Feature: Which Green Car Is Right For You?

Feature: Which Green Car Is Right For You?

An Array of Choices Are Available

With environmental concerns and economic worries, many people have made the decision to buy green vehicles. Cars that are labeled “green” are either those that are environmentally friendly and provide less harm to the environment than similar internal combustion engine cars or those that use alternative fuels.

Purchasing and driving a green car provides a few benefits to both the driver and the environment. First of all, green cars leave a smaller carbon footprint on the environment by releasing fewer emissions. In addition to keeping the air cleaner, these vehicles also offer better gas efficiency, sometimes better than 40 miles per gallon, and a lower lifetime cost for the car. Although the initial purchase price may be higher for a green car, owners often receive government incentives, and the benefits of buying less gas make this car a more economical choice over time.

When choosing to purchase a green car, a new buyer must first evaluate his or her vehicle needs and budget to determine the best type of car. Next, a buyer should consider the vehicles with the highest green scores among cars and trucks that meet his or her requirements, taking into account fuel efficiency and emissions.

There are a few different categories of green vehicles that should be considered in any car purchase.

Clean Diesel Cars

2016 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon

2016 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon–a diesel option

A combination of cleaner, ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective emissions control, results in clean diesel cars that achieve nearly zero emissions. These vehicles typically burn less fuel overall, which means that the cost per mile of driving a clean diesel vehicle is lower than that of typical cars.

In addition to less fuel burned and lower gas costs, clean diesel is also responsible for fewer greenhouse emissions per mile in comparison to normal gas-powered cars. This distinction is important because many modern diesel engines are currently under intense scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governing bodies after Volkswagen was found to have cheated federal emissions tests since 2009.

Additional “green” diesel options are renewable diesel fuel and biodiesel, which offer a renewable and clean-burning replacement fuel for traditional diesel. Most diesel engines can run on these bio-based diesel fuels with little modifications needed, although buyers should note that biodiesel cannot be used other than in low blends (5 to 20 percent) in most modern diesel vehicles. Renewable diesel, because it meets the same specification as petroleum diesel, can be run at higher blends.

Although clean diesel and bio-based diesel vehicles are more expensive than traditional gas-powered vehicles, their total cost of ownership is usually lower. They offer their owners the possibility to drive many highway miles thanks to their excellent gas mileage and torque.

Natural Gas Cars

Natural gas vehicles run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is mostly methane stored at high pressure. It is generally considered that they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than

Enough power from either fuel

The last CNG standing

most cars with traditional engines. However, buyers should note that since methane is a high GHG pollutant, this potentially negates the tailpipe emissions benefits of CNG when upstream emissions are considered.

While many consider natural gas vehicles to be greener and better for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles, they face several obstacles that make them less popular. There are very few natural car options for consumers to choose. Natural gas is mostly used to power work trucks, while the only car model currently available is bi-fuel Chevy Impala. Much of this market stagnation is because fuel is difficult to find, and the vehicles do not always perform the same as those using traditional gasoline.

In addition, some drivers see using such natural gas as fuel as unethical due to the use of fracking to obtain the fuel. When hydraulic rigs pump water and chemicals down into an oil or gas well, high pressure is created that forms cracks in the rock protecting the underground oil or gas. Once those rocks are cracked open, the resources can be recovered more easily. The process itself has caused controversy because it has led to horizontal drilling rather than vertical, putting water sources and areas sitting on top of these horizontal lines at risk. Because of this unsafe practice, some eco-conscious consumers are opposed to using natural gas vehicles.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)

2016 Toyota,Mirai FCEV, hydrogen, electric car

A car for the future–the Toyota Mirai

A type of vehicle that relies on a fuel cell system rather than a traditional engine is known as a fuel cell vehicle (FCV). These vehicles use a combination of hydrogen and oxygen to power an electric motor. Because FCV technology is still relatively new in its automotive applications, there are currently only a few vehicle models available for purchase, and they are only available in limited areas where a fueling infrastructure is available.

Like other electric vehicles, these have no smog or greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions; however, there may be pollutant emissions that come from the process of producing and transporting hydrogen fuel to the vehicle. It does not take long to fill a hydrogen vehicle, but the new technology has not yet resulted in many public hydrogen filling stations, making the use of this type of car difficult at this time.

