Amid rising gasoline prices and a boost from President Obama, natural gas use in vehicles is drawing increased support, according to Ford Motor Co., which reported Wednesday that demand has risen for compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles.

While acknowledging that hybrids and diesels are still selling more, Ford reported that demand was rising for CNG vehicles, and it is an option for the company’s Transit Connect E-Series vans and F-Series super duty trucks. “The least-expensive way to get into a CNG vehicle at a Ford dealership is in a base Transit Connect model that includes a $315 package converting the van to CNG or liquid propane gas,” said a Ford spokesperson.

Ford said that government incentives for CNG vehicles are one reason for CNG “slowly growing in acceptance” as an alternative transportation fuel, even though refueling stations are not as widespread as gasoline stations. The number of stations is growing, according to Ford.

From a pump price standpoint CNG currently has the advantage of being a low-priced fuel with lower emissions than its competitors. The U.S. Department of Energy in its Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report for January cited the per-gallon equivalent price for CNG as $1.93, compared with more than $3/gallon for regular gasoline at the pump.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday announced a final rule easing the way for the conversion of cars and trucks, particularly older vehicles, from gasoline or diesel power to alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas (CNG), propane, alcohol and electricity (see Daily GPI, March 31).

The Ford spokespersons said the company is counting on expanding infrastructure to fuel sales growth of CNG models. “It turns out the timing couldn’t have been better,” said Gerald Koss, Ford’s fleet marketing manager.

Similarly, Honda America continues to offer a CNG version of its Civic sedan model, although at what the car maker conceded is a somewhat costly $26,200 for a compact model. But Honda stresses that the vehicle offers gas-equivalent mileage of 24 mpg and 36 mpg in the city and highway, respectively. Honda said it expects the 2012 Civic model’s fuel efficiency to reach 39 mpg. For nonfleet, noncommercial car buyers, Honda’s Civic remains one of the few factory built CNG vehicles.

Having just ordered the Ford Transit Connect vans for conversion to CNG, Las Vegas-based Whittlesea Blue Cab’s J. J. Bell said his taxi fleet is converting more and more of its vehicles.

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