First Drive: 2013 Ram HD 2500 CNG

Ram CNG 6 II
 

Story and photos by Robby DeGraff

Looking to drive a bit greener? Check off the $11,000 compressed-natural-gas option package on the Ram 2500 crew-cab 4x4, and you get a standard 5.7-liter V-8 Hemi engine and a 260-liter CNG tank in the bed that Ram says is good for an estimated 255 miles of pure, clean driving.

Range anxiety is gone in this alternative-fuel vehicle because when the CNG tank (equal to about 18.2 gallons) runs empty, the transition to gasoline is mostly seamless, apart from the return of that burly, muscular Hemi sound and power. Ram tells us that fleet buyers want the small gas tank there as a “just in case” measure for fleet drivers if they don’t make it all the way back to company headquarters to refill the tank with less-expensive CNG.

The small, eight-gallon gas tank offers just over 100 miles of range. Total combined range for both tanks is around 370 miles. We should note that Ram does offer a regular 35-gallon tank as a $350 option.

The immediate and long-term cost savings can be tremendous, with most CNG stations selling one gallon of gasoline equivalent (gge) for under $2, but we found quite a bit of variation among pumping stations. But how realistic is this alternative?

With only 519 registered filling stations in the United States to date, we set out to see if a CNG truck is comfortable and convenient for everyday use.

Ram CNG 4 II

First off, this Ram is a big boy. The setup Ram offers with the CNG option is a 2500 HD crew cab and 8-foot bed. Why the long bed? The CNG option puts a steel enclosed box in the bed to house the two CNG tanks. Unfortunately, you lose about half of the cargo space, but the box itself can support quite a bit of weight. Attractive-looking CNG livery dons both sides of the rear bed, and a blue diamond-shaped CNG badge appears on the tailgate.

This heavy-duty truck — ours weighed 7,540 pounds — still packs the tough attitude of a Ram, but expect to feel a slight dip in power when running CNG. The setup is designed primarily to run on CNG when available, then switch to gasoline when the CNG is depleted. When that switch happens, you will notice a power difference, yet not dramatic one, in overall power, as well as in engine noise.

[Editor’s note: We took the setup to a trusted dyno — thank you, K&N Engineering — and found that the actual horsepower differential was 13 percent (33 hp) less rear-wheel horsepower and 10 percent less torque (26 pounds-feet) on CNG compared with gasoline. Some may remember when we tested a Ford Super Duty Westport bi-fuel system with the 6.2L V-8; that system recorded a horsepower percentage differential between CNG and gas of 15 percent, and a torque differential of 18 percent.]

We didn’t mind the change in sound, though. That unique “whishing” sound almost reminded us of a turbine jet engine at times. On a cold, fall morning in Wisconsin at 40 degrees, I left behind, what looked like, trails of steam, and it took a few minutes for the Ram coolant to warm up enough to get the CNG (which tends to cool when going from a compressed state to less pressure) to the right--warmer--temperature.

Ram CNG 11 II

The system starts with gasoline if the engine and coolant temperature is below 50-degrees Fahrenheit then moves to CNG once the parameters are met. As to what we saw coming out the tailpipe, it looked as clean as we've ever seen. Although we know the same chemical compounds are coming out the tailpipe as would when running on gasoline, we know there is a lot less of it. 

As we drove through the picturesque Kettle Moraine forest, it was good to know that we were burning clean fuel, but we did experience a few issues issues when refueling.

Filling up a vehicle with CNG is not easy for several reasons. Irregular pressure, closed pumps, awkwardly stiff hoses, ill-fitting filler clamps and payment issues are just a few. While there are only two CNG stations in the Chicago area, there are nearly seven in Milwaukee.

After checking an online fuel price source and the CNG Now app on my iPhone, I went to a station described as a 24-hour public access station run by We Energies. It looked closed. I got out and walked around to see if I could speak with the facility manager, but no luck. A security guard at the station told me it was closed and that I would need permission with supervision to fill up a CNG vehicle here in the future. The second station, which was easily accessible and open, also gave us troubles. Even though I was told (via phone) we could pay with a credit card, the CNG pump didn’t accept our plastic. So we headed out again. 

