It only took 40 years after the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, but a U.S. automaker will soon be building a bi-fuel production car for retail customers, and it’s going to be the 2015 Chevrolet Impala. In fact, the car was introduced at the recent “Securing America’s Energy Future” event in Washington, D.C., specifically to help mark that major turning point in the automotive world, which occurred four decades ago this month. That’s when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries began tightening control over petroleum bound for the United States, causing high gas prices and shortages, and also sparking a push for more fuel-efficient vehicles that would help make the country less reliant on foreign sources of oil.
All else being equal, cars and trucks that can run on compressed natural gas (CNG) would seem to provide some help, since not only does the United States have plenty of its own natural gas reserves, but the fuel itself burns cleaner than gasoline; GM points to data from the California Air Resources Board that indicates vehicles running on CNG produce about 20 percent fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than comparable gas-powered models.
Yet while the four domestic truck brands (Chevrolet, Ford, GMC and Ram) provide bi-fuel models that can run on both gasoline or CNG, with varying amounts of factory support, the only OEM-manufactured car that’s currently on sale to retail customers in the U.S. is the Honda Civic Natural Gas. And Honda has sold about 1,715 so far this year, representing an increase of 105.1 percent over the first nine months of 2012.
The bi-fuel 2015 Chevy Impala, however, will see even more limited production than that, at least at first; GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson, who spoke and introduced the car at the non-partisan symposium, noted that “selling 750 to 1,000 units in the first model year would be a home run,” primarily because the growing CNG infrastructure needs to grow even more quickly.
Actually, Akerson made a number of interesting comments at the event, as reported on the next page.