Hey Cool Car Fans,

Phil fueling stationRecently, I was contacted by a client of mine who is in the oil and gas industry informing me about how one of the big oil tycoons in the United States, T. Boone Pickens, is recommending that we get off our addiction to foreign oil by converting vehicles to run on natural gas. The very next day I had a client in Florida send me a link to The Pickens Plan website, where I read about the plan to focus on wind power and natural gas, so apparently this idea is catching on.

Houston we have a problem: First of all, I think converting to natural gas as a fuel source is a great idea, especially in Colorado where we have a huge amount of natural gas and since natural gas sells for less than $1 per gallon (equivalent) compared to regular gasoline prices.

There are millions of Americans getting creamed in the SUV and truck market when they try to sell their vehicles because of $4 plus per gallon gasoline and the majority of our oil is imported from countries that want to destroy the United States of America. If we can switch to a natural resource that we have an abundance of why wouldn’t we go in that direction?

Unfortunately, we have elected officials in this country who don’t represent our best interests. It used to be that we had politicians who actually looked out for the best interest of our citizens, but instead we have career politicians, which when we were all in grade school we didn’t really know that you could grow up and have “public servant” as a career.

At least when I was a kid we wanted to grow up and be a race car driver or a fireman, doctor or maybe even the President of the United States, but we all understood the concept that public service was a short term gig to serve your fellow citizens, after you had done something productive with your life. Today, politicians are more like actors and public relation experts than they are leaders and it’s not helping us.

The Pickens Plan is a great idea, but if you try to convert your vehicle to run on natural gas without going through the Environmental Protection Agency testing process, the EPA can fine you up to $5,000 a day for tampering with the fuel and emissions systems. How much does it cost to go through the EPA process? According to CNGPrices.com 30,000 Leagues Under the Sea film “these strict test requirements and the expense of getting a CNG conversion kit certified, there are very few EPA and/or CARB approved CNG conversions, and the conversions are relatively expensive, costing from $8,000 to $16,000.” That’s an average of $12,000 to convert your vehicle to run on natural gas and at even $5 a gallon for gasoline that’s 2,400 gallons of fuel or about 48,000 miles at 20 miles per gallon. At 20 miles per gallon for an average vehicle, 2400 gallons of fuel is four years of driving running on petrol for most people.

I’m not trying to be negative about natural gas vehicles, but I’m also a realist. My clients call me for advice about buying, selling, trading and leasing vehicles and my job is to save them time and money. I see what people earn for a living and the kind of real life financial struggles facing many people everyday. I couldn’t recommend a client convert their vehicles to run on natural gas when they can drive their current vehicle for another four years based on today’s cost of conversion thanks to our federal government.

Earlier today, Presidential hopeful Senator John McCain said that the problem with gas prices is not oil speculation, but that we have a finite amount of oil that is available and that’s what is driving up the price of oil to these record levels. According to The Pickens Plan website, “Natural gas is our country’s second largest energy resource and a vital component of our energy supply. 98% of the natural gas used in the United States is from North America. But 70% of our oil is purchased from foreign nations.” Someone might want to let Senator McCain in on this information, so that we can quit talking about finite oil and look at other energy resources beyond Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq and other Middle East and Central America Dictatorships that have a hypocritical love for America.

The real problem for The Pickens Plan isn’t the availability of our natural resource, the infrastructure for refueling or the ability to do the conversions. All of these can be figured out quickly. After all, you can convert just about any vehicle to run on natural gas, we have natural gas pumped into most of our homes and there are even stations available in major metropolitan areas, you can go more than 40 miles on a charge (unlike most electric cars) and even Honda has seen the light and is working on releasing a new vehicle that runs on natural gas in limited supply, the 2008 Honda Civic GX NGV. No, the real problem is the government has not put enough incentives in place for people to convert their existing vehicles to run on this fuel source or made it easy. The cost is just too high compared to the rest of the world.

According to NGVAmerica, there are over 7 million NGV’s (natural gas vehicles) in use worldwide, but only around 120,000 of those are in the United States. Could it be that the $12,000 on average to convert a vehicle to run on natural gas, thanks to the EPA, is just too expensive?   Are conversions really that difficult that it should cost an average of $12,000 to convert one of the 250 million vehicles on the road in America to run on natural gas? That’s right, there are over 250 million vehicles on the roads in the United States and about 120,000 that run on natural gas. What does the rest of the world know that we don’t?  Even Iran is converting their vehicles to run on natural gas, so they can sell us more oil.

An article on compressed natural gas over at Wikipedia, explains that people living in Malaysia have been doing CNG tank installations at a growth rate of 500% since June 5, 2008 when they had their 40% price hike on gasoline. It’s apparently such an important issue that they’ve setup a website to educate the public on making the conversions. Malaysia isn’t the only location, but according to the same article to convert a vehicle to run on CNG is about $2,300 in Singapore compared to the United States.

In case you’re not familiar with Singapore, that’s the country where you will get forced labor for littering, they call it “anti-social behavior”, and yet they seem to be able to convert vehicles to run on CNG for just $2,300 U.S. dollars compared to here in the United States. Singapore is more concerned about their environment than the EPA is here, so it seems like there is something wrong with a $2,300 compared to $12,000 price discrepancy, but maybe it’s just me.

At the end of the day, I think The Pickens Plan is a great idea, but it’s still idealistic until we bring the EPA and our politicians into the same world that the rest of us live in. Tonight on television there was an ad for clean air through natural gas and that’s going to be the big buzz word, but until someone gets our politicians to make it affordable for people to do a conversion and bring the EPA into reality, it isn’t going to happen on any large scale.

_________________________________________________________________________ John Boyd

Auto Consultant – John Boyd: The Cool Car Guy

John is an auto consultant with JFR & Associates in Denver, Colorado. He can help you save time and money on any make or model, new or used, lease or purchase – nationwide! Call or email John about your next vehicle! jboyd@coolcarguy.com