Hybrid Cars

Hybrid cars developed as a nice fuel combination for those who are interested in improving a vehicle’s environmental impact while also having the ease of a traditional car. Hybrids contain both a gas engine and an electric motor, and usually the vehicle’s system chooses which is used at which time to propel the car.

2016,Toyota Prius,mpg,fuel economy,handling

The poster child of hybrids–the Toyota Prius

Because of their ability to use electricity, hybrids are able to cut fuel consumption in comparison to many of their gasoline-only competitors. The use of electricity also means that pollution and emissions can be reduced.

Whereas hybrids were once seen as a cutting-edge vehicle option, purchasing a hybrid today is a relatively conservative choice. The longer time on the market has made hybrid cars reliable. They essentially work like a traditional car, so most mechanical issues have been resolved and many mechanics know how to repair them. There are no major lifestyle changes necessary in order to purchase or drive a hybrid vehicle.

The initial purchase price of a hybrid car can be more expensive than a gas-only vehicle because of the more sophisticated technology involved. While these cars can pay for themselves in time based on the number of miles the buyer drives, some may never fully recoup the purchase price. However, hybrids are an excellent choice for people who want a simple, well-established green car with few lifestyle changes.

Plug-In Hybrids

A plug-in hybrid car usually uses both the gas and electric motor to turn its wheels, either at different times or together. The electric motor uses rechargeable batteries that can be plugged in to

2017 Chevrolet Volt

The Chevy Volt is the best-known plug-in hybrid

recharge. This method of powering the vehicle allows the car to run for many miles efficiently and inexpensively until the batteries are run down. At that point, the driver has the option to refuel at a gas station if necessary to continue driving.

Many of the same issues that plague electric cars hinder the popularity of plug-in hybrids as well. Although the number of plug-in hybrid vehicles is constantly growing, there are currently only few of these vehicles available. This makes it difficult to shop for and purchase one, and tax incentives are at a lower rate than for pure electric cars. The initial purchase price of a plug-in hybrid is typically lower than that of an electric car because the battery pack is somewhat smaller. These are nice vehicles for car owners who are not ready for an electric car, but who are interested in a green alternative.

Electric Cars

2016, Nissan Leaf,EV, design,styling

Nissan’s Leaf has led the way in affordable pure electrics

Electric cars run purely on electric motors, or more specifically on electricity stored in their rechargeable batteries or another energy storage option.
As with many green vehicles, there are some financial incentives for purchasing an electric car. Depending on how far the car is driven daily, it may only need to be plugged in and charged at home each night. In that case owners might need 240-volt charging equipment to keep the vehicle ready to drive daily. With fewer moving parts than gas cars, servicing an electric car is usually more affordable.

Buyers should keep in mind that electric cars are more expensive than gas-powered cars, and that there are not that many recharging stations available nationwide. However, their appeal will certainly increase over time as supportive infrastructure for electric cars increases and prices come down. At this time, electric vehicles are best suited for buyers who are committed to making an environmental difference and to dealing with the driving and charging limitations.

Conclusion

The choice of which green car to buy really comes down to the preferences and the lifestyle of the buyer. Deep-green buyers who want zero emissions should choose an electric car charged with solar electricity or some other type of low-carbon power source, such as hydroelectric or wind power. Light-green buyers may be more interested in gas-only vehicles that get high miles-per-gallon gas mileage using new technologies like advanced transmissions, improved aerodynamics and turbochargers.

Although many of these alternative energy cars began as niche products, interest in them has expanded quickly due to federal emissions regulations and policies, as well as an overall awareness of the need to protect the environment from damaging vehicle emissions. As more car buyers continue to turn to green choices, more environmentally friendly designs and productions will become necessary from the automakers.

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Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel

Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel

Two Fuels Power Chevrolet’s Full-Size sedan

“Alternative fuel” usually means electricity, biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel or even (erroneously) gasoline-powered hybrid-electric vehicles. However, one plentiful, inexpensive and clean fuel is underutilized—compressed natural gas or CNG. Honda produced a Civic powered by CNG starting in 1998, but dropped it last year. So, if you are looking for this technology in a passenger car, the 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel is for you. Chevrolet produces the only sedan in North America to run on unleaded gasoline and compressed natural gas, continuing what Chevrolet says, “demonstrates their commitment and leadership in energy diversity.”

Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels on a lifecycle basis according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and it is abundant. With recent advances in hydraulic fracturing technologies—

2016,Chevrolet,Impala,Chevy, Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas

The warning

more commonly known as fracking—and advances in capturing methane gas from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline (GGE) runs 30–40 percent less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products in the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.

The 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel we were driving looks exactly like the gasoline powered Impala except for the federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive, six-speed automatic Impala Bi-Fuel is powered by a DOHC 3.6L V6 with variable valve timing. The horsepower and torque depend on which fuel is being used: gasoline puts out 260 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque while CNG delivers 230 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But in the case of the Impala Bi-fuel, the reduced CNG numbers were not an issue as the oompf under both fuels was more than adequate for all types of driving conditions. The Impala is available with two other gasoline-only engines, a 2.5L inline four-cylinder putting out 196 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque while the 3.6L V6 hits those numbers at 305 and 264.

2016 Chevrolet,Impala Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas,alterantive fuel

Enough power from either fuel

Chevrolet says, that according to federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the 2016 Impala Bi-fuel has a natural gas range of 119 miles and a gasoline range of 368 miles for a total range of 487 miles. Chevrolet estimates the natural gas range to be about 150 miles of city driving and to hit 500 city miles combined. Interesting variables that usually do not come into play when refueling with gasoline or diesel is that the actual driving range can vary based upon ambient temperature and current pressure available at the CNG refueling station.

The Impala Bi-fuel primarily runs on CNG and, when the tank is depleted, it switches to gasoline. However, there is a button on the dash where either fuel can be selected and used as the driver chooses. Since a car is least efficient in city driving with multiple stops and starts, I opted for the less expensive CNG and then went to gasoline mode for highway driving.

Driving Impressions: On the Road

The Impala LT Bi-Fuel comes with 18-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric variable-effort power steering, power-assisted front disc and drum rear ABS brakes,

2016 Chevrolet, chevy Impala,Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas

Big, but not dumb

MacPherson independent strut front and multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bars at both ends. As expected of any car that weighs 4,175 lbs., the Impala Bi-fuel is smooth on the highway and pretty much obliterates all road irregularities, making long drives a pleasure. Keeping in mind the weight and size of the car, I was pleased that hard cornering was flat and confident without any feeling of insecurity. The Impala actually felt nimble around town. Don’t be fooled initially that the Impala’s size should lead to parking challenges as the rearview camera and rear parking assist sensors erased any preconceived challenges.

The fore-mentioned electric variable-effort power steering was accurate and not too light or dumbed-down to feel the road. I managed a few weight transfer corners through the twisties on a local mountain road, so all-in-all the Impala was a surprisingly good handling car—relatively speaking, of course.

Driving Impressions: Interior

Finding a comfortable position was easy with the perforated-leather power adjustable driver’s (and passenger) seat and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The large dash has sweeping lines with LED ambient lighting emitting a cool, soft blue color to offset the black interior. The 60/40 rear seat folds flat and can accommodate three adults with good head and legroom, however two passengers with the fold down armrest with cup holders is a more optimal seating arrangement. The folded-down rear seat does not pass-through to the trunk as the CNG tank is located between the cabin and the trunk. The CNG tank also takes storage space away from the trunk, which without the tank would be quite generous. This then raises the question of having a large car that can carry five adults but has reduced trunk space that cannot handle five passenger’s luggage.

2016, Chevy Impala,Chevrolet Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas

Inside tech abounds

Standard equipment on the highly optioned 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-Fuel includes heated and ventilated eight-way power front seats, driver-side seat memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, center console armrest with storage, 120-volt power outlets, power door locks, exterior rearview mirrors and windows, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio, voice activation and cruise controls.

A part of the center stack, the six-speaker sound system delivered clear, crisp bass and treble tones for the AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA playback, HD Radio, Apple CarPlay, USB ports and SiriusXM, that comes with three months complimentary service. The center point for all this is the eight-inch color touchscreen display that runs Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system and includes navigation, voice recognition and hands-free Bluetooth for telephone and audio streaming. It’s a good system, but we felt the touchscreen command reactions were a bit slow. Clean Fleet Report gives the infotainment system a passing grade since it featured the convenience and safety of on/off volume and channel selector knobs.

