A sign points the way to less expensive natural gas in ... A sign points the way to less expensive natural gas in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Anxious over $5 per gallon gas promised by forecasters by early summer? How does $2.09 per gallon sound? That's what drivers of natural-gas vehicles enjoy now.

President Obama is pushing to give natural gas vehicles like the Honda Civic CNG as much tax-credit help as electric vehicles. The motivation is simple. The U.S. has an abundance of natural gas that could put a major dent in America's consumption of foreign oil, and a significant push toward nat-gas vehicles would provide competition for oil companies and potentially drive down prices of oil and gasoline.

Gas prices at the pump are about $3.76 a gallon nationally, and have already reached $6 in some parts of the country.

Today, there are a handful of natural gas vehicles sold, mostly pickup trucks and commercial vehicles. There is just one compressed-natural-gas vehicle sold today, the Honda Civic CNG. Because the $4,000 tax credit that supported it expired in 2010, the price is just one of the obstacles stalling consumer interest. The car costs $26,155 versus a starting base price of $15,805 for a gasoline-powered Honda Civic.

President Obama's new legislation proposal to support alternative energy vehicles would bump the tax credit for electric vehicles from $7,500 now to $10,000 and institute a new credit for natural-gas vehicles that would cover half the cost premium for the vehicles--in the case of the Honda, it would add up to about $5,000.

But that isn't the only speed-bump for change-wary U.S. drivers. There are only about 1,000 CNG filling stations in the U.S., versus about 160,000 gasoline stations. An alliance between General Electric and Chesapeake Energy announced this month will add 250 additional CNG pumps by year end.

Though consumers have been historically skittish about handling natural gas, the pumping process is just as simple and safe as pumping gasoline.

"I spent a week in a Civic CNG recently, and found it to be not only perfectly fine to drive but exceedingly easy to re-fill on my own at a CNG pump where I live in Ann Arbor, Mich.," said AOL Autos Editor-in-Chief David Kiley. "Building up a CNG infrastructure and selling more CNG cars is the no-brainer of all-time if we can muster the political resolve to do it – it makes even more sense than electrics," Kiley added.

Natural gas vehicles tend to have shorter driving ranges than gasoline vehicles – the Civic goes about 200 miles on a fill-up versus over 300 for a gasoline version – fuel economy is comparable. The CNG Civic gets 27/38, compared with 28/36 for the gasoline version.

View Gallery: 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas

Is it safe? The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named the Civic Natural Gas a Top Safety Pick. It is no more prone to dangerous results in a crash than a gasoline-powered Civic.

Has it been popular? Only about 13,000 natural gas Civics are the road, though it has been on sale since 1998. It has a cult following among its owners, but it hasn't been marketed in every state until this year.

Are there more on the way? Chrysler said this month it was adding a compressed-natural-gas/gasoline hybrid Ram pickup to its lineup this year. Ford sells a CNG Ford pickup, and GM is adding one later this year.

How do the costs shake out? GE and Chesaspeake Energy say that at today's prices, a vehicle driving 25,700 miles a year would save $1,500 a year from using natural gas rather than gasoline. If an owner, however, had a natural gas compressor installed in their garage for a cost of about $3,000, one could fill up a tank today at home for about $7, compared to over $50 for gasoline.

Is it cleaner and greener? The State of California says CNG vehicles can reduce smog-forming emissions of carbon monoxide by 70%, non-methane organic gas by 87% and oxides of nitrogen by 87%. Also, CNG vehicles typically have 20% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline powered cars. Civic CNGs are eligible to be driven in the state's High-Occupance-Vehicle (HOV) lanes.

What's the future? The cost of installing additional fuel tanks and other special parts in small-scale production make natural gas vehicles more expensive. But a push to increase filling stations and tax credits to push production and purchase will drive down the overall cost.
President Obama says he is pursuing an "all of the above" strategy when it comes to boosting alternative-energy vehicles to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependence on foreign oil and give more competition to oil companies.

What are the politics? But in Washington, in an election year, nothing is easy. Conservative organizations opposed to tax credits for alternative energy vehicles and funded by the oil lobby are sending letters to senators urging a "no" vote on a bipartisan measure sponsored by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Richard Burr, R-N.C., that would expand tax credits for buyers of natural-gas-powered trucks and installation of fueling stations as well as production tax credits for manufacturers of vehicles that run on natural gas. Republicans have accused Obama of wasting tax money on alternative energy programs.

Republicans may well block Obama's entire energy push unless the President and Democrats relents on blocking approval of TransCanada Corp.'s Keystone oil pipeline that would pump oil from Canadian oil sands into the U.S.

