(First posted August 25, 2013) When we moved from San Mateo on the San Francisco Peninsula to the East Bay (Dublin) my commute increased significantly. While driving was always an option, there was also BART, the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. In early 1999, soon after we moved, I saw a flyer for a research study that would let me drive a car for almost a year in conjunction with using BART…
Alas, it was not totally free. However, for $200 per month for the 10-month duration of the project (6-months initially, then extended) or until you opted out (which they strongly encouraged you not to do), I would have access to one of twelve 1998 Honda Civic GX’s (the natural gas powered ones) in a novel car-sharing program that was one of the first in the country.
Together with the UC Davis Institute of Transport Studies, Honda, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, BART and CarLink came up with a program to study how car-sharing could help commuters along with exposing some to clean-fuel vehicles, in fact, these were some of the earliest cars to be marketed directly to individual consumers as opposed to fleets.
The basic concept was as follows: Twelve cars would be parked in a reserved prime parking area immediately next to the entrance to the Dublin BART Station (which was the station I passed when I headed to the freeway anyway and the station that by default I would use when riding BART). At night, these cars would go home with users that lived in the area. During the day, these cars would be used by employees of Lawrence Livermore Lab which was located 14 miles from the station to get to work. There was no good, reliable alternative link from the station to the lab at the time.
As a “Homeside Commuter” (I was one of eleven), I would pay $200 per month which would cover the car, fuel, all maintenance and all insurance. For that I got a smartcard that opened a keybox and I could choose a set of keys and take one of the twelve (identical) cars home after returning from work via BART. I could use it all evening and all night, it just had to be back in its stall by 8am the next business day when I would presumable be back on the train. On Fridays I got to take the car all weekend (and on holidays as well).
“Workside Commuters” (there were twenty) were Lawrence Livermore employees that would arrive via BART in the morning, take one of the cars such as the one I had dropped off (perhaps with a still-warm seat) with another worker as a carpool and then drive to work where they were refueled while the worker was, uh, working and cleaned if necessary. At the end of the day they’d return to BART and be ready for me to come home and take one…Worksiders paid $60/month/pair or $30 each for their part of the project and were meant to carpool with at least one other worker each time.
I was interested in the car itself just because it was a bit different being natural gas powered and thought the whole concept sounded interesting. How’d it work out? Well, it was great. I never had any issues, there was always a car parked there when I needed one, I would normally look at the cars that were there quickly to make sure they looked clean inside, swipe my card, open the keybox, grab the key for the car I wanted, close the box and get in the car.
The parking area was fantastic, as close if not closer than the disabled spots, the only way to have improved on that part was if there was valet service. I can’t emphasize enough how much this mattered, the research study also noted this as a specific draw since the public parking at the station had not kept up with the area’s growth and often it was difficult to find a spot and get to the train on time.
Starting the car was totally normal with the exception of a small input device that while not mandatory to get the car to start, users were asked to use it in order for the researchers to conduct their research. You would enter your user ID, then enter what you were using the car for (commute, shopping, entertainment, road trip etc.) and then set off.
If your mission changed during that trip, they asked you to re-enter the current information.) I’d like to stress that this sounds like a bit of a pain, but it was well explained when we signed up and, well, I felt maybe it could be my small contribution to humankind. Certainly better than being a test specimen for a pharmaceutical company or something…
The cars themselves were standard 1998 Honda Civic GX’s, all Silver with Gray interiors, all automatic. GX’s are modified at the factory for natural gas and based on the standard mid-range Civic LX. The only difference is that it runs on Compressed Natural Gas instead of gasoline. There is a tank in the trunk just behind the rear seat that does intrude on trunk room somewhat but for this project was a non-issue.
There was probably room for one golf-bag left. (Sort of similar to how some hybrid cars have less space than a standard version car.) The tank in the photo above is large but the pic makes it look HUGE due to the perspective of the camera. The engine was a 1.6l 4-cylinder and had adequate power. CNG generates a bit less power than gasoline but in this car it was adequate. Range is less though, normally figured at just under 200 miles.
It was very exciting (to me) to be part of this. The money was a non-issue at the time and we tried to use the car as much as possible in the evenings and the weekends. Since the cars were supposed to be fueled up at the lab it was unlikely that any of the Homeside users would need to find a station. On Fridays I made sure that I chose a car that did in fact have close to a full tank.