Heading northbound, we stopped in West Bend, Wis., where a Mobil station sold CNG at $1.98 per gge. It looked like our light at the end of the tunnel. Filling up the Ram here was easy, quick and simple. There are usually two pumps for CNG — one operating at 3,600 psi and the other at 3,000 psi. Our Ram 2500 required the higher pressure for a full refill, but if you’re in a pinch, you can fill up with either. A lower psi means you won’t get as much distance out of a full tank. Both pumps were modern-looking and took credit-card payments, just like you would do filling up with gas.

Ram CNG 17 II

A community shuttle-bus driver asked me about the truck, and he was kind enough to show me the proper way to fill with CNG. “You want to make sure you keep your face away from here,” he said, inserting the yellow plug into the filler area. Twice this weekend I had trouble fitting the pumps’ CNG nozzle into the Ram’s tight filler area and clamping it onto our tank’s nipple. Both the capless gas tank and CNG filler nipple sit behind the same tank door; it would be better if this truck had its own separate CNG cap area and gave you a little more room to clamp the nozzle onto the filler nipple. Once the pump clamp is attached, the pump hisses and whirrs loudly for a few seconds as it analyzes pressure inside the Ram’s two CNG tanks, then it cycles the CNG with the pressure pump, filling the tanks equally. 

It took a little under 10 minutes for the pressure inside the tanks to reach full (identified on the pump as a percentage). Turning the blue handle to “vent,” a short hiss sounded as I returned the CNG hose back to the pump. The total, 18.04 gge of CNG cost $35.89. If I filled the truck’s standard eight-gallon gasoline tank, the total would still be under $67.

How much would it cost to fill up the regular gas-only Ram 2500’s 35-gallon fuel tank? $139.30.

Ram CNG 18 II

Will fleets and hard-hat workers, who sometimes drive more than 30,000 miles a year, drop an extra $11,000 for the CNG option on the Ram 2500? We think so. After a bit of math, we figured that on average, you could save nearly $4,000 a year on fuel by opting for CNG. After driving just three years, the cost savings would offset this alternative-fuel option. Of course, fleet operators usually run very different duty cycles compared with normal truck drivers, but depending on where and how you drive, we could see this being a viable option for some regular pickup truck consumers.

Still, $11,000 for the bi-fuel option may be a little much for most people. Our SLT crew cab 4x4’s base price was $41,000, but once you check all the boxes for this work-duty HD, the price hits just under $58,000 (Download 2012 Ram 2500 CNG monroney).

After a few rough patches, we’re now big fans of CNG, and it seems like a reasonable idea. But where we live, the infrastructure needs to make a little more progress to make filling up easier, more reliable and simpler to pay for.

Ram CNG dyno 2

 

Comments

$11,000 option!! Wow! I can't see how they'd sell many of these, considering the lack of usable bed space and the lack of refueling infrastructure.

Depending on the state you can get close to half the money back between state and federal tax credits. Just an added note that may make it easier to swallow the $11,000 option.

Sounds like the best CNG option on the market

I'm sure that $11,000 figure will come down if this
popular enough. But they definitely need more fuel
stations to really make this work.
I would almost consider something like the mega cab
with the fuel tank in the back seat to keep the bed space
available over the tank being in the bed.

GM Fleet Commercial just did some video's on their CNG option http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3hCfIv1fPw They got few video's on it

Kind of defeats the purpose of the truck when the tank takes up over half the bed.