You also get OnStar and 4G LTE for Wi-Fi, (three-month, three-gigabyte data trial) that turns your car into a hotspot. A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a

016,Chevrolet,Chevy Impala,Bi-fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas, natural gas

Two fuels-two gauges

friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM has been the industry leader and the program is well worth renewing after the introductory service plan expires.

Driving Impressions: Exterior

The look of the 2016 Impala is contemporary and attractive with a low stance and sculpted sides that suggests a vehicle in motion. Up front there are low-profile projector beam headlamps that sweep around the corners of a wide grille. Out back the short deck lid is framed by LED tail lamps and finished off by dual chrome exhaust tips.

Safety

2016, Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel,CNG,alt fuel

The tank shrinks the trunk, but it’s safe

None of this comfort and styling is worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2016 Impala comes with 10 airbags, ABS with four-wheel disc brakes and electronic brake force distribution, hill start assist, forward collision and rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure, side blind zone warning with lane change alert, electronic stability control and all-speed traction control.

In crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2015 Impala (which is identical to the 2016 Impala reviewed here) received five stars for overall crash protection while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Impala its top rating of “Good.”

The Fueling Process

The Impala Bi-Fuel will be sold and serviced by nearly all of the 3,200 Chevrolet dealers in the United States and Canada, and is available for commercial, fleet and consumers. Your Chevrolet dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these http://www.afdc.energy.gov/locator/stations/ and http://cleanenergyfuels.com/ or downloading this app http://www.cngnow.com/app/Pages/information.aspx for iPhone or Android. After logging-on you simply enter a zip code and local stations appear on a map.

Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the

2016 Chevrolet, Impala Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas,alternative fuel,alt fuel,natural gas

Finding fuel can change your route

pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once, you will be a seasoned pro.

A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them are located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway-close. They can be buried among storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more consumer-oriented CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers, the fueling locations will be more for local commercial traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.

For those in California, the Impala Bi-Fuel automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the carpool lane with just the driver.

Pricing and Warranties

The 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-Fuel has a MSRP of $40,510 with Clean Fleet Report’s coming in at $41,800. Prices do not include the $825 Destination Charge.

The 2016 Impala LT Bi-Fuel warranties include:

  • Bumper-to-Bumper – Three-year/36,000-mile
  • Powertrain – Five-year/100,000-mile
  • Roadside Assistance – Two-year/25,000-mile
  • Factory Scheduled Service – Two-year/24,000-mile
  • Rust-through Perforation – Six-year/100,000-mile

Observations: 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-fuel

The 2016 Chevrolet Impala competes in the full-size class against such cars as the Chrysler 300C, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Azera and the Kia Cadenza. All are known for spacious interiors, the ability to carry five adults and having large trunks. At least one of them even come as a 40-mpg hybrid. But only Chevrolet offers a full-size sedan with a CNG option.

2016 Chevrolet,Chevy Impala Bi-Fuel,CNG,compressed natural gas

The reason for a big sedan

Your driving style is what will determine if the Impala Bi-fuel makes sense over the Impala with the four- or six-cylinder gas-only engines, as they will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 less. A big factor is the cost of CNG, which currently is 30-40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. If you drive a lot of CNG miles, then the numbers might work in your favor.

So where do you fit in as a future Impala Bi-Fuel owner? If your lifestyle requires a large sedan to transport adults in style and comfort, as opposed to a SUV, CUV or even one of the many midsize cars that almost equal the full-size class cars in interior space, then the 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel just might be sitting in your garage real soon.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

 

Natural Gas Vehicles: A Viable Solution or Just Another Pipe Dream?

Natural Gas Vehicles: A Viable Solution or Just Another Pipe Dream?

A Look at One of the Alternatives To Petroleum

An alternative to petroleum-based fuel is urgently needed to address climate change concerns, so the search is on for a car that is not only environmentally friendly, but also something that can be easily adapted into our everyday routines. One alternative of increasingly interest, which has led to a few instances of fleets making a switch, is NGVs or natural gas vehicles.

