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IAA 2013 - Clean, Natural, Gaseous
While the number of LPG-powered vehicles on European roads by far exceeds the number of CNG-powered ones, you may still be under the impression that carmakers – at least as far as gaseous fuels are concerned – focus their efforts on models factory-converted to run on methane, not propane autogas. Is it a trend that's here to stay or just a temporary fad? Will LPG be degraded to become associated with aftermarket conversions only? That we don't know, but then this is not the time to seek answers to such questions – today we're going back to Frankfurt to see CNG-powered cars presented there.
Let's start with the Volkswagen Group. Typically for the Wolfsburg-headquartered company, once any of its brands has some new technology or solution in stock, it quickly spreads to the other brands. And so, when the Volkswagen Eco up! was presented, it was pretty much certain CNG-powered variants of the Skoda Citigo and the Seat Mii would follow. And they did. Likewise, the debut of the Audi A3 g-tron meant VW, Skoda and Seat-badged siblings were just around the corner. The Skoda (Octavia) still is, but the Golf TGI and Leon TGI (both as hatchbacks and estates) are here and poised to conquer the blossoming market.
Mercedes brought two NGD (Natural Gas Drive) models – the B-class (also in taxi version, which seems like an ideal application for a CNG-powered compact van) and the E-class. Among brands traditionally associated with natural gas cars, Opel and Fiat were also there in Frankfurt, although their models were presented somewhere else than on their own stands. At least as far as production vehicles are concerned, for Opel did in fact have a CNG car – the Monza concept, combining a hybrid, an EV and methane all in one. While it's unlikely that the car will ever be produced in the same form, we hope the underpinning technology will make its way to future mass-manufactured models. The Monza sports the Ampera's drivetrain (an electric motor and a combustion range extender), but uses natural gas instead of petrol to generate energy once the battery is depleted.
Even though we thought methane-powered cars were actually more numerous on IAA's floor, we're out of vehicles to write about. Well, almost – there was Erdgas Mobil's stand, too. Erdgas Mobil is an association of CNG-related companies and they showed an array of NGV's, both new (Mercedes E 200 NGD, Volkswagen Golf TGI BlueMotion and Audi A3 Sportback g-tron) and not so new ones (VW Passat TSI EcoFuel, Gerhard Plattner's Skoda Citigo CNG, Fiat Panda Natural Power and Opel Zafira Tourer Turbo CNG). Apart from cars present "in the flesh”, there was an illustrated list of other models available on the German market. With 920 filling stations and approx. 100 thousand vehicles in Germany, Erdgas Mobil's thorough approach to presenting the offer is quite understandable.
We have to admit there were no countless hordes of CNG cars in Frankfurt, but clearly they ar ebecoming more and more numerous. Most probably the next major motor show (e. g. Geneva in spring or Paris in autumn of 2014) will see the debut of the methane-powered Skoda Octavia, premieres from brands new to the CNG business are also likely. The market may not be booming, but it's growing. Refueling infrastructure development remains a major obstacle. So will compressed natural gas spread Europe-wide as motor fuel or will it remain a local phenomenon it is today? We don't have the answer just yet, but we're getting ever closer to it with every motor show.
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- Hybrids and EV's
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