GM To Bet On Natural Gas With Bi-Fuel Impala

Today General Motors CEO Dan Akerson announced its 2015 Chevrolet Impala to go on sale next summer will be offered with bi-fuel capability.

Fleet and retail customers will have their choice of filling up with ordinary gasoline or compressed natural gas (CNG) and range would be 350 miles on gas, and/or 150 miles on CNG.

The move follows inroads already taken with bi-fuel trucks by Detroit automakers, and as question marks hover over GM as to its degree of dedication to electrification, it appears poised to put a new pony in the race that can “capitalize on plentiful clean, domestic natural gas.”

Thus far, GM is the only automaker to offer a full-sized bi-fuel sedan, and Akerson announced the 2015 Impala during remarks at an energy summit marking the 40th anniversary of the OPEC Oil Embargo.

Click image to enlarge.

Click image to enlarge.

Titled “OPEC Oil Embargo + 40: A National Summit on Energy Security,” the summit at which GM announced the U.S. sourced fuel burner was sponsored by Securing America’s Future Energy, or SAFE.

There the non-partisan group afforded Akerson opportunity to address political, business and military leaders as they assessed America’s oil dependence since the 1973 oil embargo

“We know that U.S. energy security won’t come from a one-off moonshot,” Akerson said. “It will flow from our systematic investment in technology and innovation… our drive to get more from existing energy sources and renewables… our commitment to conservation… and it will be assured by fully and safely exploiting our shale gas reserves.”

Akerson’s choice of words is curious as the Chevy Volt was called a “moonshot” and to date, with the exception of the pricey Cadillac ELR, its technology remains one-off, with no variants known pending at any price, let alone the average new car price.

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In any case, in a statement, GM cited the California Air Resources Board as offering support for its choice of natural gas.

“Natural gas is a cleaner-burning transportation fuel compared to petroleum products, and costs significantly less than gasoline at current prices,” said GM. “CNG vehicles typically have 20 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline-powered cars.”

The California Air Resources Board also happens to be the biggest driving force for battery powered and fuel cell electric vehicles, but this was a day its statements were used to champion natural gas.

Akerson also told the audience that beyond advanced technologies and alternative fuels, energy security will require partnerships between energy companies, utilities, environmental groups, labor unions, universities and manufacturers.

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On this front, he said GM is working closely with 14 of America’s largest unions and environmental groups through the Blue-Green Alliance, and has relationships with regulators that are “more constructive than ever.”

“Akerson also reiterated a call he made earlier this year for the Administration and Congress to create a new, consumer-driven national energy policy from a position of strength and abundance,” said GM in its statement.

GM says it intends to save 12 billion gallons of gasoline from being burned in its 2011 to 2017 model year vehicles.

This amount, GM says, will offset almost one year of Persian Gulf crude oil imports. To accomplish this, GM touted technologies including lighter materials to reduce vehicle mass, alternative fuels, clean diesel and electrification.

And not to be forgotten, its electrification efforts GM noted as well.

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“In addition to the Chevrolet Volt, Chevrolet Spark EV and the upcoming Cadillac ELR, GM is introducing start-stop technology standard on the 2014 Chevrolet Malibu helping the midsize sedan achieve 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway, and using electrification to boost fuel economy in the Buick Regal and LaCrosse sedans, which both get EPA-estimated 36 mpg hwy.”

In fact, beyond the nationally sold Volt, its advanced electrified Spark is sold in only Oregon and California and the Cadillac ELR GM has said will be a very limited seller too.

The competitiveness of its Malibu and Buicks also will remain to be seen compared to full hybrids such as offered by Toyota, Honda and Ford.

It’s a conservative effort that does appear to be moving forward.

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Automotive News reported Akerson said GM aims to sell most of the dual-fuel Impalas to government and commercial fleets.

Akerson said initially it will be slow take-off, and if GM can sell 750 or 1,000 units in model year 2015, this would be a “home run.”

No price was announced for the bi-fuel Impala, but regular models start at around $27,700. A Honda Civic designed to burn natural gas costs several thousands over a regulr one, and a Ford F-150 designed as a bi-fuel goes for $7,500 to $9,500 more than a non-CNG version, plus $315 to prepare the engine.