With the average price of gasoline at $3.80, some residents of Utah are filling up their cars with compressed natural gas (CNG) at only 87 cents a gallon which has understandably caused a surge in demand for vehicles running on CNG in the state. Demand for compressed natural gas, according to the NYT – is so strong at some fueling stations, that some days people are able to only pump half a tank.
Many drivers in Utah, with the state experiencing a broad consumer interest in the idea of running cars on natural gas, are now trying to get their hands on natural gas vehicles, including used ones – as the cost savings have gotten their attention. This has prompted orders for Honda’s Civic GX, (the only compressed natural gas car sold in the U.S. after Ford discontinued its model in 2005) to experience a boom.
Order numbers are coming in at ten to fifteen a day, which has caused the wait to get a new Civic GX to be pushed out to November. According to estimates by Questar – the number available of natural gas vehicles in Utah is at 6,000 and growing by several hundred a month.
Ron Brown, notes the NYT – a Honda salesman for the Utah Civic GX, said that “he had a pile of 330 deposit slips in his office, each designating a customer waiting months for a new car”. Clearly, with so much demand now in Utah for CNG-ready vehicles ; Honda can’t make them fast enough.
Utah’s Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. also seems to have been infected by the CNG bug. He spend $12,000 out of his own money to convert his state-issued Chevy Suburban to run on natural gas. (conversions to CNG run between $12K to $15K with up to $10K in tax credits)
“We can create a model that others can look to,” Huntsman said in an interview. “Every state in America can make this a reality.”
However, the biggest obstacle to broader acceptance of natural gas vehicles is the limited availability of only 1,500 natural gas refueling stations nationwide.
Utah, has a total of 91 CNG filling stations, with 71 of them reserved for commercial fleet use, and only 20 open to the public. Based on the rapid number increase of CNG vehicles on the Utah roads, from almost zero several years ago to 6,000 presently. The question remains – whether or not the existing infrastructure will be able to keep up with an already overwhelmed refueling network.