However, if you wanted or needed to add CNG, you certainly could; Honda included a pamphlet in every car that showed all currently installed CNG stations. Most were inside large fleet company grounds or on the site of Utility companies, but apparently with the smart card we’d be able to access them and pay for the fuel. I did try to plan a trip to LA, but after a while decided it was probably a bad idea as the stations were really too few and far between, I suppose I was an early person to develop alternative fuel range anxiety.
As far as the basic car itself beyond the CNG aspect, well, it’s a Honda. I’d never had one before so that was novel as well. (I’m telling you, I can geek out over almost ANY car, at least the first time I experience one.) Civics are light, have a quiet engine, handle great and everything falls to hand exactly as you’d like it to. All controls and switches are well weighted and the plastic touch-points feel pretty good.
Everything seems well designed and built for a purpose, that being to transport a user with a minimum of fuss to their destination and to so with minimal maintenance for the lifespan of the vehicle. There was a little more road noise than I’d prefer on a freeway, but the car was built to a budget and it did not feel as if anything was skimped on that mattered.
An added benefit of a CNG vehicle (in California at least) is that they are allowed in HOV lanes without any passengers. Several times since the study concluded I have contemplated buying a CNG car to do just that with, as an alternative to a Hybrid whose HOV stickers had an expiration date.
Californians will do almost anything to get into an HOV lane during the commute hours, including the “Casual Carpool” in Berkeley and Oakland wherein you ride in a car with complete strangers to avoid the bridge toll and the traffic. I’ve done that as well and it does work very well but that’s really a subject for another article. (Update: That post has since been published, here is the link to it.)
While car-share programs sort of gross me out in general (who knows who drove it last or what their hygiene habits are?) as opposed to rental cars where I can at least delude myself into thinking that they are cleaned between use (I know that is untrue but it lets me sleep better at night so don’t comment with any horror stories, please), this program worked for me. I figured (correctly as it turned out) that the Homeside people would be kind of like me (commuter that had the means to afford an extra car and were interested in the research aspect) and the Workside people were obviously Lawrence Livermore Lab employees and not just some Schmo off the street.
The research paper that was published afterwards (link is here: http://www.carsharing.net/library/PRR-2000-10.pdf ) had some interesting findings. One Lab employee thought he was allowed to take the car home with him and started using it that way. They clarified the rules to him very quickly as they saw his log when he entered the data in the car. Refueling became an issue (not that I ever noticed) as some of the Homesiders lived quite a ways away and left the tank close to empty. In the end a CarLink employee had to refuel some of the cars regularly during the research period in addition to what was originally thought. It turns out that some of the heavier users of the cars were actually asked to leave the program early due to this issue.
A bigger issue apparently was that sometimes the Lab employees did not carpool, checked out all the cars and then worked later than anticipated, leaving no cars for some Homesiders. I never had a problem, but they apparently added a few more cars and retrained the Lab people. There was also a paid-for Taxi service available if this happened but it was not used even once, people sometimes just waited until a car returned.
The study is fascinating reading and I can’t rehash all of it here, but it does appear that most of the problems encountered were on the Workside (Lab) end of the project as opposed to the Homeside, specifically to do with carpooling, parking in the correct area, and refueling. It is nice to see that regular people are able to do things correctly, with the smarty-pants scientists being the ones causing the issues!
Even though I was a participant I had no idea how much media interest there was in this program until I researched it over the last couple of days. All types of media (TV, Radio, Print) apparently wanted to report on it at the time. I guess I am adding to it here and used some of the other media reports to help with this article. Overall I was very satisfied with the program and am happy and proud to have been a part of it. And the Honda Civic GX was not a bad car, either…
What I find interesting is that it wasn’t exactly cheap for “homesiders” – you could probably buy new Civic for well under $200 a month back then, On the one hand, there would be all the other expenses of use and said payments would stretch out far longer, on the other you’d own the car and, certainly in salt-free SF, might still be using it with no pressing need to replace it in sight.
Thanks for sharing Jim! I always enjoy your COAL posts and the interesting array of cars you’ve owned, but it was especially interesting to learn about this study in addition to the car.
You mentioned that you geek out over any car the first time you experience it. I’m the same way. I love the opportunity to get a rental or loaner car, or even a simple test drive. I’ve never driven or have rode in a CNG-powered car, but the 1st hybrid I ever rode in was an ’05 Civic Hybrid. I was quite impressed at the time.