For those unfamiliar with this technology, the vehicle in question can run on compressed natural gas (which is methane stored at high pressure) or liquified natural gas (which is usually methane in a liquid form). Originally, natural gas can come either from the same places where oil deposits are found in nature or it can come in the form of biogas (or renewable natural gas), which is created from landfills and wastewater. It’s stored like any other gas in cylinders and can be transported through dedicated pipelines.

cng tank,storage,trade-offs

Tanks A Lot (of room)

The reason why NGVs are becoming so appealing is that not only is natural gas a plentiful resource that we can produce domestically, but it is also a much cleaner burning fuel. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (via Consumer Reports), CNG can reduce carbon-monoxide emissions by 90-97% and nitrogen-oxide emissions by 35-60% when compared with gasoline. However, CNG’s aren’t completely environmentally friendly, and there is much controversy surrounding how it’s widely obtained; through hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”), which can result in upstream emissions of methane if done incorrectly. The Department of Energy cites the Argonne National Library’s GREET model as stating that while natural gas does emit 6-11% less greenhouse gases than gasoline during it’s fuel life cycle, those emissions it does release are widely the result of production-phase fuel leakage. It’s also worth noting that while it may release less GHG’s than gasoline, it takes more natural gas to do the same job as gasoline because it’s less energy dense than gas. What this means is that if you were to purchase a NGV you’d have to have a bigger tank in your car and have to refill it more often than a traditional gasoline fueled car. However, the GREET model also shows that CNG’s produce around 20-45% less smog-producing pollutants and about 5-9% less greenhouse gas than gasoline powered vehicles, though recent studies are challenging the GHG reductions (though those findings are challenged in the latest California Air Resources Board analysis in its LCFS CA-GREET 2.0 model for measuring the carbon intensities of various fuels.

So, how exactly do NGVs stack up to electric vehicles? Let’s defer to a recent study from MIT, which stated that: “While both EVs and NGVs have significant infrastructure requirements, there are major differences in their relative efficiencies. An NGV does not have comparable efficiency gains relative to electrification via natural gas generation. In general, 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, converted to electricity, yields 457 miles in an EV. This same 1,000 cf in an NGV would only have a range of around 224 miles.”

However, an article by Forbes contradicts this saying that a “four-door CNG taxi with a tank that can hold the equivalent of 15 gallons of fuel can get close to 300 miles on a tank. 200 miles is easy. Most mid-range and economy-level EVs like the Nissan Leaf get almost 100 miles on a charge.” At this point these contradicting studies could be the result of different methods of research or using different vehicles from each other. (Ed. Note: some of the confusion is comparing apples and oranges, in this case relative energy efficiencies with real-world functionality.)

Another strike against natural gas is the lack of infrastructure, high cost of storage, and lack of availability here in the U.S. While traditional gas stations are abundant, NGV fueling stations are few and far between due to the general lack

honda,civic, natural gas,cng,badge

A Badge of Honor

of demand with the DOE showing only 746 in the continental United States. Also, chances are if you do find a NGV fueling station, it’s only available to fleets belonging to companies like AT&T and UPS who use NGV’s.

However, there are companies and municipalities advocating for CNG. Honda is building a CNG gas station in Columbia, Ohio, in concert with Columbia Gas of Ohio, and some states have decided to use CNG to fuel their mass transit fleets. The Sun Tran transit line in Tucson, Arizona is fueled exclusively by CNG, and many transit agencies and other entities in the state of California has been using CNG powered buses also.

The bottom line with CNG vehicles appears to be this: We’ve got a ways to go before it becomes a truly viable option for all consumers. At this phase, while CNGs can be seen as better for the environment in some aspects, their lack of availability in the United States, paired with the shortage of public fueling stations makes them generally an impossibility for those who aren’t willing to the costly trouble of installing a home fueling station. Also, for consumers (other than fleet customers) there is only one model available, the compact Honda Civic. However, based on the dropping cost of natural gas, it’s potential to boost the American economy, and a growing concern for environmental health, it’s likely that CNG’s will pick up steam sooner rather than later. Right now they may not be the most viable option for the average person, but it’s something that we could see become commonplace in the future.

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Natural Gas

ROAD TEST: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas

ROAD TEST: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas

Different in a good way.

When looking at alternative fuel vehicles, hybrid, electric and diesel are the most common options based on sales and choice. One other fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG) doesn’t get much attention, probably because there is only one mass-produced CNG-fueled car on the market–the 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas. So if Honda alone believes in this technology for passenger cars, what are they seeing that their competitors aren’t and what is the future for CNG?

Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all petroleum-based fuels and it is abundant. Drive by any oil drilling rig or petroleum refinery and you will see it being burned off. With recent advances in technologies for hydraulic

Honda,Civic,CNG,natural gas,road test,nat gas,

So much the same, but different

fracturing–more commonly referred to as fracking–and capturing of gasses from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline runs 30% – 40% less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products into the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.

So if natural gas is plentiful, less expensive to purchase and burns cleaner than gasoline and diesel, does owning one make sense for your lifestyle and driving patterns?

The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we were driving looks pretty much like the gasoline powered Civic except for the Federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid. When driving the Civic CNG, it feels the same as its siblings except for less power.

Drivetrain

The front-wheel drive, five-speed automatic Civic CNG is rated at 27 City/38 Highway with a combined 31 MPGe. The “e” is for “equivalent,” which means you are not using a gallon of liquid fuel like gasoline. The EPA has figured out how much energy is in a gallon of gas and how far it will take you–that’s MPG. So MPGe is how far you can go with the amount of CNG that has the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. In CNG’s case it takes 126 cubic feet of CNG to equal the energy of a gallon of gas–and that will take you 31 miles. Add in the amount of CNG you can store in the Honda’s tank (the equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline since it’s compressed at 3600 psi) and you end up with a range of about 190 miles. There is also an Eco button to maximize your fuel economy.

Powering the Civic CNG is a 16-valve, 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder aluminum alloy engine. It puts out 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque while the gasoline version brings 130 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 22 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But maybe the trade-off for fuel economy and cost are worth it, especially if you aren’t a hot rodder.

Honda,Civic,CNG,natural gas,alt fuel

Strikingly Familar But Different

Driving Impression

The Civic CNG comes with 15-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, power-assisted front disc and rear drum ABS brakes, MacPherson strut independent front and multi-link rear suspension, with stabilizer bars at both ends. The Civic rides comfortably but could have more steering feel. You will feel freeway bumps and hear road noise, and, while the Civic CNG is not a sports sedan or to be considered an enthusiast vehicle, it handles corners well.

The Civic CNG has smooth acceleration, but as previously noted, it is not fast off the line. With patience, it cruises right along at freeway speeds.

Interior

Finding a comfortable seating position with the manual adjustable driver’s seat and tilt and telescoping steering wheel was easy. The front bucket/rear bench seats (with a flat rear floor) can accommodate four adults with good head and leg room and the glass area provided an open, airy feeling with good visibility. Standard equipment includes A/C, power door locks and windows and cruise control.

The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas we drove came with the 5-inch LCD color touchscreen, Honda navigation system with voice recognition, rearview camera and a database of available CNG refueling stations. The four-speaker sound system has XM and Pandora, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth audio and phone hands-free link, SMS test messaging, USB interface and MP3/Auxiliary input jacks.

None of the goodies are worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2013 Civic CNG I was driving had six airbags, ABS with front-wheel disc brakes, power door mirrors, Vehicle Stability Assist, rearview color camera,

honda,CNG,natural gas,Civic,

A different hose – not too much pressure

tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) and side-impact door beams with front and rear crumple zones. The Civic is rated at four stars for frontal driver and passenger front impacts and five star for front side driver and passenger and rear passenger impacts.

 

Honda,Civic,CNG,natural gas,trunk

The trunk’s not half of what it used to be

There are two areas the CNG version compromises the long-range driving comfort and its capabilities compared to the gasoline version. To accommodate the CNG tank, the trunk has been reduced to being able to carry two small suitcases and, because of the tank, the rear seats do not fold flat nor is there a pass through for long items.

Exterior

The look of the Civic CNG is contemporary and holds its own within the compact car category. Up front there is an attractive black honeycomb grill, lower air dam with a stylishly placed chrome accent piece with wrap-around clear lens headlights and cornering lights. In back the rear bumper has an upswept design with a low access for the trunk opening.

The Fueling Process

Your Honda dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these:

Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once you will be a seasoned pro.

A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them will be located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway close. They can be buried amongst storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers the fueling locations will be more for local traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.

