DETROIT - Compressed natural gas could be a near-term solution until Chrysler Group LLC gets electric vehicles on the market in 2012, reports The Detroit News.

Through partner Fiat SpA, Chrysler has access to a full line of engines that can run on CNG, said Paolo Ferrero, a former Fiat executive now in charge of Chrysler Powertrain.

Ferrero and CEO Sergio Marchionne have started promoting natural gas Chrysler vehicles in the U.S. and calling for government support in the form of tax incentives credits for biofuels and subsidies for infrastructure.

Marchionne first raised the subject this month at a meeting of business and political leaders on Mackinac Island.

"It is the most effective solution, in terms of costs and timing, to lessen this country's reliance on oil," he said.

"Today, natural gas is a rational alternative to gasoline that can provide a near-term environmental solution on the road to vehicle electrification," Marchionne said, noting the fuel has 25 percent fewer emissions and is 25 percent cheaper than gasoline.

Fiat introduced its "Natural Power" line a decade ago in Europe. It also is popular in South America. Fiat has a full range of engines that run on CNG from less than 1 liter in size to 7.8 liters, powering a variety of vehicles.

Natural gas is plentiful, including reserves in Michigan, and pipelines exist, said Marchionne. Fueling stations are needed, but the infrastructure would be easy to build in the U.S., he said.

"It is just a question of working with governments and others to implement," Ferrero said.

At the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors, municipal leaders called for government support of natural gas to reduce the carbon footprint in American cities where many have converted buses or fleets to run on natural gas, according to The Detroit News.