Propelled by a strong push from the Volkswagen Group in Italy, European demand for cars powered by compressed natural gas has shown signs of life after a half-decade slump.
VW Group was the main driver of the 60 percent increase in CNG registrations in Europe in the first quarter and the automaker has become the biggest seller of CNG cars in Italy, which is the region's No. 1 CNG market.
Ironically, VW Group's efforts in Italy have been so successful that the German brand has stopped taking orders for the CNG version of the Golf, its most popular model, as production can't keep pace with demand.
CNG deliveries in the first three months were 19,496 units, according to European car industry association ACEA. The market leader was the VW Golf with 4,518 sales, followed by two models from sibling brands, the Skoda Octavia (2,775) and the Seat Leon (2,010) with the Fiat Panda in fourth place (1,645), according to market analyst JATO Dynamics.
The VW brand saw European sales of its three CNG-powered models more than double to 7,072 from 3,418 in the first quarter. Italy fueled this growth, with sales of the three models up to 5,661 units from 2,718 in the same period last year. This boost forced VW to stop taking orders in Italy for the CNG-market-leading Golf, two sources said.
The Golf's sister model, the Audi A3 that uses the same MQB platform, can still be ordered in Italy, but customers face an eight-month wait for delivery. VW says requests in the first quarter have exceeded its forecast for the full year.