FRANKFURT – Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik AG & Co. KG unveils a concept vehicle at the auto show here that runs on compressed natural gas (CNG).

Called the "MILA Concept" (Magna Innovation Lightweight Auto), the sporty car underlines Magna Steyr's engineering competence for CNG vehicles.

The MILA Concept is a single-seat sports car with a mid-engine and rear-wheel drive.

Its technical highlights include an eco-friendly CNG-powered engine, combined with extremely sporty performance; consistent lightweight construction; a modular design principle enabling different versions to be built; and advanced vehicle safety, thanks to the monocoque body's rigidity.

MILA Concept

Magna Steyr says it is confident that natural gas will gain more and more ground as an alternative fuel in the future.

A recent study by an industry group in Germany concludes that in Germany, alone, some 2 million CNG vehicles will be licensed in the next 15 years. Natural gas vehicles could reach a market share of about 4% by 2020, the study finds.

CNG is available today in sufficient quantities and has many advantages for automobile use as compared with butane or propane.

Siegfried Wolf, co-CEO of Magna International Inc., says natural gas is a credible alternative to gasoline or diesel.

"We don't have the issue with the infrastructure,” he says. “Natural gas you can have really everywhere. We have to do something first of all to reduce pollution, on the other hand to reduce costs of transportation.

"Availability of natural gas is there for a long time. This is why we think it is the first answer to all other alternatives."

Wolf says the MILA Concept is an initial important step for Magna Steyr toward a CNG-powered car, and the company plans to focus more on the development of natural gas engines in the future.

"We plan absolutely to offer the CNG concept to vehicle manufacturers," he says.

The MILA Concept engine is a standard 1.6L 4-cyl. converted to a monovalent CNG operation, which means it will run on natural gas alone.

Apart from installing CNG-specific injection valves, no other modifications were made to the original gasoline engine. Its maximum power of 150 hp gives the concept vehicle a top speed more than 124 mph (200 km/h) and acceleration from 0-62 mph (100 km/h) in 6.9 seconds.

The fuel tank is a composite CNG safety pressure cylinder – an aluminum liner wrapped with carbon fiber – and is located safely behind the driver's seat in case of a crash.

In the version unveiled here, the tank volume is 2.7 cu.-ft (76 L), which provides the vehicle a driving range of about 124 miles (200 km).

The Class-A-stampings made of glass-reinforced polyester, designed by the Magna Steyr styling department, conceal an ultra-modern, extra light and extra stiff spaceframe in 6000 series aluminum alloy weighing only about 221 lbs. (100 kg).

The entire chassis is a lightweight construction made of high-strength steel. The complete vehicle weighs approximately 1,874 lbs. (850 kg).

"Designing the car, we really looked at the consumers,” Wolf says. “We even asked kids what they think, how they would like to have a car for the future."

The MILA Concept show car has a closed body with a Perspex bubble over the driver. Should the vehicle go into volume production at a later date, a 3-part bubble made of laminated glass may be used instead of the current Plexiglas version.

Since a basic principle in Magna Steyr's corporate strategy is not to market its own vehicles, there are no plans to produce the MILA Concept under the company brand.

Instead, the company says it currently is seeking an OEM as a partner to jointly turn the MILA Concept into a production-mature, marketable vehicle. Magna Steyr officials estimate the time required for production development to be about 23 months.