The number of natural gas vehicles (NGV) worldwide will nearly double between now and 2020, according to a report released Tuesday by Navigant Research. NGVs on the roadway will increase steadily from 18.2 million now to 34.9 million by 2020, Navigant said.

Separately on Tuesday, two major natural gas industry organizations, America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) and the American Gas Association (AGA) unveiled a campaign pushing six dual-fuel demonstration vehicles at the Alternative Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Washington, DC. The ANGA/AGA demonstration is designed to showcase technology that fits a diverse set of vehicles without altering their performance.

Offered at the ACT Expo were a BMW X3 small SUV, Chrysler 300, Ford Mustang GT, GMC Acadia, Honda CRV and Hyundai Sonata, all converted to run on natural gas and gasoline. ANGA CEO Marty Durbin said the mixture of vehicles “demonstrates what is possible” in terms of NGVs, noting the gas industry wants consumers to “think beyond their city buses.”

Interest in NGVs has grown more widespread in recent years with the surge of low-cost natural gas supplies, Navigant’s report said. The market for natural gas as a transportation fuel is gaining “increased traction” in many regions of the globe. The report acknowledges that NGVs have been in service in large numbers for decades in some countries, but this is now widening considerably.

The market growth is driven mainly by a combination of low-cost gas supplies and sustained higher prices for gasoline and diesel, according to Navigant’s Market Data report.

“Today’s growth in the market is being fueled less by negative external events and more by positive industry developments,” said Dave Hurst, Navigant Research principal research analyst, who added that in the 1970s and early 1980s, a brief surge in NGVs popularity occurred as a result of the 1973 oil embargo and the price shocks that followed.

Hurst thinks there are more positive drivers now, such as increased vehicle availability, stronger focus on the largest users of fuel in new regions and “greater openness” generally to alternative fuel vehicles by individual consumers and fleet operators.

The bi-fuel vehicles previewed at the ACT Expo are being billed as “range-extended NGVs, or RENG-Vs,” and are tied to efforts to promote new home fueling equipment for the individual vehicle owner. Some of the six vehicles were previewed in late May in Southern California.

Vehicles range in engine size from 2.4 liters in the Sonata to 5.0 liters in the Ford Mustang GT, but each can start and run on natural gas with ranges varying from 55 to 75 miles, noting that national statistics indicate an average use of 40 miles daily for personal vehicles. With the gasoline option, the vehicles’ overall ranges varied from 375 miles for the Mustang to 574 miles for the four-cylinder Sonata.

The vehicles are being promoted as prototype NGVs that have gasoline as a range-extending backup, but they are looked at on a day-to-day basis as primarily running on natural gas. Eventually, the economic viability of these RENG-Vs will depend on the cost of home refueling, and that is still an issue to be worked out by future technology advances.

Navigant’s report examined both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled NGVs, noting that the larger, heavier, more costly tanks required for LNG vehicle fueling will limit its use to medium- and heavy-duty trucks and buses.

Hurst said that while natural gas prices have been a major driver, other factors are contributing to NGVs spread to many different vehicle segments, including a shortage of oil refining capabilities, tightening emissions restrictions and increased energy security.

The latest report, “Market Data: Natural Gas Vehicles,” predicts continued growth for passenger cars, light duty trucks, medium and heavy duty trucks and buses. Along with vehicles and fueling station infrastructure, other keys to the NGV growth will include economic forces, fuel prices and overall automobile market trends.

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