Thanks! Yours are fun too, you’ve been in an (and are interested in and knowledgable about) a remarkable variety for someone your age!
Yours sounds like a great experience. I have always wondered how a CNG version of a car would differ from a gasoline version. Other than range, it sounds pretty similar.
This generation of Civic has always been a favorite of mine. My BIL still drives one as a second car. He had originally bought it for his mother, and it still has maybe 45K on it.
Road noise seems to have been a Honda side-effect since forever. This has been my biggest complaint in every Honda I have ever driven or any length of time. I have toyed with buying a few cans of that thick black spray sealant/undercoat to spray over all of the interior sheetmetal in the back half of my Honda Fit. However, I always seem to have higher priority chores around the house, so I have not tried it.
The driving experience is identical to that of a normal gasoline engine, more so that that of a hybrid. It’s kind of like the difference between driving a 1.8 vs the 1.6 version of the same car – slightly slower but not much difference otherwise. Range obviously has more to do with the capacity of the tank. I’d have no problem nowadays owning a CNG car, especially in a state like Utah where CNG is crazy cheap and I believe the state offers incentives.
This is a fascinating look at a type of car sharing arrangement I was not familiar with. The idea of passing cars between these two kinds of users on a daily basis is quite clever and logical.
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always found car-sharing arrangements compelling, in a mostly abstract way, since my own travel patterns and priorities don’t lend themselves well to participating. But there’s no doubt that we will be seeing more of them, as urban densities increase, and automobile transportation is increasingly commoditized.
I did not get into it in the article but there was actually a third user group, the “Work Group”, wherein the cars, once parked at LL lab for the day, were able to be checked out for something like $1.50/hour and 10cents a mile or thereabouts. In the end it was only taken advantage of once during the entire study, mainly due to the lab having their own vehicle fleet that were also available to employees. So the idea was there to have the cars always be used by someone and never really be sitting (besides in the Home users’ garages overnight). Clever idea, great study and the research paper I linked to is an interesting read.
Now that car sharing is on the rise, I’m not sure I want to share my car with anyone off the street, largely because of potential issues of accidents, and such, and my driving patterns don’t lend to that in the first place since I commute daily to and from work.
That said, I can see where this can work for the right people, so for those, it’s a good option to have. However, I was interested in how the lab people had a harder time with the research than those who lived near the cars, like you.
I’ve never ridden in a CNG powered car, but did ride in a then brand new, 2002 Civic hybrid when a friend bought one. They in all respects were like a regular Civic, except when the stop/start was activated, no AC, but he just let up off the brake, and a slight shudder as the motor came to life, and voila, we were off, very little intrusion at all otherwise that this was a hybrid.
It’s much like the hybrid buses that Seattle’s Metro uses that when the bus makes its stop at the stations, the motor shuts down, but when they need to roll, a slight shudder, and the buses are running again, though in this case, the motor is used as a backup to help reduce emissions, and to aid the electric motors, as while rolling, the ignition is shut off so the motor is actually turning, but not firing to help keep the alternator going, I think is how these work, but once on the surface street, it’s all diesel.
This article is extremely interesting. I know it’s a little outside the realm of Curbside Classics, but I’d very much appreciate hearing about other car sharing experiences from the perspective of an enthusiast. I do hope Jim follows up with a carpooling article.
I’ll put something together about the Casual Carpool in the next few weeks. It does have a lot to do with CC’s as in the variety of cars you get to “experience”…
Thanks for the reply. You definitely don’t have to sell me on the relevance of such articles!
I live in the Bay Area and am often curious about the various car sharing programs that have cropped up. Zipcar, City Car Share, Lyft, Relay Rides, etc. I share your aversion to sharing my own vehicle, but I’m certain there are interesting stories/experiences related to each of these services.
This is the mental illness known as liberalism at its finest.
Why is that “liberalism?” Car shares are very popular and successful here in Vancouver. Many people have no need to own a car because our city is designed around public transportation, bikes and walking. When a car is needed, it’s only about $10 per hour to use a car share and that includes insurance and fuel. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Nobody has to use a car share if they don’t want to.
Liberalism? No, science. But I repeat myself.
