Natural Gas Pickups: Driving Surprisingly Far on a Tank

In the 1990s amid all the activi­ties surrounding electric vehicles, there were natural gas vehicles (NGVs) being sold by automakers, pri­marily pickups and vans aimed at fleets. It was a good start for natural gas.

Unfortunately, the changing whims of federal regulations and alternative fuel implementation saw these well-executed light-duty trucks fall by the wayside, leaving only Honda in the factory-pro­duced NGV market with its natural gas Honda Civic sedan.

Now that’s changing. Ford, GM, and Ram Truck have new natural gas vehicle offerings that are better than ever. Plus, major independent companies are ret­rofitting new fully-certified pickup and van models to natural gas in increasing numbers. Clean Energy Fuels subsidiary BAF, for example, recently completed its 20,000th NGV conversion.

Ford has developed F-250 and F-350 trucks equipped with the Westport WiNG Power System. These Super Duty pickup trucks feature this advanced, integrated, bi-fuel system on Ford’s 6.2 liter V-8 gasoline engine so it can oper­ate on either CNG or gasoline.

What’s really surprising is the natural gas range of these pickups. Behind-the-wheel experience with a bi-fuel Super Duty pickup has achieved a natural gas driving range greater than 300 miles with an expected total driv­ing range of 650 miles on both CNG and gasoline.

General Motors has been offering Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana CNG cargo vans with its Vortec 6.0-liter V-8 engines modified to operate on CNG only. It has now added dual-fuel CNG Chevrolet Silverado HD and GMC Sierra 2500 HD commercial pickup trucks to its natural gas choices for fleets and consumers.

Priced $11,000 above the base vehicle, the GM pickups’ CNG and gasoline tanks have a com­bined range of 650 miles. The bi-fuel pickups use a CNG dual-fuel delivery and storage system developed and installed by supplier IMPCO.

Dodge Truck builds its new Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG pickup on the assem­bly line rather than having the final stages of conversion completed off-site by a contracted converter. The pickup is powered by a specially modified 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 that runs on natural gas by default and then automatically switches over to gasoline when the on-board CNG supply is exhausted.

The bi-fuel Ram pickup  incorporates two compressed natural gas storage tanks and an eight gallon fuel tank for gaso­line, providing a combined 367 mile driv­ing range. This formerly fleet-only vehi­cle is now being sold to retail customers.

This is all good news. Natural gas vehicles offer reduced CO2 and tail­pipe emissions, achieve fuel efficiency nearly identical to gasoline counter­parts, and use a domestic fuel that can cost a third less per gallon-of-gasoline equivalent.