MADRID ─ Spanish automaker SEAT will take the lead in developing compressed-natural-gas technology for parent Volkswagen Group, the automaker’s president says.

“Vehicular natural gas has great business potential for the automotive industry, and we want this to be technology made in Spain,” Luca de Meo says during the sixth annual congress of GASNAM, the Iberian association for compressed natural gas CNG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) as alternative fuels for road, railway and maritime transportation.

“We want to be pioneers and are confident we are going to achieve it.”

The research will be conducted at the SEAT Technical Centre, which employs more than 1,000 engineers, he says.

Because CNG technology already exists, there is no need for major investments and it can be widely offered to customers, de Meo says. It is “a fast and clean technology with a reduced refueling time and with range and costs similar to those of diesel or (gasoline)-powered cars,” he says.

SEAT’s portfolio of CNG cars is the largest within VW Group and among all European automakers, de Meo says. The automaker offers CNG versions of Mii, Leon TGI and Ibiza models and by the end of this year plans to introduce the Arona, which it calls the world’s only CNG-powered SUV.

In Spain, registrations of CNG vehicles year-to-date are running 10 times ahead of like-2017, and 1 million such cars may be on Spanish roads by 2030. For SEAT, de Meo says, “the Spanish market is the second largest in terms of CNG technology after Italy.”

SEAT sold more than 900 CNG-powered cars in Spain in the first quarter, nearly as many as in all of 2017. Natural gas powered 20% of SEAT’s best-selling Leon models that were sold in March.

De Meo tempers his optimism about CNG by acknowledging the fueling infrastructure needs further development. He says Spain needs 300 supply points but currently only has 57, a fraction of the 1,000 available in Germany.

The executive notes CNG is 55% less costly than gasoline, 30% less expensive than diesel and costs 15% less than liquid propane gas, resulting in annual savings of €700 to €1,000 ($840 to $1,200) for motorists.

However, CNG is taxed at a much lower rate than gasoline or diesel. The government might respond to a revenue shortfall resulting from the wider use of natural gas by raising taxes on CNG.