European sales of vehicles powered by compressed natural gas could grow tenfold by 2020, according to the organization responsible for promoting the fuel in the region. Analysts and carmakers, however, say that growth is dependent on government incentives and an increase in the number of stations offering the fuel across the continent.
“We believe gas is the next big thing in transport,” Matthias Maedge, deputy secretary general of the Natural and Bio Gas Vehicle Association in Europe, told Automotive News Europe. The organization predicts the number of CNG-powered vehicles on Europe’s roads will grow to between 10 million and 12 million by 2020 from about 1.2 million now. Most of those vehicles will be passenger cars.
Natural gas costs about half the price of gasoline. As of September the average price for CNG across Europe was 79 cents compared with 1.49 euros for gasoline and 1.39 euros for diesel, according to NGVA data. CNG is promoted as a low-CO2 fuel that can be easily mixed with biogas, enhancing its environmental credentials, according to the NGVA.
The number of new, factory-built models equipped with standard CNG tanks remains limited, but is growing with the recent commitment from Volkswagen brand to launch more gas-powered vehicles under its TGI badge.
Earlier this year the Golf TGI compact went on sale, joining three other model lines with variants using the fuel: the Up minicar, Touran minivan and Passat midsize. Other VW Group brands using the technology include: Seat, with the Mii microcar and Leon compact; Audi, with a G-tron badged version of the premium A3 compact; and Skoda, with the Citigo minicar and the recently launched Octavia compact both wearing the Czech brand’s G-Tec badge.
“There are only advantages as far as the customer is concerned, since he can use the more affordably priced CNG fuel, but when he needs a greater range he can also fill up with normal gasoline,” Skoda sales and marketing chief Werner Eichhorn told Automotive News Europe.
Other newcomers to the niche include Mercedes-Benz, which added a B-class Natural Gas Drive compact to its midsize E-class NGD car earlier this year. The proliferation of new models helped boost Europe’s overall CNG sales by 7 percent to 66,952 after nine months, according to JATO Dynamics data.
Fiat is Europe’s top-selling CNG player -- its nine-month sales of 33,197 were almost double that of second-placed VW (16,755). Fiat has a commanding lead because of the size of the CNG market in Italy, which had 880,000 gas-powered cars and light vans as of June this year, compared with 95,708 in Germany and 43,796 in Sweden, according to NGVA data.