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Natural gas gets nod from auto analysts as vehicle fuel of future

November 9, 2012
Natural gas got a strong vote of confidence as a future vehicle fuel at a recent automotive industry event.
New methods of extracting the gas are one of the biggest changes affecting the auto industry in years, General Motors chief economist Mustafa Mohatarem said at the Society of Automotive Analysts’ strategic planning summit in Michigan.
“The U. S. now has a 100-year supply of natural gas,” he said. “I’d make a bet it’s the next big transportation fuel. The price is so much lower than gasoline. People will find a way to use it.”
The idea got a second from John Casesa, an investment banker at Guggenheim Partners.
“We’re also very high on natural gas,” he said. “It’s a massive change for the United States, and probably a big deal for the motor industry.”
Long-haul trucking may be the first field to make widespread use of the fuel, but other vehicles will follow, Mohatarem predicted.
Casesa is skeptical about the outlook for start-up automakers trying to develop electric vehicles.
“Their prognosis is extremely difficult,” he said. “If pure EVs are going to happen, it’ll either be because of government policy in China or in the United States because the big companies figure it out.” Price, battery range and charging time remain the technology’s greatest challenge.
Mohatarem is more bullish on the outlook for new automakers based in developing markets.
Along with the shift to natural gas, the biggest change in the next 25 years will be the emergence of major automakers from India, China and perhaps Russia, he said.
The meeting marked the Society of Automotive Analysts’ 25th anniversary. Maryann Keller, managing partner of Maryann Keller & Associates and one of the SAA’s founders, said the greatest lesson automakers should draw from the last 25 years is to eliminate anything that distracts them from developing great vehicles.
She said Chrysler, Ford and GM wasted more than $50 billion in ill-advised diversifications, stock buybacks and a string of harebrained schemes.
“The only thing an auto company can do to drive its stock value up is develop better cars,” Keller said. “The only way to enhance shareholder value is great products.”
Chrysler-Fiat, Ford, Nissan-Renault and Volkswagen Group all will face challenges replacing their current charismatic and visionary leaders, Casesa and Keller agreed.
Succession planning is “the question of the day,” Keller said.
“It will become very bumpy at the companies” after the inevitable leadership changes, Casesa said.
Left unsaid was the assumption that replacing an exceptional leader is a better problem than not having one at all.