As alternatives to gasoline, fuels such as propane and compressed natural gas (CNG) have suffered from two critical drawbacks: the first being that it's often difficult to find a refueling facility when the tank runs low.
That problem has made CNG- and propane-powered cars and trucks impractical for all but fleet and commercial users, who drive predictable routes and have access to centralized refueling stations.
But that obstacle, at least, has been surmounted by so-called "bifuel" vehicles - which can switch between propane or CNG and gasoline at the flip of a dashboard-mounted control knob.
Ford Motor Co. recently announced the forthcoming availability of just such a vehicle in the form of the company's 1996 F-150 and F-250 pick-up trucks.
Developed in conjunction with IMPCO Technologies Inc., the bi-fuel trucks will be sold through the normal dealer network at a cost expected to be in the neighborhood of $5,000 above the price of a conventional F-150 or 250 - which gives you a fair idea what the second problem with alternative-fuel vehicles is.
Essentially, the high cost of the bifuel option means the converted F-trucks won't be competitive in the private, non-fleet market. That means not many are likely to be built or sold - at least not in sufficient quantities as to have any appreciable effect on air quality.
However, commercial users may be able to eke a net savings over a period of years due to lower annual fuel and maintenance costs (because propane leaves fewer deposits in the engine, tuneup intervals are greatly increased). And of course these commercial users can reap the publicity benefit of driving vehicles that are "clean" - not to mention the tax breaks offered by the government to those who purchase such vehicles.
The bifuel trucks were unveiled at a press preview held in Washington recently as part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Clean Cities program. …