German automaker Opel announced plans for a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) drive train to be made available in all three versions of the Insignia line. This subsidiary of General Motors will sell sedan, hatchback and station wagon versions of the Insignia featuring LPG-powered engines. Insignia owners have the opportunity to alternate between gasoline and LPG depending on their driving needs. The opportunity to use LPG is especially beneficial to European consumers thanks to ample propane reserves as well as beneficial pricing. Opel hopes to stay ahead of the trend toward natural gas vehicles by providing the Insignia at various price points.
The ecoFLEX drive system powered by LPG squeezes 103 kW out of a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. The LPG version of the Insignia features a six-speed manual transmission and a 42-liter tank accessible next to the gasoline tank. Engineers at Opel enhanced the engine valves and control unit in the Insignia to improved performance in LPG mode. Drivers merely touch a button on the dashboard to select LPG or gasoline mode with an LED display for LPG functions. The instrument display constantly monitors LPG and gasoline tanks, allowing the driver to determine the best fuel for a particular journey.
Opel’s performance estimates for the Insignia show that LPG does not slow down this versatile vehicle. The Insignia can travel up to 311 miles on LPG reserves alone with a combined range of 1,056 miles. An estimated fuel economy of 41.3 miles per gallon certainly places the Opel Insignia in the same ballpark as recently released hybrids. Opel will price the Insignia LPG starting from $34,075 for the sedan. The Insignia currently costs about 40% less to refuel than diesel or gasoline vehicles with an average LPG price of $0.84 per liter in Germany.
LPG or propane provides significant benefits to commuters, government agencies and corporate fleets concerned about fuel costs. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 90% of propane used domestically comes from local sources. European nations have enough LPG sources to achieve self-sufficiency even with significant increases in demand. Vehicles like the Opel Insignia contribute carbon emissions at much lower rates than traditional models.
Estimates show that LPG only produces 81% of the carbon emissions created by oil, 70% by coal and 50% produced through the electrical generation process.
The Opel Insignia is a stepping stone toward more eco-friendly vehicles rather than a conclusion. The abundance of LPG supplies in Europe and North America still depend heavily on cultivation from fossil fuel sources. Opel’s fuel economy estimates are promising though gasoline and hybrid models have eclipsed 41.3 MPG in the recent past. Broader adoption of LPG by automakers also requires storage, fueling and vehicle conversion technology that goes beyond simply swapping new tanks into cars.
We shouldn’t dismiss LPG entirely if only because alternatives like CNG and electricity come with their own limitations. The Opel Insignia should be viewed as only one option in an increasingly diverse market for alt-fuel vehicles rather than a silver bullet for energy dependency.