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BONUS CONTENT: Education Needed to Propel Natural Gas

NATIONAL REPORT -- Industry experts interviewed by Convenience Store News believe compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) hold much promise and will likely be the most utilized petroleum alternative moving forward.

The results of CSNews' 2012 Motor Fuels Study echoed that sentiment, with 21.9 percent of retailers stating that they plan to sell natural gas at the pump within the next five years, compared to just 1.7 percent doing so today.

In its October issue, CSNews interviewed four natural gas heavyweights: Steve Zietlow, vice president and director of petroleum operations for Kwik Trip Inc., Peter Grady, vice president of network development and fleet at Chrysler Group LLC; Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp.; and T. Boone Pickens, chairman and CEO of BP Capital.

The interviewees, however, provided even more answers to our questions that were unable to be included in the print edition of the story. As a complement, CSNews Online has compiled the additional answers from our panelists and presents them here.

CSNews: How can we make the general consumer more aware of natural gas as a strong fuel alternative?
That is a great question. First and foremost, I think within our organization we recognize that for natural gas to be successful, we have to do a better job of educating and promoting this concept to the general public. As we move forward, our push is to really promote vehicle use within fleet operation and in personal operation.

We feel that the best method to make that happen is through good educational and promotional efforts. Right now, as we are building these stations, you are going to see a more concentrated effort of us trying to really get this topic, this concept, out in front of the general public and out in front of the fleet operators that are in our market. In this case, you will see Kwik Trip, a retailer, wearing the hat as a promoter and educator to the general public on what we think is a great item and a great initiative; that is natural gas.

The best way for us at this point is to take the lead and do the best job possible at promoting and educating about natural gas, and combine that with our efforts as a retailer building a functional infrastructure and as a fleet operator walking the talk and using these vehicles. We feel that when you bring all of those elements together, it is going to lead to success. At the same time, we feel all of the stakeholders in this industry need do their part in promoting natural gas as a vehicle use whether is the utilities, gas suppliers or vehicle manufacturers.

At this point, we have been working in conjunction with them and have shown great interest and put a lot of effort into starting that. Hopefully, by working cooperatively with them, we will do a very good job promoting and educating this issue out to the public.

CSNews: What has Chrysler done and what will the company do to promote the benefits of natural gas?
Ram Truck and Chrysler Group are committed to leading the industry in the manufacturing and marketing of natural gas vehicles. In addition, our partnership with FIAT will further speed the development and deployment of natural gas vehicles.

FIAT is the world leader in manufacturing CNG-powered vehicles with a greater than 80-percent share of the market in Europe. FIAT sales of CNG vehicles in Europe have exceeded 500,000 passenger cars and commercial vehicles since 1997, with CNG-powered product offerings spanning all vehicle segments from small passenger cars to buses and large trucks.

Moreover, since 1995, Iveco (FIAT Industrial's truck and commercial vehicles division) has focused heavily on natural gas propulsion, and is now a European leader in research and sale of commercial natural gas vehicles, with 11,000 units now in use by private companies and public authorities.

Chrysler Group continues to seek opportunities on collaborative efforts to promote CNG vehicles wherever possible, in an effort to continue to expand the fueling infrastructure and enhance the value proposition for consumers to want to buy CNG vehicles. For instance, Chrysler Group is very encouraged by a recent effort being led by Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado in which 13 states are supporting a multi-state memorandum of understanding that outlines a coordinated effort among states to promote natural gas market development, CNG vehicle production and state fleet purchases of CNG vehicles.

CSNews: In your opinion, why are there not more consumer natural gas vehicles available?
While we can always use more options on the road, I have been encouraged by the interest automakers have taken in the NGV [natural gas vehicle] market in recent years, with many providing increased options for fleets and consumers seeking low fuel cost alternatives.

We expect continued growth in this area thanks to private investment, increasing fleet interest in conversions and public initiatives -- including the recent effort that led to13 governors calling for the increased manufacturing of CNG vehicles to support government fleet needs -- that shows that demand does exist.

As companies such as Chesapeake continue to work to address market hurdles and develop new strategic partnerships, vehicle costs will decrease, consumer interest will increase and manufacturers will produce more NGVs.

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