I think it will catch on. With that, price of the package will come down and slowly the infrastructure will grow. I don't think it will be a rapid fire kind of thing, but in about 5-10 years it should be a regular thing. For the entire country I mean. I know some states are already 10 years ahead of the others.
In Europe every other station has LPG or CNG and conversion kits are widely available for any car basically. Lots of people run their vehicles on natural gas. Price of gas has a lot to do with it of course. Europe in general has much higher gas prices.

up from 18% loss glad to see the technology getting better i totally see this as a much more alternative to electric cars. And I agree w/ ronny above me but if youre doing mostly towing or driving empty bedded who cares well shall see how this works out in the long term you also save money on up keeps I believe you can go MUCH longer between oil changes on cng than regular gas bc it burns so much cleaner some one correct me if im wrong nice article putc

Please update the article with mpg figures. We can't estimate the miles it would take to recover the investment in CNG without knowing the truck's mpg on the fuel. Thanks.

why didn't you check fuel mileage with the ram as was done with the super duty???

We considered switching to dual fuel vehicles for our fleet vehicles. Before Dodge, GM and Ford started this process to make it a vehicle option, upfitters were charging a similar 10 to 15 grand to retrofit gas engines for CNG. The reason for the price? Your very own EPA requires these guys to pay in the order of a half a million dollars for each vehicle, engine and transmission combination for "certification fees"; therefore, they're required to charge the high fees to cover the costs of being certified to do it. The kits only involve a couple hundred dollars of parts. My hope was that when the Big Three got involved, their volumes would allow them to sell the option for half of that. Unfortunately, greed got in the way. So instead of me buying a million dollars in new vehicles, I'll sit back and keep our gas motors.

More great product from our friends at RAM Trucks!!

GUTS
GLORY
COVERING ALL OF THE BASES
BEAUTIFUL
MOST APPEALING
RAM

@Oriyoki: You know, a little simple calculation would answer your question rather than expecting them to be all-knowing. It works out to 12.5mpg on gasoline and almost exactly 14 mpg on CNG. Sheesh, talk about lazy!

The one thing I hate about this system, however, is that it puts the tank in the bed where it's really exposed to more hazards AND cuts the cargo capacity in half by cubic feet (probably has next to zero effect on capacity by weight--as long as you're hauling concrete or brick. This would be one example where mounting the tank where the second row of seats would go on a crew cab (but outside, with the upper part of the cab lapping over it similar to some Sleeper cab OTR trucks) would give you back all the bed and not impact the space inside all that much. The redesign would be simple and quite honestly I believe the modified "extended" cab would be more efficient.

Chrysler Group LLC, whose U.S. pickup sales are growing faster than Ford Motor Co. (F)’s and General Motors Co. (GM)’s, will gain an edge by introducing revamped pickups before GM does, an executive said.

“We’ve got a long glide path before GM is in the market and I think that’s going to be a huge advantage for us,” Fred Diaz, president of the Ram truck brand, told reporters today during a briefing in Detroit. The company has started making 2013 Rams and “from every indication we’re hearing,” it doesn’t expect GM to start selling revamped full-size trucks until “the summer of next year,” he said.
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-08/chrysler-says-new-ram-pickups-to-gain-advantage-over-gm

$11,000 for CNG is a lot. However, most that buy this kind of truck are going to opt for the diesel option anyway. Diesel option is approx. $7,800 so the difference is really closer to $3,200. It looks like it has similiar mileage to a diesel and much cheaper to refill. Depending on driving habits should be able to recoup that cost within a few years.
So, depending on your needs, this could become an option people might need to consider when shopping for a new truck.

Several other countries have been using CNG for quite some time.
The drivers that I know who bought those vehicles said that they don't hardly pay any increased cost at all for the CNG option. Wonder why we are getting ripped off here in the US again?

"GUTS
GLORY
COVERING ALL OF THE BASES
BEAUTIFUL
MOST APPEALING
RAM"


This if friggin retarded.

@ Sprinter: Please explain to me how it is much cheaper to refill a diesel tank at $4/gallon than it is to refill CNG at $2/gge. Assuming the same amount of fuel is pumped in to each vehicle, it appears rather obvious that the CNG truck costs half the price of diesel to refill. When you also take into consideration that for fleet use most companies have their own refueling stations or have a contract with a local station for reduced price then the CNG truck has a huge advantage. Sure, it's going to take a long time to go through $11,000 worth of CNG (about 550 gallons equivalent or about 30 fill-ups), but depending on the fleet, that's less than a year of driving which means that over a typical 5 year lifespan for the truck, you've saved enough to buy two more CNG-equipped trucks to replace the one.

