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More natural gas vehicles hitting the market

DETROIT - More natural gas-powered vehicles will hit the market soon, as rising gasoline prices, booming natural gas production, and proposed tax credits make them a more attractive option. But they’re a long way from being a common sight.

In July, Chrysler will sell a Ram 2500 Heavy Duty pickup that runs on compressed natural gas and gasoline. The engine shifts automatically between the two.

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Late this year, General Motors Co. will sell natural-gas versions of two pickups, the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra 2500 HD. The GM trucks will run on gasoline and natural gas. Ford Motor Co. has offered natural-gas ready pickups and vans since 2009.

Natural gas produces 30 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel. And natural gas prices have dropped more than 23 percent this year. Gasoline prices have climbed 23 percent.

But natural-gas vehicles make up less than one-tenth of 1 percent of vehicles on US roads. Some reasons:

■Lack of fueling stations, abouth 1,000 with only half open to the public.

■Few choices. There is one factory-built natural-gas car, a Honda Civic. Most are in fleets.

■Cost. The CNG Ram, for example, starts at $47,500.

The economic benefits aren’t compelling, said the consulting firm IHS CERA. With gasoline at $4, it would take five years to recoup the extra cost of a natural gas car.

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