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GM plans trucks and vans utilizing compressed natural gas

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GM plans trucks and vans utilizing compressed natural gas

04/01/2010, 6:29 PMBY MARK KLEIS

General Motors has announced its intentions to develop an arrangement to sell converted full-size trucks and vans that will be powered by compressed natural gas. GM plans to offer van, pickup and chassis cab models that run on compressed gas starting in approximately two years.

According to a report by Automotive News, GM intends to begin offering heavy-duty trucks and vans that are capable of running on CNG in about two years.

GM cites the increased awareness of environmentally friendly vehicles as the source of motivation for the move, as well as seeing the recent success of Ford Motor Company selling CNG-capable vehicles to fleet customers. A recent report showed an 8,000 vehicle order of E-250 Econoline Ford vans to AT&T as part of AT&T’s broader plan to increase use of alternative fuel vehicles.

“A number of fleet operators want to present a green presence to the public,” said Rick Spina, the vehicle line executive who oversees GM’s full-sized trucks.

Spina explained to Automotive News that the conversion process is relatively simple, and requires only a few changes to a normal gasoline-powered vehicle.

“We have to harden the valves, harden certain things for durability reasons,” Spina said. But “pretty much it is a gasoline engine.” Spinda also pointed out that because the power curve is different for engines running on CNG compared to gasoline, the transmission will also need to be uniquely programmed.

Unlike Ford, who has a partnership with Roush Enterprises to convert its vehicles to run on CNG and propane, GM has not yet decided how it will handle the conversions for its CNG-propelled vehicles. GM may decide to outsource the conversion, do the work inside before shipping vehicles or possibly allow various aftermarket companies to do the conversions for the fleet customers on a direct basis.

In the case of the 8,000 van sale to AT&T, AT&T contracted BAF technologies to do the CNG conversion, rather than using Ford’s partner of choice, Roush.

Although CNG is better for the environment than gasoline, it does also have its drawbacks beyond upfront equipment costs. CNG vehicles suffer a slight drop in fuel economy, although typically it is negligible.

“If you got 20 mpg, maybe you get 19 mpg on CNG,” said Ford spokeswoman Jennifer Moore. “But overall, there is an advantage in operating cost because of lower natural-gas prices.”



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