Beijing-China has the potential to become the world’s largest market for natural gas automobiles with 1.5 million vehicles expected to hit the roads by 2015, according to experts.

While attending a natural gas auto forum in southwest China, Brenda Smith, a council member of the Asia Pacific Natural Gas Vehicles Association, said the world was ready to embrace an era of natural gas automobiles and China was leading the way, Xinhua reported.

Experts at the forum predicted as many as 1.5 million vehicles could be seen on the roads by 2015.

“Natural gas automobiles are developing fast due to easy access to natural gas, which is cheap, safe and easy to transport,” said Smith.

China has more than one million natural gas automobiles on the road, and about 100,000 new vehicles are put into use each year.

“China’s natural gas automobiles will see robust growth in the next few years due to the economic and environmental advantages of natural gas,” said Long Zezhi, a senior engineer in the petroleum and natural gas field.

China’s development of new-energy vehicles, mainly focuses on electric and hybrid cars.

Long said the development of natural gas automobiles was facing challenges from electric and hybrid vehicles.

“China has already formed a complete industrial chain. It includes natural gas compression and liquefaction as well as its storage and transportation, and the manufacturing of natural gas cars and their parts and accessories,” said Yao Mingde, honorary director of the China Road Transport Association.

Lack of a natural gas filling station network, however, has hampered development of such vehicles, Yao said, adding that rising natural gas prices also posed challenges.

China had only about 3,000 natural gas filling stations till 2011.-IANS