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US: Honda Offers At-Home Natural-Gas Fill-Ups

by Chris WoodyardUSA Today
April 21st, 2005

LOS ANGELES Soon, commuters who opt to drive natural-gas-powered vehicles may be able to fill up every night at home in their own garages and leave gasoline stations behind.

Honda announced a joint marketing deal Thursday to offer a new at-home refueling device in conjunction with sales of its natural-gas-powered Civic GX compact car. The device plugs into the car for the slow overnight fill-up, using a home's natural-gas connection.

Honda will offer GX buyers a lease on the refueling device. To start, the deal will be available through 17 dealers in smog-clogged California.

Honda expects about 300 GX buyers to lease the device through those dealers this year. Depending on results, it may expand the program. Honda has sold the GX only to fleet buyers before this because of refueling issues.

The maker of the refueling system, Toronto-based FuelMaker, also markets the device in Arizona, Texas and Utah for any natural-gas vehicle. Honda has a less than 20% stake in FuelMaker.

The agreement "suggests at a time of high gas prices and global-warming concerns that Honda is looking to stay on the cutting edge," says John White of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.

Honda sells about 1,000 GXs a year, but sales growth has been hindered by limited places to fill up, says Gunnar Lindstrom, senior manager of alternative-fuel vehicle sales for American Honda Motor. Now, motorists "can start every day with a full tank," he says. The cars have a range of up to 220 miles.

The sticker price of a GX is $21,760, about $7,000 more than a gasoline-powered Civic with an automatic transmission. However, Honda says the natural gas that the GX uses lowers operating costs by up to half.

The car is eligible for federal rebates of $2,000 and is authorized to travel in freeway carpool lanes in some states, including California.

General Motors sells two natural-gas-powered pickups.

The FuelMaker device looks like an astronaut's space pack hanging on a garage wall. It will be leased to commuters for $79 a month, although local subsidies could cut the cost to as little as $39 a month. Installation adds up to $1,500.

"Now with home fill, anyone can drive a natural-gas vehicle," FuelMaker CEO John Lyon says.

"It's really going to make natural-gas vehicles take off," says Andrew Littlefair, CEO of Clean Energy, which operates 165 natural-gas fueling stations in North America.

He estimates there are up to 120,000 natural-gas vehicles in service. The vast majority are in government or corporate fleets.

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