A version of Ford Motor Co.'s popular F-150 pickup truck can be prepped
to run on natural gas as well as gasoline for the 2014 model year, a move the
automaker says it's making in response to customer demand.
The option, available only on the truck's 3.7-liter V-6 engine, uses special pistons and other components to accommodate compressed natural gas (CNG) and propane, which provide less engine lubrication than gasoline. That option adds an estimated $315 to the sticker price.
But it costs another $7,500 to $9,500 for an approved third party to install the tank, fuel lines and special injectors required to run on natural gas, Ford says.
Ford, General Motors and Chrysler have offered CNG options on larger trucks and utility vehicles before, but this is the first half-ton pickup with the modifications.
John Coleman, Ford's fleet sustainability and technology manager, said customers have asked for the option to take advantage of lower-priced fuel. CNG sells for the equivalent of $2.11 a gallon, he said, and a user driving 30,000 miles a year could recoup the added upfront costs in two to three years.
Coleman said the automaker expects fleet operators to be the biggest buyers. He said the F-150's EPA fuel efficiency rating is the same, 23 miles per gallon, with either gasoline or natural gas.
Natural gas producers have backed such a move as a way to boost demand for the fuel, currently in abundant supply. And many have put their money where their mouth is by using the vehicles themselves.
For example, Fort Worth-based producer Range Resources recently purchased factory-equipped bi-fuel vehicles made by General Motors and Chrysler, said spokesman Matt Pitzarella. He said their introduction to the corporate fleet has been "seamless" and employees enjoy "knowing that they're using CNG."
Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America's Natural Gas Alliance, an industry group, said "we're happy to have another option for light vehicles" that can use natural gas.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center, about 112,000 U.S. vehicles are powered by natural gas, and about 14.8 million worldwide. Its web site, www.afdc.energy.gov, lists more than a dozen light-duty vehicles, nearly all trucks, sold in the United States that can run on natural gas.
The AFDC lists 69 CNG fueling stations in Texas, including more than a dozen in North Texas. Several of those are restricted to a single user, but in Tarrant County AFCD lists public stations in north Fort Worth, Arlington, and two locations at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport rent car facilities.
Ford says it expects to sell more than 15,000 CNG-prepped vehicles in 2013.
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