Particularly when gas prices hit their steady pace in spring, rising to levels that trigger consumer hostility and frustration, attention turns to ‘alternate fuel’ vehicles and the significant gas savings we crave.

Consumer Reports offers a snapshot of the pros and cons of the current alternate fuel vehicles and it’s concise. Consumer Reports: Alternate fuel vehicle pros and cons But it doesn’t address how swiftly developments in public policy (i.e., CAFÉ requirements) and the private sector could rapidly change the cost-benefit analysis of any alternate fuel vehicle.

Take diesel for instance. The U.S. government confirms that diesel engines are more powerful and about 35% more fuel-efficient than similar-sized gasoline engines due to improved fuel injection and engine control technologies. And yet, diesel-powered vehicles make up only 3% of retail passenger vehicle sales in the U.S.

Why then, do you suppose that Andreas Sambal, the North American director of marketing for German supplier Bosch’s diesel systems division, told Time magazine that “By the end of the 2014 model-year there will be 40 diesels on the market and this will give consumers a lot more choice.”? And, by 2017, the number of diesel models sold in North America should be up to around 60, Bosch added.
• Will an unforeseeable reduction in domestic diesel prices make those vehicles more attractive to U.S. consumers?
• Will Elon Musk or anyone else develop a next-generation EV car battery that enables ‘re-charging’ as quickly as we refuel a gas-driven vehicle?
• Will U.S. energy policy assist the domestic energy boom and drive growth of natural gas vehicles?

While the questions outnumber the answers, it’s worthwhile to hear what Navigant Research, an energy research and consulting firm based in Boulder, CO, says about natural gas vehicles (NGVs). They say the abundance and availability of low-cost natural gas along with increasingly strict vehicle emission requirements will drive the dynamic growth of NGVs.
Right now, that growth is occurring in countries that already have robust markets for NGVs, such as India, China, Thailand and Brazil, and to a lesser extent, countries like the U.S. and Germany where they are still just a niche market.
Navigant Research projects that the total number of light-duty NGVs on roads worldwide will grow from 17.5 million in 2013 to 39.8 million in 2023. Even if that holds true, NGVs will account for just 2.6 % of all vehicles on the roads. Here’s their report:
Navigant Research: natural gas vehicles

Implied, of course, is that U.S. interest could grow exponentially, far beyond fleet purchasers to Main Street’s consumers, especially if the energy-rich regions containing natural gas are tapped to their potential. Until then, look for more Americans to be influenced by what they see in parts of Western Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific.

Will NGVs become the best way to go?