Despite the recent glut of EV’s, not everybody is convinced electric cars are the way future. Fiat and by extension, Chrysler, are two such companies. They think natural gas is a better alternative.
Electric cars still haven’t overcome limited range, public skepticism, or an untested infrastructure. While electric cars can be used for light duty commercial applications, contractors and delivery drivers might have to do a lot more driving than most electric cars offer. Fiat currently sells the most natural-gas vehicles in Europe and hopes to start selling them in America too. Fiat spun-off the Ram brand from Dodge, giving them a truck-only segment with which to focus on the commercial market. See where they are going with this?
Right now Fiat makes two natural gas vans, the Fiat Doblò and Ducato BiPower, the later of which is a large van. The current Sprinter vans are based on an aging Mercedes Benz body and need to soon be replaced. A big natural gas van would slot well in the Ram lineup and wouldn’t cost as much as a hybrid.
Fiat claims it costs an extra $3,000 to run conventional engine on natural gas, versus over $8,000 to convert it to a hybrid system. Natural gas costs about a $1.00 less per-gallon, and there are tax credits available towards the purchase of such vehicles (though those credits might soon expire). For commercial owners, the lower cost of entry and lower cost of fuel could be a deciding factor versus buying a comparable hybrid vehicle. Then again there are just 1,300 natural gas refueling stations. Not the kind of saturation they are looking for.
The U.S. has a lot of natural gas reserves, and it does burn cleaner than other fossil fuels. I’d rather run a vehicle on American propane than Venezuelan oil. Fiat isn’t completely ignoring hybrid and electric vehicles, but they could fall behind if their gambit doesn’t pay off. Or they could end up dominating the commercial market.
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to Hemis. You can follow his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout.