Hold off on buying that natural gas car if you live outside Metro Atlanta

While nowhere near as cool as the Tesla Roadster, the automotive equivalent of a laser-wielding shark, the Honda Civic natural gas version offers 38 mpg highway/27 city mileage, fuels at about two-thirds the cost of gasoline, and apparently comes with the ability to park on the sidewalk in front of the Georgia Public Service Commission.

Downsides include losing most of your trunk storage, commercial fueling stations are few and far between, and at the end of the day, after paying about $7000 more than for a gas version, you’re still driving a Honda Civic.

As for the availability of filling stations, didn’t the PSC just approve a whole bunch of those? Yes and no. What the Commission actually approved was allowing Atlanta Gas Light to use money from the Universal Service Fund, which the PSC administers, to partner with private investors who want to build CNG filling stations. Construction is unlikely to start before late 2012, and location of stations will be determined by the proposals brought forward by private investors. So most stations are likely to be built in Metro Atlanta.

Public Service Commissioner Tim Echols, who famously drives a CNG-powered 1999 Honda Civic, says that South Georgia may not have the market for consumer availability of CNG. The bigger market for CNG is likely fleets, like school and transit system bus fleets or garbage trucks. The Georgia Ports Authority has indicated that they might move toward some CNG vehicles.

Also part of the recent PSC ruling was a program that will allow private CNG-vehicle owners to lease a home CNG fueling stations at a subsidized rate.

Here are some gratuitous photos of a Tesla Roadster like the one that Southern Company owns. If anyone from Georgia Power/SoCo is reading this, we’d really like a ride in that Tesla. So we can review it here and talk about alternative fuels, of course.

I’ve also read and heard first-hand accounts of a CNG-fueled 1966 Pontiac GTO that lives in Alabama and makes occasional forays to Atlanta. An old goat like this really ratchets up the cool factor of both CNG and Alabama and has even been driven by a Republican Congressman around Washington, DC. Get me a ride in this, and once I can speak and type again, I’ll probably post here about how freaking cool it is. With a conversion cost of about $4000 plus the underlying awesome car, this appeals to me much more than a CNG Civic. Wonder if anyone’s done a CNG Porsche yet.


    • ted in bed says:

      I didn’t read many of the reports BUT …. it looks like they are heading towards blaming the workover pits, not fracking. I didn’t see mention of fracking in the reports.

      Many of the chemicals noted in the PPT occur naturally, especially in areas where Oil and Gas exist. O&G tends to migrate from its source rock up to the surface. In Pennsylvania, there are natural oil seeps still seeping even after 150 years of production. The EPA’s wells were right in the middle of the O&G field. They need several control wells in areas without drilling to really be sure what is occurring is man-made or Gaia-made.

      Thanks for the link. I think I’m going to have fun with the EPA when their report comes out.

      PS – I was an environmental engineer for 12 years.

      • chefdavid says:

        Thanks for the info. I don’t understand much about it. They’ve got some data on the site.
        Be it good or bad I just have a feeling that the public pressure is going to be too much and the left is going to shut it down. Then up goes natural gas prices again. Maybe they can rebrand the fracking name to something that sounds more green, problem solved.

        • ted in bed says:

          Our friends the Saudis ™ are trying very hard to shut down the NatGas industry along with Oil Sands (via Keystone Pipeline). The Saudis want us very dependent on them and have elisted its stooge Obama, the EPA and the Left to help them.

          The net result will be the Canadian Oil Sand oil will go to China and we’ll export NatGas. While we import Oil from our Arab friends ™. We have 100’s of years worth of Nat Gas resources in the US.

      • Engineer says:

        Samples showing the content of groundwater from locations downstream, so-to-speak, of the flow of the groundwater would be an interesting thing to add to the report

  1. saltycracker says:

    I’ll take a 33 mpg bigger Ford Fusion & the $7,000 for fuel & a big trunk – thank you….

    Let’s see overall Fusion avg. 30 mpg over 15,000 annual = 500 gallons yr.
    $7,000 / [email protected] = 2,000 gallons, 4 yrs. of searching for smelly fuel, a dealer that can work on it, a buyer in the aftermarket & the pleasure of driving an inconvienent car….

    Killer – the advantaged mpg is highway and who wants to travel in such a small car that will require a wind resistant cartop carrier for luggage………like a lot of these green cars there is little efficiency and the real payback, all things weighed, may never occur…..unless you assign a dollar sign to feel good….

    Disclosure – I own natural gas funds hoping it will be used for electrical generation driving the demand up……

  2. Herb says:

    Herb likes this new contraption! If we’re to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, we must up the gas tax nine-fold. We need to use our own oil/gas. That’s why I only go to Marathon gas stations.

  3. Todd, Ive worked for VW/Audi for over a decade and before I was moved to service consultant, I was a tech specializing in turbo diesels. I have worked on six generations of the diesel engines and I can sum it up like this: everyone is trying to over complicate this issue. VW is not getting a fair shake at the media attention most other manufacturers have been getting. It you ever want to write up something, email me at [email protected].

