Following similar initiatives around the nation, Houston-based CenterPoint Energy on Thursday said it will add 35 natural gas vehicles (NGV) to its fleet across Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. It also is planning to supply compressed natural gas (CNG) to 17 new fueling stations built in its multi-state territory.
Separately, a recall of 1,800 General Motors (GM) CNG vans by natural gas original equipment manufacturer converter IMPCO Automotive was announced, one of the first in the NGV sector. IMPCO, working with GM technicians, identified a potential fire hazard in the vans’ fueling tank systems and issued the recall, an Indiana-based engineer with IMPCO told NGI on Friday. Thus far, no accidents or injuries have been reported.
Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans, 2011-2013 models, are all being recalled because it is not possible to determine how many of the vans might have the defect. The problem was identified when a solenoid overheated and melted, according to what IMPCO and GM reported last month to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. IMPCO said that working with GM it “determined that shut-off solenoids manufactured by an outside vendor and located in the underbody fueling system are susceptible to corrosion, which can lead to a short circuit and overheating, increasing the risk of a fire.” Repairs will be made at no cost to the van owners.
For CenterPoint, the addition of CNG fleet vehicles coincides with added fueling infrastructure that will total 49 stations in the company’s six-state territory, with the majority located in Texas, Oklahoma and Minnesota. A number of gasoline stations are also considering adding natural gas pumps, CenterPoint said.
The Texas-based combination utility holding company cited increased consumer interest in NGVs as evidenced by Ford Motor Co. selling 11,600 NGVs last year, more than tripling its sales since 2010, and GM and Chrysler adding NGV pickup trucks to their alternative fuel vehicle offerings. Honda has been turning out NGV Civic GX cars since 1998.
CenterPoint’s Joe McGoldrick, gas division president, said NGVs can compete, but there needs to be more “nurturing” of both infrastructure and vehicles. Consumer interest is growing, but fleet operators are still the largest market for NGVs, McGoldrick said. “The more miles driven, the greater savings companies will see after converting fleets to natural gas,” he said.
At IMPCO, officials don’t like the “negativity” that can surround recalls, particularly in a still developing sector such as NGVs, but they said the fact that the company identified the problem and ordered recalls shows the maturity of the CNG sector.
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