Natural gas sales 'fickle,' but will hold their own in the face of zero emission alternatives

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Demand for new trucks isn't trickling into demand for natural gas trucks, as electrification looms large as the likely long-term winner in the alternative fuels race.

Sales of natural gas-powered vehicles were mixed from December to February, according to the latest Alternative Fuels Quarterly by ACT Research. December activity lagged its year-ago level by 47%, with January falling behind even more: down 57% year-over-year. February reversed the skid with with year-over-year sales gaining 40%.

“In the near term, results were similarly fickle, with December ticking up 1% month-over-month, January plummeting 49% compared to the previous month, and February recapturing 33% of the prior month decline,” said Steve Tam, Vice President at ACT Research. "Combined, sales in the three-month period ceded their year-to-date November gain, finishing 2022 up 3.2% compared to 2021.”

So far in 2023, sales are down 29% year-to-date through February when compared to the same period last year. "Quantifying activity, natural gas sales totaled 3,837 units in 2022," Tam said. "Through the first two months of 2023, reporting OEMs have sold 403 natural gas-powered Class 8 units.”

Tam said he expects to see adoption of natural gas trucks to hold their own, even as zero emission pressure mounts from electric and hydrogen. "Frankly, the industry is waiting for the Cummins X15N," he said, "the first of which are just now becoming available in the North American market."

The first North American Cummins X15N 15-liter compressed natural gas engine will be incorporated into Walmart’s private fleet. The first Walmart truck – the first of five – will make its inaugural trip from Indiana to California, making pit stops along the way to refuel at Chevron stations with compressed natural gas (CNG) linked to renewable natural gas.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]