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:

Honda,civic,CNG,natural gas,refueling

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

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The badge of access

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

Company Turns Trees Into Gasoline Replacement

Company Turns Trees Into Gasoline Replacement

cellulosic ethanol,ZeaChem,RFS2,alternative fuel

Flex-fuel Jeep at ZeaChem plant

Update: March 12. ZeaChem announced today that it is now producing commercial-grade cellulosic chemicals and ethanol at its Oregon plant.

The goal is to replace the petroleum that powers 96% of our vehicles with something more environmentally friendly, preferably produced domestically and renewable. To that end California has awarded $4.6 million to ZeaChem Inc. of Lakewood, Colorado, and Menlo Park, California, to build a pilot plant to push along the process to develop an advanced replacement for gasoline using woody biomass and agricultural residue.

Most of the ethanol currently in use comes from corn, which works just fine in most engines in low blends and actually provides a higher octane (though it has less energy as it takes a gallon and a half of ethanol to equal the energy of a gallon of gasoline). But corn ethanol, while functional and widely used in E10 blends around the country, doesn’t meet the sustainability criteria set out by some governments or environmental organizations, hence the push for solutions such as the one offered by ZeaChem. Working with a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, ZeaChem aims to develop a “drop-in” biofuels that could replace not only gasoline, but diesel and jet fuel. The company expects to have diesel and jet fuel replacements ready this year while the gasoline replacement (a step beyond cellulosic ethanol) are due in 2015.

“With our process we have a 90% CO2 reduction compared to fossil fuels,” said Robert Walsh, Chief Commercial Officer at ZeaChem. The company’s patented fermentation process, currently in use in a 250,000 gallon-per-year demonstration plant in Oregon, takes local trees grown specifically for this purpose and converts them into cellulose-based acetic acid, ethyl acetate, ethanol, jet fuel and diesel. They can also use residue from sawmills and other cellulosic material leftover from agricultural crops. With less inputs for fertilizer and water than corn or other crops, the ZeaChem process strikes the right environmental balance for a petroleum replacement fuel.

ZeaChem has been funded by venture companies along with some investment by at least one oil company. They use a patented process that takes biomass (ZeaChem prefers hybrid poplar trees such as the ones growing adjacent to its Oregon plant or fast-growing eucalyptus trees as a feedstock for plants in the southern hemisphere) through a process of fermentation, esterification and hydrogenation.  The result is 135 gallons of ethanol from each ton (bone dry ton in their parlance) of biomass, a yield up to 40 times what can be pulled from corn, sugarcane and other cellulosic feedstocks.

Ethanol isn’t the only product ZeaChem can produce; its process can produce acetic acid and ethylene vinyl used in paints, coatings and consumer goods, cellulosic acetate used in adhesives, ethyl acetate for solvents, ethylene for plastics and ethylene glycol that’s used in polyester. If anything, all of these other potential uses for their output create a pull away from fuel production since the returns for other chemicals are higher than that offered in transportation fuels.

cellulosic ethanol,ZeaChem,alternative fuels

Harvesting poplar trees for conversion to ethanol

Those other products may be critical to the company’s survival as the costs of cellulosic ethanol production remains high and the biggest challenge in this portion of the renewable fuels industry appears to be finding financing for production facilities. After financing hurdles, ethanol producers also face high feedstock costs and declining gasoline demand, creating negative margins that have idled many traditional ethanol plants and slowed cellulosic development.

But, as Walsh explains it, ZeaChem is committed to fuel production for the long term. They have support from government loans and incentives that prop up prices from the national renewable fuels standard (RFS2) and California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.  They and a handful of other companies such as Poet-DSM, DuPont and Abengoa Bioenergy,  are on the leading edge of cellulosic ethanol production.  Walsh said ZeaChem expects to be at commercial scale (25 million gallons per year) for fuel production within a couple years and will follow with other chemical  products soon after.  They’ve already signed a memorandum of understanding with Chrysler outlining the two companies mutual goals of bringing cellulosic ethanol into vehicles consumers can buy, so expect to see some future Chrysler product getting a factory fill of ethanol, something like what the company did in supplying B5 (5% biodiesel) from the factory with its Jeep Liberty vehicles in the mid-2000s. Since liquid fuels are going to used in hundreds of millions of vehicles for decades, it’s a move that can’t come too soon.

