Toyota reserved its official L.A. auto show press conference for the new Lexus RX350 and RX450h crossovers, but the company also quietly showed off this twist on the Camry hybrid.
As you may have surmised, this concept replaces the Camry hybrid’s gasoline fuel system with one designed to deliver compressed natural gas to the 2.4-liter inline-four. Two carbon-fiber-wrapped tanks hold the natural-gas equivalent of 8 gallons of gasoline at a maximum of 3600 psi, giving the CNG concept a 250-mile range. The tanks live in the spare-tire well, so the fancy 19-inch wheels wear run-flat Bridgestone rubber. Toyota estimates fuel economy of 32 mpg city and 34 mpg highway, a sacrifice of just a single city mpg against a standard Camry hybrid. The mileage may not be much different, but combusting CNG results in fewer NOx emissions versus burning regular gas, so the CNG concept is cleaner.
The CNG hybrid would be pretty easy to pick out of a Camry-crowded room; if the billboard graphics didn’t tip you off, the specialized front fascia would. With no grille opening, Toyota’s current snaggletooth look disappears, and so the CNG Camry concept looks much better than its production kin. The rear bumper is also altered to hide the tailpipe.
Toyota actually marketed a CNG Camry to California fleet customers in 1999, but low gas prices combined with a lack of natural-gas refueling infrastructure curbed interest, and the program was shelved after just a year. Today’s fluctuating gas prices might encourage more companies to choose a natural-gas Camry, but the infrastructure situation remains the same: there are just 774 CNG stations nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Energy–sponsored Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center.
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