Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Firms Offering New Fuels Ponder Future of Market

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Firms Offering New Fuels Ponder Future of Market

Article excerpt

Associated Press

AUSTIN _ For companies that make alternative fuel-powered vehicles, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.

Sales are inching up. But officials gathered at the 5th annual Alternative Fuels Market Fair and Symposium on Monday wondered how long the industry can maintain momentum and grow without a consumer-based clientele.

Cars fueled by compressed natural gas, propane and methanol are cleaner-burning and could be a savings to consumers because the fuels are produced abundantly in America _ no need for foreign oil.

But drivers are comfortable with the cars they've got. Without the roadside filling stations and infrastructure needed to bring alternative fuel-powered vehicles (AFVs) to consumers on a large scale, companies have relied on AFV sales to government and utility fleets.

Low prices at the pump _ driven down by depressed oil prices _ and recent questions about the safety of compressed natural gas tanks have slowed any consumer clamor for AFVs, according to Dick Geiss, executive engineer for engine systems at Chrysler Corp.

"I think it's highly unlikely the general public will give consideration to alternative fuel vehicles until the cost of gas goes way up," said Geiss, adding that the cost to convert a car is also prohibitive.

While some alternative fuels retail for as low as 60 cents a gallon, the cost of converting a car to consume the fuels is around $1,500.

Geiss said morale in the industry "has been dealt a bit of blow" by two explosions earlier this year involving compressed natural gas tanks in GMC pickups. Two people were injured in the accidents in California and Minnesota.

General Motors Corp. asked the owners of 2,500 natural gas powered pickups to stop driving the vehicles until the cause of the blasts could be determined.

"Everyone was a bit shaken due to the safety aspect," Geiss said. …

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