GM is Getting Serious About CNG Fleet Vehicles

What you see here is Chevy’s newly-available, 4-tank CNG commercial van.  This was news last year, but despite that, this is the first one we’d seen “in the flesh”.  So, when one of GM’s marketing reps realized we were ignoring the ZL1 Camaro launch (by which time we had – ahem – already gotten the hood up, pulled back the vinyl that was sealing off the filler cap, opened the back of the van, etc.) we asked questions.

Here are a few of the things we learned (in no particular order).

  • the Chevy Express CNG is the first CNG vehicle offered by GM to both fleet and individual customers.  The CNG fueling system is, as of this year, uses a standard GM option code (FHZ).
  • the vans are available 2 ways:  UFM and UFP.  The UFM trucks use 3 fuel tanks which fit beneath the van’s cargo floor, which are fully contained within the vehicle’s steel frame rails.  Trucks fitted with the UFM system are visually indistinguishable from their gas and diesel fueled siblings, and travel about 250 miles between fill-ups (equivalent to  16 mpg, per the GM rep).  UFP trucks add a 4th fuel tank, which increases operational range by 100 miles, but occupies some floor space in the cargo bay (shown, below).
  • GM’s CNG vans (like the Chevy Volt electric car) are equipped with OnStar as standard equipment, in part to help alleviate what GM calls “range anxiety”, and in part because the CNG tanks displace the spare tire.  GM hopes to side-step the “what happens if I get a flat?” question by giving prospective buyers the “we’ll send someone to help.” answer.
  • GM delivered 16,000 CNG Chevy Express and GMC Savana vans, last year, and has plans to begin offering CNG cab-and-chassis vehicles to construction crews, ambulance fleets, and RV manufacturers next year.
  • These are the only readily-available CNG commercial truck conversions on the market which are fully CARB approved, and which pass all government safety tests.
  • Carb certified these vans SULEV-ii, which is cleaner than Chevy’s own Jesus Car Volt.

For my part, I was most surprised by how invisible the whole system was.  Save for the CNG fuel nozzle and a decal advertising Natural Drive under the hood (the aftermarket company that GM contracts the CNG fuel system assembly/installation to) there was absolutely nothing to indicate that this van produced nearly zero emissions while helping to reduce dependency on foreign oil … which, perhaps, is exactly what it will take to sell to the neophobic fleet market.

Sources:  2011 Chicago Auto Show, GM.

Jo Borrás

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, out on two wheels, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.