Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Natural Gas Car Momentum Builds

Fiat and Chrysler intend to focus on developing natural gas vehicles and forego investing in electric hybrids, a Chrysler Group LLC spokesman confirmed Monday.

"We're looking at a variety of alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas, natural gas that will reduce our dependence on imported oil," said Chrysler spokesman Vince Muniga. 

"We are not throwing out diesel" as a fuel source, he added.

Muniga confirmed published reports, in which Fiat and Chrysler Group CEO Sergio Marchionne said natural gas engines offer a better way to reduce emissions because they are cheaper than competing technologies.

In the same report, Marchionne said electric-powered vehicles present too many obstacles, such as the time it takes to recharge batteries. 

Other Fiat officials asserted that natural gas use in the US is very suitable for mass transit and fleet vehicles hauling heavy loads that are refueled from a central location.

Chrysler Group LLC was formed in June 2009 a "global strategic alliance" with Fiat Group, the company said.

Denise McCourt, director of communications for NGVAmerica, said the Chrysler Group became an association member in late November. "The Chrysler Washington office has been working with our government affairs committee on key legislative issues," she said.

Chrysler doesn't offer any natural gas vehicles in the US now, but McCourt said Fiat "is the largest producer of light duty natural gas vehicles in the world." 

"Chrysler is looking at the Fiat models that they have now in Italy [to] see what might be appropriate to use in the US market," McCourt said, noting that the focus of the international natural gas vehicle market is "on passenger vehicles, where as here in the US the focus has been on more fleet-oriented vehicles.

The Honda Civic GX is the only light duty passenger car model that has come of the production line right now as a natural gas vehicle, McCourt said, adding that "it is being used as part of the fleets that are being used. We do see consumers buying the Honda Civic GX where there are fleets in the area that have generated enough business to have a public access station."

"We have no idea what Chrysler will be bringing over to the US," McCourt said. "The thing that the president of Chrysler has said about natural gas vehicles is certainly agreeing with our position t

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