up for natural-gas car
Automaker plans consumer-marketing blitz next year for Civic GX
Friday, August 29, 2003
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Honda plans to find out how ready consumers
are for a car that runs on natural gas. The company expects to start its first
mass-marketing campaign for the East Liberty-built Civic GX next year.
Since 1998, Honda has made 500 to 1,000 natural-gas-powered Civics a year and marketed them mostly to government agencies and other entities with vehicle fleets.
But with high gasoline prices, concerns about the environment, and the advent of a new system to refuel natural-gas vehicles at home, Honda plans a consumermarketing effort for the Civic GX during the second half of 2004.
A car powered by natural gas produces far fewer harmful emissions than those powered by gasoline, and natural gas typically costs about a third less, experts say.
It also can help reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, said Sam Spofforth, executive vice president of the Central Ohio Clean Fuels Coalition.
"We're very optimistic that some consumers will see this as a good vehicle to own," Honda spokesman Ron Lietzke said.
Starting in mid-2004, Honda expects to sell a few hundred vehicles to consumers, then spend up to six months evaluating consumer response before starting a broader campaign, he said.
Honda isn't saying how many additional Civic GX vehicles it expects to make or sell. The automaker will continue to make the car at its East Liberty plant along with regular Civics and the new Element sport-utility vehicle, Lietzke said.
If demand for the Civic GX increases, production of some gasoline Civics can be shifted to Honda plants in Canada and Japan, he said.
The Civic GX has a range of 250 miles - about half that of a regular Civic - and costs about $4,500 more at $20,000, said Robert Bienenfeld, Honda senior manager of product planning.
He said sales of natural-gas vehicles have been hampered by a chicken-or-the-egg problem: Consumers won't buy unless there are more fueling stations, and companies won't open fueling stations until consumers buy more vehicles.
Honda hopes to address that issue by working with Torontobased FuelMaker to offer a fueling appliance that can use a home's existing natural-gas line. It is expected to cost about $2,000 initially, but Honda hopes to lower the price to about $1,000.
The home-fueling appliance can pump enough natural gas overnight for about 100 miles of driving, Bienenfeld said. Public stations with larger compressors can fill up a vehicle as quickly as a gasoline pump, he said.
Columbia Gas has three selfserve natural-gas fueling stations open to the public in Columbus and would consider adding others if demand warrants, spokesman Steve Jablonski said.
There are about 1,400 natural-gas fueling stations in the United States, with 1,100 available to the public, according to the Natural Gas Vehicle Coalition.
Still, it may be a few years before many consumers are ready to leave their gasoline-powered vehicles behind, said George Peterson, an analyst with AutoPacific in California.
"Natural gas and hybrids and other alternative-fuel technologies are interesting, but I think we're years away from seeing where it will all settle," he said.
Central Ohio Clean Fuels Coalition
930 Kinnear Road Columbus, OH 43212
Phone: (614) 292-5435 Fax: (614) 688-4111
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