No fueling infrastructure in the UK
Reduced range from tank
Compressed natural gas power has come to the fourth generation of Volkswagen Caddy, promising big reductions in CO2 emissions, less NOx and fewer particulate emissions. But what does the Caddy TGI offer and who is going to buy one?
For all intents and purposes the Caddy TGI is an ordinary van. It’s the same shape as a regular Caddy, and is available as a Maxi long wheelbase model too. It’s got a combustion engine like your usual Caddy van too. It’s even got a sensible range that can compete with a diesel or petrol van.
What’s the catch? The catch is that CNG hasn’t really taken off in the UK. Across Europe, countries are busily building CNG filling stations, there are 900 in Germany with plans to build 2,000 while, Italy has 1,071 with similar growth plans. Even smaller countries like Switzerland has 137 with their network using as much as 20% biomethane as part of the fuel, and while it’s slowly catching on in Scandinavia, they’re going about it with the environment in mind with their Finnish neighbours operating 24 sites using gas made from 100% biomentane. In the UK, however, we have just six publically accessible sites.
Nevertheless, even in Europe the argument is that availability isn’t widespread enough. Germany has more than 13,000 conventional filling stations, so 900 or even 2,000 CNG sites is still small in comparison but it’s not the general public who would benefit most from running CNG vehicles, and Volkswagen is keen to tell its customers as much.
“They [fleets] are very TCO driven,” said Robin Struwe, VW commercial vehicles product marketing. “We have to convince our dealers and salesforce to go to the customer and talk about the advantages. Customers are very open to the idea as they’re very TCO driven. The pressure is on our side.”
Fitted with a 1.4-litre 110hp engine, producing 200Nm of torque, the Caddy TDI comes with a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed DSG automatic transmissions. Load volume is unchanged from the petrol and diesel vans, with a 3.2m3 capacity in the short wheelbase model and a 4.2m3 loadspace in the Maxi van variant. Payload is a respectable 762kg in the standard van despite there being four high pressure steel tanks mounted under the floor giving a 158 litres capacity and 630km range – the Maxi gets a fifth tank allowing a 860km range.
The energy content of CNG means more fuel is burned when compared to diesel or petrol. One kilogram of CNG is the equivalent of 1.3 litres of diesel and 1.5 litres of petrol, meaning roughly 30% more fuel is required compared to a diesel Caddy TDI. Fortunately CNG is cheaper at the pumps and as a result the TCO for a Caddy TGI is Euro4.32 per 100km according to Volkswagen* compared to Euro4.84 for a diesel van. [*based on Berlin fuel prices October 2017]
It’s not just diesel vans that the fourth gen natural gas Caddy is bettering though. Volkswagen has had a constant, albeit small, string of CNG powered vehicles since 2002’s Golf BiFuel, and the first dual fuel caddy in 2006. Now the Volkswagen Group portfolio stands at 18 models, three of which are VWs and two of those being Caddy and Caddy Maxi vans. There were natural gas versions of the Caddy in the third generation van too, but the new TGI has a 43% greater range than the Caddy 3 Eco Fuel which had a larger 2-litre CNG engine, and 56% longer range in the Maxi van.
Driving the Caddy TGI is a quiet business. Unrestricted autobahns meant we could really stretch its legs, and they are surprisingly long ones. Power is immediate and the TGI can quickly accelerate with very little noise or fuss up to 100kph (62mph). From 100 up to 130kph the CNG van still has plenty of urgency and foot planted it ultimately reached 160kph. While top speed is of little or no consequence, the reason I tell you this is that at top speed the engine noise is still only comparable to that of a diesel van at a comfortable motorway cruise, so while calmly navigating smaller German roads at sensible speeds the TGI is immensely quiet and pleasurable to drive. The wind noise over the mirrors and around the a-pillar does become a touch bothersome, and even the whirr of the air conditioning on its lowest setting is noticeable but these faults are like complaining that your champagne has too many bubbles – it’s a luxury you can live with.
If based on the EU’s current mix of fuel sources, CNG currently contributes 103g/km of CO2, marginally better than the average for diesel which is 109g/km, while petrol is higher still at 137g/km. While that doesn’t sound like much, the real CO2 saving can be achieved by running with biomethane where the average is currently 24g/km, better than electric which currently has a whole life production mix (taking into account the fossil fuels often used to generate the electricity) of 60g/km. “Once you know about the advantages of CNG you tend to stick with CNG; people really become fans,” Struwe comments.
He’s not wrong either, as after just a short test drive we were entirely convinced of this latest generation of compressed natural gas engine. The refinement, particularly in the noise levels, is incomparable to any diesel unit on the market, it’s like driving your current van with a set of ear defenders on.
While the lower fuel density of the CNG may seem like a barrier for some operators because of the reduced range, in reality it is just an excuse, the greater problem – for the UK at least – is the lack of filling stations. However, for a mid- to large-sized fleet establishing the infrastructure on site and switching even a small proportion of their fleet to CNG could have serious potential cost benefits. With CNG priced at just 70p per kg there are big savings to be made, unfortunately Volkswagen UK doesn’t yet offer the Caddy TGI but as Struwe says the pressure is on them to deliver the product, so if you’re interested make your feelings known to a local dealer.