Interesting perspective on the Beta test of a car sharing service. I know California has really been pushing CNG power for transit and refuse fleets. The 1st time I saw a CNG Civic of this generation was as the supervisors car for the UC Davis bus operation.
Very interesting. Have always been curious about running a CNG car here in OK because our prices are typically very low.
The key (I think) is the refueling infrastructure and how available it is to private users. If that exists and if your commute/driving patterns allow easy use of it, then it makes sense, especially if there are any state incentives towards the purchase of the vehicle. Often a used CNG vehicle can be a good buy if other users don’t know how the whole thing works, i.e. sometimes you can find a real bargain. Honda has been making the CNG Civic for about 15 years now and they are around. In CA at least the whole HOV access thing is a huge advantage although you see less people in CNG cars that you’d think there’d be.
Definitely, the home refueling stations are coming down in price, and that would take care of 95% of most people’s needs.
In the late 80’s a gas company bought some gas rights on my grandfather’s farm, and they set up a large propane station right on the edge of his property adjacent to the road. He was allowed to refuel for free from the station as part of his lease, so all his farm trucks quickly sprouted large propane tanks in the bed to take advantage, I believe the tractors were converted to propane as well. That’s about as convenient a power source as you can get out in the sticks, I would think.
CNG was withdrawn from the market here after many years as an alternative fuel, LPG being more user friendly and less power robbing and cleaner. Most vehicles that were converted kept petrol too becoming dual fuel vehicles gas/petrol being switched on for hill climbing as CNG power losses are too great or for when you run out and need to get to a rare filling station.
LPG dedicated cars are available from Holden and Ford though in NZ LPG doesnt have the huge price advantage enjoyed by OZ motorists.
Yes and no, Bryce. We had both CNG and LPG on our taxi fleets. CNG works well if the engine is designed for it, for example with high compression and different cam and ignition timing, as with the car featured. The power loss in this case is only about 10-15% and since most of the cars we have over here are over powered anyway, you’d really never notice it. The downside of CNG was range, only about 200 km whereas on LPG with a 100 litre tank you could get at last 500 km and still have a good reserve to find a station to fill up. That’s the main reason we used LPG, and you could also refuel cars that had run out off of a barbecue bottle and yes, taxi drivers run out of fuel all the time regardless of the fuel used.
LPG is easier for gasoline conversions as the timing and ignition characteristics are more similar, which makes dual fuel a good option. That said, when a motor is done up specifically for LPG, it works extremely well and the motor will often have more power than on gasoline as all the emission control systems can be discarded.
Right now LPG costs about $0.75 to $0.80 in Vancouver, vs regular gasoline at $1.40-$1.45. I am seeing a lot more LPG cars on the road again. It was extremely popular during the high gasoline price era of the 1980’s but as gasoline got cheaper it waned. Early EFI systems didn’t work well with it, either. Now it’s excellent and many commercial vehicles like light trucks and taxi wheelchair vans are using it.
When I first got to Korea in the mid 1990’s, all the buses in Seoul (and there are scads of them) were stinky, dirty diesels that were never maintained. In addition, every single dwelling, be it a new apartment or a old traditional house, had an oil fueled boiler to run the ondol system. The combination of the two created killer pollution. Within two years every bus and home was converted to CNG. It was a huge engineering project but in good Korean style, they went ahead and did it pronto. The effect was amazing, a huge improvement almost overnight.
I expect we’ll see plenty more CNG and LPG.
(replying 5 years later :))
i rented an lpg sonata in korea about ten years ago. i literally had know idea until i filled up the tank that it was lpg. the car drove exactly the same and had normal range. in korea (i think this is still true), all the fleet cars such as taxis and rentals are mandated by law to lpg. lpg is available at some gas stations, probably about the same portion as diesel is in the states. the have a special “L” medalion on the stations signage and are easy to spot.
it’s idiotic that we haven’t done this in the states.
