Even when conventional fuel was really expensive in Germany, hardly anyone bought a natural gas car. Then why should you choose the alternative fuel now that the liter of diesel is currently being squandered for around one euro? Although the Seat Leon ST with natural gas drive was able to convince in the test, there are hardly any reasons.
The year started so well: new models like VW Eco Up, Skoda Citigo Ecofuel, VW Golf TGI and Audi A3 G-Tron saw a double-digit increase in new registrations in the first quarter compared to 2013. Certainly also because dealers, manufacturer fleets and municipal utilities stocked up directly with the fresh models. But what the hell: The gas suppliers cheered, natural gas cars finally lead out of the niche. At the end of the year, the boom had shrunk to a thin 4,6 percent. Just under 8.200 new natural gas cars have been registered. Even e-mobiles top this figure by 300 units.
This is bitter, because newer models like the Leon ST TGI are actually fine and mature cars. Gone are the days when the generally small-volume natural gas engines automatically made cars obstacles to traffic. The turbo has also moved in at the Spanish VW subsidiary, so that the 1,4-liter gasoline engine with its 200 Nm torque grabs at a low speed. In natural gas operation, the four-cylinder runs at most minimally rougher than if it sips super from the still available 50 liter standard tank, which increases the total range depending on the driving style by a good 700 to 800 to more than 1.000 kilometers.
Large changes do not have to fear drivers of classic petrol engines. As long as natural gas is available, the Leon uses it automatically, after which it switches over automatically and shows the driver this on the central screen. There is a separate fuel gauge for both types of fuel and the on-board computer displays both the total range and the two individual values. And because the Leon ST as a station wagon generally has a spacious luggage compartment, the gas tank installed under the double loading floor hardly interferes with everyday life (instead of 587 liters for conventional models, 482 liters are available). Only the refueling process may be unfamiliar, because the nozzle is firmly attached and filling can take a while depending on the petrol station.
It cannot be due to the models offered that the breakthrough of the natural gas car is still pending. One of the most important current reasons is likely to be the recent drop in prices for diesel and gasoline; After all, the savings potential at the petrol station was always the most tempting to buy a CNG model. Because when buying, the inclined buyer must first pay vigorously. The compact station wagon Seat Leon ST is available with natural gas drive and 81 kW / 110 PS for 22.240 Euro, making it around 2.500 Euro more expensive than the petrol engine with the same power and identical equipment. The diesel with 77 kW / 105 PS is only 50 Euro more expensive.
So far, at least frequent drivers have been able to recoup the high costs relatively quickly. It is difficult at the moment. A complete natural gas tank filling for the Seat costs around 18 euros (for around 18 kilograms) in the test and enables a range of 300 kilometers in practice. It is not expensive, but it is also not much cheaper than diesel. Even if you use a rather pessimistic high practical consumption of six liters per 100 kilometers (standard value 3,8 liters) for the comparable Leon TDI, you pay almost the same for the route at the current low prices of just over one euro , Of course, the natural gas car is much cheaper at vehicle tax, and some gas suppliers offer buyers financial support. From a purely psychological point of view, however, the natural gas driver is likely to suffer if he drives past the price tables at German petrol stations. That could change again in the medium term if mineral oil prices pick up again. But natural gas is initially only tax-privileged until 2018.
And even with a cheaper cost balance, the petrol station problem would remain. There are now over 900 dispensers in Germany, but many of them are only available on the restricted premises of energy suppliers or transport companies. And even the completely public petrol pumps are not always where you need them. The size of the availability restrictions depends on the individual case. Those who live in an urban area and rarely leave it by car should be able to cope with the small number. Especially when, as in the case of the Leon ST, a complete petrol tank is available for occasional long-distance journeys.
The bottom line is that there is actually only one major reason to buy the natural gas car: the good environmental properties. When the gas is burned, 20 percent less CO2 is produced than with gasoline, and the balance looks brilliant with fine dust, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. It is even more environmentally friendly with added biogas, which is, however, even more difficult to obtain than conventional natural gas.
Author: Holger Holzer / SP-X