Back in March 2012, Ram Truck announced it would become the only manufacturer in North America to offer a fully factory-built bi-fuel compressed natural gas-powered (CNG) pickup truck.
There are other North American manufacturers offering bi-fuel CNG pickup trucks, but Ram is alone in building their Ram 2500 HD CNG completely in their own factory. They announced at that time that they expected to be able to deliver their first trucks in July of 2012.
Ram brought one of their just built 2500 CNG pickup trucks to their Proving Ground in Chelsea, Michigan the last week in June and invited me to drive the CNG pickup on their test track. I took the opportunity to drive the Ram 2500 CNG as I have been following the development of CNG as an alternative fuel for commercial and other vehicles in North America and have reported previously on the development of bi-fuel pickup trucks.
As I expected, except for the presence of the fueling system and tanks in the bed, you would not know you are driving a CNG powered truck. It starts, sounds and performs just like you would expect of a gasoline powered Ram 2500. It accelerates just as quickly from dead stop and increases power evenly when needed to change lanes or adjust to driving conditions. All power, braking, ride comfort and control performances are the same as a gasoline powered Ram 2500.
Ram Truck is offering the Ram 2500 HD CNG Crew Cab 4X4 in their ST and SLT trim levels and is the only fully factory built bi-fuel (CNG and gasoline) pickup in the market place.
The Ram HD CNG is powered by the 5.7-liter HEMI® V-8 generating 383 hp @ 5,600 rpm with 400 lb.-ft. ot torque @ 4,000 rpm and features both compressed gas storage tanks and a gasoline fuel tank.
The transmission for the Ram HD CNG is the 66RFE 6-speed automatic that performs smoothly yet solidly with the HEMI engine.
Pricing starts at $47,500, including $995 destination charge. The SLT trim level is slightly higher and the full range of Ram 2500 optional features and equipment are available.
The Ram 2500 CNG system was fully engineered and tested by Chrysler Group and assembled at the company’s Heavy Duty truck plant in Saltillo, Mexico.
The Ram’s 5.7-liter HEMI bi-fuel engine has been modified to run on compressed natural gas as well as gasoline. Redesigned cylinder heads with specifically designed CNG compatible valves and valve-seat materials allow the engine to burn both fuels. It also gets a second, CNG-specific fuel rail and set of injectors. New spark plugs improve combustion and durability, and a new power train control module allows the HEMI to seamlessly operate on either of the two fuel sources.
In use, the system is automatic; eliminating operator switches altogether and utilizes either CNG or gasoline, transitioning from one to the other with little discernible difference in operation or capability.
Although a small amount of gasoline is used during engine startup, the Ram 2500 CNG runs exclusively on compressed natural gas. If the CNG tanks are emptied, the vehicle will automatically switch to gasoline.
In addition to a conventional gasoline fuel gauge, a second CNG-specific gauge sits adjacent to it in the instrument cluster to provide fuel level information for both fuels to the operator.
The CNG tanks provide a gasoline gallon equivalent (GGE) of 18.2 gallons. The gasoline fuel tank holds 8 gallons. The Ram 2500 CNG-only range is estimated to be 255 miles, while the backup supply of gasoline extends the range to 367 total miles.
The Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG’s two ultra-strong 4.6 cu.-ft. (130-liter) CNG tanks are located in the forward portion of the Ram’s 8-foot pickup bed. Both tanks are mounted to the frame and covered by a painted 50 ksi high-strength steel cover. The CNG filler connection is located next to the gasoline fuel neck, accessed through the Ram’s fuel filler door.
The Ram 2500 Heavy Duty CNG pickup is designed for fleet and commercial customers.
“Commercial customers are extremely important to Ram Truck,” said Fred Diaz, Ram Truck President and CEO Ram Truck Brand and Chrysler de Mexico – Chrysler Group LLC. ”Adding a hard-working, fully capable CNG-powered truck to the Ram lineup makes a lot of sense – both economically and environmentally.”
“Our commercial fleet customers have been asking us to build a CNG powered Ram,” said Peter Grady, Vice President, Network Development and Fleet – Chrysler Group LLC. “These fleets have already developed their own fleet fueling infrastructure for CNG, and are strong proponents of the technology.”
At current prices, which are conservatively $1.25 less than the gallon equivalent of gasoline, CNG promises significant cost savings over the life of the truck. For example, assuming 15 mpg and 30,000 miles of commercial driving per year, the savings on this Ram could be $2,500 to $3,000 per year.
The Ram 2500 CNG retains its heavy-duty capability: competent towing, payload hauling and outstanding acceleration for highway merging and passing. Ram 2500 CNG SLT offers 1,580 lbs. of payload, a 4-ft.-8-in. usable bed length and 7,650 lbs. of towing capability. The ST model is slightly less.
The Ram 2500 is delivered ready-to-tow and standard equipment includes the integrated 4- and 7-pin connectors along with a Class IV hitch receiver. The Ram CNG also comes with a trailer brake controller with customer-programmable electric or electric-over-hydraulic trailer brake options.
Natural gas is found abundantly in North America and is a common fuel source for large vehicle fleets.
CNG comes primarily from underground sources in the U.S. and Canada. It is plentiful and offers lower tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel fuel. In fact, CNG vehicles emit 20 percent less CO2 than gasoline vehicles – and benefit the environment not only by lowering tailpipe emissions, but also generating fewer greenhouse gasses in fuel production, as well. Also, dedicated NGVs produce, on average, 70 percent less carbon monoxide, 87 percent less non-methane organic gas and 87 percent less NOx than traditional gasoline powered vehicles.
CNG is a mature technology that’s available at a lower cost than other alternative fuels. It’s further supported by positive consumer attitudes regarding green products and favorable governmental regulations and policy initiatives.
Fleet operators have a number of fueling choices. There are approximately 1,500 CNG fueling locations across the U.S., half of which are accessible to the public. CNG producers are working aggressively to bring more on line every day.
In addition, large fleet operations frequently install both quick-fill and slow-fill CNG fueling stations. And the Ram CNG’s bi-fuel capability allows it to operate on gasoline indefinitely, until CNG can be added.
Ram executives expect customers for the new Ram 2500 HD CNG to include communications companies, public utilities, natural gas production firms and government agencies among others.
Ram warranties the Ram 2500 HD CNG with their 5-year/100,000-mile power train limited warranty that covers the HEMI V-8 and transmission, and adds internal engine components specific to CNG: the upgraded valves, the valve seats, fuel injectors and rail and the specially designed spark plugs — all part of the factory installed manufacturing and production processes.
Covering virtually every other aspect of the Ram 2500 CNG is a 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper limited warranty. Specific to the CNG engineering, this also covers all non-engine components, including the tanks, storage compartment and fuel filler equipment.
With Fiat being by far the dominant CNG manufacturer in Europe with a greater than 80 percent share of the market Ram will continue their market leading development of Ram CNG pickup trucks.
Natural Gas Vehicles are not new. There are about 150,000 Natural Gas Vehicles (NGVs) on U.S. roads and more than 13 million worldwide. The International Association of Natural Gas Vehicles estimates that there will be more than 50 million natural gas vehicles worldwide within the next 10 years, or about 9 percent of the world transportation fleets.
While the United States imports more than 60 percent of the oil it uses, 98 percent of the natural gas used in the U.S. was produced in North America. NGVs can be refueled from existing natural gas lines. This makes local retail refueling stations that utilize such lines possible
Jim Nelson is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association