Compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles don't get quite as much attention as flashier battery electrics, fuel cell cars and plug-in hybrids, but they are a compelling alternative-fuel option that is available right now. They become even more compelling when they offer dual fuel capabilities. Ford has equipped the 2014 F-150 with such capabilities, calling it the only half-ton pickup truck of its kind.
The F-150, which will launch in the fall (Northern Hemisphere), becomes Ford's eighth vehicle to offer dual-fuel CNG/liquid gas capabilities for buyers that choose the gaseous-fuel prep option on the 3.7-liter V6 engine. The option equips the truck to run on both liquified petroleum gasoline and compressed natural gas through separate fueling systems, using hardware that includes hardened valves, valve seats, pistons and rings.
While the factory-installed prep option only costs US$315, buyers wishing to use CNG are just getting started. They need to have the fuel tank, lines and injectors installed by a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier, a process that Ford estimates will run between $7,500 and $9,500, depending upon fuel tank capacity.
In the dealer lot, compressed natural gas vehicles don't look that impressive when compared to other options because their fuel economies are not that much different from gas vehicles. For instance, the 1.8-liter Honda Civic Natural Gas's fuel economy is 31 mpg (7.6 L/100km) combined, which is actually 1 mpg lower than the 1.8-liter gas version (with automatic transmission).
Where CNG vehicles excel, however, is in emissions. According to Fueleconomy.gov, CNG vehicles emit between 20 and 45 percent less smog-producing pollutants. While they don't get as far as other other green vehicles per tank, compressed natural gas is cheaper than liquid gasoline. Ford's press release puts the average cost of CNG at $2.11 per gasoline-equivalent gallon and states it can be found as low as $1 per gas-equivalent gallon in parts of the United States. This graph shows its fluctuation over the past 13 years in comparison to other fuels.
The $8,000 F-150 CNG buy-in may add a lot to the F-150's price, but the dual-fuel capabilities can provide a lot of flexibility and money savings in the long run. Drivers can take advantage of CNG's cheaper prices but still have the option of fueling up at more widely available gas stations. The Alternative Fuels Data Center's online station locator comes up with about 600 CNG stations in the United States, a tiny fraction of the more than 160,000 gas stations in the country.
"Businesses and fleet customers have been asking Ford to make F-150 available with CNG capability to take advantage of the fuel's low price and clean emissions," says Jon Coleman, Ford fleet sustainability and technology manager. "With the money saved using CNG, customers could start to see payback on their investment in as little as 24 to 36 months."
Ford projects that it will sell 15,000 LPG/CNG dual-fuel vehicles this year, which is 25 percent more than last year.
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