Natural gas cars run cheaper and cleaner

November 18, 2011 3:49:36 PM PST
With gas prices above the $3 a gallon mark and expected to rise, many of us are looking for ways to save cash. There is a cheaper alternative -- natural gas.

Soon a car that uses natural gas will be on the market. But it could be hard to get.

How does a $15 fill-up sound? That's how much it will cost you to fuel up a natural gas-powered car that is being sold by Honda next year. But before you line up to buy one there is one small barrier -- where are you going to find a natural gas filling station?

It looks like a regular car and during my exclusive test drive of the Los Angeles Auto Show's green car of the year, I can tell you, this Honda Civic feels like a regular car on the road. The reason it is green? The fuel powering the car is natural gas.

Jessica Fini with Honda said, "Emissions of a natural gas are typically 30 percent less than the emissions of a gasoline-powered car, so it is cleaner out of the tailpipe."

Natural gas is domestically produced, so cars that use it can help cut our dependence on foreign oil, but the big selling point is the cost to fill up the car.

"Natural gas is typically a third less than the cost of a gasoline gallon equivalent," Fini explained. "So you can fill this Civic up for about $11 here in California, maybe even cheaper in Texas."

The car travels just as far as a gasoline-powered vehicle. At $25,000, it is not the cheapest car on the market, even more expensive than a Regular Civic. But if price is not a consideration, you still may not be able to drive one in Houston any time soon.

"Honda typically has been selling this car in limited markets based on refueling station availability," said Honda spokesperson Chris Martin.

Right now Honda plans to sell the car only to those who live no more than 20 miles away from a natural gas fueling station. There are just three in the Houston area, with plans to build more in the works. You may be able to get a home-refueling line added, but it costs around $5,000 to install.

Once more public stations come online, drivers will find the car compares quite well to a gasoline-powered model.

Martin said, "This gets 38 miles per gallon on the highway, virtually the same fuel economy numbers as the normal Civic."

I'm told more fueling stations are on the way and should be a common sight in the next five years.

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