Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on a lot of things these days, but one area that seems to have bi-partisan support is compressed natural gas, or CNG vehicles. America supposedly sits on huge natural gas reserves, and automakers seem more than happy to oblige an alternative to oil. Within a day of each other, both General Motors and Chrysler’s Ram pickup division announced the addition of CNG-powered pickup trucks to their lineup.
GM has offered CNG-powered vans for over a year now, and the General is now expanding its offerings to include CNG pickups. The Chevy Silverado 2500 and GMC Sierra 2500 extended cab pickup trucks will be powered by a bi-fuel 6.0 liter Vortec V8 that will switch between gasoline and CNG seamlessly.
A 17-gallon carbon fiber-wrapped CNG tank, combined with the standard gas tank, offers over 650 miles of range with “minimal” power loss. The horsepower and towing capacity is not reduced in any way, and the pickups can be ordered with a short or long bed in either 2 or 4-wheel drive. The CNG system adds about 450 lbs. to the truck’s curb weight.
Chrysler took a very similar approach, offering a Ram 2500 HD extended cab with an 18.2-gallon and an 8-gallon gasoline tank that allows the Ram to go about 370 miles before filling up. Like the GM pickups, there is no loss of towing or hauling capability, and a minimal loss of power (fuel efficiency is another issue.) Unlike the GM trucks though, the Ram CNG pickup is being built at the Chrysler factory. GM is sending its trucks out to a Tier 1 supplier (IMPCO) for the conversion to CNG. It’s an important distinction that could have an impact on pricing (which has not been released yet.) Both trucks lose bed space for the CNG system, which could be a problem for contractors.
For its part, Ford offers (through a third party supplier) CNG versions of its Transit Connect work van and the F-650 chassis cab,
but there is no word on CNG F-series or Super Duty pickups. Ford also offers a CNG version of its F-250 Super Duty heavy-duty pickup truck.
With gas prices on the rise, and CNG being touted as a viable alternative to oil, there’s good reason to cheer for these developments as companies across the country look to CNG for cost savings. The trucking industry in particular is interested in the potential of CNG, given the higher cost of diesel in the United States. However, GM and Chrysler have offered CNG pickups before, and the reviews were less-than-kind. This is a second chance to prove the viability of CNG vehicles as capable work trucks. The timing couldn’t be better, but can these two companies get the word out?