GM CEO wants government to back nat gas refueling stations

Daniel Akerson (AFP Getty Images)Daniel Akerson is all too aware of the fact that some people will never forgive General Motors for the government bailout that kept it in business, but the automaker’s chief executive is once again calling on the government for help.

Daniel Akerson is all too aware of the fact that someone people will never forgive General Motors for the government bailout that kept it in business, but the automaker’s chief executive is once again calling on the government for help.

In a meeting with the Chronicle’s editorial board this morning, Akerson said the U.S. needs to capitalize on the abundance of cheap natural gas, which includes encouraging natural gas vehicles — both cars and trucks.

Akerson, who spoke at the CERAWeek conference later in the day, said the government should take the lead in encouraging natural gas refueling stations.

“Why can’t we get natural gas refueling stations at one out of four gasoline stations?” Akerson asked.

GM has developed a new engine that will burn either gasoline or compressed natural gas — all the car needs are separate fuel tanks — but the market for such innovation is limited if the driving public can’t access the fuel.

“If you really want to take advantage of a gift, you have to change your infrastructure,” Akerson said. He stopped short of saying exactly what the government’s role should be, although he seemed to favor some sort of federal mandate on service stations.

“If we really want to address the structural problems in this country we’re going to have to make some changes,” he said.

And how would he make them?

“We need a presidential commission charged with developing an integrated energy plan,” he said. Presumably, that plan would include some sort of incentive or mandate for natural gas refueling infrastructure.

Of course, Akerson isn’t the first business leader to call for the government’s help in addressing the chicken-and-egg problem of alternative fuels. Just a few weeks ago, Dallas investor T. Boone Pickens, a longtime proponent of natural gas vehicles, was in Houston calling for more encouragement for natural gas vehicles.

“I think Boone Pickens is a genius,” Akerson said.

Clearly, the government has the power to get the country over the hump on natural gas vehicle demand. The question is whether the public will tolerate more government intervention that it’s likely to perceive as helping automakers.