Chrysler Group LLC, the automaker controlled by Fiat SpA, plans to begin selling natural gas-powered pickups in the U.S. this year, said Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both automakers.
“We are going to bring them here, there is no doubt,” Marchionne said yesterday in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Sales will be “limited at first. It depends upon the distribution network.”
Fiat, which owns 58.5 percent of Auburn Hills, Michigan-based Chrysler, has engines using compressed natural gas in Europe. Chrysler executives have said they plan to begin deliveries of vehicles using the technology to the U.S. by 2017.
Sales of compressed natural gas-powered pickups will begin to fleet customers, David Elshoff, a spokesman, said in an e-mail. He declined to say whether Chrysler will target particular buyers such as government or commercial customers.
Marchionne said yesterday that natural-gas engines are the “best option.” He has argued they’re cheaper than competing technologies and that electric cars, which competitors such as General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. are marketing, present “too many obstacles” such as the recharge time for batteries.
The additional cost for an engine using natural gas is $3,000, compared with $3,300 for diesel and $8,000 for an electric hybrid, Alfredo Altavilla, who heads Fiat’s Iveco truck unit, said in September 2010, when Fiat laid out its natural gas aspirations.
Infrastructure for refueling natural gas vehicles is limited. The International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles says on its website that there were 1,000 stations and 112,000 natural-gas vehicles in the U.S. as of December 2010. The worldwide totals were 12.7 million such vehicles and 18,202 refueling stations, according to the association’s data.
Honda Motor Co. is the only automaker selling cars with compressed natural-gas engines to retail customers in the U.S. with its $26,155 Civic Natural Gas sedan. The model, formerly the Civic GX, has sold mainly in California and a small number of other U.S. states that have fueling facilities.
The newest version of Civic Natural Gas, named 2012 Green Car of the Year at the Los Angeles auto show in November, is now sold by 200 dealers in 36 states, according to Honda. The car was initially available only in California, New York, Utah and Oklahoma.
Chrysler in 2009 separated the Ram and Dodge brands to create a standalone truck unit. Marchionne’s five-year plan for the company includes bringing large- and small-commercial vans to the U.S. in 2012 under the Ram brand based on Fiat’s trucks platforms.