I’ve been intrigued by CNG-powered cars for a long time. The cost has gone up lately, but it’s still way cheaper than gas – $2.60/gallon at the station closest to me, while regular unleaded is around $4.00/gallon. A few years ago, it was still around $1/gallon and at the time I was doing a lot of miles for work (~30k/year – mostly local) so I probably would’ve saved a shitload of money if I could have worked up the balls to purchase a CNG-powered car (and cut through traffic in the HOV lane). I wanted to get one of the dual tank, gas/CNG cars to take care of range anxiety on trips out of town (I would’ve been content refueling more frequently), but there were two things that put me off from doing it. One was that the selection of available cars were mostly base model Cavalier sedans or fullsize pickups that got terrible mileage. I would’ve been OK with a Civic (even a low-spec automatic model), but the only ones I could ever find were CNG-only. The second, and more serious, issue was that I could never get a straight answer on whether or not the utility companies in my area would actually sell me CNG. I made a few calls and the people who worked there didn’t know. Some said it was only available for sale to other fleets, some said I should be able to in theory but no one had actually done it.
I imagine nowadays, this is no longer a problem. Honda is even heavily promoting the CNG Civic for personal use in radio ads here right now, so the confusion has probably been sorted out. In any case, it definitely wouldn’t be a problem for me anymore, since I now work for one of the places that owns a CNG refueling station… but I no longer drive that much, or drive much at all, so it wouldn’t make any sense. I now have a commute almost exactly like what Jim described. Short drive to the train station in the morning, short drive home in the afternoon. It’s so short that it’s hell on the car, actually, and I try to take the (CNG-powered) bus as much as possible. Much easier when the weather is nice, and I tell myself it’s good exercise!
So having a similar commute, I do think that these type of car-sharing arrangements are interesting, but limited in where they would work. Where I live, for instance, they’d never find enough “reverse commuters” to take the cars during the day. I also think the success of this particular program probably hinged upon involving people who were mostly responsible and well-educated. I imagine it gets a little more chaotic involving the general populace, although I really know very little about car-sharing, so that’s just an assumption. If I was in the same circumstances in 1998 when it was all brand new and exciting (and enabled me to try out CNG Hondas) I’d definitely have done it, just out of curiosity. Now, I think the future for people who do commutes like this are probably EVs – which is shocking to hear myself say, because I thought they were utopian idealist nonsense for the longest time. I’d now love to have one, and the only reason I don’t is that I’m unwilling to buy any new car. If I’m still riding the train in a few years when they’re available used, that’s what I’ll be driving.
Oh, and one last comment on CNG – I know there’s something you can buy that refills the tank off the gas line coming into your home, but since I’ve never had gas service I never really looked into it… but that seems like a truly awesome feature to have, and if I’m remembering correctly, the cost of the fuel became ridiculously cheap at that point (although the equipment was very pricey to install).
One factor to consider is that I believe the energy content of CNG is lower than that of gasoline. I believe that is why the car is a bit lower-powered and probably you can’t go as far on a gallon equivalent. (Kind of like E-85???) I am not 100% positive about this but think I remember this from back then. It is still cheaper though overall if you discount the initial purchase price of the car itself. And the HOV thing is huge.
You are right, nowadays I think the same car-share arrangement that I did would probably be handled by an EV with chargers at both end, even simpler than filling up with CNG. And yes, the type of person on both ends in my program was certainly a consideration that I did not really put in the article for lack of figuring out a good way to say it that would not sound elitist and/or potentially be misunderstood. The research article definitely talks about this as well and affirms your suspicion.
The home CNG chargers available at the time were relatively low-pressure refueling rigs and kind of “trickled” the CNG into the tank. The lab in this case had access to a “fast” charger that if I am not mistaken was more like filling a BBQ tank with propane. I think the idea was that a homeowner could not be trusted to turn off a high-pressure stream in his garage but if something went wrong with a low pressure one it was much more manageable. Someone out there may know way more about this than I do so I encourage you to speak up if you do know…
Energy content of different fuels is a bit of a black science to me, but from a glance at the EPA ratings for CNG vs. gas, the Civics are only slightly less fuel-efficient on CNG. Combined MPG for the 1998 models was 27mpg on CNG/28mpg on gas, and it’s 31mpg/32mpg for the 2013 models. To be honest, I had never realized that there was such a dramatic loss of power in CNG vehicles compared with their gas equivalents, and knowing this now, it seems like you’re probably right and it’s more a matter of specific tuning that is keeping the fuel efficiency roughly in-line with the gas engines.
Like I posted above, the actual energy level of CNG is really hard to determine but 80% is about right.
