Dreaming about CNG Kits
- “Can I get a CNG Kit for my car?”
- “Do you have a CNG kit for my car?”
- “I want to convert my car to CNG how much will it cost?”
- “I want to put a 30 gallon CNG tank in my truck how much will that cost?”
These are the type of questions I get all the time concerning CNG Conversions. Let’s look at a few facts concerning CNG Conversions in the United States, then we may be able to answer a few of these questions above intelligently.
Worldwide, there are more than 15,000,000 Natural Gas Vehicles. Pakistan is the leader in growth and numbers with 2,300,000 vehicles. Argentina is second with 1,807,186 as of 2009. (1) The United States only has a puny 110,000 natural gas vehicles. In fact, in recent years the growth of Natural Gas vehicles in the United States has been negative: -0.1%.
The United States is ranked 14th out of 84 countries in total number of natural gas vehicles with Bangladesh above us at 10th with 177,555 NG vehicles. The United States has approximately 254,400,000 vehicles on the road. That means that 0.07% of the vehicles in the United States are Natural Gas. That is seven tenths of a percent.
Worldwide Regional growth of Natural Gas Vehicles is as follows:
Worldwide past 9 years 27.5% increase
Asia-Pacific past 9 years 51% increase
Europe past 9 years 15.8% increase
North America Past 9 years -0.1% decrease
Latin America Past 9 years 23.5% increase
Africa Past 9 years 19.2 increase
A Brief U.S. CNG Conversion History
Starting in 1994, CNG OEM vehicle manufacturers began to grow in the US. This was due to the Clean Air Act (CAA) with its regulations, tax incentives and rebates. This growth peaked in 2002 with 19 U.S. OEM vehicle manufacturers participating in producing and retrofitting NG vehicles. This activity virtually died by late 2006, leaving only 1 OEM left: the Honda GX. This ‘death’ in NGV growth can be blamed on over regulation and the linkage between EPA Certified vehicles and tax incentives and rebates which stunted the aftermarket conversion industry.
This growth, then death, proves two things:
- When there is a need, there are CNG system and parts manufacturing companies that are willing to fill that need with products, and
- When an industry becomes unprofitable due to over-regulation — or the gasoline-natural gas price differential is insufficient to payback the conversion cost — those same manufacturing companies will take their products elsewhere.
Gasoline prices as an incentive
Between 2005 and 2007, the price of gasoline nationwide fluctuated between a low of $2.11 gallon to a high of $3.11 in May of 2007. It then went down to $2.70 by October of that year and then started its 8-month climb to a high of $4.19 by June of 2008. After this historical peak, it then dropped like a rock to $1.39 by December 2008. Since then, it has slowly climbed back up to $3.75 as of April 2011.
CNG fuel prices as an incentive
CNG fuel price histories are harder to find so I will rely on my own (faulty) memory. When I started looking into CNG conversions in 2008, the price of CNG here in Utah was $0.68 a GGE (gasoline gallon equivalent). It seems like at that same time Oklahoma also had low CNG prices also. In Utah, we had the advantage of having some CNG refueling infrastructure already in place. Those areas that had low CNG prices, along with the filling stations already in place, became hotbeds of conversion activity during the first part of 2008.
These conversion activities led to CNG conversion shops opening and CNG systems being imported. Just as a few systems started to become available the price of gasoline fell (as stated above) and the budding interest in CNG conversions dropped off.
The death knell for the after-market non-EPA CNG installers in Utah was the ill-advised inclusion of the requirement that all CNG vehicles must have an EPA certified system in order to pass the yearly Utah Highway Patrol safety inspection.
This rule presupposed 2 misconceptions:
- An EPA certified CNG system would always conform to NFPA 52 safety standards.
- That any CNG conversion can be certified by the EPA
Both of these statements are blatantly false.
If this rule stayed in place 1000’s of CNG vehicle owners in Utah would suddenly lose the privilege of driving their vehicles.
UHP safety inspections are universal in Utah. This January 2009 law change was later challenged in court ruled invalid, but the damage to the interested-public’s understanding was already done.
It has been suggested that this ill-advised rule was due to over-zealous local news coverage and false rumors spread by certain conversion shops threatened by their new aftermarket competition.
Misconceptions about CNG Conversions
Some of the biggest problems CNG Converters and would-be CNG Conversion customers face is a false conception that CNG Kits are readily available here in the United States and that there is already a kit available that is tailor made for their specific vehicle.
There is also a false notion that installing a CNG kit is similar to bolting on a performance accessory. These notions couldn’t be farther from the truth.
While a CNG Conversion is not an engine overhaul in some ways it is more complicated.
In the United States today there are no aftermarket CNG kits that are specific to one type of vehicle that are available to the general public.
There are EPA-Certified CNG systems that are designed for some specific new vehicles but these systems are only sold to their installers.
All aftermarket CNG Conversions (other than EPA-Certified) are ‘universal’ meaning they must be adapted to each specific vehicle. This takes time and money. Non-EPA-Certified CNG systems are not eligible for tax credits or incentives.
What does happen is that each aftermarket CNG system is custom made to each vehicle and the knowledge of tuning and bracket configuration, tank placement and custom tuning stays in the mind of that installer.
New EPA AFV regulations and their effect on CNG Conversions
Many have touted the new EPA regulations as a boon in CNG converting. To some this may be the green light they need to move forward and convert but all of the problems stated above will still exist.
It is not up to our government to move CNG conversions forward. On the other hand there are things they could do to help.
I have read their new AFV regulations many times and I still have questions. (Insert mechanical legalese here.)
For those looking to others to solve their problems it will be a long time coming.
For us who have already gone forward and started converting our customers are reaping the benefit of lower fuel and maintenance costs.
For some there will always be roadblocks, for others there will always be CNG superhighways.