By Ros Krasny
WASHINGTON, Oct 16 (Reuters) - General Motors Co willbegin selling a mid-sized sedan next summer that can be poweredby either gasoline or compressed natural gas, the U.S.automaker's chief executive said on Wednesday.
The 2015 Chevrolet Impala, GM's first car powered by naturalgas, will feature a powertrain that switches from compressednatural gas to gasoline seamlessly and has a total driving rangeof up to 500 miles, Dan Akerson said in a speech to be deliveredat an energy summit in Washington.
The car, which will have one fuel tank for compressednatural gas and a second one for gasoline, will be sold to bothretail and fleet customers.
Natural gas is a cleaner-burning, less costly fuel thangasoline, and vehicles powered by compressed natural gastypically emit 20 percent less greenhouse gases than gas-poweredcars, GM said, citing the California Air Resources Board.
New techniques unlocking vast reserves of natural gas fromshale have produced a boom in U.S. supplies and driven downprices, increasing interest in the fuel.
The numbers of CNG vehicles remain small. According to theindustry group Natural Gas Vehicles for America, about 130,000to 135,000 natural gas vehicles operate in the United States andmore than 16 million globally, most of them commercial and fleetvehicles such as buses and garbage trucks.
The number of natural gas filling stations totals about1,350 in the United States, about half of which are open to thepublic. That compares with about 168,000 retail gasolinestations, Akerson said.
GM previously said that next year it would begin sellingbi-fuel versions of its heavy-duty Chevy Silverado and GMCSierra pickup trucks and natural gas versions of its ChevyExpress and GMC Savana passenger vans.
Honda Motor Co sells a CNG-powered Civic. FordMotor Co prepares its trucks and vans so that specialtycompanies can convert them to run on compressed natural gas,including its top-selling F-Series pickup truck, starting nextmonth.
The bi-fuel Impala is meant to address range anxietyassociated with vehicles that operate on natural gas only, muchlike GM's Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid car was designed to do forelectric cars, Akerson said. It will carry a factory warranty onthe powertrain and fuel system.
GM did not disclose how much the bi-fuel Impala will cost,but regular versions start at about $27,700.
"Natural gas powertrains are one of the areas where we haveincreased investment because we believe the technology cansatisfy the 'green' needs of both the environment and thestockholders," Akerson said in the speech.
Citing the lack of CNG gas stations, Akerson said thevolumes for the bi-fuel Impala will initially be small with mostsales to commercial and government fleets. He said selling 750to 1,000 of the cars in the first model year would be "a homerun."
He also repeated his call for the Obama administration andCongress to create a consumer-driven national energy policy. InMarch, he said President Barack Obama should appoint acommission to develop a 30-year U.S. energy policy frameworkthat includes energy producers, labor groups and energyconsumers such as GM.
In March, Akerson also said that natural gas as a motor fuelrepresents a "huge and largely untapped opportunity forcommercial fleets and long-haul truckers."
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