General Motors Co. will take orders next month for its new 2013 bi-fuel Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 heavy-duty pickups that can run on both gasoline and compressed natural gas, the automaker announced Monday.
The pickups, for which GM did not release a sticker price, will be available late this year to both fleet and retail customers.
They will complement compressed natural gas Chevrolet Express and GMC Savannah cargo vans GM offers to commercial customers, and give GM’s fleet customers another option, said Joyce Mattman, GM’s director of commercial product and specialty vehicles.
“We expect to see some pretty big size orders coming in on this one,” she said, though she declined to provide specific sales targets.
Some fleet operators have been converting vehicles to run on compressed natural gas because the energy source is fairly fixed in price and because it has less emissions. Conversion costs, though, can add as much as $20,000 to a vehicle’s price.
A gallon equivalent of compressed natural gas in January averaged $2.13 across the U.S., about a third less than the $3.37 average price for a gallon of gas, according to the federal government. The difference is even more pronounced today, with pump prices hovering just under $4 a gallon.
“That’s a significant amount of savings for our customers,” Mattman said.
She said fleet customers with CNG vehicles are saving between $6,000 and $10,500 in fuel costs in three years.
The bi-fuel trucks will seamlessly transition between compressed natural gas and gasoline fuel systems and combined offer drivers a range of more than 650 miles, said Mike Jones, product manager for GM’s fleet and commercial operations. The trucks, built with a 6-liter V8 engine to run on compressed natural gas, are powered by the natural gas until supply is depleted. Drivers can switch to gasoline at any time by activating a dashboard switch. “We’re extremely confident in the safety of this vehicle,” Jones said.
Still an issue is lack of stations where public and fleet customers can refill their tanks. While markets such as California and New York offer numerous stations, some states such as South Dakota don’t have any, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Last month, the EIA listed 976 CNG stations nationally, including 16 in Michigan. Not all of those are open to the public.
GM’s bi-fuel trucks are built in Fort Wayne, Ind., and sent to supplier IMPCO Automotive in Union City, Ind., which integrates the bi-fuel delivery and storage system.