Detroit Automakers To Offer CNG-Capable Pickup Trucks

This week Chrysler Group and General Motors are announcing fleet-oriented pickup trucks that can run on natural gas, with Ford appearing like it may also follow.

Ford is still on the sidelines from offering a ready-built CNG truck, but has CNG-options already, and says it can when market demand indicates it needs to.

As for GM, it actually made the announcement today, and Chrysler – which is managed by CNG powerhouse Fiat SpA – is expected tomorrow to announce its first limited production bi-fuel Ram 2500.

A Chrysler representative credited its alliance with Fiat for getting a vehicle to market so quickly. It is to run on either gasoline or natural gas, is aimed at fleet operators and natural-gas explorers, and should begin production in June of at least 2,000 units.

Similarly, GM said it will offer bi-fuel Chrevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 pickups. These will be built as gasoline-powered vehicles at the company, but retrofitted by a third-party subcontractor with natural gas tanks and ancillary equipment, and backed by a full factory warranty.

“The bi-fuel Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra provide customers with choices in advanced propulsion technology, and because CNG is a clean-burning, domestically produced fuel, it has wide appeal, “said Ed Peper, general manager, GM Fleet and Commercial Operations. “The addition of a full-size bi-fuel pickup truck to GM’s fleet portfolio is another milestone in putting the customer first in everything we do – by offering great products, innovative solutions and a great customer experience.”

These developments follow a 2009 meeting between major automakers and the American Gas Association and America’s Natural Gas Alliance in which manufacturers were asked to build complete CNG-powered pickups.

As for Ford, no word yet on whether it has similar plans for a production CNG-capable pickup, but the Wall Street Journal notes that since 2009 the automaker has offered CNG prep kits for a half-dozen vehicles including the Transit Connect. Ford will reportedly offer its big F-650 pickup the CNG prep kit option in the third quarter this year.

A chief engineer for Ford commercial trucks said for now it is meeting needs by letting customers configure CNG on a case by case basis. He said also assuming that demand increases, the company will be open to building CNG vehicles at the factory.