Cleantech Market Intelligence
Cruze Could Boost Natural Gas Vehicle Market
IMPCO has announced a compressed natural gas (CNG) conversion for the 1.4L turbo Chevrolet Cruze. The conversion is the first bi-fuel system approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for a 2014 model year sedan (the Honda Civic GX is a dedicated CNG-only system). IMPCO’s new conversion adds a CNG tank to the trunk, giving the Cruze 200 miles of CNG range while cutting cargo capacity in half. The cargo space, though, is slightly larger than the CNG Civic trunk size (7 SF for the Cruze vs. 6.1 SF for the Civic). Both the Cruze and Civic utilize Type 3 cylinders, which may even be supplied by the same cylinder manufacturer (Structural Composites supplies cylinders for the GM truck conversions by IMPCO, as well as the Honda Civics).
So, is this announcement an omen of the so far elusive tipping point for the CNG consumer market? The challenges facing CNG vehicles in the consumer market are certainly numerous. A lack of convenient CNG refueling stations is probably the number one challenge, followed closely by the lack of passenger car availability and higher upfront costs. The Cruze actually will address the first two issues, as the bi-fuel vehicle retains its ability to run on gasoline, which means the vehicle won’t leave owners stranded (though I may be stretching there). Still, to more directly address the lack of CNG refueling, IMPCO’s parent company, Fuel System Solutions, does offer home refueling appliances.
Prices have not been announced, but it seems unlikely that a CNG Cruze will lead to a large swell of consumer demand. Beyond the loss of cargo space, the bi-fuel system seems likely to add between $5,000 and $6,500 to the cost of the Cruze, and the vehicles won’t be sitting on dealer lots with discounts written in soap on the windshield. The caveat to this is that if IMPCO proves successful with the Cruze, competitors such as Altech-Eco, Westport, and Venchurs could be persuaded to develop conversions for Ford’s popular sedans. This prospect is not so farfetched now that Ford is offering CNG prep packages for both its 3.7L V6 F-150 pickup and 2.0L 4 cylinder Transit Connect.
Regardless of whether the new CNG Cruze powers a market turnaround, it definitely points to the movement of CNG into smaller engines as the market inches toward more consumer-friendly vehicles.
Annual Sales of Honda Civic, Chevrolet Cruze, and Natural Gas LDVs, United States: 2009-2012
(Sources: Navigant Research, Automotive News)