General Motors’ German division, Opel, is experimenting with a new fuel for its midsize Insignia. The company will sell a version of the Insignia powered by liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). This car really is powered by gas, and should offer European motorists a cheaper alternative to straight gasoline.
The Insignia, which is related to the U.S.-market Buick Regal, is powered by a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Called LPG ecoFLEX, the engine is a modified version of the four-banger offered in conventional Insignias. It has strengthened valves and valve seat inserts, along with a reprogrammed engine control unit to handle LPG.
The Insignia LPG makes 140 horsepower, and comes with a six-speed manual transmission. Like the regular Insignia, the Insignia LPG will be offered as a sedan, hatchback, or “Sports Tourer” station wagon.
The fuel system is where things get complicated, because the Insignia LPG can run on either petroleum gas or gasoline. The car sacrifices its spare tire for a 42-gallon LPG tank; the conventional fuel tank remains. The Insignia has a range of 310 miles on LPG, and can drive up to 1,050 miles on both LPG and a full tank of gasoline.
Drivers can switch between gasoline and LPG with a switch on the dashboard, and both fuels are displayed on the same gauge.
LPG is a relatively unknown fuel in the U.S., but that is not the case in Europe. The Insignia LPG may be less efficient than its gasoline-powered sibling, but LPG is much cheaper than gasoline. In Europe, a liter of LPG costs about 0.70 euros, while a liter of gasoline costs around 1.53 euros. In Germany, drivers also get a tax break if they fill up with LPG.
Unlike Americans who try to fill their cars with biodiesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), or electricity, Insignia LPG owners shouldn’t have a problem finding a place to refuel. There are 35,000 stations across Europe that sell LPG.
LPG is synthesized during the refinement of other petroleum products like crude oil. Since its boiling point is below room temperature, it is kept under pressure so it remains liquefied. Although it is derived from fossil fuels, LPG is thought to burn cleaner, producing fewer greenhouse gases. Opel says the Insignia LPG emits 24 g/km of CO2.
Opel already makes LPG versions of its smaller Corsa, Meriva, and Astra models. The bigger Insginia will probably top them in price; it starts at 28,150 euros, or about $34,950.