Ford Motor Co. said Tuesday its most popular vehicle, the F-150 pickup truck, will be offered in a compressed natural gas (CNG) prepped version for the 2014 model year, which would add about $10,000 to the price.

Ford said fleet operators and individual owners could make up for the additional cost with cheaper fuel and operating savings, compared with the traditional gasoline version. Ford executives see "big savings" for fleet operators, driven by "huge growth" in unconventional drilling "that has unlocked abundant supplies of inexpensive natural gas."

Earlier this year, Ford was touting a 350% growth in its natural gas vehicle (NGV) offerings since 2009 (see Daily GPI, March 7). In addition, other U.S. automakers have been talking up CNG for pickups, including Chrysler (see Daily GPI, March 8, 2012).

Ford's Kevin Koswick, director of North American fleet operations, claimed that Ford would be "the first manufacturer to offer a NGV version of a half-ton pickup," giving it eight commercial vehicles with a CNG option.

Ford expects to sell 15,000 CNG-prepped vehicles this year, a 25% increase over 2012 sales. Ford said CNG fuel averages about $2.11/gallon of gasoline equivalent (gge) and as low as $1.00/gge in some parts of the nation. This compares to a national average now of about $3.66/gallon for gasoline.

CNG F-150 pickups would be able to get up to a 750-mile range on one tank, depending on the size, and the truck averages about 23 miles/gallon on the highway, Ford said.

Separately, CNG vehicle converter Venchurs Vehicle Systems said Wednesday it would be converting the 3.7-liter F-150s. "There has been a growing demand for CNG-powered half-ton trucks," said Venchurs CEO Jeff Wyatt. Venchurs intends to offer both bi-fuel (CNG and gasoline) and dedicated options for the F-150, Wyatt said.

Navigant Research said in a report Tuesday that NGV fueling infrastructure is undergoing "robust growth as companies look to capitalize on the new-found interest" in natural gas as a transportation fuel.

The report points to a number of NGV fueling infrastructure challenges for both CNG and LNG, but it concluded that the lower cost of the two natural gas transportation fuels relative to gasoline and diesel remains "a key contributor to increased demand for both vehicles and new fueling stations."

©Copyright 2013 Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news report may not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in any form, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.