@Hawaiian: All has to do with Federal regulations about safety and the Federal fees charged to ensure those safety regulations. You have cost for the conversion rig, costs for the over-engineering of the conversion rig, costs for applying for the permits to build the conversion rig--etc. When you consider the high costs to the builder, it kicks the price of the end product to prohibitive levels which thus engender a desire to keep up-front costs down and buy gasoline- or diesel-fueled trucks instead.

Remember all those complaints about how our government supports corporations? Anything that's likely to obsolete fossil fuels is going to be regulated out of the economy. If they can't force the price of the fuel up, then they'll drive up the price of the vehicle to an economically prohibitive level instead. However, if you refuel your vehicle every week, this CNG system very quickly overcomes the pricing difference for the conversion.

@ DWFields

Can you explain your math as to 550 gallons for break even. I get approximately ten times that or close to 5000 gallons to break even on this. I am guessing 80,000+ miles to break even, which seems like a lot to me.

They said 3 years to break even. That is based on the premise that the truck will have a service life greater than 3 years. In my neck of the woods most companies do not keep anything that long. Some go with 6 month leases for construction/reforestation season. These sytems do not like cold weather. Does Ram offer a "cold weather" system?

The box shown in the Pickup, does it have the cylinders, if so 1/2 the cargo bed space is lost.

I hope the cylinder are kept under the cargo bed.

Wordwide, there are more than NGV and even the trains, ferries, ships and drilling equipments are converted to run on LNG. As competition picks up, the price of NGV conversion should drop. In Brazil, NGV cars cost only $1,000 more than regular car.

The $11,000 price seems steep, but as said in the article, fleets operate differently. I know in Kansas City they have bus's running CNG that cost $20k more than the gas bus. But CNG is being supplied right now at something like $2.09 a gallon. A big bus can hold a lot of people, making it very fuel thrifty in that sense, but it still gets like 8 mpg. Some of these buses throw on nearly a thousand miles a day, given their constant use. Do the math.

1000 miles divided by 8 is 125, thats 125 gallons. 125 gallons times $4 for diesel is $500 ?(that is a days gas!). For CNG at about $2 is $250. Take that times the 350 days a year they run. $250 times 350 is $87500. Yah. It costs A LOT of money to keep buses moving, and CNG easily pays for itself.

But what if CNG vehicles, having less power than diesel, got 5mpg? Well 1000/5 is 200. 200*2 is 400, meaning $100 a day in savings. So even then, thats $35,000 in savings in a year for a bus company.

These trucks will do the same. Sure, they will be tethered to working in and around municipalities and anywhere that would need a fleet of trucks to tow trailers or such, but in the end it will save money.

why didn't we do mpg numbers?

Who drives a truck 1000 miles per day?

This story is boring! All ic is another S%it box Ram! The nat gas fuel for that truck is imported from China u know how the Ram loves Chinese made stuff for there trucks cant even buy nat gas from North America yikes!!

I know how Ford loves China.lol
Faulty Chinese-built transmissions plague new Ford Mustang.

Ford to Build New Plant in China to Catch Up With G.M. - NYTimes

Ford to keep expanding in China with addition of luxury Lincolns

Rambo Motard Goat Herder's Association

And soon Fiat will be building Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge products in Italy for import into the USA.

Ram made in Mexico - the leftovers made in Italy.

@DWfields

I think you need to reread what I wrote; "It looks like it has similiar mileage to a diesel and much cheaper to refill."
"It" in my sentence was refering to the CNG truck.

@phillyguy: Hmmm... you're right, I misplaced a decimal point. That should have been 5500 gallons, not 550. My apologies. Still, if we assume reasonable "heavy use" mileage of 500 miles per week (that's only 100 miles per day) then 110 weeks or just over 2 years should have that difference paid off. The point is that the per-gallon-equivalent price savings would make operating costs over the long run lower--with the CNG truck saving on costs over a 5-year lifespan over the gasoline/diesel engine truck over the same time period.

