Chrysler Group LLC, plans to start selling compressed natural gas-powered vehicles by 2017, the company said on Wednesday.
Italy’s Fiat SpA, which owns 30 percent of Chrysler, has engines using compressed natural gas in Europe. Fiat has an 80-percent share of the natural-gas passenger car market and an almost 55 percent share of the light truck market in Europe. Chrysler could use the engines, which run substantially cleaner than gasoline or diesel engines, to help reduce its corporate CO2 footprint.
Chrysler executives have explored bringing that Fiat technology to the U.S.
“The technology is very actively being worked on,” Bob Lee, Chrysler’s vice president for engine and electrified propulsion systems, said Tuesday in an interview at the SAE 2011 World Congress.
“It’s a good way for some diversity in the market in terms of fuel use.”
As a fuel, compressed natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline or ethanol, resulting in lower greenhouse gas emissions. It doesn’t provide a fuel economy boost over gasoline, however, and depending on how a vehicle’s engine is set up, it can result in a drop in performance, particularly acceleration from zero to 60. But it is much cheaper than gasoline and reduces periodic engine maintenance because it doesn’t contain the impurities that leave deposits in a gasoline engine.
The CNG-powered Honda Civic GX, the only factory-built natural gas vehicle sold in the U.S. today, is rated as a near-zero emissions car and in California and a few other states is granted the same “clean air” car priveleges – solo driver access to carpool lanes and free parking in some communities – as electric cars.