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Will Ford's F-150 be 2014's CNG Truck of the Year?

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As much of America gets gassed debating whether or not an electric car will outsell a hydrogen fuel cell car, truck owners stand by amused. It will be quite some time before any of these new technologies can deliver the power required by a truck. Nevertheless, change is under way in 2014. An American energy boom has driven natural gas prices down and offerings of bi-fuel trucks up. Here's a look at which compressed natural gas, or CNG, powered trucks are available this year.

Sierra and Silverado
Given that General Motors (NYSE: GM ) has offered bi-fuel models of the Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra since last year, you'd think that the company would have a distinct advantage over Ford. But truck sales over the past few months have shown that buyers are disenchanted with the standard version of these models, particularly the Silverado, and the future of the nat gas version does not bode well.

That aside, some customers will be drawn to the CNG Silverado HD and the Sierra HD (GM is only offering CNG in the heavy duty models) for the 6.0-liter V-8 and the ability to switch between gasoline and CNG at the driver's discretion. The combined range of the two fuels is some 650 miles, which is why CNG capability appeals so strongly to fleet customers that log high miles on a daily basis .

Ultimately, lackluster sales for the regular versions of these two trucks, combined with the fact that GM only offers natural gas versions of the heavy duty models, means there is room for a competitor to sneak in and compete for market share with a light duty truck. Enter the F-150.

The F-150
First and foremost, Ford (NYSE: F ) expects to sell 15,000 of its F-150 model trucks with a CNG upfit in 2014. That's a drop in the bucket when you consider the company has sold at least 60,000 standard F-150s every single month for the last eight months.

That said, it is currently the only light duty truck available as a bi-fuel vehicle. Its 3.7-liter V-6 may not be as powerful as GM's trucks, but its 750-mile combined range may be the deciding factor for customers who don't need that extra might. If they do need the power, Ford also offers one medium-duty, and two super-duty models with CNG upfits.

Most importantly from a sales perspective, there is tangible demand for the F-150. The only reason Ford is making it is because customers asked them to.

Ford's CNG upfit will run you $6,000 to $9,000 on top of purchase costs, but that is still cheaper than the extra $11,000 that you'd have to cough up for one of GM's CNG trucks, though ultimately so many states and localities offer tax rebates on CNG vehicles that this can be a non-factor, depending on where you live .

Bottom line
Despite the anticipated low sales totals for these vehicles, the initiatives matter. Whichever manufacturer establishes itself as the go-to for natural gas powered trucks stands to benefit in years to come, as corporate fleets utilize CNG to save on transportation costs. Invest accordingly.

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