Sinking Slowly into the Sunset

Includes: CLNE, F, GM
by: Paul Killinger

80-year old billionaire T. Boone Pickens stays busy these days making money on alternative energy ideas he's putting into practice. Meanwhile, America's formerly "Big 3" automakers are losing billions of dollars due to the high cost of gasoline. So what, you may ask. Where's the connection? It's a fascinating tale, actually, of how a lone entrepreneur is turning lemons into lemonade, while once giant corporations are fast turning themselves into wards of the government.

Mr. Pickens' outlook is to look at the world and say, "Why not?" His present investments include a $2 billion gamble that America's electric utilities are going to connect the wind farms he's building into our nation's electric grid. Not satisfied with that, he is also investing heavily in companies that manufacture long-haul trucks that are fueled by LNG (liquid natural gas) instead of gasoline, and signing contracts to use this new technology in existing vehicle fleets. He figures he can improve the environment while making money for himself.

Getting back to the Big 3, they are touting the 19 mpg hybrids they've introduced, along with their new "flex-fueled" vehicles that operate on gasoline and e-85, which is ethanol distilled from corn. The only problem is these are both losers. One doesn't improve gas mileage, while the other costs more to produce than the fuel derived from it.

But, believe it or not, until recently these same auto manufacturers were ahead of this curve that has become part of our nation's energy crisis. Between 2000-05, they manufactured trucks and vans that were "dual-fueled" by gasoline and CNG (compressed natural gas), not corn. Of course, it's difficult to find one now, because they are being snapped up by drivers in OK and UT, where CNG costs the equivalent of less than $1 a gallon at the pump. This has left the CNG-powered vehicle field to the Honda Civic GX, which sells out.

And Boone Pickens isn't the only entrepreneur involved in trying to improve our automotive lot. A private Canadian company named the FuelMaker Corporation manufactures a device called the Phill, which enables CNG car and truck owners to fill up AT HOME at night. If you are lucky enough to own a Civic GX or one of the gasoline-CNG dual-fueled trucks formerly made by the Big 3, you can buy a Phill and operate it on the natural gas connection to your house.

So let me ask, wouldn't you like to run your SUV or your truck or car on CNG, instead of gas or e-85, at 1/3 the price? I know I would! If our auto companies had a little more foresight, we'd be doing it now. Or they could start using this 30-year old proven technology once again tomorrow if they wanted to help themselves out. They may not be the visionaries that Mr. Pickens and FuelMaker are, but it would sure beat waiting around for a government bailout.

Disclosure: None

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