Highly intrigued, we recently visited a Southern California Gas Company office to check out several hybrid vehicles promising something new. Unlike more commonplace gasoline-electric hybrids, we were there to evaluate innovative gasoline-compressed natural gas (CNG) hybrids – yes, they run on unleaded gasoline and compressed natural gas. According to the experts on hand, this arrangement delivers extended range and reduced emissions while chipping in with lower operating costs than pure-gasoline vehicles. There are advantages over its gasoline-electric counterparts, as well.

The program is part of a three-way collaboration between The Carlab, a Southern California-based automotive consulting firm, Landi Renzo USA, a company specializing in alternative fuel solutions, and America's Natural Gas Alliance, a group that promotes CNG. Long story short, the team has engineered a way to allow a modified internal combustion vehicle to seamlessly switch between two fuels (gasoline and CNG) with no driver intervention. In theory, and if it works as well as promised, it's a win-win for the vehicle owner and the environment.

Parked at the Gas Company office were six different gasoline-CNG hybrid vehicles. To demonstrate the technology's versatility (just about any gasoline vehicle may be modified) Carlab brought a varied assortment of bodystyles, each from a different automaker. After taking a quick glance at the half-dozen in the parking lot, we made a beeline for the performance-oriented Ford Mustang GT – a 2012 model – with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Driving Notes:
  • The conversion to bi-fuel requires the installation of a four-gallon composite CNG tank (3,600 psi) beneath the rear trunk liner, CNG bi-fuel port injectors, a special fuel controller, integrated dash display and some other hardware. With the exception of the blue "CNG" diamond on the rear of the trunk, the exterior of this Mustang hybrid offers little clue to what type of fuel it consumes. The interior of the cabin is equally discreet, but a closer look at the digital panel on the instrument cluster reveals an OEM-like four-bar "GGE" gauge with the tank level. Peering under the hood, the only obvious changes are the new injectors (the CNG tank is filled through a nipple located behind the OEM fuel filler door). The conversion adds about 150 pounds to the coupe's curb weight.
  • From a driver's standpoint, vehicle operation is unchanged. A sophisticated controller determines which fuel is best for the job (or a mix of both), so gasoline is often used for the cold start. However, after a few moments of operation, the vehicle will seamlessly switch to more efficient CNG operation for partial throttle and during cruising. A firm press on the accelerator immediately delivers gasoline into the combustion chamber, bringing the Mustang's full 420 horsepower on tap. During our drive of the manual transmission coupe, we noticed a very slight delay – almost a hiccup – at about 3,000 rpm during the bi-fuel transition (we later drove a BMW X3 automatic, and the changeover from CNG to gasoline was unnoticeable). Once it made it over this hurdle, power delivery was smooth and strong.
  • In addition to the improved efficiency and lack of power compromise, the CNG tank provides a bonus boost in vehicle range. The tank is good for about 55 extra miles, so it adds upwards of 20 percent to the Mustang's cruising distance. That's a nice plus.
  • Carlab is touting the gasoline-CNG bi-fuel model as an alternative to plug-in hybrids. Instead of heavy battery packs requiring nightly charging, they envision a world where owners would have a home CNG refill station that would make fueling effortless and bring prices down to about $.80/gallon - a fraction of the price of gasoline.
  • The cost of conversion to the typical passenger vehicle is slightly less than $3,000 (assuming a production rate of 20,000 annual units), meaning the average owner would earn back the cost after about 2.2 years - that's quicker that the return on investment for a Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius, says Carlab.
  • While we were impressed after our first experience with the hybrid gasoline-CNG vehicles, natural gas still has a mountain of hurdles to overcome. Even if one assumes that the non-renewable resource may be easily obtained, the refueling infrastructure will take many years to build.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 46 Comments
      creamwobbly
      • 1 Year Ago
      "gasoline-compressed natural gas (CNG) hybrids" Ah, so not actually hybrid at all then. "Hybrid" refers to the powertrain, not the fuel. Otherwise, everyone drives your sort of a "hybrid" because they can mix ethanol with petrol, or biodiesel with dinodiesel..
      BF4ALTF
      • 1 Year Ago
      I would like to see a CNG conversion for the Prius. The 4-gallon CNG capacity will cover a lot more miles with a car that gets great mileage. Payback on the Prius is less than 2.2 years. The Prius starts at less than $24k which is in line with other mid-sized cars, so there is nothing to payback.