CNG burns very differently, much faster and has a astronomical octane, like 120+. In a cool climate it will easily top 130. When we did a CNG, we always did them on a Caprice 9C1. The LT1 was sold off (and would pay for the whole conversion) and a BAND NEW, not used, ladies and Germs, Small block short block was used, the one for the vans with the bigger mains. The stock cam was removed and replaced with one for CNG and the heads were sent out for larger ports. The pistons were specified at 11:1 (yes, you can order that from GM) and presto, any power loss was gone. Nice 2.5″ dual exhaust and one can per side and you have a very nice motor indeed. The present Civic CNG has 12.7:1 compression.
Problem was only taxi owners can drive CNG cars on single fuel. This is because the range is only like 200 km, depending on the weather. It really isn’t a problem if you get the car full and then fill in again before next rush but the drivers were used to filling up once at the end of the shift and it was hard to change that habit.
Interesting… so how do the bi-fuel gas/CNG cars cope with such high compression ratios? Do they pull the timing way out to compensate, or are they just spec’d differently (some compromise between compression extremes) than the CNG-only vehicles?
Sean: As Canuck said: CNG burns very differently, much faster and has a astronomical octane, like 120+. In a cool climate it will easily top 130. Without the very high compression ratios, the maximum energy content of CNG would not be extracted. It’s the only way to compensate (partially) for CNG’s lower energy content to start with.
From KiwiBryce’s comment above and Canuck’s reply to it, I got the impression that CNG is still combustible at typical (older) gas engine compression ratios, just not very efficient. GM, Ford, Toyota and Chrysler all at one point sold cars that could run on both CNG or 87 octane gasoline at the flip of a switch and I’m wondering how this was possibly accomplished without seriously effecting driveability/performance in one fuel mode.
There was either a happy compromise between the two, or there was a lot of fancy software adjustment going on – which would be impressive, considering the optimal setup for each type of fuel.
Sean, if you really want maximum efficiency on CNG you have to do it single fuel and do up the engine to take advantage of the higher octane. The cam has much different timing that the gasoline engine. I can really remember but I believe the duration was less due the pressurized fuel.
Try to do them dual fuel meant a huge compromise in performance in either fuel, so we didn’t do it. That’s because in a small city like Victoria you were never far away from either CNG or LPG, we could get away on single fuel.
We always did 305 truck blocks with 11:1 pistons and a very mild cam. With ported heads, they ran beautifully. We dynoed one at 160 at the rear wheels and 250 lb/ft torque.
Really, if the car-sharing program was what they were experimenting with they should’ve used conventional gasoline-powered cars but if it was CNG they should’ve issued each car to a single driver for both work and personal use. You’d think Livermore Labs would know about isolating the variable…
My mechanic Dad was a registered alternative fuels installer, and did CNG/LPG conversions through the 1980s here in New Zealand. Like Bryce said, CNG (and LPG) conversions were available here for years – and reached the peak of popularity during the mid 1980s when petrol got expensive – CNG was substantially cheaper as it could be produced here, whereas petrol is all imported.
Pretty much any standard engine of the time would run on CNG, but Sean Cornelis is correct in that the combustion was far from efficient. It wasn’t as noticeable on the larger Falcons/Holdens/Valiants, but many owners converted cars that weren’t suitable. We all got used to crawling up hills behind Mk II Ford Escort 1300s emitting a bad smell and with a CNG sticker on the bumper. Pretty sure I saw a few 1100cc Eskies with CNG too…!
Many of our conversions were dual-petrol/CNG, changing from one to another with the flip of a switch and driveability/performance was fairly dramatically affected in one fuel mode. You’d usually have to start the vehicle on petrol and then flick over to CNG when the engine was warm. There generally wasn’t any software at the time, it was a mechanical change effected via a switch and/or dial. Petrol and CNG characteristics were too different for acceptable driving characteristics in both. Our neighbours had a 1973 Ford Cortina 1600; when we went to school in it, the minute it went onto CNG it turned into a breathless gutless thing that didn’t especially like idling (no, my Dad didn’t do the conversion!). This was the general experience of most users, and CNG rapidly faded from popularity.
LPG on the other hand has been much more successful here – its characteristics better matched those of petrol, so switching from one to the other was usually fairly seamless. Our family car in the mid-late 80s was a 1986 Ford Sierra 2.0L (with pinto engine) on dual petrol-LPG. It certainly started better from cold on petrol, but it ran very well on either – and would generally do around 42mpg (UK not US) on LPG on trips. Nowadays the factory-LPG Commodores and Falcons are available as dual-fuel or dedicated LPG. Their systems are fully integrated with the engine management etc, and they run superbly on LPG. There’s still the issue of lesser range though – and more limited LPG fuel stations. Cost-wise diesels are often better solutions.
