At this week’s Washington Auto Show, Mercedes Benz plans to showcase its compact B-Class hatch with a powertrain designed to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). The carmaker already sells a dual-fuel version of the B-Class in Europe that runs on either petrol or CNG or a combination of the two, and that model could one day be sold here.

William Craven, general manager of regulatory affairs for Daimler's Washington office, confirmed to Automotive News the company's interest in testing the market for CNG-powered vehicles in the United States. "We're testing the market" he said.

Most CNG applications provide worse mileage than petrol as well as slightly slower acceleration, but if petrol prices shoot up to the levels there were at late last year than these shortcomings would be of little concern to potential customers.

Because of the huge reserves of CNG and the dwindling supply of petrol, CNG's cheap price of around $2.50 per gallon is expected to easily offset any mileage issues that potential motorists may face. Another benefit of burning CNG is cleaner emissions, with lower CO2 levels than both petrol and diesel.

The benefits of CNG are currently being amplified by rapidly changing market conditions and an increase in consumer environmental awareness. At the same time its drawbacks are being mitigated by a growing awareness that advanced technologies will require investment in appropriate infrastructure. The U.S. CNG pipeline system is an approximately 1.8 million mile network and expanding, but a greater amount of infrastructure would be needed to make CNG broadly appealing.