Under Pressure to Innovate, GM Unveils ‘Bi-Fuel’ Sedan

General Motors

While Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) has even the likes of General Motors (NYSE:GM) unnerved with its success, GM is hoping its new Chevrolet Impala sedan that can operate on either gasoline or compressed natural gas and travel up to 500 miles per tank will hit the road with a bang by summer 2015.

The new “bi-fuel” sedan will be able to travel for approximately 150 miles on natural gas and an additional 350 miles on regular gasoline, and GM expects its first model to debut in less than two years.

The new bi-fuel Impala will be able to switch seamlessly from CNG to gasoline.

The car will be fitted at the factory with a port fuel-injected 3.6-liter engine that incorporates hardened intake and exhaust valves and valve seats to enhance its durability for CNG combustion. This makes the new Chevrolet Impala only the second U.S. factory-built CNG sedan after Honda’s Civic Natural Gas Car.

There is still no indication of retail cost, but expectations are that the new Impala will cost more than the standard gas model, though GM says savings at the pump will offset this.

CNG sells for an average of $2.11 per gallon of gasoline equivalent, but in some parts of the U.S. it can be bought for as low as $1 per gallon. By way of comparison, regular gasoline costs an average of $3.36 at present.

GM is also lauding the environmental benefits of the CNG car, which produces around 20 percent less carbon dioxide than regular gas.

“We know that U.S. energy security won’t come from a one-off moonshot,” GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said in a statement. “It will flow from our systematic investment in technology and innovation … our drive to get more from existing energy sources and renewables … our commitment to conservation … and it will be assured by fully and safely exploiting our shale gas reserves.”

Plenty of hurdles for the CNG car remain in the U.S., including underdeveloped infrastructure in the form of only some 600 CNG refueling stations available to the public.

Another unattractive element for the CNG car is the reduced trunk or passenger space due to the bulky tanks, which makes CNG better for trucks and vans.

A recent study by Navigant Research predicted a 16 percent compound annual growth rate for natural gas vehicles by 2020. By 2020, 35 million of the 1.5 billion vehicles on the road worldwide — a little more than 2 percent — will use natural gas, the study predicts.

Originally written for OilPrice.com, a website that focuses on news and analysis on the topics of alternative energy, geopolitics, and oil and gas. OilPrice.com is written for an educated audience that includes investors, fund managers, resource bankers, traders, and energy market professionals around the world.

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