Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is leading a coalition of 22 states to buy up to 10,000 new compressed natural gas cars and pickups per year. The big idea is to present joint bids that would spur production, encouraging automakers to build CNG vehicles at their assembly plants instead of converting them from existing vehicles after the fact. Hickenlooper says this production volume is enough to force a change. "If you do it off the assembly line, it's hardly any additional cost," he told the Detroit News.

Hickenlooper and some of his governor colleagues have been at this campaign for a few months. In April, he and 12 other governors sent letters to automakers saying they were committed to exploring ways to purchase more CNG vehicles for their state fleets. In July, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Hickenlooper and other officials even met with U.S. automakers in Detroit to ask for increased CNG vehicle production. The states involved here include Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Utah, Maine, New Mexico, West Virginia, Kentucky, Texas, Ohio, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Participating states want to influence the market by establishing CNG demand so U.S. automakers design and sell vehicles that would be of interest to public fleets and private sector consumers here. Currently, there isn't much in the way of CNG product offerings in the U.S. For example, the Honda Civic Natural Gas is the only CNG passenger car from an OEM. After years of limited availability, it is now for sale nationwide. As for trucks, General Motors and Chrysler have added to their bi-fuel CNG pickups lines this year, and Ford offers fleets a few choices. There are about 10 million natural gas vehicles (NGVs) on roads around the world, with fewer than 200,000 in the U.S. These NGVs are being fueled at about 1,000 stations throughout the country.

Ten thousand new NGVs might sound like a lot, but it's a small number compared to around 14.5 million new light duty gasoline and diesel vehicles expected to be sold in the U.S. this year. Still, it would be a five-percent increase in the NGV fleet. For alternative fuel vehicles breaking into a petroleum-dominated transportation market, that's something.

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