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South Salt Lake • A Utah company is beginning production of compressed natural-gas-vehicle-conversion systems that General Motors will use on vans coming off an Indiana assembly line.

Alternative Vehicle Solutions, located in a warehouse at 225 W. 2950 South just west of the TRAX line in South Salt Lake, celebrated its grand opening Tuesday.

The plant assembles parts that enable GM to quickly switch Express and Savana vans to natural gas when a customer orders one equipped for the clean-burning alternative fuel. The process doesn't require drilling any new holes or otherwise altering the frame. Instead, crews just snap into place a new manifold, fuel-intake valve and computer connections to govern CNG fuel injection and gauging.

The opportunity arose because GM wanted to restart dormant alternative-fuel programs without going to the expense of creating its own CNG division for a relatively small market segment, said Scott Brandeberry, vice president of the start-up company.

"It's a small market for [GM]," Brandeberry said. "It's large for us."

Alternative Vehicle Solutions currently employs 11 — mostly college-educated workers such as engineers — and likely will add 10 more in coming months, he said. GM's vans are a good start because business fleets often order fleets of CNG vehicles for cheaper operation, Brandeberry said, but the company also will sell conversion kits for many existing GM vehicles beyond the van lines.

Those Environmental Protection Agency-approved kits will continue to cost $8,000 or more per vehicle, but Brandeberry said they would save up to 11 hours of installation labor because they don't require drilling, soldering or other alterations to the vehicles.

Alternative Vehicle Solutions is developing a kit to match Fords, as well.

The new company's computerized parts use software from another Utah company, Natural Drive, and parts manufactured by other GM suppliers.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, praised the company at its grand opening and reiterated his support for a bill that would extend tax credits for buyers of alternative-fuel vehicles. Those credits, set to expire at year's end, currently range from $4,000 for the smallest private vehicles to $32,000 for large commercial haulers. The bill Hatch backs would add a credit for bi-fuel vehicles that can run on gasoline or alternatives.

"Natural gas is lean, green, affordable, and it's a domestic fuel," Hatch said. "I'm tired of us sending billions and billions of dollars overseas to get fuel when we have plenty here in the United States."

Representatives from Utah Clean Cities, the government-backed program using federal stimulus funds to expand the CNG-fueling network throughout the state, also attended the opening. One of the program's directors, Robin Erickson, said companies such as Alternative Vehicle Solutions can help add cleaner vehicles to Utah's roads, which is one condition of the grants.

Utah's position as a leader in CNG fueling, with additional investment by Questar Gas, creates a larger customer pool, Brandeberry said, and makes it a logical place for alternative-fuel-vehicle companies to emerge.

SLC gets charging stations

Salt Lake City is installing five charging stations for electric vehicles at parking stalls around the city, Mayor Ralph Becker announced this week. The city plans to continue adding support stations for emerging vehicle technologies, he said in a news release. > E2