From: Jim Mateja, Chicago Tribune
Published April 25, 2005 12:00 AM

Home Vehicle Refueling Becomes a Convenient Alternative

With the first natural gas refueling stations now available for home garages, Honda has begun selling a limited number of natural-gas-powered Civic GX cars to retail customers in California.

Honda has sold the low-emission sedans to fleets for seven years but now has teamed up with FuelMaker Corp. of Toronto to provide retail customers with an appliance called Phill. It attaches to a garage wall and taps into the natural gas line at home to refuel the car.

By offering a home-refueling device, Honda eliminates a problem that has plagued alternative-fuel vehicles for decades: No convenient way to fill up.

"The combination of the Civic GX and the Phill home-refueling appliance provides consumers with an alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles," said Gunnar Lindstrom, senior manager of Alternative Fuel Vehicle Sales and Marketing for American Honda.

The Civic GX will be sold through 17 dealerships in California, which also will lease the Phill refueling device.

The car is priced from $21,760, including freight--significantly higher than the gasoline-powered Civic sedan, which starts at $13,160. The gas/electric hybrid starts at $19,800.

It will cost $34 to $79 per month to lease Phill for four years. Installation runs $500 to $1,500.

Natural gas is plentiful in North America and costs less than gasoline. In California it runs about the equivalent of $1.20 a gallon versus an average of $2.65 a gallon for gasoline.

Lindstrom said the natural gas fuel cost to operate a Civic GX would be about 3.75 cents a mile, which compares with 4.2 cents a mile in a hybrid Insight and 8.8 cents a mile in a 4-cylinder gasoline-powered Civic.

According to Honda, it also produces 25 percent less carbon monoxide than gasoline and no oxides of nitrogen or solid particulates.

But fueling convenience is not the only problem that has plagued non-gasoline vehicles. And the natural gas Civic is not immune to others.

The driving range of a Civic GX will be 200 to 220 miles versus 350 miles in a gasoline-powered version, Lindstrom said.

Refueling will require a "slow fill" to prevent heat buildup and would take about 8 hours per 100 miles of driving. That would mean an overnight refill--and then some, Lindstrom said. And those are the same types of numbers that doomed pure electric vehicles in the 1990s.

Lindstrom points out that the federal government allows a $2,000 tax deduction on the purchase of a new alternative-fuel vehicle. Local incentives and rebates also may be available.

John Lyon, president of FuelMaker, said Honda will sell only 300 to 310 Civic GXs in the first year to be better able to monitor the vehicles and refueling devices and react to customer feedback.

He added that FuelMaker will offer the Phill device to natural gas fleets in Milwaukee, Salt Lake City and Dallas soon.

California dealers that sell the natural-gas-powered Honda Civic GX also will offer the Phill refueling device.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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