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BF4ALTF
        There are battery conversions to make your Prius into a PHEV Prius that would probably be a cheaper and more effective retrofit. Especially in Colorado where there is a program to help pay up to $7,500 towards the cost of conversion.
      JohnDola
      • 1 Year Ago
      This has only been happening in Australia for about 30 Years........... Down Under this is LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) We have even perfected the art of Strait gas (CNG) cars, ie: no unleaded tank whatsoever and 2 gas tanks. http://www.caradvice.com.au/129513/ford-falcon-ecolpi-lpg-review/
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Can it take propane?
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        No, it cannot. At least not the "LP" propane that everyone refers to when talking about propane. LP is filled as a liquid, and requires an LP certified tank. You cannot (legally) put LP into a CNG tank. CNG tanks are not certified to be filled with LP. You would need a third dedicated tank for LP, along with the CNG and the gas tanks, making it a tri-fuel vehicle. Even if you did install that third tank, the energy content of LP and CNG are very different, and your engine would need different controls to make up for the energy difference. It would be just like running E100 in a regular gas car and getting lean burn codes that put your car into limp mode.
          CSM101
          • 1 Year Ago
          @raktmn
          Well, of course you are right... But the same kit used for converting a car to CNG shares a lot of items with the equivalent kit for LPG conversion. Most of the kits are designed for doing both kind of conversions, provided that you have to install a different kind of tank, fuel lines and select a different setup for the electronic CNG/LPG control unit.
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @raktmn
          CSM101, true, but this car does not have that.
        CSM101
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        well it CAN take propane: you just need a different thank (and smaller, since propane can be liquified, whereas CNG cannot) I can say it for sure. I am italian and here in italy CNG and LPG cars are VERY common. this is not rocket science The system is actually able to run on CNG or LPG. I mean that most of the parts in a CNG or LPG conversion kit are the same. Here is a link (in english) to the renzo landi site: here are described (follow the links) both systems. http://www.landi.it/layout.jsp?idz=10093&idtp=164&lang=3 Just to mention the cng/lpg cars I (or my family) have owned : Citroen DS LPG (aftermarket conversion) (my father had 4 Citroen DS each one converted to LPG) Citroen XM CNG (aftermarket conversion) Fiat Panda CNG (FIAT factory installed) Fiat Multipla CNG (FIAT factory installed) Alfa Romeo 75 LPG (known as Alfa Milano in USA) aftermarket conversion Alfa Romeo 155 LPG (aftermarket) Hyundai Coupe V6 LPG (known in usa as Tiburon) aftermarket conversion Volvo S80 v6 turbo LPG (aftermarket) VW Golf CNG (aftermarket) Chevrolet (Daewoo) Matiz LPG. And in the next week I will have my Nissan 350Z converted to LPG (using the kit made by Prins). As you can see there is nothing "experimental" in this. it has been done for the last 40 years in europe. the only reason for which in USA is a new thing it's because you have always paid gasoline an incredibly little fraction of the price we pay in europe. Just to give you an idea: current gasoline price in italy, today, is 9$/gal. in italy CNG cuts the cost per mile to 1/3 of gasoline. LPG to 1/2. these are PROS and CONS of LPG vs CNG: 1) the tank of LPG is much smaller and allows a greater mileage, because LPG, in the thank is LIQUID. CNG can only be compressed, This actually makes impossible or unpractical to convert certain cars to CNG, because there is simply not enough space for the CNG tank, wereas the most commonly LPG tank is designed to fit in the space used for storing the spare tire, so actually no useful storage space is wasted. and that tank will give an autonomy of about 200 miles on a 3 liter engine... more on less. 2) LPG costs more (at least in italy) and is transported to the selling stations by trucks, wereas CNG selling stations are actually selling the same gas we receive in our homes, compressing it to 200 Bars. Actually it is quite odd that in italy is way more easy to find a LPG selling station than a CNG station: we are one of the top countries in the world for CNG diffusion for home use. 3) someone said that CNG has a very higher RON value... this is true, but it is also a that explodes more "slowly" than gasoline or LPG. to take advantage of that RON value you should make drastic modifications to your engine, raising the compression ratio so much that it won't be able to run on gasoline any more. Actually, in the real case, A car running on CNG will loose about 20% of his power, whereas on LPG, the power loss is around 3-4%.
