Volkswagen says goodbye to natural gas cars

Volkswagen will stop building natural gas-powered cars. The group also announced plans to develop hydrogen fuel technology, but only at basic level.

CNG powered VW Caddy

“Natural gas is readily available, sustainable and cost-effective!,” announced the Volkswagen Group last year. With the new CNG versions (Compressed Natural Gas) of the Skoda Scala and Kamiq, the group has a total of 19 gas cars on offer. However, these economical and clean cars will no longer have any successors. A group spokesman confirmed the report of the leading German business newspaper Handelsblatt that any further development will be stopped.

Despite aggressive promotion, the demand for gas models has not grown. The Volkswagen Group was able to sell only 110,000 CNG-powered cars worldwide last year. In Germany, there were only 7,700 such cars from all manufacturers combined.

“The response from the market is not great,” said VW Development Board member Frank Welsch, according to the Handelsblatt, “and it is foreseeable that the number of vehicles sold will not increase significantly.”

This is one reason why the CNG filling station network is shrinking. Instead of the 2,000 points planned in the medium term, there were only 837 in Germany last year – almost 30 fewer than the previous year.

CNG car registrations in Europe — Data-source: Handelsblatt

For petrol station operators, the investment in the additional fuel alternative is just as worthless as it is for car manufacturers. Because CNG cars save around 20 percent CO₂ compared to conventional petrol engines. However, since automakers have to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 percent by the end of the decade, gas propulsion can hardly be more than a bridge technology. The next major hurdle is likely to be the upcoming EU-7 emissions standard, which is expected to be implemented by 2023/24.

Until then, the permissible maximum amounts of fine dust and nitrous oxide must be halved. In principle, that would not be a problem for the clean gas engine, but the development is still complex. Because the emissions are to be controlled over the entire lifetime of the vehicle, the exhaust gas cleaning system must be networked with the on-board electronics. Appropriate software experts are rare, which further weakens the position of CNG, according to a group spokesman.

CNG vs Plug-in Electric car sales comparison — Data-source: ACEA

But the ultimate knockout criterion is not technical, but political. Although the share of biogas already exceeds 50 percent in many areas, the manufacturers cannot account it as a renewable fuel. No matter how climate-friendly the vehicles are, they are treated like a car with fossil fuel in the CO₂ fleet balance. Pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids with minimum 100 km battery range, on the other hand, count as zero-emission vehicles. So the manufacturers are relying on e-mobility to avoid fines.

About 95 percent of all new CNG cars in Germany come from the VW group. With the departure of this pioneer, the vast majority of other providers will also say goodbye to this technology.

Volkswagen Group boss Herbert Diess also wants to develop the fuel cell and other alternative fuels, but only “at the basic level”.

Author: Nabeel K

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