Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday that she hopes soon to have a process in place that would allow states and local governments to pool orders for compressed natural gas vehicles and, in so doing, create enough demand to spur domestic production of CNG-powered cars and light trucks.
"All 50 states could take advantage of it," Fallin said. "We'd also like to include cities and counties -- even the tribes have shown some interest."
Fallin and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper met with the Big Three automaker executives in Detroit on Monday to talk about expanding the use of CNG vehicles by state and local governments.
Fallin said she was encouraged by the reception they received at all three but said major obstacles remain.
The biggest is that none of the American carmakers has a general-purpose CNG model in production.
Specifically, Fallin said, governments are looking for sedans and half-ton pickups. The engineering is difficult because CNG requires larger fuel tanks.
But the governor said the carmakers told her and Hickenlooper that if they can be guaranteed enough unit sales, they can justify the expense of converting production lines and models to CNG.
Thus, Oklahoma, Colorado and 11 other states are promising to order several thousand of the vehicles -- if Detroit can deliver.
Fallin said the group will issue requests for bids to the Big Three next week and hopes to open them in October.
If a deal can be reached, it could still be at least 18 months before deliveries begin, she said.
Just how many vehicles would have to be ordered -- and at what price -- remains to be seen. Fallin said automakers could require as few as 2,000 units or as many as 10,000.
CNG vehicles each cost about $10,000 more than comparable gasoline or diesel cars and trucks, but fuel costs are much less. Fallin said Tuesday that estimates she has seen indicate that the state could recover the cost differential in about two years.
Fallin touted Monday's meeting, and the possibility of a national consortium for buying CNG vehicles, as state governments working together while Congress remains deadlocked -- on energy policy and most everything else.
On Tuesday, coincidentally, a U.S. House subcommittee held a hearing on alternative fuels but spent very little time on CNG.
Rep. John Sullivan has tried for years to get a bill through Congress to promote the conversion of vehicles to natural gas but has run into opposition from a combination of oil and refining interests, competing alternative fuels and other opposition to the incentives in his legislation.
"The increased use of natural gas in our nation's transportation sector is in both our economic and national security interest," Sullivan said Tuesday. "Natural gas is not just American-made energy. It's Oklahoma-made energy.
"Running our vehicle fleets, trucks and buses on natural gas will save money for both consumers and businesses alike and will potentially create hundreds of thousands of jobs here in Oklahoma and across the country."
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