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GM to roll out bi-fuel trucks

The Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup will have an optional flex-fuel engine that runs on gasoline and  compressed natural gas.

General Motors Co.

The Chevrolet Silverado full-size pickup will have an optional flex-fuel engine that runs on gasoline and compressed natural gas.

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — General Motors, the world's largest automaker, plans to begin taking orders in April on pickups that run on both gasoline and compressed natural gas, potentially reducing costs for users.

The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD extended-cab pickups will be offered with a 6.0-liter, V-8 engine that can "seamlessly" transition between natural gas and gasoline, the Detroit-based automaker said Monday.

A vehicle such as the ones GM will offer can save a driver $6,000 to $10,000 in fuel costs over a three-year period because CNG is cheaper than gasoline, said Joyce Mattman, director of GM commercial product and specialty vehicles.

"It helps our fleet customers with their total cost of ownership," Mattman said. "CNG is unique in that it's not attached to the price of oil, so over time it's maintained a lower retail price than both gasoline and diesel fuels."

The bi-fuel option will expand GM's customer base for CNG products, said Mattman, who declined to say how many CNG pickups GM plans to sell.

CNG-only vehicles "are a challenge when you're using one specific fuel that doesn't have infrastructure or support across the entire country," Mattman said. "The range-anxiety issue is very real in this application, as well."

GM didn't disclose the prices of the vehicles, and any premium over gasoline-only cars might offset savings on fuel.

Natural gas costs on average one-third less than conventional gasoline, and there are 1,000 CNG fueling stations in the United States, of which about half are open to the public, according to Washington-based trade group Natural Gas Vehicles for America.

GM began selling CNG cargo vans in 2010. Honda sells a CNG version of the Civic sedan in the United States. Chrysler has said it will bring a CNG pickup to the United States this year for fleet customers.

The additional cost for an engine using natural gas is $3,000, compared with $3,300 for diesel and $8,000 for an electric hybrid, Alfredo Altavilla, who heads Fiat SpA's Iveco truck unit, said in September 2010, when Fiat laid out its natural-gas aspirations. Fiat is Chrysler's majority owner.

GM said bi-fuel pickups will be offered to both commercial and retail customers and be delivered late this year.

The pickups will have tanks that can hold the equivalent of 17 gallons of CNG and a 36-gallon tank of gasoline, giving the vehicles a combined range of more than 650 miles, said Mike Jones, product manager for GM's fleet and commercial operations. He declined to break out the range obtainable on CNG alone.

"The broadest range of usage of this is going to be in the commercial market," he said.

GM to roll out bi-fuel trucks 03/05/12 [Last modified: Monday, March 5, 2012 8:56pm]
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