I know Fiat is a staple in Europe and not so well known in the United States, that is until a year or so ago when they made a concerted effort to get dealerships here and up their advertising (any recall the J. Lo ads?).
There are quite a few fiats cruising around my area and I have to say, the cars are adorable. But as far as driving an alternative vehicle powered on propane gas (the same stuff that runs my BBQ), I'm not so keen. I get nervous sticking the tanks in my car to go get a refill, let alone using the fuel source to fill my car tank. I think the industry would have to spend some time and money educating people like myself to get over the fear of propane as being highly combustible.
CNG has been used on indoor vehicles, like forklifts, for years, but performance under a wide number of operating conditions is not that critical to a forklift. It's safe to say that engineers would have to spend several years learning how to properly burn CNG in an automobile. More than anything else, I wonder about safety. Gasoline is only under pressure after the fuel pump, while CNG would be under pressure during storage and along the entire length of the fuel system. There are some advantages to CNG being a gas rather than a liquid, but the whole system being under pressure is a little disturbing.
I think the statement "There is also a distinct lack of filling stations for natural gas and low incentive for gas-rich markets like the US to use it" says it all. Regardless of which fuel choice an automobile maker wants to gets behind, fuel distribution infrastructure and price (supply and demand) continue to be a large part of the bottom line.
As gas prices go up and consumers continue to demand refueling convenience, the next challenger to gasoline will emerge. Obviously human safetly will play a big part in the selection process, but one of the biggest decision criteria will also be ease of refueling and cost.
I wonder what the range is on a small tank that attaches to my grill. The interesting part of moving to a technology like this, is there are already places to go and get this fuel. One has only to go to the local hardware store or in some cases where I live, the local gas stations already carry these little tanks.
I agree there is a need to educate. I too get a little nervous putting a tank in the trunk. I consider myself lucky that I have a pickup truck to go get gas for the lawn mower. But I'm guessing that someone has done a ton of research to insure cars running of natural gas are as safe as any current vehicle. I know forklifts have been running on this stuff for years.
I also like the idea of several different alternative fuels/concepts being developed at the same time.
The question that it also brings is how do you ensure safety after the car has been around the block for a number of years. Are people really going to do the necessary maintence to ensure structural integrity of the tank. I'm thinking, for example, of a bicycle helmet. If it has been used to save your skull, you discard it and buy a new one even if it "looks" OK. A minor fender bender might require a bit more investigation with a high pressure, highly flammable gas.
Also, I could be wrong on this point, but isn't propane heavier than air? Seems that a leak would be more dangerous up front than gasoline, since the vapor (i.e., the flammable part) does seem to dissappate rather quickly.
Beth, I agree with you on the fuel issue. Seems to me I remember a Fiat car when I was a child or maybe I'm wrong. Almost every day I see one of these little cars. Kind of cute but don't think I will be buying one any time soon.
Beth, I understand your concern, but gasoline was a dangerous fuel not so long ago. Remember the burning compact cars of the 70s? I think that the answer lies in design.
In many parts of the world natural gas is used extensively. I would not be terriably concerned about the tanks. I had a business where we had an opportunity to see what would happen if you fired a gun at a propane tank. It did go up, but only with a very well placed shot. I don't know what the actual statistics are from this, but I expect that there are ways to make it safe. I also noticed that there are a number of trucking firms going to this fuel, so we will see it more often.
It won't be too much longer and hardware design, as we used to know it, will be remembered alongside the slide rule and the Karnaugh map. You will need to move beyond those familiar bits and bytes into the new world of software centric design.
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