Cost remains a question for CNG vehicles

Oklahoma tcredits can help defray the cost of converting to compressed natural gas as a vehicle fuel, but they're not available to everyone.
BY JAY F. MARKS jmarks@opubco.com Published: April 24, 2011
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On the plus side, he said those tanks are good for 20 years, so they can be used on more than one vehicle over their life.

Luber said moving a tank from one vehicle to another can make subsequent conversions less expensive.

The conversion process takes about a day, with OEM capable of completing as many as 50 a day.

Roller said it is expensive because kit makers have to spend a lot of money to reverse engineer the CNG system for a particular engine type, meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or California Air Resources Board standards along the way.

OEM's Luber recommends using certified conversion kits and installers to avoid problems with CNG systems. OEM is one of five qualified system retrofitters in Oklahoma, according to CNGNow.com.

Luber said most conversion kits were developed for fleet vehicles, as companies like UPS and AT&T took advantage of the fuel savings offered by CNG.

Rising gasoline prices have persuaded more “regular drivers” to consider the alternative, he said. Kits are available for a number of newer-model Ford and General Motors vehicles, from the compact Ford Focus to the big SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe.

Tax credits aid switch

Phillips made the switch about two years ago after Chesapeake gave away three CNG-fueled Honda Civics at an Oklahoma City Thunder game.

In 2009, those Civics were only available to commercial customers at four dealers: three in California and one in New York, but Phillips was able to buy one through Bob Howard Honda in Oklahoma City.

Phillips said the CNG Civic, which has an 8-gallon fuel tank, works well as he just drives around town.

His purchase was aided by $7,500 in tax credits, including a federal tax credit that is no longer available.

Since then, the CNG Civic has become available for commercial buyers in every state, although Phillips said he has heard the manufacturer is only making about 1,000 of them each year.

“They've got to make more,” he said. “A thousand just isn't enough.”



Also ...

State tax credits

Tax credits can help reduce the cost of converting to compressed natural gas as a vehicle fuel.

Oklahoma offers a credit good for 50 percent of the incremental cost of a CNG vehicle over a gasoline-fueled equivalent. It also applies to conversion costs and installation of fueling infrastructure.

There currently is no federal tax incentive for CNG use, although a five-year credit was included in legislation recently introduced by U.S. Reps. John Sullivan, Dan Boren and others.

The proposed tax credit would cover 80 percent of the incremental cost for dedicated CNG vehicles or 50 percent of the conversion cost for bi-fuel or dual-fuel vehicles.

Types of CNG vehicles

There are three types of vehicles that run on compressed natural gas:

Dedicated: Runs only on CNG as built by the manufacturer or converted.

Bi-fuel: Runs on gasoline or CNG after conversion.

Dual-fuel: Runs on a mixture of diesel and CNG after conversion.

Writer tests natural gas car

Business Writer Jay F. Marks is in the middle of a two-week compressed natural gas test, driving a bi-fuel Chevrolet Tahoe borrowed from Carter Chevrolet and OEM Systems in Okarche. Watch for updates in The Oklahoman or on the OKC Central blog on NewsOK. You can also follow him on Twitter: @OKenergybeat.

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