LOS ANGELES - Soon, commuters who opt to drive
natural-gas-powered vehicles may be able to fill up every night at home
in their own garages - and leave gasoline stations behind.
Honda announced a joint marketing deal Thursday
to offer a new at-home refueling device in conjunction with sales of
its natural-gas-powered Civic GX compact car. The device plugs into the
car for the slow overnight fill-up, using a home's natural-gas
Honda will offer GX buyers a lease on the
refueling device. To start, the deal will be available through 17
dealers in smog-clogged California.
Honda expects about 300 GX buyers to lease the
device through those dealers this year. Depending on results, it may
expand the program. Honda has sold the GX only to fleet buyers before
this because of refueling issues.
The maker of the refueling system, Toronto-based
FuelMaker, also markets the device in Arizona, Texas and Utah for any
natural-gas vehicle. Honda has a less than 20% stake in FuelMaker.
The agreement "suggests at a time of high gas
prices and global-warming concerns that Honda is looking to stay on the
cutting edge," says John White of the Center for Energy Efficiency and
Honda sells about 1,000 GXs a year, but sales
growth has been hindered by limited places to fill up, says Gunnar
Lindstrom, senior manager of alternative-fuel vehicle sales for
American Honda Motor. Now, motorists "can start every day with a full
tank," he says. The cars have a range of up to 220 miles.
The sticker price of a GX is $21,760, about
$7,000 more than a gasoline-powered Civic with an automatic
transmission. However, Honda says the natural gas that the GX uses
lowers operating costs by up to half.
The car is eligible for federal rebates of
$2,000 and is authorized to travel in freeway carpool lanes in some
states, including California.
General Motors sells two natural-gas-powered pickups.
The FuelMaker device looks like an astronaut's
space pack hanging on a garage wall. It will be leased to commuters for
$79 a month, although local subsidies could cut the cost to as little
as $39 a month. Installation adds up to $1,500.
"Now with home fill, anyone can drive a natural-gas vehicle," FuelMaker CEO John Lyon says.
"It's really going to make natural-gas vehicles
take off," says Andrew Littlefair, CEO of Clean Energy, which operates
165 natural-gas fueling stations in North America.
He estimates there are up to 120,000 natural-gas vehicles in service. The vast majority are in government or corporate fleets.