Natural gas vehicles: 35 million on the road by 2020

Natural gas vehicles are growing in popularity, competing with electric vehicles.

Vehicles powered by natural gas are nothing new, but, thanks in part to low-cost natural gas and high gasoline and diesel prices, their popularity is on the rise.

According to new projections from Navigant Research, the number of natural gas vehicles on the road will reach 35 million by 2020, up from an estimated 18.2 million on the road this year.

“[Natural gas vehicles] experienced a brief surge in popularity in the 1970s and early 1980s as a result of the 1973 oil embargo and the price shocks that followed,” said Dave Hurst, a research analyst with Navigant Research, in a press release. “Today, growth in the market is being fueled less by negative external events and more by positive industry developments, such as increased vehicle availability, a stronger focus on the largest users of fuel in new regions, and a greater openness to alternative fuel vehicles on the part of motorists and fleet operators.”

So will natural gas vehicles replace electric vehicles as the "clean" vehicle option? Infrastructure could hold the natural gas vehicle industry back, according to Quartz's reporting on a recent IEA report:

Whether gas-propelled vehicles will supplant electrics depend on infrastructure, such as the construction of fueling stops. According to the IEA, it can cost from $400,000 to $1.7 million to build a compressed-natural-gas filling station, and up to $4 million for an liquefied-natural-gas station. By comparison, a gasoline station costs from $50,000 to $150,000.

Quartz also points out that the use of natural gas vehicles is concentrated, for now, in a few places. Currently, Argentina, Brazil, Iran and Pakistan account for 61 percent of the natural gas powered vehicles on the road.

And, to put these fleet numbers into perspective, even combined with the 20 million electric vehicles that the International Energy Agency estimates will be on the road in 2020, electric and natural gas-powered vehicles will only represent about 5 percent of the entire global fleet of vehicles in 2020.

Photo: Flickr/scottjlowe

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