Natural gas-powered vehicles were the great alternative fuel hope of the 1990s. But now, they have all but vanished from the retail light-vehicle scene.
Instead of embracing natural gas, carmakers have rushed to ethanol, biodiesel, hybrids and fuel cells. The sharp change in the prospects for natural gas shows how today's leading alternative fuel technology can suddenly be supplanted.
American Honda Motor Co. is the lone auto-maker retailing a compressed natural gas vehicle in the United States. It touts its Civic GX for burning cheaper fuel and emitting much less pollution than gasoline- fueled cars. But at projected sales of about 1,000 vehicles in the 2008 model year, the GX amounts to a statistical flyspeck in nationwide sales figures.
Honda markets the Civic GX in tandem with the Phill, a home refueling compressor device that lets owners fill up with natural gas pulled directly from a residential line. A full tank of gas supplies the GX with a driving range of 220 to 250 miles.
Phill is made by FuelMaker Corp., of Toronto.