Does 31 mpg Really Equal 102 mpg?

When you write an editorial the world may forgive you for fuzzy math to make a point in favor of compressed natural gas over hybrid and electric vehicles.

At least that may be the assumption made by the blog post published by Automotive News today simply headlined:

“The 102 mpg Honda Civic”

Sure grabs your attention, doesn’t it? Yes, and that’s the point.

So how did everyone miss the announcement of an internal combustion Civic that returns 102 mpg? They didn’t but that’s why it took a blog post to explain the present cost differential in favor of compressed natural gas over gasoline.

Actually, the 2012 Civic Natural Gas is rated by the EPA at 27 city/38 highway and 31 combined miles per gallon equivalent, but we can’t let facts get in the way of a good point can we?

In any case, the post touts that and other perceived advantages of the limited-availability Civic Natural Gas, while taking a poke at other green cars.

“Every automaker is hyping fuel economy numbers on their electric or hybrid vehicles, some more fast and loose than others,” wrote the West Coast editor for Automotive News. “So I figure I have some leeway when I say I got 102 miles per gallon from a 2012 Honda Civic. Before you fire up your snarky e-mail blasts, let me explain the math, and hope you understand that my calculations are truly based in reality.”

What is the “reality?”

After praising ease of installing fuel, negligible emissions, solo HOV lane access in California, and respectable performance offered by the Civic CNG, the writer says filling up about a half of its tank cost about the same as one gallon of premium gas in Southern California, or about $4.63.

“Imagine my surprise when all it took to fill the half-empty tank was pocket change of $4.63. That’s the cost of one gallon of super unleaded gasoline in these parts,” he wrote. “So, instead of looking at the Civic CNG in terms of miles per gallon, I equated it to miles per dollar. I got 102 miles of driving from the same amount of money I would have spent on a gallon of gas. To me, that makes 102 miles per gallon.”

Sort of makes sense right? And best of all, the opinion piece says, “the Civic CNG is not some outrageously priced techno-wonder only available to the 1 percent. Its sticker price, with destination charges, is $27,095. With a range of 220 miles, and plenty of places to fill up, there’s no range anxiety like you get with electric vehicles. Plus you still get access to the carpool lane. And to silence your neighborhood jingoist, it’s made in Indiana.”

Points taken, but is this a pitch really made for those in favor of the 99 percent? What’s more, hybrids like the Prius c start at around $19,000, EVs like the Nissan Leaf start at around $35,000 before subsidies, and they offer unique value propositions in their own right.

The safety of fracking may be a settled question for some, but try telling that to these folks stationed outside AQUA PA in Bryn Mawr, an affluent neighborhood in suburban Philadelphia.

Also in question is the environmental debate over hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” which will be needed to continue natural gas supplies ad infinitum. Further is the question as to what would happen if the market did switch over to natural gas – would prices for this minority fuel remain as low as they are? Maybe. And maybe not.

To be fair, similar observations have been made about the price of electricity if/when a game-changing battery comes along and a majority switch to powering their vehicles via electricity.

But that’s if hydrogen power does not take over, right?

Or … Oh, never mind. We’ll cut this short saying lots of questions remain. Points could be made in a number of directions.

We’ll say only that it’s at least clear the immediately apparent value proposition offered by CNG is prompting some to cheer it on, and some – particularly in the commercial transportation segment – to switch over.

What do you think? Will you be taking a closer look at the $27,095 “102 mpg Honda Civic?”

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  • FamilyGuy

    I like what Van says as well. Expect for the way to measure the cost of driving per mile for the plug-ins. I like the simple approach of start at full (both the battery and the gas), drive until you’re out of fuel and see how far you’ve gone. How much did it cost to charge the battery and fill up the tank and figure out how much it cost you to go per mile. Simple. Each car gets their own numbers this way. Of course your number will change based upon your commute and charging frequency. However, this is really no different than how the way that you drive effects your overall MPG in an ICE car.

  • Max Reid

    Miles / $ basis is fine, but Honda has priced the vehicle so high, so that no one can buy it. In Brazil, Tri fuel vehicles that can run on Gasolene, Ethanol & CNG costs only $1,000 more than regular vehicle.

    Automotive news is biased against Hybrids & EVs, now they know that Tesla is launching Model S with 300 mile range, they want to divert the attention by using Honda Civic CNG.

    Taxis in cities were using Transit Connect CNG and it makes sense since that vehicle has huge cargo space and also they drive 200-300 miles / day.

  • Jeff Wishart

    Miles per dollar is ok, but that means that you can’t compare vehicles from countries (like Canada) that use the same EPA drive cycles but have different currencies. The metric that the EPA uses of miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (mpgge) eliminates this concern and is thus a much better comparison tool.

  • John K.

    When, oh when, will Honda or Toyota offer a CNG hybrid??? Skip the large battery pack needed for plug-in — the CNG tank takes up enough room already. Just stick in a small Li-ion pack for a CNG Prius or CNG Honda Civic. I’d LOVE a CNG Honda CR-Z — sporty yet econ friendly!

  • David Mott

    Lets see……we can burn natural gas to boil water to drive a turbine to generate electricity then transmit that electricity over miles of the power grid to then finally charge a battery……..or we could burn the natural gas directly to propel the vehicle. Which has a lower entropic value?

    The hybrid/EV chorus out there is filled with a bunch of disingenous zealots. Baaa baaa say the sheeple

  • Van

    If I recall, a combined cycle natural gas fueled generating station approaches a thermal efficiency of about 45%, whereas the ICE on a Civic approaches 28% thermal efficiency.

    Now there are losses in the transmission of electricity, but natural gas does not flow into the Civic, wherever it may be parked, for free. Lots of folks think generating the electricity outside of the LA basin, and driving electrically in the basin would save lives from the reduction of health hazards. Tangential arguments can be concocted on both sides, but is truth well served?

    Miles per dollar cuts through all the disingenuous arguments and simply compares cost of operation.