or installing a cng kit aftermarket.
    There is a very big problem, in Europe and also in North America, and it’s the availability of engines with direct injection of gasoline: these engines cannot be converted to cng or may be but with high technical complications.
    So the trend, as we can observe here in Italy, is that cng vehicles will remain a very small niche in the market in Europe as well in North America.
    Also because car manufacturers invested a lot of money in hybrid and EV cars which are today still too expensive for a normal consumer and will be so, I think, for many years.
    It ‘s almost a paradox that cng vehicles, which are intrinsically very clean (and much more when using bcng) are always condemned, in fact, to have a marginal presence in the market.

    • If CNG had the kind of gov’t support oil did no one in the US would drive a gas OR diesel car. My $0.02 …

  • T_

    Hi Mike,

    I’m very surprised of what you wrote. I don’t think I know every company making aftermarket gas kits, but as far as I know many of them are italian. It is possible to convert an engine with direct injection to work with CNG or propane. Bardolini produces CNG injection kits, Landi – Renzo also. I couldn’t find an internet sote of Bardolini, but here it is – Landirenzo:

  • Commonsense

    I’m surprised you asked a model for data about the van. They’re eye candy. Maybe that says something about your commonsense.

    • I’m surprised you’d be surprised. Most big auto shows spend several days training their show staff, and their product knowledge within the brand they’re promoting is usually very strong. I’ll stop short of calling you sexist (sexy-ist?), but I will “raise an eyebrow” at you for another reason: assuming you had a good reason to talk to a hot model (of your preferred gender, of course) you would pass that up because … ?

      Common sense (which is 2 words, btw) says you talk to the eye candy whenever possible.

  • joe

    The problem is gm and ford are offering a conversion for $10,000.00 by a secondary vendor. I converted a toyota pick-up, with a landirenzo kit and type 4 tank for $4,000.00 myself in 2 days. I’m not a mechanic either. There are a handful of greedy conversion shops ,that are still doing low volume high cost conversions. Come-on guys, make a profit, do you really have to make $6,000.00 per unit?.

    • Most of those conversions don’t meet the safety and emissions specs that GM and Ford are pushing through – and, just for giggles – what’s your labor worth? 2 days is easily 10 hours, so … nothing? What about insurance, overhead, QC, R&D? Also nothing?

      $6K per unit profit, then? Hardly.

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  • joe

    I get the business part of it, I have owned a business for 20 years. The point I’m trying to make is that if i can do it my self in two days, a real auto guy could do it in one. keep in mind that was the first time i ever did it. I know guys who do this and they charge $1500.00 labor for the conversion. Let’s be realistic here, if microsoft sold the windows software in the 90’s for $3000.00 instead of $200.00 nobody would own a computer today. same principle. If a shop does two conversions a day that’s still a good living.

    • Again, the conversion kit you bought – I promise you – is way behind what the OEMs are pushing. Your points are valid, to a point, but assuming your kit is the equal of what these guys are doing is a mistake.

      • joe

        Actually My kit is a landirenzo, who are the same guys providing the aftermarket kits for gm. They are the best manufactures of cng kits in the world. it’s the government red tape that makes the conversions expensive. Lets face it, If people can’t save money, they won’t do it.

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