Both trucks would lose value over that period simply due to age--totally ignoring the cost of fuel--to about 20% of their original MSRP. However, assuming both are driven the same number of miles, fuel costs for the CNG would be half that of the gas engine which means you'd lose less money when you finally did let go of that truck--all else being equal.

@Lou, Re: Cold Weather Systems: Apparently you missed the part where the author clearly described that the truck uses regular gas to warm the system up before switching to the CNG. This might seem inefficient, but depending on the miles driven it wouldn't take too long for the engine to heat up to operating temperature at which point the changeover to CNG would be automatic. Any run over about 10 miles in all but the most arctic conditions would see the CNG kick in and start saving. On the other hand, in warmer areas it would kick in after only a couple miles and start saving much sooner.

On the other hand, while the cost of CNG is low, the apparent fuel mileage isn't enough better to realize better range out of the comparative amount of fuel. In fact, it appears to run about mid-way between the difference in otherwise-equivalent Gas vs Diesel engines (HP/Torque numbers). It still saves on cost, but I'd prefer to get more range. 250 miles on roughly 18 gallons is short indeed when my V6 Jeep gets over 300 miles on the same amount. Then again, my Ford pickup only gives me about 180 miles on 16 gallons in town, which makes me no happier. (Though two 16-gal tanks and a hair shy of 20mpg on the highway should send me over 600 miles in that same truck)

@dwfields - I did see the part where the truck runs on gas until warm. For those of us in the Great White North, that still may not be enough. In -40C and colder it may take more than 8 miles for the truck to warm up. They used to have systems designed differently for cold weather. Running on gas may be enough but if a system comes from the factory we should be told how it will work. 50F isn't very cold.

@Lou: I agree that 50F isn't cold, but it is enough to change certain operating characteristics. In the older "automatic choke" days of carburator-equipped cars, that was about the temperature range where you had to set the choke before starting the engine. It seems to make sense that you'd want to start heating the tanks and fuel lines for an already-frozen gas fuel. This would obviously be even more true at -40F/C (same temperature at that point) as there would be less gassification of the liquid fuel which means less gas pressure in the fuel lines. Heat the tank and lines to about 50-60F (15-20C) and you restore that pressure. What we don't know from the description is if this is done electrically or through exhaust gas manipulation to warm the tanks. All we know is that's one big, heavy box in the back.

Either way, once heated it should work pretty much normally but because LNG/CNG is less volatile than gasoline, it still needs gasoline to properly start. I've driven LPG fork lifts that were nearly impossible to start if they sat on the loading dock overnight even in Georgia during the winter where temperatures hover in the 30F range or a bit below overnight. In some cases the fork lift had to be towed indoors and set under a big heating unit until it warmed up enough to start. Once it was running it didn't have any trouble, but they were near impossible to start if they got cold.

@ DWfields

Ok we are on the same page then for the fuel calculations. And I agree with you that at current prices anyone that puts a decent amount of mileage on their truck could really benefit from a setup like this. I would like to know if there are any hidden maintenance costs not talked about in the article. I know that the CNG burns cleaner, but do tanks or hoses need to be replaced every so often? If any extra maintenance costs are pretty low then even at $11K this is going to be a profitable setup for a lot of people. If it dips below $11K it will become very profitable for a lot of people.

@phillyguy - They have expiry dates and once reached have to be replaced. I know that there was a time when you could get tanks tested and valves replaced etc. and they would be recertified but I believe that is no longer the case.
The same link puts the lifespan at 10 - 25 years from the date of manufacture depending on the tank. I can see why they all put them in the box. Undercarriage tanks would be more likely to get damaged or be prone to rust.
http://www.ngvi.com/blog/technical-bulletin/cng-cylinder-life-cannot-be-extended/

10+ years isn't so bad, provided that the tank is fairly new when the truck is purchased, and hasn't sat on the shelf for 5+ years before getting installed. A quick google search (if I am looking at the right tanks) looks like they run $1000 or less, which, for at most once in a vehicle lifetime replacement, is really quite reasonable.