A final fueling note: compressed natural gas is more sensitive to temperatures than the gasoline or diesel we’re all used to. Experienced CNG users will tell you the fillups you get on a cool morning compared to a hot afternoon can vary significantly with the cooler temperatures resulting in a more complete fill. Similarly, fast-fill facilities that can refuel a CNG car in roughly the same time as a gas or diesel one, tend to provide a less complete fill than slow-fill operations. 

Pricing & Warranties

The 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas NV I was driving was fully optioned with a MSRP of $28,755, which included a $790 Destination Charge.

For those in California, the Civic CNG automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the Carpool lane even with just the driver. If you haven’t heard the stories, people buy the Civic CNG just for this benefit.

The 2013 Civic CNG NV warranties include:

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Done under pressure & looking like the competition

 

• 3 Year/36,000 miles: New-Vehicle

• 5 Year/60,000 miles: Powertrain

• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Accessories

• 1 Year: Replacement Honda Genuine Parts

• 3 Year/36,000 miles: Honda Genuine Remanufactured Parts

• 5-Year/Unlimited mile: Corrosion

 

 

Observations: 2013 Honda Civic Natural Gas

The Honda Civic has been part of the United States driving scene since 1973 with more than 8.8 million sold; the natural gas version joined the fray in 1998. Honda owners are famously loyal to the brand with many of them thinking owning anything other than a Honda to be unthinkable. If you are in the market for a Civic, there are several models to chose from in a fairly broad price range. Here is a quick look at three base Civic models:

Civic LX lists at $18,165 and gets 28/36/31 (City/Freeway/Combined mpg)

Civic Hybrid lists at $24,360 and gets 44/44/44

Civic CNG lists at $26,465 and gets 27/38/31

Since you can get a gasoline-powered Civic that gets comparable fuel economy for $8,000 less than the CNG version and the Hybrid for $2,000 less that gets considerably better fuel economy, why would you consider the Civic CNG?

Two big reasons: The cost of CNG is 30 – 40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. And if you live in California, the car gets you into the carpool lane with a single driver, which is no small thing in the Golden State!

So where do you fit in as a future Civic CNG owner? Since the Civic CNG has a range of under 200 miles and has limited storage space, this car should be high on your shopping list if the majority of your driving is the in-town or freeway commuting type. The result is a car that will work well for you.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

The Future of CNG Vehicles (By Michael Coates)

With natural gas pump prices cheap and everyone from T. Boone Pickens to President Obama talking up the use of American energy, you might think that CNG-powered passenger cars would be a hot topic among automakers. After all, it’s not exotic technology; many car companies have natural gas models marketed around the world. But it’s not happening in the U.S. for now and lacking any major government push (such as the current one behind electric and plug-in vehicles), it appears they will continue to be a small niche. It is unlikely, even if other automakers market models to compete with the Civic, that this segment will achieve numbers that would warrant much attention. The Civic, after all these years on the market sells only a couple thousand natural gas versions with a good number of those going to government fleets.

The number of CNG offerings for fleets have increased extensively in recent years as government incentives (for vehicle purchase and infrastructure development) and low fuel prices have pushed fleets to consider

Honda,Civic,CNG,natural gas

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natural gas pickups and vans. These work for the same reason many alternatives to gasoline or diesel do – the duty cycle or daily drive of the vehicle fits the limited fueling infrastructure and needs of the owner.

One arena where natural appears to be making some inroads is in medium- and heavy-duty trucks – the large trucks you see hauling loads in town and out on the highway. In recent years natural gas engines have increased in size and horsepower and have become a true alternative to the traditional diesel engine. But even with exponential growth, natural gas trucks still only comprise a few percentage points of the total new truck market in these sectors. All of the major truck makers offer natural gas-powered models and some specific applications, such as refuse trucks, are racking up some impressive sales numbers.

One issue that is just beginning to play out could spell the future – positively or negatively – for natural gas, and that is the ultimate environmental tally on fracking. As noted above, the technique of hydraulic fracturing has helped produce the abundant and cheap domestic natural gas. However, several environmental groups have started to raise alarms about the global warming gases emitted as part of the fracking process and have questioned the overall benefit of using natural gas in vehicles (using it to create electricity or heat homes lends itself to a different environmental conclusion). Recent government and academic studies have questioned the environmental and health impacts of fracking and found that it may be best to proceed cautiously.   

