AP News

Auto companies meet in OKC for natural gas plan


OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — With nearly two dozen states looking to add natural gas-powered vehicles to their government fleets, it ultimately could push the public to follow suit in purchasing cars and trucks powered by cleaner, affordable and domestically produced fuel, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin said Wednesday.

Fallin spoke to a group of automobile manufacturers and dealers, and purchasing officials from more than a dozen states, following a discussion about an effort involving 22 states to solicit bids for the purchase of natural gas-powered vehicles for state fleets.

"We're serious. We're ready to buy natural gas vehicles now," Fallin said. "We all know that natural gas is a cleaner form of energy. It's an abundant form of energy. It's a less expensive and cheaper form of energy, one that will not only create American-made jobs, it will be good for our national security and economic security."

Fallin and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper have led the effort to get auto manufacturers to produce more affordable vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. The initiative also is designed to promote the natural gas industry, and many of the states that have joined the effort — including Texas, Wyoming, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — are natural gas-producing states.

Fallin acknowledged that a vibrant natural gas industry "will help provide our states with money back into our local economies, money back into our state budgets, which will be beneficial for those governors who are participating in this."

Twenty-two states have joined to issue a formal request for proposals, or RFP, being coordinated by Oklahoma state officials. Solicitation responses from auto manufacturers and dealers are due Sept. 7, and purchasing officials expect award a contract by Oct. 5.

The contract specifically details a potential purchase of as many as 60 compact sedans, 850 mid- to full-size sedans, 400 half-ton trucks and 480 three-quarter ton trucks, although it notes that the final number of vehicles purchased could fluctuate.

Wednesday's meeting focused on an overview of the solicitation and details of the RFP, and state officials and vendors acknowledge there are still many details to be worked out.

"Anytime you have 22 states involved in something, you're going to have 22 different opinions about how it needs to be done," said Alan Rosner, fleet director for Sam Pack's Five-Star Ford in Carrollton, Texas, who said he plans to participate in the bid process. "We'll get it ironed out. It's generic enough to work.

"The more product that we can put out there for choices, the better it is for everybody."

Rosner noted only 12 of the 22 states allow out-of-state dealers to sell vehicles to the state.

Oklahoma's Secretary of Energy Michael Ming acknowledged that a 22-state proposal is complicated and said Wednesday's meeting was designed to help answer questions posed by manufacturers, dealers and state procurement officials.

"Now you're going from a typical procurement of buying pencils or copiers to procuring something that doesn't even exist in some cases or has never been procured before," Ming said. "I think it would be unrealistic to expect a perfect RFP, so this is exactly the kind of conversation that we wanted."

Ford Motor Co., Chrysler, and General Motors Co. all produce CNG-powered three-quarter ton pickup trucks, and Honda Motor Co. has produced a CNG-powered Civic since 1998. Now state officials are hoping their solicitation prompts manufacturers to consider producing even more CNG vehicles.

"We've got dealers in 37 states, over 200 dealers who can sell natural gas vehicles," said Ryan Harty, a project manager for American Honda Motor Co., who said the sales of 2012 CNG models already have doubled last year's sales figures.

"We see this as a great opportunity to show the capabilities of natural gas as a vehicle fuel to audiences that might not be aware of it, including the states."

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy


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