Alternative fuels: To EV or CNG, that is the question

Date: Monday, August 14, 2017   |   Author: James Dallas

Two leading van manufacturers are taking alternative paths to securing a greener future, as James Dallas reports

VW's Caddy TGI is based on the petrol model

With the anti-diesel juggernaut gathering pace and with some of our cities threatening to become no-go zones for the fuel that powers the vast majority of the UK’s light commercial vehicles, the search is on for viable alternatives.

Petrol-powered vans may start to sell in bigger numbers again but it seems inevitable that so-called ‘alternative fuels’ will become more prominent and be expected to provide the long-term solutions.

Two major manufacturers, Volkswagen and Renault, are exploring different technologies to improve the environmental credentials of their light vans. Volkswagen has developed a new version of its Caddy powered by compressed natural gas (CNG). Badged the Caddy TGI, the model is based on the 1.4 TSI petrol Caddy. As is VW’s wont, it is testing the water before leaping in and committing to a commercial roll-out.

As a spokeswoman put it: “Although a RHD (right-hand drive) version is not currently on the cards, we hope fleets will see it as an alternative, which could be right for them in terms of range, cost and qualities.”

The brand takes a similar approach to electric vans – it displayed an e-Load-up city van prototype at the CV Show in April but is gauging customer feedback before bringing it to market. One vision Volkswagen has for CNG is as “a bridge to electro-mobility”.

The manufacturer did, in fact, supply a limited number of CNG Caddys to the UK until July 2014, according to the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership’s Low Emission Van Guide. Leeds City Council, which already had gas refuelling facilities installed for its refuse vehicles, took on seven bi-fuel Caddys, which run on CNG with a small petrol reserve tank, to cover domestic repair and maintenance work at households in the city.

Although CNG, like petrol and diesel, is a fossil fuel, the environmental benefit comes from the fact that it is available as biomethane, which is produced from organic waste, is renewable and sustainable, and can be directly used to power CNG vehicles. Most importantly for air quality, there are no NOx emissions.

Having driven the Caddy TGI in Germany, we can attest that it is remarkably similar to a regular petrol van, and certainly quieter than one with a diesel engine. A disadvantage is that the weight of the tanks used to store the CNG in the van cut the payload by about 10%, although load space is unaffected.

Volkswagen claimed the TGI Caddy in manual mode has a range of 391 miles on CNG with CO2 emissions of 112g/km, with the LWB Caddy Maxi delivering 534 miles and 116g/km of CO2. With the six-speed DSG dual clutch we drove CO2 goes to 123g/km and 126g/km, respectively.

But from well to wheel, VW claimed fuel life-cycle savings on CO2 of 25% on CNG rising to 80% with biomethane. In case the natural gas range is insufficient, the TGI comes with a 13-litre petrol reserve tank in both Caddy and Caddy Maxi modes. Otherwise, petrol is just used to start the engine.

The Caddy TGI went on sale in Germany and Italy in May this year with prices in Germany starting at about £18,500, excluding VAT. Both these markets have established fuelling networks, unlike the UK.


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