Natural gas is a fuel with diverse success among Europe. It’s very popular in Italy and fast-growing in Germany, but it’s still idling in France or in the UK. 2 new models will be introduced at the Paris motor show, later this month, with the goal of changing that. The first announced comes from Mercedes. It’s based on the B-class. That car is built on a smart platform which has a lot of space below the rear floor to accommodate batteries (a plug-in hybrid is coming next year), or bigger tanks like those that compressed natural gas (CNG) requires. Full tanks store 21 kg of natural gas, which is good for more than 300 miles according to Mercedes. There’s also a 12 liter (4 gallons) gasoline tank, just in case there are no CNG stations around. The engine is a 2-liter inline four, power is nearly the same with either fuel, the difference being that CO2 emissions are 16% lower with CNG. The most important is for the wallet, as CNG is about half the price of gasoline.
Fiat knows very well how attractive CNG is because of its price, the Italian brand is the European sales leader for CNG cars. It will unveil in Paris a CNG-version of its cheapest model: the Panda. With something unexpected, as the engineers chose to build it around Fiat’s turbocharged twin. The CNG TwinAir makes 80 hp with 103 lb-ft of torque. Quite good from 875 cc. Turbocharged CNG engines are always good, and this one doesn’t disappoint. CO2 emissions are 25% lower when running on CNG.
This Fiat Panda CNG is labelled Natural Power, and with 12 kg of natural gas in its tanks, it should be good for 217 miles on the cleaner fuel. A strong point is that it manages to keep a 35 liter fuel tank (more than 9 gallons), so the range with both fuels is more than 600 miles. People will appreciate, but it will take much more than that to convince buyers in European countries without an adequate network of CNG stations.