Competitor Vehicles

The Civic CNG’s closest rivals are the Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the Toyota Prius c and the Chevrolet Cruze Eco.

Words & Photos By John Faulkner

Posted March 1, 2014

Related stories you might want to check out:

Volkswagen Jetta TDI & Hybrid

Toyota Prius c Test Drive

Chevy Cruze Diesel Road Test

Smart EV Wins Best Eco Car Award

Smart EV Wins Best Eco Car Award

Small but top of the list

Small Cars Lead List of Greenest Automobiles.

Maybe it’s the time of year. We’ve got Olympics competition and all of the medals and ranking of athletes and countries that goes with that. We’ve got the Academy Awards and all of those statuettes. So it makes sense that this is the awards season for automobiles as well. Magazines hand out their “Best of” trophies and multitudinous “Top 10” lists. We’ve been guilty of that as well.

So, recognizing that the value of a Top 10 list may be in direct proportion to its focus, we’d like to present the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s Top 10 Greenest Cars and throw in some explanation and commentary. Let’s start with the list:

  1. Smart ForTwo ED – pure electric – two-seat minicar
  2. Toyota Prius c – hybrid – subcompact
  3. Nissan Leaf – pure electric – compact
  4. Toyota Prius – hybrid

    toyota-prius-plug-in-price drop

    Toyotas dominate the Eco list

  5. Honda Civic Hybrid – hybrid – compact
  6. Lexus CT 200h – hybrid – compact
  7. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid – plug-in hybrid –
  8. Mitsubishi Mirage – gasoline – compact
  9. Honda Civic Natural Gas – natural gas – compact
  10. Honda Insight – hybrid – compact

Bubbling just below the list were the conventional Smart ForTwo and the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Our colleague Jim Motavelli of Plugincars.com did some digging into the criteria used to rank the “greenness” of the cars. He found that the weight of a vehicle was a big factor in the non-profit group’s “complex” formula along with manufacturing-related emissions.  The ACEEE’s summary of their methodology is explained this way:

“We analyze automakers’ test results for fuel economy and emissions as reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, along with other specifications reported by automakers. We estimate pollution from vehicle manufacturing, from the production and distribution of fuel and from vehicle tailpipes. We count air pollution, such as fine particles, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other pollutants according to the health problems caused by each pollutant. We then factor in greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) and combine the emissions estimates into a Green Score that runs on a scale from 0 to 100. The top vehicle this year scores a 59, the average is 37 and the worst gas-guzzlers score around 17.”

As you can see by the scores, it’s a tough test and no one does that well. ACEEE is 30-plus-year-old nonprofit organization that is very serious about promoting energy efficiency. But I see as the subtext of the ACEEE’s approach a negative view of the private automobile. What kind of ranking has the best  contestants scoring 60 percent? The curve with these guys starts low and goes down from there. Cars are bad, but some are worse than others.

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Eco trucks should also be on the list

Our approach at Clean Fleet Report is a little more accommodating. We believe people need a variety of different vehicles for different uses and different situations. Yes, vehicles have negative environmental impacts, but so do most other activities. We should be aware of them and do our best to minimize or mitigate them, but activity cannot stop because of a heavy vehicle or fuel economy that doesn’t reach Prius levels. We know that full-size pickup trucks are unlikely to ever reach Prius-level MPG; that’s basic physics. They can get better and we’re reporting on that regularly because you should be able to choose the best vehicle for the job.

Not that ACEEE doesn’t also make a nod toward the different uses of vehicles, breaking out the best vehicles by class in their list, but I’m afraid being told the best vehicle in a class scored a 35 out of a possible 100 is not exactly a ringing endorsement – nor does it make anyone who values these ratings a likely buyer.

For my money, I think  you need to do what we do here at Clean Fleet Report, evaluate vehicles in the real world and show their capabilities and deficiencies, with a heavy weight given to environmentally positive attributes. But putting a two-seat, 8-foot-long Smart on the same list as a full-size half-ton pickup doesn’t give the reader very valuable information.

Photos by Michael Coates and the manufacturers

Posted Feb. 23, 2014

Related article you might enjoy:

Pickups Pick Up MPG

My Top 10 Cars & Trucks for 2014

Top 10 Fuel Economy Cars for 2014