On the heels of an announcement by its largest Detroit-based competitor, Chrysler Group LLC said this week it plans to become North America’s only auto manufacturer to offer a factory-built compressed natural gas (CNG) pickup truck. General Motors announced a similar CNG pickup rollout on Monday, albeit at a slower pace (see Daily GPI, March 6).

Pricing for the Chrysler vehicle is to start at $47,500, and the first contingent of the new trucks will be on the market in July this year, the automaker said.

Chrysler said its Ram 2500 heavy duty CNG pickup is aimed at fleet and commercial customers, offering what it called “cost and emissions benefits.” As GM did, Chrysler emphasized the abundant supplies of natural gas in the United States due to the shale boom.

Calling commercial customers “extremely important,” Chrysler CEO for Ram and Chrysler de Mexico Fred Diaz said adding a CNG engine that he characterized as hard-working to the Ram brand “makes a lot of sense — both economically and environmentally.”

The Ram HD CNG will be powered by the 5.7 liter HEMI(r) V-8 engine and features both CNG storage tanks and an 8-gal gasoline fuel tank. In Canada, customers can opt for a 35-gallon gasoline tank. “CNG is a widely accepted fuel in the United States, Europe and Asia,” a spokesperson said.

Chrysler’s Robert Lee, head of its engine and electrified propulsion engineering, praised CNG’s ready availability and its compatibility with the 5.7-liter HEMI. “CNG demonstrates a reduction of 70-90% of smog-producing pollutants and significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”

Chrysler’s trucks would all be manufactured under one roof. Similarly GM contended that its newly announced CNG-powered Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickup trucks are also original equipment manufacture (OEM), but the CNG fueling part of the engine is added by a long-time auto industry supplier in a separate factory using General Motors engineering design.

The American Gas Association (AGA) highlighted the cost-effectiveness of a CNG-fueled transportation revolution.

“These manufacturers understand the tremendous market potential for natural gas vehicles. The retail price of compressed natural gas averages about half the cost of gasoline and everyone that buy natural gas vehicles is going to see it pay-off at the pump,” said AGA CEO Dave McCurdy. “The bi-fuel 2013 Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended cab, and Chrysler Ram 2500 HD pickup trucks announced this week will give fleet consumers what they want — clean, reliable, cost-efficient vehicles. America’s natural gas utilities encouraged these manufacturers to bring bi-fuel vehicles to market and are ready to support them by purchasing these vehicles in our own fleets. We’re confident that fleet customers from a wide variety of businesses will see take advantage of the same opportunity and want to purchase these new CNG models.”

Both CNG systems operate similarly based on the descriptions from the two auto giants — a little gasoline is need to start the truck and then the CNG kicks in automatically shortly thereafter. When the natural gas is depleted, the vehicle automatically switches back to gasoline. The Ram CNG-only range is 255 miles, while the back up gasoline supply gives the vehicle a total range of 367 miles, compared with the GM-announced CNG trucks as offering up to 650 miles of combined natural gas-gasoline range.

What Chrysler described a two “ultra-strong” 4.6-cft (130 liters) CNG tanks are located in the forward portion of the Ram truck’s eight-foot pickup bed. Both tanks are mounted to the frame, as were the ones announced Monday by GM. “The Ram 2500 CNG retains its heavy duty capability — competent towing, payload hauling, and outstanding acceleration for highway merging and passing,” the Chrysler spokesperson said.

Infrastructure for the new CNG rollouts is on the way. On Wednesday Chesapeake Energy Corp. and GE said they are collaborating to develop infrastructure solutions to accelerate the adoption of natural gas as a transportation fuel (see related story). To formalize the agreement the companies signed a memorandum of understanding on a product and services development partnership, representing a multi-year collaboration to develop and bring to market CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) transportation and natural gas home-fueling solutions.

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