Not every green car has batteries.
Natural gas is a low-emission fuel that’s been around for years, but it hasn’t exactly gone mainstream. Chevrolet obviously hopes that will change, because it’s adding a natural gas model to the 2015 Impala lineup.
Actually, the Impala will be a bi-fuel vehicle. It can run on natural gas, then switch over to gasoline to give it the range of a normal car. Think of it as a very gassy hybrid.
The Impala will have two fuel systems: one for compressed natural gas (CNG), one for gasoline; drivers can switch between them with the push of a button. Chevy says the car will have a total range of about 500 miles if both tanks are topped up.
Bi-fuel vehicles are popular with fleets; the ‘Big Three’ offer variants of their full-size pickups that run on both CNG and gasoline, and some aftermarket companies sell conversion kits. However, the 2015 Impala will be the first passenger car available for sale to individual customers from an OEM.
The only other CNG car on the market is the Honda Civic Natural Gas. According to Honda (pun intended) it gets up to 250 miles of range.
The Civic can’t switch over to gasoline, though, and that’s a problem for anyone hoping to travel long distances.
Like electric cars, CNG cars come with “range anxiety.”
There are less than 1,000 CNG filling stations in the United States, and even though many U.S. homes are heated by natural gas, there is no readily available high-speed, home-fueling system for CNG cars. Electric cars can at least be charged from home Level 2 charging stations or – in a pinch – a plain old wall socket. Home CNG fillers can take as long as eight hours for a full tank.
So why is GM bothering with a bi-fuel car, when it already has so much money sunk into the Chevy Volt, Spark EV, and other electric vehicles?
Let’s put it this way: it wasn’t a coincidence that GM CEO Dan Akerson chose to unveil the bi-fuel Impala on the 40th anniversary of the 1973 OPEC Oil Embargo.
“We know that U.S. energy security won’t come from a one-off moonshot,” Akerson said. “It will flow from our systematic investment in technology and innovation.” Virtually all of the natural gas used in future cars will come from domestic shale gas reserves.
The bi-fuel option will be offered on the 2015 Impala beginning next summer. Pricing has not been announced, but Chevy expects to deliver only a handful of copies in the first year.