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      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow, the signal to noise on the comments is really low here. What they won’t do to keep you tied to a pump! I fill my Chev Volt up each night for about a buck, if I drove it a lot during the day. My solar panels produce about 10KWH each day, which I sell at the day rate, so charging the car at the lower nighttime rate still leaves me enough for normal electrical stuff like lights and washing machine, etc. I’m breaking even so far this year. I have put around 5600 miles on the Volt since June, and have only burned around 2 gallons of the dealer provided tank of gas, just because of the 240V “electricity pump” in our garage. (Cost around $400 after incentives.)Saves having to wait around at gas stations. Oh, and 240V means I can charge fully about 6 times a day, see VoltStats.net for a lot of numbers, one guy drove 250 miles on electricity in one day! Driving for free past all the gas pumps sure is nice!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Y'all know that Keystone will raise prices for all the states that are currently buying that tar oil, don't you? If the can pump it down to the gulf refineries, they will be able to get the going rate, instead of having to discount it locally. They plan on selling the refined gas to China and India, so no way will we benefit from it the way some of us are now. And if it spills it takes 30 times longer to clean up than normal oil, the stuff has to have solvents added to get it to flow in a pipe, and in the open all the solvents evaporate, leaving the thickest crud you have ever seen! It don't float on water, so they have to try to clean riverbeds when it gets in a river, talk about expensive!
      • 3 Years Ago
      How about dumping the whole idea of tax credits as a mirage to deflate the actual cost of alternative fuel vehicles, and let the consumer decide what technology succeeds or doesn't? Did the federal government help Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, or Henry Ford by offering "free" money to those who purchased their products? When there is a demand for vehicles that run on electricity, propane, or cow farts, the manufacturers will start manufacturing them. Don't artifically create a demand with the "redistribution" of taxpayer dollars.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Getting enough vehicles in use to justify the investment in distribution is the primary thing. And more alternative fuel vehicles, less pollution, less dependence on oil. It is better all around.
      • 3 Years Ago
      nope ,nope ,nope, not since my gas grill blew up , no thanks.
      • 3 Years Ago
      If the President Obama had the set of balls tell the EPA that we are going to drill on our soil to make jobs and build new refineries to make jobs. This way we won't need to buy natural gas car because it's too expensive when we are already paying over $4.00 gallon. It doesn't make sense to go this way. Force the cars manufacturers to make cars that get over 40 mpg. This way people have more $$$ in there pocket to buy disposal goods for their family.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have researched NG vs other alt. to gas and diesel engine vehicles and NG wins hands down. This is why. 1) Greenhouse gas emmisions are lower with NG; even with lithium hybrid and dedicated el cars you are ahead with NG when you consider much of the electricity generated in the east coast comes from coal powered plants; i. e. you are charging your el car with electircity generated from the most polluting means of generating electricity. If you swipe your finger in the tailpipe of a NG Honda Civic-it comes out clean as a whistle. 2) You can buy a home fill station to fill your car and in my area the fuel costs are about $1.25/gal. equivalent. The gas you use is domestically produced vs most likely imported if you are using gasoline or diesel. You are supporting a domestic industry, which I am told may be a good thing. 3) Fuel stations for refilling on the road is still spotty but within a year or two there will be many more refill stations available. Utah and Oklahoma are well ahead of the game. The truck industry is converting as quickly as they can so fill stations will pop up along the US interstate system more quickly. 4) the EPA has been a real impediment for conversion technology; they require certification that your converted NG car or truck will pollute no more than the car you had burning NG. They should butt out of this argument since the answer is clear and does not everyone who converts to get a $10,000. inspection to certify your converted car for NG road use. 5) I don't buy the argument that it is a dark plot by the oil cos to keep us hooked on gas; many of the majors produce a lot of NG; Exxon-Mobil bought XTO 2 years ago because they see the light. Many of the intermediates really want domestic use to increase-latest deal is Chesapeake and GE putting fueling stations for NG. Aviod using a stupid argument as to why it hasn't happened yet. 6) Many countries use NG preferentially over gas and diesel; can you name the country that has the most NG vehicles on the road? Answer is Pakistan! (3 million+). Why? Pakistan has a fair amount of NG domestically and it can be used in thier country for the transport grid . . just like the US! 7) In 2 years the US will become the Saudi Arabia of NG! We will export NG which sells at $2.5 MBTU in the US to countries that will buy it for $13-17./MBTU. Interested? Try this website for more info: http://naturalgasvehicles.com/index.html
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      Many foreign capitals have taxi fleets that are powered by CGN and have special fueling stations for these taxis. The local governments provide subsidies for these stations in efforts to reduce city air polution and keep taxi gfafres reasonable.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Just a thought, if Obama gets his way about putting more NG stations around the counrty for clean and cheap car fuel then natural gas will not be at a ten year low. It's called supply and demand and unless DC puts price caps on that NG it'll go up like regular gas. Also this smells like another scheme to back door a new welfare program which will need hundred of public sector union jobs. What welfare program, you ask. Well how about all those low income families driving a (shudder) gasoline based car. Wouldn't it be fair to give them what is needed to level the playing field so they can have less expensive gas. I can see it now: 'NG cars for gas guzzlers'. With a Gas Czar of course.
      • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I for one would love to buy an electric car... or a Hybrid...unfortunately the JOb I have I can not afford it... and to behonest no matter who is in the presidency... the future looks bleak for the next few years... until republicans realize...this country cant afford...tax breaks for those who make way to much money as is... but I guess the citibank employees figured that out when the CEO's bonus was worth more then them
      • 3 Years Ago
      T Boone Pickens has been saying this for 3 years so don't give Obama the credit
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