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Natural gas vehicles on a roll in U.S.

November 18, 1995
Web posted at: 8:00 a.m. EST

From Correspondent David Mattingly

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- When there's talk of reducing air pollution, electric vehicles seem to get much of the attention. Only electric vehicles are capable of meeting a "zero-emission" standard set by California, New York and Massachusetts. But when it comes to reducing pollution-causing emissions, electric vehicles have a lot of competition from cars powered by natural gas.

Natural gas pump

More and more gas stations nationwide are installing CNG pumps as natural gas vehicles rapidly become the alternative fuel of choice.

The three states that are setting the new emissions standard require that by 1998, 2 percent of all cars offered for sale must be so-called "zero-emission-vehicles." In keeping the so-called alternative-fuel vehicles economical, natural gas has an advantage over electric cars.

"Natural gas is here now; the others, electric cars, are going to be coming some day. They're very, very expensive, primarily because the batteries are very expensive," says Mike Clement of the alternative-fuel vehicles division of Chrysler.

While natural gas vehicles cost considerably less than electric, they are still roughly $5,000 more than common internal combustion cars.


However, CNG vehicles can be cost-competitive. Dealers and utilities offer a variety of incentives to purchase one. There are also federal income tax deductions of up to $2,000, and what you spend at the dealership, you can save at the pump. A gallon of natural gas, which will get you as far as a gallon of gasoline, costs about 30 percent less.

The cars may also save owners money on maintenance. "They go twice the oil-change interval as well," Clement says. Gas gets into the lubricant and dilutes its effectiveness, but not so with natural gas.

In fact, you may not even notice that you're riding in a CNG vehicle because it handles much like a conventional car. Their appearance won't give it away either. The six models of sedans, mini-vans and trucks offered by the big three U.S. automakers look exactly like their gasoline counterparts.

Natural gas tank

The Department of Energy predicts natural gas vehicles will increase in popularity. "As Detroit starts putting out lots of alternative fuel vehicles that are competitive, you're going to see individuals across the country opting for alternative-fuel vehicles for their first choice," says Christine Ervin, assistant secretary for the Department of Energy.

Especially if the consumer is ecology-minded. Natural gas vehicles emit up to 90 percent fewer ozone-depleting gases than gasoline-powered cars.

"They're very, very clean. They will help to solve some of the smog problems in our cities," Ervin says.

But, if you're headed on a road trip, don't trade in the family car just yet.

"The best use is around the city; you have to know where you're going to get the fuel," Clement says.

The American Gas Association puts out a booklet listing the 1,200 natural gas stations nationwide. With 200 more pumps expected to be installed next year, the time when you can make a cross-country trek in a CNG car may be sooner than you think.

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