One thing we try to do with our weekly series of Greenlings articles is answer reader questions about the green car industry (if you've got a burning need to know something, please let us know). Considering today's news that the Honda Civic GX is now available for sale in Utah, we thought we'd dig into AutoblogGreen reader Island Don's question about compressed natural gas vehicles. Here it is (slightly edited):
Follow us through the jump for the answer.To me as a big diesel guy, I see the the CNG as a great, cheap, clean burning alternative to to gas, diesel, or hybrid, yet Honda CNG sales aren't great. Why haven't they done better? Why haven't they been promoted by the government or the manufacturer? I've never seen an ad, nor ever heard any politician promote them. Yet I see all the buses in LA and San Diego running on CNG. That tells me there's an infrastructure in place. What's the scoop?
Back in April, we took a Greenlings look at CNG vehicles, and we'll assume you've read that primer about the basics and try to look at the broader CNG picture in this issue (if not – go do it).
CNG-powered vehicles are certainly the invisible children of the green car scene in the U.S. While there are nearly 10 million natural gas vehicles in the world – here are a few examples from India, Germany and France – they're not common on American roads. Still, Island Don is right when he says that buses (and other large vehicles) do burn the fuel in some cities. Some U.S. Senators who want to promote more CNG vehicles in the U.S. say that "natural gas has the ability to displace 100 percent of the petroleum used in heavy-duty vehicles." Wait, Senators? Yes. Natural gas vehicles are promoted by the government. At least some of the time.
The support is important, since CNG vehicles cost a lot more than standard gasoline vehilces. Some estimates put the extra cost of converting a CNG vehicle at $12,500 to $22,500 (most of this is for EPA licensing requirements, not the technology, so this government hurdle is jumpable). As for what the government is doing to help CNG, there is a federal tax credit worth up to $4,000 to buyers of CNG cars. Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a bill called the NAT GAS Act that would greatly expand federal government support for natural gas vehicles. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) were co-sponsors of the bill, so it's got serious support. According to the co-sponsors, the bill would, among other natural gas benefits:
Expand and modify the alternative fueled vehicle and refueling property tax credits as follows:
- Makes all dedicated natural gas-fueled vehicles eligible for a credit equal to 80% of the vehicle's incremental cost. Only some dedicated natural gas vehicles currently can qualify for an 80% federal tax credit
- Makes all bi-fuel natural gas-fueled vehicles eligible for a credit equal to 50% of the vehicle's incremental cost. This is the first time bi-fuel vehicles would be eligible for a federal tax credit
- Increase the allowable incremental cost limits to more accurately reflect the cost of producing or converting natural gas vehicles:
- For light-duty vehicle, the purchase tax credit cap would be increased by to $12,500 (currently $5,000)
- For all other vehicle weight classes, the purchase tax credit cap would be doubled
- Increases the refueling property tax credit from $50,000 to $100,000 per station