A new report from global markets analyst Pike Research pegs the U.S. as one of the fastest growing markets for natural gas vehicles (NGVs) over the next five years, driven by accelerated demand from both government and private fleets.

The study forecasts that the number of NGVs, or compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles, on the road worldwide will grow to 17 million by 2015, up almost 75% from 9.7 million in 2008. Within five years, the report predicts, annual NGV sales will surpass 3 million vehicles for the first time.

NGVs have been around since World War II, but have not been widely accepted in the U.S. and many other parts of the world because of a lack of sufficient refueling infrastructure. The regions where NGVs enjoy considerable market presence – Pakistan, Argentina, Brazil, Iran, India, and Bangladesh – largely possess a combination of plentiful and inexpensive natural gas, a large number of existing refueling stations, and government subsidies for CNG vehicles, fuel, and infrastructure.

Over the next five years, however, Pike predicts the fastest growing NGV markets will be those of the U.S., Canada, and India, citing greater adoption of CNG vehicles within government and corporate fleets, and increasing consumer awareness of the emissions benefits NGVs provide relative to gasoline-burning cars.

Pike Research’s recently released “Natural Gas Vehicles” report analyzes the market opportunities and challenges facing NGVs. The study assesses NGV technology and examines key drivers of demand with both fleet and private consumers.