GM, Chrysler hurry to invest in companies that make natural-gas powered engines

Article by Christian Andrei, on July 3, 2011

In anticipation of natural gas emerging as a feasible alternative to gasoline, major carmakers like General Motors and Chrysler are planning to pour investments in the production of engines and parts for vehicles that run on this type of fuel. The auto industry wants to lessen its dependence on imported oil and to exploit the vast natural gas resources of North America.

Natural gas engine and parts makers like Westport Innovations and Clean Energy Fuel Corp. would be among those companies that are expected to gain.

At a Detroit Economic Club event this past week, Micky Bly, the GM executive in charge of electric vehicles, said that GM CEO Dan Akerson has made it clear that the company has to get back into this area. Currently, crude oil trades at nearly $95 a barrel, while natural gas trades at only $4 per million British thermal units (mmBtu).

ThinkEquity analyst Shawn Severson said that natural gas is clean, cheaper, and provides a domestic source of fuel, which makes it secure.

Many in the industry consider vehicles that run on natural gas to be greener than all-electric cars, which is powered by batteries that run on electricity from fossil fuel-fired power plants. Westport mainly makes natural gas engines for big trucks. It has a project with Caterpillar Inc. to create engines for mining and earthmoving trucks.

Last week, it partnered with GM in a project to build natural gas engines for lighter vehicles. Jack Robinson, Chief Investment Officer at Winslow Green Growth Fund, said that engines for big trucks are priced from $200,000-$300,000.

To develop these solutions, Westport, whether directly or indirectly via its partners, will make a $1 billion investment. Winslow Green Growth Fund has a 4% stake in the company.

Topics: gm, chrysler, investment

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