There's nothing unnatural about driving a natural-gas car
Dave Guilford is enterprise editor of Automotive News.
The main thing you notice when you drive the compressed natural gas-powered Honda Civic is that there's really nothing to notice.
During normal city use, the Civic Natural Gas starts like a regular car, accelerates like one, stops like one, sounds like one -- you get the idea.
That's what Honda wants. Eric Rosenberg, assistant manager of American Honda Motor Co.'s alternative fuel vehicle marketing department, says having a "no compromises" vehicle is key to attracting retail customers.
Honda has been selling the Civic Natural Gas since 1998, and it's fair to say that it's taking baby steps, at best, in winning retail sales: Honda has a goal of selling 3,000 units this year. But with an eye toward markets like Brazil, with more than 1 million natural gas vehicles on the road, Honda thinks there is long-term potential in the technology.
Honda's determination to sell a vehicle powered by a clean-burning, domestically produced fuel is laudable. And the price bump for the Civic Natural Gas is modest compared with electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. The base price, including shipping, is $27,095. An up-level model with a navigation system is $28,595, including shipping.
But the Civic Natural Gas is struggling with the same problem as electric vehicles: a meager refueling infrastructure. Rosenberg says there are about 1,000 public refueling pumps in the United States. To address buyer worries, Honda has programmed CNG -- for compressed natural gas -- fueling locations into the car's navigation system, he says.
"Once you become familiar with where those stations are, you tailor your life around those stations, just like with a gasoline station," Rosenberg says. "The initial hurdle is learning where the stations are."
Honda has 195 dealerships selling the Civic Natural Gas, and expects to add a dozen more in the next few months. The Honda brand has 1,038 U.S. franchises.
CNG vehicles are more practical than EVs and plug-in hybrids in terms of cost and driving range. If you can find a pump, you get a driving range of about 220 to 245 miles at roughly one-third the cost of gasoline, Rosenberg says.
There's one way around the infrastructure problem. Home refueling is possible using residential gas compressors, although such devices cost $4,000 and up.
But Honda is committed to pushing CNG vehicles beyond fleet operators who install their own fueling stations. Rosenberg says Honda expects U.S. refueling sites to increase by 10 percent per year. And, he adds, "We've stayed the course since 1998."
You can reach Dave Guilford at firstname.lastname@example.org. -- Follow Dave on