After a year-long delay, Honda and a partner have announced they will sell a $2,000 home fueling station for natural gas cars starting in the spring of 2005.
Initial sales, estimated at 500 a year, will be limited to California, but Honda could then expand to other states such as New York, where natural gas cars are used in the state fleet.
Honda said the unit offers a "personalized solution" to the fact that natural gas is not sold at gasoline stations.
"The biggest obstacle to broader acceptance of natural gas vehicles is the limited availability of refueling stations," American Honda Vice President Tom Elliott, said in a statement.
"Our research indicates people like the convenience of filling up at home," he added.
How unit works
Dubbed Phill, the unit attaches to a garage wall in homes with a natural gas connection and takes about six hours to refill Honda's Civic GX, the only compressed natural gas car still sold in the United States after Ford discontinued its model earlier this year.
Natural gas lines in homes are low pressure, and Phill gradually increases that pressure to the 3,000 or 3,600 pounds per square inch required by natural gas vehicles.
The unit is built by Toronto-based FuelMaker Corp., which says Phill is quieter than the average clothes' dryer and uses just 800 watts of electricity.
Honda in 2000 bought a 20 percent stake in FuelMaker and the two first unveiled Phill in 2002, saying they expected to sell it in 2003.
The unit is likely to be bundled with the Civic GX, now in its seventh year of U.S. sales. And while the Civic GX up until now had been marketed as a company fleet car, the availability of Phill units will open up sales to individuals.
Why natural gas?
Honda has been developing natural gas cars over the last decade, when the fuel maintained a large cost advantage over gasoline. Whether that will continue to be the case is unknown.
But the partners tout the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency calls the Civic GX the "cleanest internal combustion engine-powered vehicle ever tested."
And they note natural gas is more abundant in North America than petroleum. "Natural gas offers many benefits as an alternative to gasoline and is an abundant domestic resource that strengthens America's energy independence," Elliott said.
California is a natural market since it has the toughest car emission rules in the nation and even allows drivers of natural gas cars to use highway carpool lanes without any passengers.
Honda noted that while the unit will cost $2,000, federal, state and local government rebates might be available to buyers.
What hasn't been estimated is the cost of installing the units. Fuelmaker says installation costs will vary widely, depending on how close the unit is to one's natural gas line.
Company background on Phill is online at www.fuelmaker.com/research/phillqanda.htm.
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