FRANKFURT -- Volkswagen AG wants to join Honda Motor Co. in selling compressed natural gas-fueled cars in the United States, but first it wants the U.S. government to help get more CNG pumps at fueling stations.
VW, the second-largest seller of CNG vehicles in Europe after Fiat, has invested heavily in a platform that allows plants to build the same car with a variety of powertrains, including gasoline, diesel, CNG, electric, plug-in hybrid and ethanol.
VW has not launched any of these models in the United States, and it says a major reason is fueling infrastructure. The United States has about 600 public CNG fueling stations, a U.S. Department of Energy database shows, with most of them clustered along the East Coast, West Coast and in places with a large oil and gas industry presence, such as Oklahoma.
For comparison, despite being much smaller, Germany has 900 stations that sell CNG, Heinz-Jakob Neusser, product development head for the VW brand, told journalists at the Frankfurt auto show.
"Here in Germany, I'm always struggling because we have not enough," he said.
For a decade in Europe, VW has offered CNG-fueled versions of its vehicles, including the Up minicar, which has a 10 percent take rate for CNG.
When VW launched a CNG-fueled version of its Golf hatchback this summer, the company got rid of its EcoFuel badge and decided to refer to the cars by the moniker TGI, hoping to capitalize on the TDI badge used on its diesel models.
Because it will use the same versatile platform, VW's plant in Puebla, Mexico, will be able to build the Golf with a CNG engine -- if the market demands justify it.
Executives at VW met with regulators from the EPA and the California Air Resources Board this year to encourage them to support CNG fueling stations.
Jonathan Browning, CEO of Volkswagen Group of America, said CNG -- which has cleaner tailpipe emissions than gasoline and diesel and reduces carbon dioxide emissions about 20 percent -- should be eligible for more credits under fuel economy standards in the United States.
"We have the technology available," Browning said. "We're looking for the signal that it's supported from a regulatory point of view and there's some degree of infrastructure available."
Though CNG is increasingly finding favor in the United States as a fuel for commercial and industrial vehicles that refuel at a single location, selling CNG cars to the public has been a challenge.
Honda, which sells a CNG version of its Civic sedan, decided last year to sweeten the deal by giving new buyers a $3,000 fuel card for use at public refueling stations owned by Clean Energy Fuels Corp.