• Natural gas is cheaper than regular gasoline
  • GM and Chrysler are rolling out natural gas trucks
  • Honda already offers a natural gas Civic

Although many automakers are turning to electric power as an alternative to traditional combustion engines, an increasing number of car brands are experimenting with an entirely different alternative fuel: natural gas. While Honda once stood alone in offering a natural gas-powered car, two more automakers will soon join the fray after announcing upcoming natural gas-powered vehicles.

Chrysler and General Motors are the newest brands to embrace the alternative fuel after revealing that they will soon roll out natural gas-powered versions of their heavy duty full-size pickups. While Chrysler recently announced that a natural gas-powered 2012 Ram 2500 HD will be priced from $47,500 including destination when it goes on sale in July, GM will build natural gas-powered versions of its Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and GMC Sierra 2500HD for the 2013 model year.

Unlike the environmental benefits that drive many consumers to electric vehicles, the sudden interest in compressed natural gas is primarily driven by cost. While regular gasoline is currently averaging around $3.80 per gallon, an equivalent amount of compressed natural gas costs just $2.59. That means an average driver covering 12,000 miles per year in a vehicle that gets 22 miles per gallon could save more than $600 annually by switching to natural gas. In a large pickup with a greater thirst for fuel, the savings could almost grow exponentially.

But despite increased options, consumer demand remains low - primarily due to higher initial costs. Honda's Civic Natural Gas, for example, starts just under $27,000 including destination, compared to around $21,000 for a mid-level Civic sedan. And the Ram 2500HD's base price makes it around $12,000 more than a comparable gasoline- or diesel-powered model.

Nonetheless, several automakers see a future with the technology. While Honda sold around 2,000 natural gas-powered Civics last year, the automaker plans to double that figure in 2012. And as more vehicles implement the technology, more gas stations will follow suit, making it increasingly convenient for drivers looking to save money on fuel. For that reason, natural gas power may have a bright future - even among the many alternative fuel powerplants popping up in today's automotive industry.

What it means to you: If you're looking to save money on fuel, a natural gas-powered vehicle might be worth a look.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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