EDMOND — Business was booming for Utah-based CNG Interstate in 2008, seeming to prove that owner Chris Wright's yearlong quest to learn about converting vehicles to run on compressed natural gas was worthwhile.
But then the price of gasoline dropped back to earth after reaching record levels that summer.
Wright said he averaged only about two conversions a month after the lull set in, even with customers coming in from other states to supplement his business.
A father and son from Oklahoma City came to CNG Interstate three years ago to learn about the conversion process. They converted a Jeep Wrangler to run on CNG, sparking an ongoing fascination with the alternative fuel.
Zach Cathey, the younger of the two men, made repeated trips to Utah for others interested in converting to CNG.
“I drove out there and helped convert them,” he said.
Cathey said he drove to Utah and back five or six times, forcing Wright to acknowledge there is a market for his company's services here in Oklahoma.
CNG Interstate's grand opening at 100 NW 142 in Edmond was last Friday, an event that drew about 70 people.
Wright said his company can convert just about any vehicle to run on CNG.
“That's my niche,” he said. “I'm banking on that to be the recipe for success.”
Conversions cost between $6,000 and $9,500, depending on the vehicle, but state tax credits are available to offset some of that expense.
Wright said he believes companies that focus on fleet conversions will be left behind when carmakers begin producing vehicles that run on CNG. Popular fleet vehicles likely will be the first ones off the assembly line, he said.
Such talk is evidence of how much Wright believes in CNG as a cheaper alternative to gasoline.
“Natural gas is truly American,” he said.
Wright, who hails Chesapeake Energy Corp. CEO Aubrey McClendon as a “visionary” for his CNG advocacy, views himself as part of a grassroots effort to promote natural gas.
That is why he plans to host monthly workshops at his company's new shop, which will be run by his brother, Steven Wright. Cathey and his father work there as well.
Craig Wright said those monthly gatherings will be an opportunity for potential customers and others interested in CNG to mingle with people who have already made the switch.
Wright said he hopes those workshops can help him build his business as he educates local residents about CNG. The next one is set for Aug. 19.
Wright said he is looking forward to doing business in Oklahoma. He said the state has done a good job of policing CNG and licensing technicians who do the vehicle conversions.
Wright called Oklahoma has provided a “breath of fresh air” after dealing with a lot of acrimonious situations in Utah.
“I'm excited to try to help Oklahoma,” he said.