The road to “green” motoring isn’t a new conversation. But that conversation has gotten a lot louder in recent years, for well, obvious reasons. Today, automakers seem to be all-in on the full EV train, except Toyota, stubbornly. This old natural-gas Civic got me thinking about the auto industry’s ’90s attempts at making gasoline-alternative cars.

  • Car: Eight-Generation Honda Civic GX
  • Location: San Bruno, California
  • Photog: me (Kevin Williams)
  • Camera: Canon EOS M

In the 1990s, the answer seemed to be natural gas. Advertised as “clean burning,” compressed natural gas was supposed to be an end-all, be-all solution for internal combustion vehicles. Anecdotally, it seemed like every city bus, commercial state-owned van, and work truck had been converted to “clean-burning compressed natural gas” in the early 2000s.

While walking around the outskirts of San Fransisco, I stumbled on an artifact of the “green” crazed 2000s – a Honda Civic GX. I thought to myself, “why didn’t this technology take off?”

The Civic GX was one of the few factory-offered CNG vehicles on sale to the public. The Civic GX was mostly the same as a regular gasoline-powered Civic sedan. Sure, the large CNG tank took up a fair amount of trunk space, and yes, the engine’s power rating was a bit reduced. Yet, for the most part, it drove, handled, and looked like any other Civic.

Compressed natural gas is cheap, especially on the west coast, where a gallon equivalent is about half the cost of a gallon of gasoline. Unlike an electric car, refueling is quick. There are no fuel scarcity issues that are inherent to hydrogen. Almost every American house has a natural gas hookup, so you should be able to refuel in the convenience of your own home! For a long time, CNG cars were eligible to use HOV lanes sans any passengers, shortening commutes for Californians. No brainer, right?

Heh, no. 

CNG isn’t all that clean. The U.S. Department of Energy says that on average, a CNG car only emits 6-11 percent fewer than a comparable gas car; a pittance in the fight to dramatically reduce greenhouse gasses. Also, Honda’s home fueling equipment could have voided your warranty if you used it. Whack.