There are two problems I see in such an arrangement: First, a car is not only transportation; it’s also a rolling tool locker and toybox for the owner. So often we leave stuff we’ll need later in the day, in our cars – and allowing one’s car to be checked out by a complete stranger, and not knowing which car you’ll use later in the day, make cleaning/gathering up imperative. And for that reason a major change in habit, and probably a pain.
Then, there’s the lack of consideration that goes with lack of ownership – call it the Rental Car Syndrome. Ownership is a major investment; and a big incentive to care for what it is you pay to own.
USE, just use, implies no long-term consideration. So the user will beat on the car, take risks, drive it harder. And whenever possible, let “someone else” deal with the problems of referring the car for service.
In a short-term pilot project that would be a small problem. As a permanent lifestyle arrangement, much bigger. Look at fleet vehicles…marginal tires, maintenance deferred to where it’s almost-but-not-quite dangerous. That WILL be how such a program would work out.
I would think that with the wide spread use of Smartphones, coordinating the needs of users would be much more simple, and the users would have constant updates of vehicle availability. The tracking of which specific driver would have possession of the vehicle at any particular time. Users could provide instant feedback to the system about vehicle condition. Of course the operating authority would have all the driver’s info in their usage account. Any expenses caused by abuse could be charged to the specific driver. There’s a local bicycle sharing program that is sponsored by Ford in my area. The entire system is run by Smartphone app. ( There is also a kiosk available system) Bikes are ferried between pick up/drop off stations to keep the system balanced. As was mentioned, it takes a certain type of motivated, responsible individual, usually self selected, to make programs like this successful.
Nowadays true, in my case this was back in 1999. I’m not even sure I had any cell phone back then…
However the biggest problem that I think persists in today’s car-sharing schemes with a theoretically infinite number of users is that if there isn’t someone to physically “check-in” the cars how can someone really be held responsible for damage? For example, let’s say you “share” a car and whack the mirror on something but don’t say anything and drop the car off. The next user notes the damage. How does anyone know that YOU caused the damage or if the damage was caused when parked after you were done with it? Or someone uses up all the windshield wiper fluid after driving through Ohio in the winter and drops the car off in Cleveland. The next user gets in and there is no fluid, now it’s their problem…
I remember this car – it made its public debut at the Washington DC auto show (a rarity for debuts) and all I remember is that tiny trunk. The tank was hidden, so all I could really looks at was the rest of the car which was mostly standard Civic. Ironically, I don’t think they were actually sold in the DC or nearby suburbs; being the capital, the few concept or production cars that are first shown here are often alternative fuel vehicles of some sort.
Dual fuel conversions are quiet popular in Russia, both for carbureted Ladas and modern fuel injected cars. The consensus is that you lose a few horsepower, but the engine runs cleaner, with fewer deposits forming, and oil lasts longer between changes. Gas being half to cost of regular fuel is the main motivator of course. Refilling is done at regular gas stations, most major highways and larger cities have stations with gas. Most recently I took a long cab ride in a mid 2000s Camry with a conversion done, the tank/bladder sits in place of the spare, the spare in turn was just sitting in the trunk.
LPG was very popular with fleets back in the 1960s and 1970s. I know that GTE (the local phone company) had all their vans for installers on LPG, as well as the fleet sedans, converted to use LPG and had signage on them telling the world of it. As a fleet, with a compound to house the refueling station, it worked, and worked well.
CNGs were a great idea here in NJ in the 90s when I worked for the local gas co. The local school board built a million $ fueling station with a huge subsidy from us and ordered a few new buses. Too bad it only lasted 5 years before they tore it down due to lack of feasibility. We promoted the fact the individual car owners could fuel up at night off their home gas service and that it was cheaper, safer than propane or gasoline. Range was limited on bi-fuel conversions to 100 miles with the conversion cost of about $2,000. Dedicated units ran about 200 miles and were slightly cheaper from the factory. We had no mechanical issues with the Dodge Caravan but NOX emission were a concern. Range anxiety was a bother though. Very few takers… I loved the 1989 Mercury Marquis LS sedan our VP had.