With the introduction, and now deliveries, of the new Ford F-150 CNG capable pickup trucks, Ford is the only manufacturer offering a bi-fuel (gasoline/CNG) or dedicated CNG fueled half ton pickup truck in the market. Up until a couple of weeks ago, we had experienced only the bi-fuel version of the F-150 (standard cab) that runs on both gasoline and CNG allowing optimum fuel and range flexibility for the owner of the vehicle.
We will say right up front that a CNG light duty pickup truck, bi-fuel or dedicated, is not really a truck for the everyday pickup truck buyer. True, it runs on cleaner burning CNG that is cheaper than gasoline, but it costs more to purchase, CNG fuel stations are a bit far and few between and its tow/haul capacity is reduced measurably by the CNG equipment installation.
At least for now, it is better choice for commercial applications than for the consumer market.
In August, Ford delivered us a regular production F-150 with a dedicated CNG fuel system (instead of the bi-fuel) for us to drive test around Central Texas for a week. The test truck they delivered was a 2014 F-150 4x2 SuperCrew XLT short bed in Ingot Silver with a Gray Leather 40/40 plus console seating interior.
With just a couple of notable exceptions (mainly the tank in the bed and a reduced tow/haul capability), it looked and drove just like a regular F-150 XLT running on gasoline only.
This F-150 was fitted out very nicely with all of the standard XLT trim and features including the 3.7L V6 gasoline engine and 6-speed SelectShift electronic automatic transmission with tow mode. It came with a base price of $34,955. Making it the XLT trim level added Power Driver Seat, Power Adjustable Pedals, SiriusXM Satellite Radio and the basic Ford Sync Single CD with Color Display system. It also had the XLT Chrome Package which included 18-inch Chrome Clad Wheels with All-Season Tires and a Chrome Step Bar. The truck bed had the factory installed Spray-In Bedliner. And, to enable it to operate on CNG only, the 3.7L V6 engine had been modified at the Ford factory to run on the CNG fuel system.
With a couple of package discounts applied and delivery, the 2014 Ford F-150 4x2 SuperCrew XLT priced at $39,590 from the factory - CNG engine equipped – before installation of the CNG fuel supply and tank system.
The CNG system installation is done by a Ford Qualified Vehicle Modifier (QVM) who supplies the fuel tanks, fuel lines and unique fuel injectors and installs them – calibrating the power train components to run on the CNG fuel through the 3.7L V6. The calibration enables the 3.7L V6 to have the same power and torque plus the fuel economy of the gasoline version – 17/23 mpg City/Highway with an expected 19 mpg average.
The installation is done by the QVM before the vehicle is sent to the dealer for delivery to the customer. Ford handles all of those arrangements with the QVM through and including the delivery of the fully installed dedicated CNG F-150 to the dealer. Ford maintains the engine and power train limited warranty (5 years and 60,000 miles) with the QVM responsible for the warranty of the CNG system components.
F-150 with CNG is more expensive
A QVM upfit to operate on CNG can cost from $7,500 to $9,500 (according to Ford) depending on fuel tank capacity (and QVM) selected by the buyer. Our test truck was modified by Westport Wing Power Systems and had the maximum available system installed. The base tank option is a single in-bed tank located at the front of the bed behind the cab and takes up 22-inches of the available 66-inch cargo length of the short bed. The single tank option, has two sizes to choose from – 17 GGE and 23 GGE (gallon of gasoline equivalent).
Our test F-150 XLT was equipped with the dual tank system that includes the tank in the bed plus a tank under the cargo bed behind the rear axle – together holding 27 GGE and giving our XLT an expected range of 513 miles.
We queried both Ford and Westport for the actual installation cost on this truck and were unable to get the number. Westport did tell us that this kind of installation from them ‘starts at $8,900’. We think it is a reasonable assumption that, including the CNG installation, the delivered retail price on this 2014 Ford F-150 4x2 SuperCrew XLT was probably just short of $50,000.
Limitations with CNG installed
Though our F-150 XLT was tow capable and had a tow package installed, the installation of a dedicated CNG system does reduce that capacity. The stated capacity for this particular F-150 in the gasoline configuration (with 3.73 rear end) is 6,300 pounds. We were unable to get an exact weight for the CNG system on our truck, but a review of industry information on tanks and CNG weight in equivalent GGE pounds, suggests to us that this system weighed out (with CNG) between 700 and 1,000 pounds. Assuming 1,000 pounds, the tow capacity for this truck would be reduced to just over 5,000 pounds. We also note that the rated payload capacity of 1,700 pounds would be similarly reduced and further impacted by the 33 percent reduction in the cubic cargo bed space.
Lastly, we noted that the placement of the tank under the bed and behind the axle reduced the ground clearance to barely 8-inches from the axle to the hitch which also limits the ‘off-road’ capability of this truck for rough road or construction site travel. During our test drive, when taking it across a small drainage area to where we often shoot pictures (including cars), we dragged the tank shield on the edges of the ditch both going in and coming out.
CNG is cheaper than gasoline but harder to find
Given the sparse status of CNG fueling infrastructure across the country, CNG vehicle manufacturers will continue to target primarily business fleet operators or municipalities and utility service companies who can optimize the lower fuel cost of CNG across many vehicles that are driven a large number of miles annually - and who have access to or can install and operate a CNG fuel station as part of their fleet maintenance facilities.
CNG, currently, costs about $1.50 less per gallon (GGE) than gasoline. But there is the initial bi-fuel CNG power train cost to amortize that offsets the fuel cost saving for some period. A calculator available at the website cngnow.com suggests that driving our particular test truck 36,000 miles annually and getting around 19 mpg, we could expect to have amortized the initial cost in about three years – putting the $3,000 fuel savings annually thereafter into our pocket.
Though the availability of fuel stations for CNG is increasing – the rate is still slow and locating near major metropolitan industrial areas or on interstate highways. At the end of the day, we think there is a need for a light duty pickup truck in truck fleets that operate on CNG and Ford has stepped up to offer one. This F-150 XLT, as equipped, would make a good supervisor, crew or service accessory truck for fleets operating larger or more task specific CNG fuel vehicles.
For more information on Ford CNG fuel (or other alternative fuel option vehicles from Ford), download the Ford 2014 Alternative Fuel Buyers Guide or visit a Ford dealer.