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.”