Monday, December 6, 2010

Fiat Likes Natural Gas

MILAN — As Sergio Marchionne brings Fiat back to the United States after nearly three decades, he might add another Italian specialty: the natural-gas engine.
Marchionne, the CEO of Fiat and Chrysler Group, says natural-gas engines offer a better way to reduce emissions because they’re cheaper than competing technologies. He also argues that electric cars, which General Motors and Toyota are betting on, present “too many obstacles” such as the recharge time for batteries.
“Natural gas is very suitable for the U.S.,” said Constantinos Vafidis, who oversees transmission and hybrid development at Fiat’s research center in Turin, Italy. “Especially for public services and goods transportation, where vehicles are refueled from a central base.”
Fiat is the market leader in Europe in natural-gas engines, with an 80 percent share of methane-powered cars and 55 percent of light commercial vehicles. Bolstering Marchionne’s view, the United States has the natural-gas supply for the engines after passing Russia last year to become the world’s largest producer.
“Fiat will use its technological leadership in natural gas, in a region discovered to have huge reserves,” said Giuliano Noci, a professor at the MIP management school of Milan’s Polytechnic university. “It’s almost a mandatory strategy. Fiat should lead the natural-gas car market, as it’s far behind in the electric-vehicle sector.”
Fiat sold 127,000 methane-powered cars in Europe last year, including versions of the Panda compact and Ducato van, helped by government incentives.

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