Kicking the Tires of T. Boone’s Natural-Gas Car


New York Times columnist Tom Friedman Sunday pines for billionaire-friendly central planning on energy so that his green dreams might be forced down our collective throats:

“If only we had a Congress and president who. . . just sat down with Boone (Pickens). . . and asked one question: ‘What laws do we need to enact to foster 1,000 more like you?’ Then just do it, and get out of the way.”


Laws mandating “green” schemes? Just do it. Market economics? Get out of the way.


Specifically, what Friedman and his buddy T. Boone want is “a massive buildup of wind power in the U.S. and converting our abundant natural gas supplies – now being used to make electricity – into transportation fuel to replace foreign oil in our cars, buses and trucks.”


Friedman says Pickens is “motivated by American nationalism.” Well, he sure isn’t motivated by making a competitive car.


Automakers have been trying to get the public to buy natural gas vehicles since the 1970s. Yet, despite millions in tax subsidies, today there is only one – count them: one – -compressed-natural-gas (CNG) product in America’s showrooms. It’s the Honda Civic GX and it ain’t exactly flying off the shelves.


No wonder. The CNG-powered Civic GX sells at a whopping $8,780 over the price of a comparable gas-powered Civic DX, yet has 24 percent less horsepower, is 2 seconds slower 0-60 mph, has half the trunk size (due to the huge CNG tank behind the back seats), and only goes 250 miles on a tank of natural gas vs. 400 for its petrol-powered sister.


Friedman is full of hot air on “America’s abundant natural gas supplies” (his own newspaper wrote on May 29 that the industry is looking abroad for more supplies “as production falls off in North America, where many fields are tapped out”), but natural gas is at least cheaper per mile than gasoline at current, $4-a-gallon, prices. So, assuming lousy performance doesn’t phase you, how long would it take to recoup the GX’s premium in saved fuel prices? About 213,000 miles according to a Car & Driver calculation – or 14 years of normal driving.


“Obviously,” wrote C&D, “paying more for a (natural gas) Civic is not a financially driven choice but an environmentally driven one.”


Which is precisely why Friedman and Pickens want to pass laws to make that choice on your behalf.


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