Toyota To Show CNG-Powered Hybrid Concept

As we recently reported, efforts to promote compressed natural gas as a transportation fuel is gaining momentum—thanks mainly to Texas energy baron T. Boone Pickens and his plan to make CNG vehicles a critical part of a national oil independence strategy. Yesterday, Toyota hopped on the CNG bandwagon when the company said it will unveil a CNG-powered Camry Hybrid concept vehicle at the Los Angeles International Auto show this November.

The chances of the CNG Camry moving forward are unknown—but not very likely. Currently, Honda’s Civic GX is the only mass-produced CNG vehicle available today. Honda is planning to double its production to 2,000 units for 2009.

“With the combination of plentiful long-term supplies in North America, improved and more efficient recovery methods, favorable pricing and clean-burn, low emissions characteristics, CNG has become a prime energy source for the future,” said Irv Miller, Toyota group vice president, corporate communications.

Toyota introduced a CNG vehicle in the form of a conventional four-cylinder Camry in the late 1990s, but discovered that consumers disliked its shorter driving range and limited cargo capacity due to the large fuel tanks taking up trunk space—as well as a lack of access to CNG refueling stations. The concept CNG Camry Hybrid will give Toyota a chance to gauge consumer response during the current era of high gas prices and widespread interest in reducing dependency to foreign oil.

There are approximately 1,000 natural gas fueling stations in the US today, compared to about 180,000 gasoline filling stations.

The gasoline-electric Camry Hybrid, the second most popular hybrid in 2008, offers 33 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. Using natural gas instead of gasoline would reduce the vehicle’s carbon footprint—but it’s uncertain how significant the reduction would be. “It’s hard to say exactly how much better the fuel economy will be when you combine natural gas and hybrid technology into the same equation,” said Bruce Yokum, an engineer with Chesapeake Energy, a leading US natural gas producer, in an interview with “It’s a two-pronged approach.”

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  • jvoelcker

    I think it’s highly unlikely that Toyota would put a CNG engine into a Camry Hybrid. I suspect it’ll be one or the other.

    Remember, the gasoline engine in a Toyota hybrid uses the Atkinson Cycle–meaning essentially that it’s tuned for almost zero low-end torque and exceptionally efficient high-end power. The car’s scoots on the low end are provided by the electric system.

    Getting a CNG engine to replicate THAT power curve likely wouldn’t be worth the development money. I can see a limited-volume CNG Camry, but otherwise equivalent to the standard model.

  • Dom

    Large CNG tank plus the battery pack would mean ZERO trunk space!!

    The diesel nay-sayers always mention fuel availability problems (which isn’t really true anymore), but it looks CNG actually does have that problem right now.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Don’t forget that you can fuel a CNG vehicle at home and, in California, at least, you can drive solo in the carpool lanes.
    Also, you may be jumping to conclusions too quickly to prove your point. There is no reason to believe that you have to give up your trunk space. It is, of course, possible to replace the gasoline tank with a CNG tank and put the batteries somewhere besides the trunk as well.
    It all depends on how much vehicle integration Toyota wants to do.
    The problem I see with CNG is that it is just another fossil fuel that will run out eventually, especially if we start using it for mass market transportation.
    If we are going to use natural gas for transportation, it should be burned in an efficient combined-cycle co-generation power plant to produce electricity for the grid, then we should use it in plug-in vehicles.
    If the plug-in vehicle is a plug-in hybrid, my preference, of course, is that it be a serial hybrid with a diesel ICE.

  • Charles

    Part of the Pickens plan is to use CNG as a bridge fuel, until we get to biofuels. I am not sure about this part of his plan, but it is not fair to say we are just converting to another fossil fuel for the long term.

    I think the money sent of CNG conversion would be better spent for better MPG, but at least it is a plan.

  • chukcha

    ex-EV1 driver, I agree with you 110%.

