Texas dealer sells natural gas, too

Fuel station goal: Move more vehicles

Morgan: "Nobody wants to buy a CNG truck if they can't get the fuel, so where can they get it? Right next door."

UPDATED: 4/28/14 11:41 am ET - adds cutline correction

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained a photo with the incorrect identification. The person in the photo is Ken Morgan, director of Texas Christian University’s Energy Institute.

The nation's largest Chevrolet dealership has opened its own compressed natural gas fueling station to help sell the brand's new natural-gas-powered vehicles.

Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, Texas, invested nearly $1 million in natural gas pumps and associated plumbing at a fueling station that also sells gasoline, diesel and E85 fuels.

The station, adjacent to the dealership, started fueling natural-gas-powered vehicles last month. Chevrolet already offers a heavy-duty pickup that operates on both gasoline and natural gas. This fall, it will offer a bi-fuel version of the Impala.

"If we're going to sell this, we ought to have the fuel that it calls for," said Ken Thompson, fleet manager for Classic Chevrolet.

The dealership near Dallas sells about 650 new Chevrolets and 250 used vehicles per month.

No U.S. state produces more natural gas per year than Texas, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. Ample supplies of the relatively cheap fuel will make natural-gas vehicles more economical, Thompson said.

For example, in January, the dealership began operating six of its parts-delivery vehicles on natural gas. "It's about 50 percent cheaper. Most of our trucks leave here in the morning and get back in the evening and are still running on CNG," Thompson said.

Earlier this month, the price for natural gas was the equivalent of about $1.75 per gallon, compared with $3.50 per gallon for gasoline, Thompson said.

The compressed natural gas station's opening drew a crowd.

Thompson said he has been contacted by dealers across the nation since the natural-gas station opened about a month ago.

Thompson said installing the natural-gas fuel center was challenging. The compressor required to fill a vehicle's natural-gas tank is "quite expensive, and you have the lines, the plumbing, the pumps. It was about a four-month project, getting it ordered and installed and ready to go," he said.

The Department of Energy says there are fewer than a dozen publicly accessible natural-gas filling stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Nationally, there are fewer than 700.

"We think it's going to be a great fit for us," Thompson said. "But nobody wants to buy a CNG truck if they can't get the fuel, so where can they get it? Right next door."

You can reach Larry P. Vellequette at lvellequette@crain.com -- Follow Larry P. on Twitter: @LarryVellequett

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