For those who are watching all the indicators, things are lining up for a paradigm shift in our transportation system. For the past several years, there has been a new emphasis on natural gas; not for home use, but for powering the automobile industry. It began with the manufacturing of natural gas buses. We now see these natural gas vehicles in most of our larger cities. Ford Motor Company is now in the market. They too have jumped onto the bandwagon. There are already several Ford natural gas vehicles. The number of Ford CNG vehicles for sale should considerably increase in the coming years.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 on June 29th of that year. The U.S. Interstate System began to develop shortly thereafter. As a result, America began to build thousands of miles of high-speed roads which ended up transforming our nation. The advantage of having such a transportation system slashed the time it took to travel between major cities. This created what may be called an addiction to gasoline and diesel fuel. If you will notice as you travel across the country, there are hundreds of truck stops scattered along our current interstate system. Currently, the average consumption of oil in the United States alone is more than 19 million barrels per day.
A fundamental change is starting to line up. That fundamental change is a transition to natural gas vehicles. There are three factors that are affecting this shift. The first is the rising price of fuel. There is speculation that fuel prices will top $5.00 per gallon by the end of 2012. The second reason to switch to natural gas is environmentally driven. There is a big push by the EPA and other environmental groups to cut down on air pollution. Natural gas vehicles are much cleaner burning than conventional diesel and gasoline engines. The third factor driving the market in the direction of natural gas is the discovery that the United States is now the “New Saudi Arabia” of energy. The future fuel of America is now in focus. Just like it took vision and time to get the interstate system in place, it will take some time for this new CNG fueling infrastructure to mature, but it is coming. The new focus is switching from diesel and gasoline to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and compressed natural gas (CNG). Since the fueling infrastructure was put into place in the 1960s, outside of converting pumps to electronic devices, there has been little done to change this system. A major transition is lining up and will take place. By using more energy produced here in the U.S. we will become less dependent on foreign oil and will experience more of an economic boost within the United States.
Natural gas is the cleanest burning fuel known to man. As you see a transit natural gas bus drive by, on the side will be written “clean air vehicle.” The use of natural gas vehicles is already helping us keep our environment clean. The trucking industry is quickly following the lead of the transit bus systems. Many trucking companies have already switched to the use of natural gas. Even some larger trucking companies have made the switch. Westport Innovations Inc. is the largest natural gas engine manufacturer. They recently struck a deal with Ford Motor Co. to manufacturer the new natural gas engine for the 2013 Ford F-250 and F-350 Super Duty natural gas trucks.
Due to gas prices rising, Ford is answering with compressed natural gas powered commercial vehicles. In conjunction with the rising cost of fuel, there are now government incentives for companies to move in the direction of CNG vehicles for commercial use. Another factor in the increased emphasis on natural gas vehicles is the increasing number of fuel stations across the nation.
Ford is now offering CNG options for their Transit Connect, E-Series vans and F-Series Super Duty trucks. What this allows Ford to do is to offer a much cleaner burning engine; thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 40 percent. One reason Ford is expanding their production of natural gas vehicles is that CNG is a nontoxic clean burning fuel that significantly reduces CO, CO2 and NOx in comparison to regular gasoline.
Metro Taxi of West Haven, Connecticut has made the switch to natural gas by ordering twenty Transit Connect Taxis that are powered by natural gas. Their owner cited the reasons for buying the Ford natural gas vehicles to be threefold. Those reasons include the rising cost of fuel, government incentives, and the fact that additional CNG fueling stations will be coming to the state of Connecticut shortly. Metro Taxi is also installing their own fueling station. These CNG Transit Connect Taxis will soon be arriving in other large cities as well, including Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas, and St. Louis. Many taxis that currently use regular gasoline are being converted to natural gas.
With the cost of gasoline flirting with $4.00 per gallon and boasting of a potential $5 plus, natural gas looks very attractive in comparison to natural gas at close to $2 per gallon equivalent. For companies that put on a lot of miles, that pays for any upgrade or extra purchase amount very quickly.
The Ford fleet operations marketing manager recently said that even during economically challenging times, Ford was anticipating fueling stations to evolve, and that Ford would remain committed to its plans to bring CNG-powered commercial vehicles to marketplace. He said, “We took the chance that infrastructure would expand when we introduced our Transit Connect Taxi CNG capability in advance of any incentives for infrastructure or CNG conversions. It turns out our timing couldn’t have been better.”
A federally funded program called Clean Cities Petroleum Reductions Program is offering $300 million to various regional projects around the U.S. They partially cover the cost of converting a vehicle to CNG. It was due to this government program that Metro Taxi of West Haven, Connecticut was able to purchase as many of the CNG Transit Connect Taxis at one time. Their owner said, “I like the Transit Connect Taxi for its spacious passenger area and cargo capacity, so the government assistance was timely.” These government incentives are also helping in the funding of the construction of CNG fueling stations. Currently there are about 1,000 of these stations nationwide.
Natural gas isn’t new to the United States. In fact it has been the primary form of home energy heating for decades. What is new is the application of natural gas. There have been CNG cars for sale for more than ten years with the Honda GX. Europe caught on much faster than the United States when it comes to natural gas vehicles. They already have dozens of natural gas cars for sale to choose from.
Trucking companies see a huge benefit of natural gas trucks. Say that if the average heavy-duty truck travels an average of 100,000 miles per year, and they average 5 miles per gallon, that equates to 20,000 gallons of fuel per year. If they pay $2 per gallon less for natural gas verses diesel fuel, they save $40,000 a year on fuel alone. For a company that has 20 trucks, that is a savings of $800,000 per year. Can you imagine if a super large company such as Wal-Mart ware to switch their 7,000 trucks over to natural gas? Their savings would be closer to $280 million.
As you can see, the commercial bus and truck markets are quickly catching on to natural gas vehicles. Westport has even announced an agreement with Electro-Motive Diesel (EMD) to join with the Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) Program and develop natural gas fuel system for rail locomotives. Ford Motor Company has bought into this new technology. Next year we should see the production of pickup trucks. Ford natural gas vehicles are a reality and we will soon see more and more Ford CNG vehicles for sale. Maybe they will even join Honda in the production of compressed natural gas cars.