Ford F-150
Ford plans to offer a natural gas-powered version of its popular F-150 pickup truck later this year. Reuters

Ford Motor Co. (NYSE:F) plans to offer a natural gas-powered version of its popular F-150 pickup truck later this year.

The car company already makes compressed natural gas-powered versions of its E-series vans and heavier trucks. But until now, there was no natural gas version of the F-series truck, which was the best-selling vehicle in America in 2012 and 2011. Ford sold 645,316 F-Series trucks in 2012 and 584,917 in 2011. Both Chrysler and GM already offer natural gas-powered versions of their pickup trucks.

“We did this because customers were asking for it,” Kevin Koswick, Ford's director of North American fleet sales operations, told the Wall Street Journal.

Starting in the fall, customers will have the option to buy a 2014 Ford F-150, 3.7-liter V6 engine model specially prepped to run on either compressed natural gas (CNG), liquid natural gas (LNG) or gasoline. Customers would pay about $315 extra for engine prep, plus anywhere from $7,500 to $9,500 to add special natural gas-compatible fuel tanks, fuel lines and fuel injectors.

But, Ford says, the system will likely end up paying for itself within a few years. The cost of natural gas fuel is equivalent to about $2.11 per gallon, while the current national average cost for unleaded regular gasoline is $3.66 per gallon. Natural gas, thanks to its lower carbon content, also burns “cleaner” than gasoline, with fewer greenhouse gas emissions. A natural gas-powered vehicle has greenhouse gas emissions somewhere between 6 percent and 11 percent lower than a gasoline-fueled automobile, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"Businesses and fleet customers have been asking Ford to make F-150 available with CNG capability to take advantage of the fuel's low price and clean emissions," Jon Coleman, Ford’s fleet sustainability and technology manager, told CNN.

Ford said in a press release that it’s on track to sell more than 15,000 CNG- or LNG-prepped vehicles by the end of 2013, a 25 percent boost over 2012.

The natural gas trend is booming in the commercial trucking industry as well, with an increasing number of 18-wheelers and commercial vans making the switch. In April, engine maker Cummins began rolling out its new natural gas engines for long-haul trucks. That same month, United Parcel Service announced it was aggressively expanding its LNG-fueled operations. UPS plans to buy 700 LNG tractors and build four new LNG fueling stations by the end of 2014.

“Moving into LNG is a means to get us onto what we see as the bridging fuel of the future and off of oil,” UPS Sustainability Officer Scott Wicker told the New York Times in April. “It’s the right step for us, for our customers and for our planet.”