Nowadays if you want to get by car from A to B, there’s a huge range of different fuels to choose from. But there’s an ever increasing trend towards wanting your transport to be better for the environment. Stephen Neumann, Head of CNG Mobility in the Volkswagen Group, explains why natural gas can be a sustainable solution as a fuel for vehicles.
Traditional fuels such as gasoline and diesel continue to play a key role – and will do so for many years to come. But alternative engines and fuels are critical if we are to achieve international climate targets. And for this we need to develop sustainable solutions independent of a single technology. Natural gas or CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) happens to be an alternative with some pretty powerful incentives here.
The German automobile company has a bit of a history with natural gas technology. “More than a decade has already passed since the Volkswagen Group first got excited about the idea of natural gas vehicles. In the meantime, the technology and the demand have met in the middle at a point where it can now have a broader impact”, says Neumann, weighing in on the status quo of natural gas mobility.
Natural gas is already well established in many areas of business and industry as a key source of energy. The reason it is now high time to step on the gas for road use as well is summed up neatly by Stephen Neumann in five points:
“Natural gas vehicles are efficient: one kilo of CNG contains the same amount of energy as 1.3 liters of diesel or 1.5 liters of gasoline. This represents a cost-saving of almost a quarter against diesel and more than half compared to gasoline.”
Responsible for CNG Mobility at Volkswagen AG
Like with the chicken and the egg – the fundamental answer is both of them. “In the search for an ideal solution the automotive industry and the gas industry have to work hand in hand instead of waiting for the other to make the first move. We can only achieve our goal by working together”, says Neumann confidently. On the one hand nobody buys a car that you can’t fill up quickly wherever you want. On the other hand, the car models have to be available before drivers can even begin to consider buying a natural gas vehicle. And it’s only when the demand is right on both sides that both sides will be capable of expanding – both the filling station network and the range of models.
Small, compact, popular
If you decide to opt for a natural gas vehicle today, you can already choose from 17 different models from Volkswagen alone covering different brands. The bestsellers are in the compact class: “Seat Leon, VW Golf and Skoda Octavia are the most popular models”, explains Stephen Neumann. “In future we intend to offer even more models, but this will only happen as demand grows”, he adds. Here VW is certainly taking the lead in the natural gas technology race. Across Europe over 70 percent of all newly registered natural gas vehicles come from VW; in Germany the figure is a whopping 96 percent.
The automotive industry sees steady growth in demand for natural gas vehicles: in recent years VW has observed growth rates in the triple-digit range, albeit starting out from a low level. They have invested heavily in communication related to this drive system and it has paid off. “Currently around 3 to 4 percent of our sales are natural gas vehicles. In future they will make up a larger share of the VW portfolio, I estimate around 5 to 10 percent”, says Stephen Neumann.
At the end of the day, the customer will be the one to decide what happens on the journey of the natural gas vehicles. In any case, VW and OMV believe that in future there will be a range of different engines on offer – from gasoline and diesel to electric and natural gas vehicles. And filling stations will offer different fuels for different needs.
The option of natural gas will play an appropriate role in the years to come – as it already can today, after all, the technology is nothing new. “Until now it has just been a lack of knowledge and consequently acceptance on the part of the customer regarding natural gas on the road – and so the technology was not able to gain a foothold”, he adds. That’s all changed. Information campaigns and proactive measures have ensured that drivers today are showing more interest than ever in this new technology. And this is set to grow. After all, drivers of natural gas vehicles not only get around cheaper and with less impact on the environment. They also drive in comfort and without having to worry about making it to the next filling station.