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 LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Chrysler Corporation's (NYSE: C) compressed natural gas (CNG) minivan has been certified as one of the "world's cleanest internal combustion vehicles" by the state of California, it was announced today.
 The California Air Resources Board certified the CNG minivans as Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV). The ULEV announcement makes Chrysler the only company to be certified in all three of the major low emission categories as mandated by California law. Last year, the Chrysler TEVan received certification as a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) and the full-size Dodge Ram Van CNG received certifa?tion as the first Low Emission Vehicle (LEV).
 The minivans will be marketed as the Dodge Caravan, Caravan C/V and the Plymouth Voyager.
 "This gives Chrysler a vehicle that meets the ULEV standards in California almost five years ahead of schedule," said Richard O. Schaum, executive engineer for the minivan platform team. "But perhaps just as importantly, the CNG minivan has the unique ability to serve both common fleet applications and actual retail consumers. While fleets will be the immediate target, we're hopeful that the additional availability of certified vehicles will help to rapidly fuel the infrastructure development."
 Gas Research Institute (GRI), the natural gas industry's research and development management organization, provided a portion of the funding for the CNG minivan program. Advanced injector technology, previously developed with GRI for the full-size NGV Ram Van program, was coupled with advanced electronics and catalyst technology, enabling the minivan to achieve the ULEV status.
 "The Chrysler/GRI partnership is a textbook model of an effective strategic alliance in product development to meet market needs," said Stephen D. Ban, GRI president and chief executive officer. "This cooperative effort enabled the auto and natural gas industries to move forward rapidly to meet the growing demand for ultra-clean vehicles that are both practical and cost-effective."
 Including the full-size Ram Van CNG, Chrysler has the capacity to build as many as 2,000 LEV and ULEV certified vehicles in 1994. According to Schaum, the reasons for pursuing natural gas vehicle development are compelling.
 "While natural gas vehicles are somewhat restricted by range due to fuel storage constraints, they are able to achieve extremely low emission levels without diminishing the basic performance and serviceability characteristics of the vehicle," Schaum said. "These are essential in making them attractive to fleet and retail consumers. It is also essential that utility companies continue to develop infrastructure in places like Los Angeles. Utilities like SoCal Gas have established plans to work to develop the infrastructure further and have worked closely with Chrysler to move the market along".
 But while CNGs are promising, Schaum emphasized they are simply one piece of a complex puzzle in meeting Clean Air Act mandates.
 "We know that as technology begins to catch up with the regulations, gasoline engines will be able to deliver LEV performance without some of the constraints posed by other alternative fuels," Schaum said. "Alternative fuel vehicles like CNG are one piece of a very complex puzzle."
 The CNG minivan is powered by a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and stores the CNG in four main tanks attached to the underside of the minivan. Because these tanks are not located inside the vehicle, load space is not compromised. The fuel is stored at about 3,000 pounds per square inch (psi), which is about the equivalent of 8.2 gallons of gasoline. With refueling equipment that has the ability to achieve 3,600 psi, fuel capacity can go to 9.4 gallons. Range will typically be between 160-180 miles.
 The CNG option will cost about $4,000 over the regular vehicle price. However, A. Michael Clement, Chrysler's manager of alternative fuel vehicle marketing, said incentives from different state and federal sources can nearly eliminate the additional cost.
 "These are great first steps," Clement explained. "But the market for alternative fuel vehicles still remains tentative to say the least. With all of the awareness surrounding the Ram Van LEV status and thousands of dollars of incentives per vehicle, we sold only 25 percent of our production capacity. With a capacity to build about 2,000 CNG vehicles, we're hopeful our strengthened marketing efforts and the popularity of minivans in general will help push the market along."
 Schaum added that there has been reluctant market acceptance of other alternative fuel vehicles.
 "In California where we have all the EV mandates," he said, "we figured to sell more than half of the 50 planned electric vehicles we built for 1993. We only sold four here. The others went to places in the east and southwest. With the cost and infrastructure advantages of CNG, we hope to make more progress."
 To help address the issue, Chrysler announced it will offer the first dealer marketing, sales and service program dedicated to alternative fuel vehicles. Los Angeles dealers will stock CNG vehicles for fleet and retail markets, and Chrysler will provide a full-line of sales, marketing and service training support.
 Southern California Gas will supply the participating dealerships with needed refueling capabilities and will continue its efforts to develop the customer base and refueling infrastructure.
 -0- 1/6/94
 /CONTACT: Chris Preuss, 810-576-8095, or Michael Coates, 213-622-1644, both of Chrysler Corporation/

CO: Chrysler Corporation ST: California, Michigan IN: AUT SU:

KT-RD -- DE010 -- 6959 01/06/94 10:09 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Jan 6, 1994

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