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Wave Of The Future? Natural Gas-Powered Cars Gaining In Popularity

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- With gasoline prices continuing to rise, many are looking at alternatives like hybrids or electric cars. But there's a third fuel option rapidly gaining in popularity.

And, as CBS 2's Don Dahler reports, it's all-American.

On Monday, Dahler got a look at what appeared to be a regular Honda Civic, but the truth was that particular vehicle was running on a fuel that costs half as much as gasoline and puts out a fraction of the air pollutants: compressed natural gas, or CNG.

"Right now the technology exists with the CNG car to get a more fuel efficient vehicle and a cleaner vehicle with an abundant supply of fuel right here in the USA," said Brian Benstock, the general manager of Paragon Honda in Woodside, Queens.

Honda is currently the only major car maker producing new CNG vehicles for the general public in the U.S. It's doubling production this year due to demand, and other car makers are expected to roll CNG cars out within a year.

The benefits of CNG vehicles are much cheaper fuel that causes less damage to the engine, which lowers maintenance costs, extremely low emissions, and a variety of proposed and existing tax credits.

The cons: the CNG Honda costs about $5,000 more than the regular one, filling stations are hard to find (there are only about a dozen in the New York area), you won't get quite the range as a gasoline car (between 200 and 250 miles), and the compressed gas tank takes up part of the trunk space.

Honda Civic CNG
Experts say compressed natural gas filling stations will begin to pop up all over the Tri-State Area over the next few years as the popularity of Honda's car increases. (Photo: CBS 2)

Right now, CNG cars have to use a special fueling station that fleets use, but as their popularity increases, natural gas pumps will start to appear at gasoline stations and convenience stores.

If you don't live close to a refueling station, you can have a fueling station put in your home, if you have natural gas going into your house.

But whereas filling your car at a station takes a few minutes, using a home system takes about eight hours, because the gas is a lot less pressurized.

More and more companies and governments are converting their fleets to natural gas. The fuel savings for converting a school bus will pay for the $50,000 conversion within 18 months.

Converting your car is probably still too expensive to make sense, about $15,000, but Michael Misseri of Clean Vehicle Solutions in East Brunswick, N.J., said that will change when demand increases.

"Once enough stations are up then just anybody can go out and have their car converted," Misseri said.

So in the short term, it may make more sense to look at the CNG cars rolling out over the next few years that are already running on the all-American fuel.

There are bills before Congress which would give federal tax credits for natural gas vehicles, and President Barack Obama has made them a major focus of his energy policy.

Would a car like this interest you? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below ...

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