Detroit (Alt Energy Stocks – 5/23/2011) – According to the Automotive News, General Motors (NYSE: GM) sold 493 Volts in April, representing a decline from the 608 sold in March. During that same period, Nissan (Pink Sheets: NSANF) increased deliveries of their all electric vehicle, the LEAF, from 298 in March to 573 in April 2011. These latest reports directly contradict CNN’s boastful pronouncement in early February that the Volt was "kicking the Leaf’s butt."
What’s more, based upon deposits and indications of interest, Nissan is now predicting that it will deliver around 10,000 units in 2011. While GM has boosted it’s production estimates for the Volt and its European cousin, the Opal Ampera to 16,000, it’s doubtful that those numbers will be able to equal Nissan’s figures for 2012. GM says it plans to increase its Volt/Ampera production to 60,000 from earlier projections of 45,000 for 2012.
Given the sharp increase in interest in the all electric vehicles being tied directly to the recent hikes in gasoline prices, it’s evident that Americans are not naturally inclined to make the transition from traditional gas powered cars to these new electric models but are rather driven to them out of necessity. If gas prices return to the mid $2 and under, I think that the demand for both these cars will slack off again.
It seems to me that the one alternative fuel vehicle that could satisfy both the desire to cut our dependence on foreign oil while maintaining the allure of a gas powered car, would be to shift from gasoline to natural gas powered vehicles. With mass produced conversion kits, even existing gas models could be affordably converted over to natural gas, either LPG (liquid petroleum gas also called propane) or CNG (compressed natural gas).
Think of natural gas as the fun way to wean ourselves off of our dependency on foreign oil. In January a German auto tuner called G Power converted a BMW M5 Hurricane into what it’s billing as the world’s fastest natural gas powered car. The car runs features a 5.0-liter V-10 that has a pair of superchargers attached. Peak output is 660 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to rocket it from 0-62 mph in just 4.6 seconds and see it reach a top speed of 206 mph–1 mph more than a Corvette ZR-1 supercar.
G Power isn’t alone in introducing excitement into the alternative fuels automotive field. An engineer named Bernie Towns, down in Texas wants to make his Mercedes-Benz SL 600 clean and green. Earlier this year he converted his 2007 SL600 Mercedes-Benz roadster into a 5.5 liter twin-turbo V12 CNG-powered speedster he hopes will break the record for the fastest natural gas-fueled car around. Partnering with Chicago tuner Speedriven, this very unique SL 600 now develops around 800 bhp (597 kW / 811 PS) and over 1,000 lb-ft (1354 Nm) of torque and does the quarter-mile (402 meters) in 10 seconds.
But the record for the fastest CNG-powered car is still held by Hohenester Audi A4 tuned to over 700 bhp (522 kW / 710 PS) that was able to hit 364.6 km/h (226.55 mph) in 2009. Speedriven and Towns hope to break that with more horsepower and the help of a Mercedes-supplied aerodynamic kit fitted to this SL 600 that can safely hold speeds of up to 386 km/h (240 mph).
With the cost of natural gas running about half that of gasoline, and the simple fact that, if the major auto manufacturers set their mind to it, they could offer CNG powered cars at a only a small premium to their gas powered counterparts, it seems far more natural a shift than expecting people to move into cars that are priced like a mid range Mercedes but deliver a low end Kia amenities.
Still, there’s probably not much of a future in the natural gas idea because the current administration wants to subsidize new industries that may take decades before they are financially self sustaining rather than promote common sense solutions that require a minimum of output but don’t offer nearly the promotional bang for the buck.