    • saltycracker says:

      where are they on bio-diesel ? last I understood mfg’s still had some technical issues and limitations.

  4. I owned a 1977 911S I purchased for a song over a decade ago, and it would have been a great donor car. Took it on a couple of runs on Road Atlanta, but sold it after I figured it would kill me before I got enough. The crappy biodiesel eats up the seals in the injection pump of the VW system within 40k miles. A rebuilt pump costs about $3,000. These backyard refiners havent got the formula figured out yet, and with the change to ultra low sulfur we have had some catching up to do. A good chemical engineer could crack the case within a year, but there isnt any motivation. The pre 2003 TDI engines can run the bio with no problems, and I have serviced a few. Smell like french fries. The Pump Deusse engines and our new pump nozzles need the regular diesel. Even the “ruby red” farm diesel (illegal to put in passenger cars due to tax issues) will cause diagnostic trouble codes and catalytic converter failure near 50k miles. Sorry if I went over anyones head….

    • saltycracker says:

      Thanks – you jostled my memory of the issues – engines keep getting more complicated (expensive) complying with emission regs & exploring alternative fuels. Getting the fuel into the engine ain’t easy.

    • But besides backyard refiners, there are actually companies that produce this stuff en masse. I buy the stuff for the 7.3L engines in my trucks from SA White in Marietta who gets it from somewhere up towards Rome / Cartersville I believe. I know there’s also Bulldog Biodiesel somewhere around Atlanta that makes quite a bit of the stuff as well.

  5. Just for the record, MPG means nothing to me personally. My daily driver is a 360hp Corvette. I just disagree with the hybrid theory when we have technology from the early 1900’s that is superior to the Prius. Holler at me when you have to replace the $7000 battery in a few years.

  6. Natural gas works better in traditional diesel applications. Our garbage trucks in Richmond County run on reclaimed methane from the landfill. When I ran for School Board, my plans were to phase out diesel buses and switch to methane powered buses in a joint move with the city. Unfortunately I lost, but the idea is a sound one for any municipality that owns their own landfill.

  7. Chef, yes it is, and Audi will be soon as well. They use the same engines. The travesty is that the government limits the production of the TDI engine, so its not used as widely as it could be. I have customers really wanting the TDI Tiguan SUV. The V10 TDI twin turbo has been banned from import as well, about five years ago. That puppy put 650 ftlbs of torque to the wheels. A bit of overkill and a total pain to service. The 3.0 TDI is a bit more practical. They are also thinking of putting together a TDI hybrid in some SUVs, reaching over 35mpgs while towing through an 8 speed dual clutch DSG gearbox. BTW, TDI is short for turbocharged, direct injection and is applied to all VW/Audi diesels. Thanks for the interest folks, sorry to get so technical 😉

    • Not too technical at all… some of us follow you at least. 🙂

      PS – for those who live in the Atlanta area, owning a diesel also means you don’t have to worry about stopping by those pesky emissions test stations every year before being allowed to renew your tag. Diesels are exempt. 🙂

    • In my opinion, a technical training school would be a better alternative for most people looking to get into the automotive maintenance fields than a four year college degree. The degree certainly would come in handy if you’re designing the automotive systems, but it’s not going to really help in the day to day “here’s the bolts that you need to take out to get part X out” or “here’s the telltale signs that the blinker fluid is low or that the muffler bearings are about to go out”.

        • That was my assumption as well… I know ITT Tech and others have 2 year degree programs, but most conversations / debates that I see about the necessity of a college degree revolve around traditional 4 year programs that include chemistry, biology, etc. How often does frog dissection experience end up helping to disassemble the dash of a vehicle?

  8. David, read your link above, and I agree with most of it. I feel diesels are better becauuse they are cheaper and offer better performance. I think a Prius has a 0 to 60 time of around 18 seconds. Thats fine for the most part, but I have stuff to do.

    Also, battery replacement is going to hurt. How many tanks of gas is it going to take to go to work to repay that $7000 repair bill? Also, there are safety concerns with the high voltage lines running through the vehicle in regards to emergency extrication (jaws of life). Add in the harm to environment through the manufacture and disposal of those huge batteries, and I dont see much gain from the environmental end.

    One thing is for sure, all these alternative powerplants will need service from a dealer. If you let Skeeter from Junebug’s Auto Repair and Laundromat fix it, you get what you deserve…

    • Yep, and that’s where I favor diesels (as noted above)… particularly biodiesel, which I do buy – just not from backyard brewers. 🙂

      As for working on the powerplant itself, I have absolutely no intention of working on my own engine. I do some of my own oil changes, brakes, belts and various other parts – but that’s all dependent upon the vehicle, how much time it takes and how much free time I have versus how much time someone else will charge to do that same job. I very rarely take it to the dealership though. I don’t know about VW but the Ford, Toyota, Volvo and Lexus dealers prices on some of the easy general maintenance items can be rather overpriced.

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