          BipDBo
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CSM101
          Thanks. Very insightful. I visited Rome and Florence with my wife and 5 month old daughter about 8 years ago. I don't remember seeing any NG or LPG fill stations, but there was a lot more interesting sights to see. By the way, you Italians are awesome. Everywhere we went, we were treated like family. Everyone especially loved my daughter. Waitresses would pick her up and play with her, even carry her into the kitchen to show her off to show her off to the cook. Kids seem to be very valued there whereas sometimes in the US, there presence in public is seen as a nuisance. I ask because here in the US, NG fill stations are almost non-existent, and where I live, in the state of Florida, NG piping is very rare. NG is piped to some commercial areas, but almost no residential areas. Therefore, seeing a NG fill station might not happen for a long time, and home fill stations certainly won't be common in Florida. There are, however, many propane companies. One of which is only a few blocks from my house.
          raktmn
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CSM101
          CSM101 -- what you said is all very true. But it doesn't apply to the actual car in this blog. You would have to re-convert the cars in this story in order to run LPG. BipDBo -- Ford made a propane converted truck at one point here in the US. Other than that, all the major manufacturers seems to be fixated on CNG instead of propane.
          CSM101
          • 1 Year Ago
          @CSM101
          Well, I thought it was clear, from what I said, that you can't make a car that runs on both CNG or LPG. you have to make a choiche when you are doin the conversion. I just said that the two conversion kits share most of the parts. Anyway there are two reasons to prefer CNG over LPG from the point of view of any government.. 1) CNG doesn't come from petrol. if your transport and energy infrastructure runs on CNG, you don't depend on unstable or unfriendly islamic countries 2) CNG much more cleaner than LPG (though LPG is cleaner than gasoline or diesel fuel)
      EZEE
      • 1 Year Ago
      Does this mean that my flex fuel ranger is also a hybrid? I own a hybrid, because I care about the planet, dammit.
      Michael Page
      • 1 Year Ago
      CNG vehicles are all the rave in oklahoma now. The benifits are more than just cheap fuel, it burns much cleaner. You change your oil every 6 months on cng, and the old oil is not black, but still somewhat amber colored. And the infrastructure is growing fast, even miami ok (pop 15k) has a cng pump
      Frozen-Sun
      • 1 Year Ago
      This is awesome. My understand was that the hardest part of owning a bi-fuel vehicle like this was finding one that had an EPA-approved conversion... few manufacturers were willing to pony up the money to get their engines test and approved, so you mostly had fleet vehicles to choose from. The minute these vehicles are open for sale to the public, I'll buy one (or pay for a conversion from them!).
      Ducman69
      • 1 Year Ago
      I run completely straight right now, but I am bi-curious.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
      Dan
      • 1 Year Ago
      What Infrastructure? I don't know about you but I have Natural gas in my house already... Compression is needed to fill high pressure tanks from low pressure lines, like an air compressor. This stuff is old news, autoblog. http://www.cngnow.com/vehicles/refueling/Pages/refueling-at-home.aspx
        raktmn
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dan
        "Compression is needed to fill high pressure tanks from low pressure lines, like an air compressor." Sort of like an air compressor, except instead of going to 150 PSI like a typical home air compressor, this one has to go to 3,600 psi.
        The_Zachalope
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Dan
        According to the Energy Information Administration 50% of Americans (myself included) don't have natural gas at home. So, the infrastructure statement could be meant either CNG refilling stations, which are few and far between, or extending the natural gas system to the rest of the households which are not natural gas equipped.
      Rich
      • 1 Year Ago
      Keep in mind, this is economical due the price floor of NG being next to nothing... "fracking" is leading this.
        savvybuyer
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Rich
        Exactly, and as soon as they get the country "hooked" on NG, plus start exporting most of it, the price will skyrocket. Remember, these are energy companies we're dealing with. Their track record is down there with amblance-chasing lawyers. Watch the movie "Gasland 2" and see if you still feel like NG is a good direction for us to go. It's on HBO this month.
      Ryan C. Lawson
      • 1 Year Ago
      All the pics aren't the same car. One says PRND and another is the 6-speed manual. Haha
        Michael Harley
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ryan C. Lawson
        My mistake... I took nearly all myself (I shot the red Mustang), but I wanted to show the dashboard off another vehicle. Understandably, I grabbed a supplied image for that. My bad. - Mike
        HardCharger
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Ryan C. Lawson
        The pic with PRND is from the GMC Acadia. The rest are from the Mustang. Notice the gauges in the other pictures, they are different. Not sure why they put one interior picture from an Acadia and the rest from the Mustang.
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