Top 10 Worst Traffic Cities; They Need Congestion-Pricing/Zero Emission Travel

Top 10 Worst Traffic Cities; They Need Congestion-Pricing/Zero Emission Travel

Traffic Congestion Here’s Top 10 list you don’t want your city to be on, but it could have a silver lining if you’re looking at a zero emissions or near-zero emissions car. The researchers at Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) compiled their annual ranking of the worst cities in the U.S. in which to try to drive somewhere. This study year (2011) they also added another metric to those of extra time expended, added cost and wasted fuel – CO2 emissions added by congestion. Their list of the worst major cities in which to drive contains most of the usual suspects:

1.   Washington D.C.

2.   Los Angeles (tie)

2.    San Francisco-Oakland (tie)

4.   New York-Newark

5.   Boston

6.   Houston

7.   Atlanta

8.   Chicago

9.   Philadelphia

10.  Seattle

The “good” news, if you can call it that, is that this year’s congestion measurements found about the same level of traffic frustration as last year, although the improving economy is expected to put that in the rear view mirror when 2012’s numbers come out.   The other bad news is the statistical significance of the difference in time spent idling in these cities is relatively little. And quite a few cities are just bubbling under the Top 10, including Miami, Dallas, Detroit, Nashville, Denver, Las Vegas and Portland. In other words, it’s slow-going out there. As TTI said in their press release announcing the report, “As traffic congestion continues to worsen, the time required for a given trip becomes more unpredictable.”   Some cities are likely to seize on this report as a rationale to attempt to mitigate congestion and the attendant human and financial cost by introducing special zones designed to limit congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. London did so several years ago and several other cities have followed suit. In London, since 2003, extra fees have been charged to drive into the downtown area, with exemptions for low or zero-emission vehicles. The charge has resulted in lighter traffic and reduced pollution while it has also raised revenue for the city.   These “Top 10” cities are the most likely to attempt similar measures with similar goals, which could put owners of zero or near-zero emission vehicles at an advantage. Typically, they would escape any fees and/or be allowed to drive in zones that would otherwise limit traffic. It’s a logical extension of the perks extended to plug-in vehicles – some cities and states allow free parking, solo driver access to carpool lanes as well as financial incentives. Published Feb. 23, 2013

Your Money – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

Your Money – Save Gas, Save The Planet Excerpt

By John Addison

Excerpt from the Prologue of Save Gas, Save the Planet: John Addison’s book about hybrid and electric cars, pathways to low carbon driving, and the future of sustainable transportation. © 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.

Your Money

Your vehicle is your second biggest expense. You spend the most on your home, which can be a good investment; a car can only be a big expense. Save Gas, Save the Planet is full of ways to save money and use less gasoline. People share tips and stories about how they save by riding smart, riding less, riding together, and riding clean.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile.The IRS allows you to deduct 55 cents per mile for business. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, insurance, and tickets add up. Most households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year. New cars are expensive. Save Gas, Save the Planet will help you decide on the best choice for you. Electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and new fuels are explained including your choices today and by the end of 2010. Yes, better technology will help solve the problems of oil addiction and increased greenhouse gases. However, we are forecasted to expand from 800 million cars being driven to triple that amount. 2.4 billion cars trapped in gridlock are not the solution, even if they all run on renewable electricity.

Most do not need to rush into a new car decision. Millions are cutting car use by more often riding together and driving less. Many people are reducing the total number of vehicles they own. More are switching to transit and car-sharing programs. A growing number enjoy living car-free.

Save Gas, Save the Planet will help you lower your transportation costs. Save 2,000 miles per year by skipping rides, or sharing rides, and you save $1,000 per year. In the United States, people drive alone 93 percent of the time. Eliminating a few solo trips quickly adds up.

We drive 2.7 trillion miles per year in the United States, consuming 142 billion gallons of gasoline. In addition to the petroleum used to make that gasoline, a similar quantity of petroleum is used to produce the diesel demanded by heavy-duty vehicles, jet fuel for airplanes, special fuels for the military, and even for the asphalt that carries our vehicles.

We have more than 240 million vehicles in the United States; there are more vehicles than eligible drivers. The number of miles Americans drive has tripled in the past 50 years.

In addition to personally saving thousands, you can help the nation save billions. The United States government estimates that congestion created from commuting to and from work causes 3.7 billion hours of lost productivity annually, costing 92 million work-weeks and the nation $63 billion in wasted time and fuel. People stuck in traffic breathe harmful emissions such as particulates, nitrous oxide, and carbon monoxide. The health costs resulting from these pollutants are in the billions. In addition, by the time people get to work, they are stressed and less productive. We are spending more time on the road, stuck in traffic, burning fuel, and emitting pollutants. Instead, we can be intelligent about how we get around, work, shop, connect with others, and save money.

Visit Amazon for free look inside or discount on paperback and kindle ebook.

© 2009 John Addison. All rights reserved.