  • Dom

    ex-EV1 driver – maybe I am “jumping to conclusions” but at least in the Camry’s case, it makes sense to me. One of the main complains I’ve read on the hybrid Camry is the battery significantly reduces the amount of available trunk space. Then in quoting the above article:

    “Toyota introduced a CNG vehicle in the form of a conventional four-cylinder Camry in the late 1990s, but discovered that consumers disliked its shorter driving range and limited cargo capacity due to the large fuel tanks taking up trunk space…”

    I just put two and two together – large CNG tank in trunk + hybrid battery in trunk = not much trunk left. Could they design it better?? Probably. But the Camry hasn’t changed all that much since the late 1990s. If it could fit in the gas tank space, I wonder why didn’t they do that before??

    Excellent point on CNG home refueling. And I’m not against CNG or alternative fuels. Heck, I drive a diesel car, and have used B20 biodiesel a few times. I just expect the same crowd that points out diesel flaws to jump all over CNG flaws as well….

  • Samie

    Right on ex-EV1 driver
    “The problem I see with CNG is that it is just another fossil fuel that will run out eventually, especially if we start using it for mass market transportation.” People hate hearing that but it is true. Also as I’ve said a few days ago look at how markets work and why mass CNG would bring more imported natural gas to the U.S. You don’t even need limited U.S. supply for this to happen. Those who love CNG for everything should ask themselves how many times have we been able to switch to something other then gasoline. We get all crazy about CNG and it will take years to move beyond that fuel. Lets be careful with ideas of replacing one fuel with another. By the way ex-EV1 driver couldn’t agree more on how you would use more natural gas for energy generation. In some cases natural gas is used as backup for peak power uses for coal and nuclear generation.

  • Bryce

    Whatever consumers are willing to buy, more power to Toyota I suppose. I don’t see this being necesarily widespread. Commercial fleets may snap this thing up though.

  • Shines

    Just a thought – CNG with stop start technology would fit the “hybrid” label. This would not require the additional space need of the full Hybrid battery. That would increase the city range for this vehicle. I’m back to the fun concept of filling my car from home. Unfortunately there are only a few CNG fuel stations in the Pacific NW. Still if the fuel tank technology has changed enough to allow more fuel storage – to get the range over say 300 miles – it might be worth it for say the next 5 – 10 years. Gives time for the EV technology to mature and the electric grid to improve.

  • Max Reid

    CNG Cylinder takes half the space in the trunk and many people may not opt for CNG Sedan. Best thing is the wagon, which will still leave lot of space. Thats why Europeans / Asians were able to popularize it a lot.

    Americans can try that in their CUV’s rather.
    There are 8.5 million NGV’s worldwide and its good reason to move.

  • Anonymous

    I’m really not getting the natural gas *cough* methane craze. They are already going to borderline unreasonable efforts to increase natural gas production in this country. I fail to see how drilling all over the country side, endangering long-term water quality, and releasing methane into the atmosphere is worth the “5-10 year benefit”. Sacrificing moderate long-term success for a quick buck, the American way.

  • William

    So is this going to be CNG only, or bi-fuel?

  • Bryce

    dual fuel would be interesting. You would need two separate fuel tanks though, cuz those both definetly are not compatible.

  • John K.

    Clean, “green” CNG!

    IMO, Honda is in the best position to quickly execute a hybrid CGN vehicle. They already offer a CNG Civic sedan and a hybrid Civic sedan. Their IMA easily fits between the engine and transmission. The only problem may be finding a new location for the battery pack. But if they use Li ion, the pack may be smaller & lighter than the current NiMH pack, so it may not be as big a problem as some assume.

    The more I think about this, the more I like it, esp if it were a PHEV. You would NEVER have to go to a gas station again. When you got home, you’d simply hook up to fill up from your home gas line and plug in to the grid (or to the batteries (EEStor?) your rooftop photovoltaics charged during the day).

    To paraphrase Jackie Gleason, “How green it is!”

  • leo123