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LPG losing favour

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    In the first seven months of 2009, only 118 Australians bought a new passenger car fuelled only by LPG.

Motorists are steering away from low-cost LPG fuel in record numbers despite government subsidies and environmental advantages.

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).”


Comments on this story

Displaying 3 of 8 comments

  • With current price of 90 cents a litre, and rising every week for LPG, gas driven cars are no longer a viable option for many Austalians. There are cars now that can do 1500 ks with one tank of fuel. Cosequently there is no incentive left for people to convert to LPG which is not only costly but does fewer kms per litre than petrol.

    Adam Lea of Melbourne Posted on 08 March 2012 10:25am
  • With the government trying to introduce a 12.5c per litre tax on LPG that takes away all you?re saving and you may as well run on unleaded. You use more LPG for the same distance as unleaded but save about 20% on the cost. Putting a 20% tax on LPG and your system will never pay for itself nor will you save any money so the big question is, why would you bother?

    MarkF of Helidon Posted on 01 April 2011 12:49am
  • I have had experience with my 2001 AU Falcon that I had fitted with an Elcho system in mid 2004.ran like a dream for the initial 4 years, and then progressively got problematic with issues of backfiring, fouling of the converter from substandard LPG, and a decrease in economy-despite regular tune ups and plug changes. On long highway trips where I was getting 450 to a tank, I now have to be content with returns of 360kms.Has the overall quality of LPG in this country been allowed to slide over the last few years?

    Andrew Noller of melbourne Posted on 05 October 2010 8:12pm
  • Damn but that sloth looks happy!!!!

    Ashley Stevensobn Posted on 05 January 2010 11:21pm
  • Desmond, the figure you question is ... as Neil Dowling states in the story ... the number of private LPG buyers. I think you may be confusing it with the massive proportion of fleet sales.

    Karla Pincott, editor Posted on 27 August 2009 10:49am
  • I had my Nissan Pathfinder converted to LPG last June .It took 6 months to get it to run properly but it is good now. However in Rockhampton LPG is 20 cents /litre dearer than in Brisbane which reduces the economic advantage substantially also I seem to strike quite a few garages with their only LPG pump out of service so I have to top up earlier in case I run out.

    A.Richmond of Emu Park Posted on 26 August 2009 4:51pm
  • as an lpg fan i'm actually glad it is so stigmatised in the wider motoring community low demand means low price and lpg can left to the converted to enjoy cheers

    Damian Harris of Sydney Posted on 26 August 2009 4:18pm
  • Your article reads only 118 LPG cars were sold during the first 7 months of this year. I question your figures. Ford has a dedictaed LPG Falcon that was selling well. No mention of their sales total (only Holden as usual) & I would bet a million dollars that Ford would have moved 4 times that amount of LPG cars alone during this time. FACTS PLEASE.

    Desmond William Harris of Gawler. SA Posted on 24 August 2009 6:45pm
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