American Honda Motor Co. plans to drop its long-standing production of natural gas vehicles (NGV) through its NGV Civic model to concentrate on a new hydrogen fuel cell-powered vehicle, a top U.S.-based Honda executive said Monday.

What that means to the U.S. NGV industry, which has been struggling with the narrowing of the difference between natural gas and gasoline pump prices this year was not immediately clear, but officials at Natural Gas Vehicles for America (NGVAmerica) downplayed the loss of a major passenger car NGV, citing growth in fleets and the infrastructure to support them.

 “The natural gas vehicle market has grown tremendously since the introduction of the [natural gas Honda] Civic more than 15 years ago,” said Matthew Godlewski, NGVAmerica president. "Today, there are more vehicle offerings and fueling stations than ever before.

“We’ll miss the Civic, but as more businesses increasingly adopt clean-burning natural gas into their medium and heavy duty fleets, the infrastructure development behind this growth will eventually support the broader expansion of the light-duty market.”

John Mendel, Honda’s executive vice president in the U.S. automobile division, made it clear that the carmaker sees electric vehicles (EV), including hybrids, as where the alternative fuel vehicle future lies. At recent auto shows, the company has demonstrated its fuel cell concept car. The company will discontinue both the Civic hybrid and natural gas models by the end of 2015, according to Mendel, who cited changing customer preferences and economics.

Noting that for most of the past 15 years Honda was the only automaker with a dedicated compressed natural gas vehicle, Mendel said that both NGV fueling infrastructure and consumer demand remain "a challenge." Production of NGV Civics at its Indiana manufacturing plant has been completed, but the company will continue to provide a "high level" of service to existing customers, he said.

Honda will continue producing EVs while it develops "an entirely new generation of vehicles, starting from the introduction in 2016 of our next-generation fuel cell vehicle," followed by "an all-new battery EV model and all-new plug-in hybrid model,” Mendel said.

Godlewski pointed to recent reports citing the growth in natural gas as a transportation fuel from the Railroad Commission of Texas (see Daily GPI, May 29) and the consulting/research firm IHS (see Daily GPI, June 5).