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Chrysler considering natural-gas engines for Ram truck brand

Chrysler Group LLC, the U.S. automaker operated by Fiat SpA, is exploring the possibility of adding compressed natural-gas powered engines to its Ram truck brand, a top executive said.

“I’m eager and very interested to see what we can do with CNG in our truck applications,” Fred Diaz, head of the Ram brand, said Thursday in an interview at the Chicago Auto Show.

Fiat, which holds a 25 percent stake in Chrysler, is the market leader in Europe for engines using compressed natural gas, or CNG. It has an 80 percent share of CNG-powered cars and 55 percent of light commercial vehicles. Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of both automakers, has said natural-gas engines are an attractive way to cut emissions because they’re cheaper than competing technologies.

“If that becomes the new in-thing for alternative fuel going forward, we’re going to be miles ahead of the competition,” Diaz said. The U.S. became the world’s largest producer of natural gas in 2009.

Ram may experiment with vehicles sold to fleet customers, which would have their own fueling station, Diaz said. He declined to give a time line or specify which Ram models might get the new engine.

A lack of fueling stations in the U.S. limits the market to fleet vehicles in the near term, Phil Gott, an IHS Automotive analyst in Lexington, Massachusetts, said in a telephone interview last month.

The U.S. ranks 14th globally in sales of natural gas vehicles and Italy is sixth, according to the International Association for Natural Gas Vehicles. Pakistan ranks first, with 2.3 million vehicles and 3,068 fueling stations. 

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