Click on the image above for a gallery of the VW Caddy EcoFuel

Putting natural gas in the tank isn't the first thing people think about when they talk green cars (unless said person is T. Boone Pickens) but in Europe, especially, natural gas is a somewhat common alternative fuel. Volkswagen has announced that a compressed natural gas (CNG) version of the Caddy commercial vehicle will be coming to the UK this summer. Called the Caddy EcoFuel, the CNG-powered panel van has been sold in other European companies since 2006 and 7,500 units were snapped up last year. VW will also offer the Caddy Maxi EcoFuel, with an extra 1.0 m³ carrying capacity, in the UK alongside the Caddy EcoFuel. More details after the jump.

The Caddy EcoFuel can burn CNG or biomethane. For the range-worried, rest assured that there is a 13-litre reserve gasoline tank that can be used if the CNG runs out. The Caddy EcoFuel was on display in Britain last summer and, in 2007, Rainer Zietlow took ones of these vehicles around the world on CNG in just 142 days.

[Source: Volkswagen]



Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles will have the only compact panel van in the UK to be powered by compressed natural gas (CNG) when the Caddy EcoFuel goes on sale this summer. The larger Caddy Maxi EcoFuel, offering an extra 1.0 m³ of loadspace, will be introduced simultaneously as another practical, alternatively-fuelled choice for green-conscious van operators.

The Caddy EcoFuel has been developed as part of Volkswagen's broad environmental research programme. It went on sale on the Continent in 2006 where 7,500 examples were sold last year.

There are two key benefits of operating a CNG-powered vehicle:

* Lower, cleaner emissions
* Reduced fuel costs (CNG is approximately 50 per cent less than diesel)

The greatest environmental benefit of using CNG as a fuel is the dramatic reduction of exhaust gases; for example, compared to the equivalent TDI engine carbon monoxide (CO) emissions are over 50 per cent lower, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions are 97 per cent lower, and there are zero particulates.

The engine can operate on biomethane, a sustainable fuel that is now becoming commercially available from renewable sources, or CNG, which is the same gas we use for our heating and cooking at home. It also has a 13-litre petrol tank as a reserve, which is automatically and smoothly engaged should the gas supply run out.

Natural gas is a practical alternative fuel that is easy to use, with claims that there are enough natural gas reserves to last 70 to 100 years, compared to a predicted 40 years for oil.

The steel gas tanks do not intrude on the Caddy's load volume of 3.2m³ as they are mounted beneath the vehicle. Depending on how the Caddy EcoFuel is driven and the payload carried, the 26 kg capacity of gas offers a range of around 270 miles or, if combined with the petrol reserve, a range of over 350 miles. This is more than adequate for most operators, and ideal for back-to-base fleets that are able to install an on-site CNG refuelling facility. The Caddy Maxi EcoFuel's larger gas tanks offer a range of 350 miles, plus 80 miles from the petrol tank – making a total of 430 miles.

As you would expect, the Caddy EcoFuel is designed and tested to be safe to use. Comprehensive safety systems include extremely strong steel gas tanks which have proved to be heat-resistant and virtually indestructible in extreme testing. In the event of an accident, electro-magnetic valves with triple protection prevent any gas escaping, which provide the same benefit if the vehicle were to be driven off while it is being refuelled.

Volkswagen builds the Caddy EcoFuel models in the same factory as the rest of the Caddy van range and they are sold with the identical three-year/100,000 mile warranty. This achieves a superior quality product than after-market conversions and includes benefits such as the gas filling point being fitted behind the fuel filler flap, plus an electronic fuel gauge display integrated into the dashboard instrument panel.

The innovative engine in the Caddy EcoFuel is a four-cylinder, 2.0-litre petrol unit which has been optimised to efficiently use CNG or petrol. It has CO2 emissions of 157 g/km, over 20 per cent lower than a conventional petrol engine.

It produces 109 PS and 118 lbs ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, with a five-speed manual transmission, and is able to go from a standstill to 62 mph in 13.8 seconds, before reaching a top speed of 105 mph. There is no reduction of performance compared to the nearest equivalent conventionally-fuelled engine in the Caddy range, the 1.9-litre TDI PD, which delivers 104PS, 184 lbs ft of torque at 1,900 rpm, a 0-62 mph time of 13.3 seconds and top speed of 103 mph.

Full details, including prices and technical specifications, for the Caddy EcoFuel and Caddy Maxi EcoFuel will be released in late spring.

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