Fiat & Chrysler Ditch Hybrid Cars in Favor of Natural Gas

By dancurranjr On December 5th, 2010

In the search for the next green car many automakers have pinned their hopes on hybrid technology. The combination of a gasoline engine and battery pack system has had the attention of car buyers with hybrids like Toyota’s Prius to Chevy’s new Volt. Fiat, however, is betting on natural gas to help them grab a part of the green car market in the US.

Fiat’s beef with hybrid cars is all about money. Instead of sinking a lot of cash into developing new technology like batteries, why not use their knowledge of cars powered by natural gas to crack the US market? After all, the US is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, the fuel is pretty cheap to produce, and it is cleaner than regular gasoline.

The Italian automaker has a long history of using liquefied natural gas (LNG) or compressed natural gas (CNG) to power their cars. Fiat has locked up 80% of the consumer based market in Europe by promoting the technology through flex-fuel type cars that operate via natural gas as well as gasoline.

While Fiat has hinted about adding natural gas engines to Chrysler’s current lineup, it seems that their latest move may be targeting the commercial market. 55% Of natural gas based light commercial vehicles in Europe are Fiats, a number that includes everyday transport vehicles like delivery vans or postal trucks. Instead of relying on the 1,300 natural gas stations in the US, these fleets could be managed through a single fueling point at a regional hub or central office.

LNG or CNG engines aren’t as dirt cheap as their gasoline cousins but they are still cheaper than the average hybrid motor. There’s only a $3,000 difference between the cost of a gasoline based car when compared to one powered by natural gas. Fiat estimates that the additional cost for a hybrid car is about $8,000.

Fiat and Chrysler don’t have solid plans yet to bring natural gas cars and trucks to the US, but they will soon join the natural gas vehicles association in Washington D.C. The duo may only be in the planning stages but they’ve hit on an important change in consumers; MPG is the new MPH. Corporations and everyday consumers are more concerned with the intrinsic value of their car rather than how fast it travels. Until there’s a strong infrastructure for EV’s, car buyers and fleet managers will be looking for affordable options rather than dealing with high gas prices.

SOURCE: TaintedGreen

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