Chrysler will offer its compressed-natural-gas-powered Ram 2500 to North American retail customers, making it the only auto maker with such a pickup on the market.

The CNG-fueled 2500, introduced earlier this year as a ’12 model, first was offered to fleet customers in August. Only one CNG-powered passenger vehicle, the Honda Civic, is available for retail sales in the region.

Bob Lee, vice president-engine and electrified propulsion engineering at Chrysler, tells WardsAuto the 2500 is “kind of a test case” for possible applications of the powertrain for the auto maker.

“I actually like CNG. I think it has potential,” he says. “There’s only one downside: Storage.

“ It’s just hard to make” tanks that store fuel at 3,600 psi (252 bar) and can be packaged neatly into vehicles.

“But I think there’s a lot of hope for this vehicle. What we don’t have is the pumping system that people can afford.”

Compressed-natural-gas fueling stations are few and far between in North American markets, but he says there is research being done in adding home fueling stations that drivers feel comfortable using.

Lee says CNG burns easily in conventional internal-combustion engines, has a high octane number, can be used in turbocharged and supercharged engines and is much less expensive than gasoline.

CNG supply is plentiful worldwide and especially common in Europe, where Chrysler’s partner Fiat is a leader in the technology.

In the CNG-powered Ram 2500, which was shown to media earlier this year at the Center for Automotive Research’s annual Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, MI, the engine switches to gasoline power when the natural gas tank runs empty.

The Ram 2500 is powered by a modified 5.7L Hemi V-8. Customers can choose between 8- or 35-gallon (30/132 L) gasoline fuel tanks. The gasoline-equivalent price of CNG is about $2.10 a gallon. The pickup is available only as a crew cab 4x4 in either the ST or SLT trim. Pricing starts at $46,505, including a $995 destination charge.

Chrysler says mileage figures with the CNG powertrain are nearly identical to that of a gasoline-only powertrain.

The truck is assembled at Chrysler’s Saltillo, Mexico, plant. Ram President and CEO Fred Diaz says in a news release that retail dealers located near CNG fueling stations clamored for the pickup shortly after its fleet introduction.

afoley@wardsauto.com