Natural gas-powered Ford taxis start rolling in Orange County
California Yellow Cab of Orange County started using the first 10 of 50 Transit Connect Taxis it plans to put into service by 2012.
Yellow Cab of Anaheim also has ordered 69 of the vehicles. That means that soon more than 100 of the distinct, boxy Transit Connects will be plying Orange County streets. The CNG-powered Ford-built taxis are already in use in Chicago, Las Vegas, New York and St. Louis. They cost about $35,000.
The taxis are based on the gasoline-powered version of the Transit Connect, a small van popular as a delivery or commercial vehicle. Dallas-based BAF Technologies is retrofitting the taxis as natural gas vehicles certified by the California Air Resources Board.
The Air Resources Board encourages the use of natural gas-powered vehicles because they are less polluting than autos with standard gasoline engines.
Taxi companies and other businesses like them because natural gas costs less than gasoline.
“We have a situation here in Orange County where the per gallon equivalent of CNG is almost $2 less than the price of a gallon of traditional fuel. Given that, along with the increased infrastructure support, it’s not hard to see why it makes sense for us to go with the CNG-powered Transit Connect Taxi,” said Tim Conlon, president and general manager of California Yellow Cab.
Orange County has 30 compressed natural gas filling stations.
“Our goal is to convert our entire fleet to alternative fuels," Conlon said.
Although natural gas is a less expensive and less polluting fuel, GNG-powered cars have not caught on among everyday drivers. Honda is the only major automaker selling a natural gas passenger car in the U.S., a version of the Civic compact sedan.
Honda is coming out with a new generation of the CNG-fueled Civic, known as a GX model, later this year, but expects to sell only about 2,000. Some drivers buy the vehicles solely because the cars are eligible for car pool lane permits in California.
Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Alan Mulally told The Times earlier this year that natural gas technology hasn't caught on domestically because automakers find it too difficult to make a cost-competitive passenger car with the type of trunk space and interior that consumers expect. Compressed gas storage takes more room in a car than conventional gasoline tanks.
Depending on state regulations, a standard passenger car can be converted to natural gas for about $6,000.
But in California, the conversion can cost triple that amount because of stringent Air Resources Board regulations and certifications to ensure that the modified vehicle does not produce more emissions than the standard gasoline model.
Still, CNG is gaining popularity as a fuel for cabs as well as commercial and municipal vehicles such as delivery vans, garbage trucks and buses.
-- Jerry Hirsch
Photo: CNG-powered Ford Transit Connect taxi. Credit: Ford Motor Co.