Though motorists express anger at rising petrol prices, new cars running on fuel costing half as much are being avoided in huge numbers. For the whole of 2008, only 527 dedicated-LPG cars were sold to private buyers across Australia.
And it's getting worse, not better. This year, in the first seven months of 2009, only 118 Australians bought a new passenger car fuelled only by LPG. Holden also reports that sales of its dual-fuel (LPG and petrol) Commodores are down by half compared to last year as petrol prices stabilise. To put it into perspective ... to July 31 this year, 319 motorists chose a new hybrid, 9402 bought a diesel car and 163,726 now own a new petrol-fuelled car.
Private LPG buyers make up an almost negligible 0.07 per cent of all private passenger cars sold this year. The automotive and associated industries are aghast at the lack of interest in liquified petroleum gas.
Australia has an estimated 65 years of LPG and other vehicle-compliant gas supplies yet will need to supplement 80 per cent of its petrol and diesel needs within 20 years. Australia also has 3200 LPG stations — roughly one in every two stations sells LPG — so the fuel is as frequently available as it is cheap.
Holden's Large Car and SUV marketing manager, Kristian Aqualina, says the first step in selling more LPG vehicles was changing buyer perceptions. “People are generally adverse to LPG because they may have had experience in the past of poor LPG conversions or poor vehicle performance,” he says. “That's a challenge for manufacturers. But there have been huge advances. A Holden Omega on LPG is no different in performance and the driving experience to a Holden Omega running on petrol. The biggest difference is that the cost of the fuel is half.”
Aqualina says Holden was exploring dedicated LPG cars so the car's boot space isn't reduced by a gas tank. He says the Commodore LPG availability could be extended beyond the current Berlina model to include the luxury Calais model. And he says Holden's Australian-built small car, the Cruze hatchback which starts production next year, could have an LPG option.
“LPG makes a lot of sense. People worry about safety but our LPG cars have the same 5-star crash safety rating as the petrol cars,” he says. “Refuelling is a bit different from fuelling a petrol car but that's it — it's just different, not harder.”
The managing director of Orbital Autogas Systems, Tony Fitzgerald, agreed that the biggest challenge with LPG is public perception. “It is seen as a poor man's or a commercial fuel, similar to the perception of diesel a decade ago.”
But Fitzgerald says it doesn't have to be like that. “I think you'll see LPG become a well-accepted alternative, like diesel has, because of its lower emissions, equivalent performance and much lower purchase price. “There's also the issue of availability. Australia has gas in abundance and dwindling oil reserves.” Fitzgerald says larger companies with future carbon obligations can get up to a 12 per cent advantage by switching to LPG, based on an LPG engine's emissions of about 12 per cent less CO2 than a petrol engine.
The managing director of specialist consulting group, Rare Consulting Mark McKenzie recently told a Society of Automotive Engineers Australasia (SAE-A) gaseous fuels conference that LPG and associated gases could be the nation's transport fuel of the future.
“Development of alternative fuels — including LPG and LNG — will reduce Australia's vulnerability to rising prices and the supply chain,” he says. “Australia has a 65-year supply of gas, which can help meet national greenhouse gas targets by reducing transport emissions — the third-largest source (of CO2).”