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Home > Business > Special

Which is the best drive? CNG or LPG

Srinivas Krishnan in Mumbai | August 19, 2006

Should you get yourself a CNG or an LPG car? We have the answer.

In 1999, Fiat India had brought down two radically different machines to India for the Auto Expo, and both were breathtaking... in their own way.

One was the downright gorgeous Alfa Romeo Spider (in red, that too), and the other was the downright outrageous Fiat Multipla (painted in a description-defying bluish-greenish combo).

Given a choice, most people would grab the Alfa's keys, but to me, not even Pininfarina's iconic styling could tempt me away from the incredibly bizarre Fiat MPV. I loved it just the way it was. The Multipla was an amazingly friendly vehicle, and Fiat had put in a great deal of thinking in its development. It was as wide as an elephant, but moved with the grace of a gazelle. It was quick, extremely responsive and fun to drive.

And what's more, it was powered by CNG. No petrol switchover. Yes, 100 per cent CNG. I never thought alternate-fuel vehicles could be this exciting to drive - the 95 bhp 1600cc 'blupower' engine of the Multipla changed my perceptions completely.

Seven years on, I have not forgotten the Multipla, I really wish it were here. I have been thinking about this CNG Fiat because today, we have a degree of choice in CNG/LPG powered vehicles, and more are on their way. Manufacturers are now offering these cars as credible alternatives in the personal segment to tap those who are conscious of rising petrol and diesel prices.

The biggest consumers for CNG are traditionally commercial vehicles, taxis and autorickshaws -- which will be the case for a long time to come. But with a choice in cars that run on CNG/LPG, we might be seeing a slight degree of change.

So if you want to buy a CNG or an LPG car, what choice do you have? In CNG, you have the Chevrolet Optra, the Mitsubishi Lancer and recently, the Tata Indica and Indigo Marina. Ford India too will get onto the bandwagon, with a CNG Ikon scheduled to be introduced in the northern and western parts of the country - where the CNG distribution infrastructure is established - next month.

And in LPG, you have the Suzuki Wagon R Duo and Omni, while the Tata hatchback and estate will also be available with LPG options.

You can now convert any petrol vehicle to CNG or LPG. But the difference now is that manufacturers themselves are offering these as options. Earlier, you had to go to an authorised kit installer to convert your car (and cross your fingers hoping it would be safe), but now, you can opt for it at the dealership level itself. No, it still does not mean factory-fitted, it is an aftermarket fitment.

Let me explain. Ignore the Wagon R Duo/Omni, which are the exceptions to the rule here, as they are the only cars on sale now with a factory-fitted LPG kit. The rest of the cars - the Lancer, Optra, Indica and Indigo Marina - come with CNG options; which means that the installation of the kit is done at the dealership level, and it is not factory fitted.

Hindustan Motors, General Motors and Tata Motors have tied up with CNG installation specialists who will fit the kit at the dealer end and deliver the car.

So what's the big deal?

  • You do not lose any vehicle warranty for the conversion -- the manufacturer's warranty on the car stays as it is.
  • It is much safer when these authorised agencies fit the kit. So there is no welding involved and no fundamental changes to the body structure.
  • Finally, it is convenient for you.

What are the damages like?

  • The cost of the entire CNG kit and installation is approximately Rs 50,000 over the price of the car. So is it worth it? Not if you cover about 10 to 20 km daily. CNG retails for around Rs 22 per kg in Mumbai, and at this rate, you will recover the cost in two to three years if you drive on an average of 40 to 50 km a day. It is simple. The more you drive, the earlier you recover your investment -- yes, it is the classic diesel versus petrol argument all over again.
  • You will have to sacrifice some boot space and a degree of performance too.

So is it worth it?

  • A very big yes if you are a fleet owner and want to run your CNG Lancer / Optra / Indica / Indigo Marina as a taxi. You will recover the cost in no time at all, provided your business is good, of course.
  • Just a yes, if your car covers 50 km a day, if you have a chauffeur and if you can spare him for an hour or two every few days to queue up behinds cabs and rickshaws to fill up gas.
  • A no, if you do not fall in the above two categories.
  • And a very big no if CNG is not available where you live. CNG infrastructure is not that widespread in the country, which is why HM, GM and Tata are offering the CNG versions of their cars only in certain parts of the country, like Mumbai, the National Capital Region and Gujarat.

Doesn't help then, does it? Well, there is an alternative. And that is LPG. Other than Maruti with the Wagon R Duo and the Omni, and to be followed later by Tata, you do not have a choice in terms of manufacturer offerings. But you can always convert your current petrol car to LPG.

Though you have to pay more for LPG than CNG (remember, it's also litre versus kg), it still works out to decent savings in fuel costs. Another positive aspect about LPG is that it does not inhibit engine performance as much as CNG does. As regards distribution, LPG is not as widespread as CNG.

For instance, in Mumbai, there are about 116 CNG outlets as opposed to 12 to 14 LPG pumps. But LPG outlets are coming up fast, and what's more important, you will soon find them - government/oil companies willing - on the highways and in more towns too.

So for a personal vehicle, it makes sense to go for LPG (may a 1,000 retail outlets bloom), while for commercial vehicles, CNG vehicles deliver better economies. And hopefully in the future, we will get cars like the Multipla, which not only run on alternate fuel but do not compromise on any aspect of performance or ownership either. Oh, but an LPG Alfa is a strict no-no.

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Number of User Comments: 9

Sub: cng/lpg conversion

hi we are trying to build a alternative fuel -electric hybrid vehicle (four wheeler)two seater ,to participate in a competition.we are using a 12bhp petrol ...

Posted by rajeev

Sub: cng kit for alto lxi model 2006 October

Sir, I want to know following details: 1) I have purchase new maruti alto lxi in october 2006. Whether it is adviseble to have CNG ...

Posted by Devang M Shah

Sub: LPG/CNG Kit

i own an maruti Wagon R Lx model 2004. i am thinking to convert it from patrol to LPG with round gas cylinder well adjusted ...

Posted by sanjay jain

Sub: CNG or LPG for cars

Very timely article! I was seriously considering the Optra CNG, but I have changed my mind after reading the article becuase of two very important ...

Posted by Jay

Sub: CNG could well prove to be a transitional fuel.

Until, of course, the vegetation version takes full command of the fuel requirements globally. Solar seems to be a far cry at the moment. And ...

Posted by chanakya



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