I really hope these catch on. PA seems to have several CNG fillup stations, and I hope that more begin to pop up.

What many of you are forgetting (even the authors) is that many fleets operate their own CNG filling stations. They buy in bulk from the refieneries, and store it on-site, usually filling their trucks every day before they head out.

They pay even less than $2/gge in most cases, as they buy in bulk with no middle-men.

For them, this makes wonderful since now. Many of us would like this for ourselves, but we will have to wait on the infrastructure. But for fleets? Ram has this one down. 19 States have already contracted to by about 23,000 of these...

The craziest part of this truck is that the EXACT SAME TRUCK is offered in the Canadian market with the FULL SIZE factory gasoline tank rather than the measly 8 gallon tank. Offering a bi-fuel vehicle with a measly 8 gallon gasoline tank cuts down on the "range between fuel stops" significantly and gives this a low score on that note compared to the Ford/GM competition.

So what are you supposed to use it for?

Hauling? It has a 4 foot bed.

Towing? The F-250 conversion they tested got 7 mpg empty on CNG. With a trailer it'd be 5. Even at $2 a gallon that's more expensive than diesel.

The only thing I see it as good for is collecting government alt fuel subsidies.

The CNG tech knowledge is catching up and will be the future if were going to keep burning fuel to run vehicles.

ROI on the truck would be even less if fueling from home. With the new compressors, you install it in the garage and fill up at night. For less than a dollar gge.

BRC Fuekmaker makes several kinds.

I have been using LPG than switch to CNG for the performance you get over LPG. My gas bill a year is a quarter of what i used on gasoline and half of what it was on LPG.

Didn't see anybody mention that if you have CNG for your home you can buy a home filling station. Doing so will cut the cost of filling by at least half.

Coming from a contractor who maintains a fleet of HD trucks. This option is very appealing when you consider the cost of CNG currently, however as demand goes up, so will cost and though it won't cost as much a regular gas, the benefit could be lost. Also if Ram made it the same cost as their standard truck, they would sell a ton of these. Don't they have any brains. I think I will stick to my Chevy and Ford Trucks until the manufacturers decide that breaking even and environmentally friendly aren't the best sales lines.

With two tanks can you still mount a tow connector for a fifth wheel in the bed???

Ram needs to hide the tanks to accomodate fifth wheel towing and additional storage in the bed.

Awesome!! Just ordered mine this week. Cannot wait to start driving. Look at GE's "CNG in a Box" technology, this will be a game changer for refueling of NGV's.

Greetings. I have an 08 dodge ram i converted new in 08, i've driven 137000 miles, most of them on CNG. I went on a 2700 mile round trip and my fuel bill was $190. I fill up at my house with a CNG compressor and it costs me $.60 a gge to fill. CNG is great for your daily commute. I drive 80 miles a day for my commute, i fill up every month to month and a half on my petral tank. the rest is CNG. It took me 2 years to pay for my conversion. Downside, i loose my bed space, and carry the tank weight. Expensive to convert or purchase. Upside, i can tow anything behind it. I towed a camper from Memphis to NW Arkansas and it cost me $35 each way using CNG. fill stations are hard to deal with. but some are great, and more are coming. I do conversions, repair, and home / commercial compressors, i also repair Fuelmaker compressors.

CNG is not for everybody. but for some people it saves them in the long run, on fuel, maintenance, oil changes, and the environment.

I currently run all diesels, and am seriously considering switching to CNG for at least the lighter duty trucks. Right now each truck goes through on average 265 gallons of fuel a month. That's about $1100 a month for diesel, vs $530 a month for CNG. At that point, the fuel savings alone would almost make a truck payment. Either way, I'd be spending over $7000 less per year on fuel per truck.

@DWFields:

CNG IS a fossil fuel. Enough with the government conspiracy theory.

If this catches on, I can see my winter heating bill for my house going up to about $1,000 per month. The price of Natural Gas will go crazy!



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