Natural gas vehicles get second look in U.S.

As America finds more reserves of natural gas, the auto industry is sure to take notice.

Natural gas got a strong vote of confidence as a future vehicle fuel at the Society of Automotive Analysts Strategic Planning Summit in Southfield, Mich., last week.

New methods of extracting the gas are one of the biggest changes affecting the auto industry in years, General Motors chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said.

“The U. S. now has a 100-year supply of natural gas,” he said. “I’d make a bet it’s the next big transportation fuel. The price is so much lower than gasoline — people will find a way to use it.”

The idea got a second from John Casesa, senior managing director of investment banking at Guggenheim Partners. “We’re also very high on natural gas,” he said. “It’s a massive change for the United States, and probably a big deal for the motor industry.”

But it makes you wonder. U.S. automakers fielded some natural-gas models in the 1990s and haven’t shown much interest since. Only Honda makes a natural gas car for average consumers, a version of the Civic. So far, the biggest interest is among companies that operate fleets and can centrally fuel natural gas vehicles, not consumers.

Long-haul trucking might be the first field to make widespread use of the fuel, but other vehicles will follow, Mohatarem predicted.