The
advantages of running vehicles on liquefied petroleum gas might prompt motorists
to ask ‘What’s the catch?’ Shortage of refueling outlets is cited as one drawback,
but LPG conversion specialists say the pros far outweigh the cons and point
out the garage business opportunities. Report by Vaughan Freeman.


It’s cleaner and greener than petrol or diesel, kinder to engines, more economical, readily available, quieter, and sounds too good to be true.


For many, Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) is an unknown quantity. For others
its growing popularity, driven by government grants and a freeze on LPG duty,
is proving great for business.

Bedini Sales UK
are
LPG specialists, and
have converted a wide
range of models

Conversion equipment specialists Bedini Sales UK says it’s been involved in
models ranging from Shoguns and Land Rovers, to a Honda Integra and a Nissan
QX. Adam Raven, the company’s workshop manager, commented: “A conversion on
a 4.0 litre Discovery – including removing the petrol tank, replacing it with
two LPG cylinders in a cradle, and then fitting an eight gallon auxiliary petrol
tank in the spare wheel well – typically costs in the region of £1,800 plus
VAT. The cost of conversions generally varies, from £750 plus VAT on a carburetor
Land Rover, to £2,000 and above on the latest cars, with extra LPG tanks tucked
into the sills for greater range.”


Raven added: “That gives the car a range of around 170 miles on the LPG and,
of course, the additional mileage from petrol in the case of dual-fuel vehicles.
Most people convert for financial reasons, and enjoy the fact that it is good
for the environment too.”



Bedini has a substantial UK dealer network, and its LPG fitter training programme
places special emphasis on safety, and on the longevity of the dealer installations.



Transport Action, the government-backed agency charged with promoting alternative
fuels, predicts demand will rise sharply this year for cars powered by LPG,
the generic name for commercial propane and commercial butane, a hydrocarbon
byproduct from the oil and gas industries. The agency recently forecast that
another 100,000 LPG vehicles will appear on our roads over the next two years.



Government grants towards conversions are available through Transport Action’s
Power Shift scheme on vehicles under a year old on the scheme’s approved register.
The grants cover up to 75 per cent of the conversion costs, depending on the
level of emissions compared to the Euro lll standards. Grants cannot be made
retrospectively.

Transport Action
forecasts that another 100,000 LPG vehicles will appear on our roads over
the next two years

The LPG Association believes such incentives will boost the number of LPG powered
vehicles in the UK from around 30-40,000 now to around 250,000 by 2004. On a
shorter range forecast, numbers embracing the annual rate of conversions and
vehicles featuring LPG as original equipment are expected to show a more modest
increase from 40,000 this year to around 50,000 in 2002.


Such figures, however, pale against a global total of around five million LPG
vehicles. There are more than a million in Italy, 1.2m in Japan, 800,000 in
Korea and half a million in Australia.


Along with grant aid for conversion, the last Budget saw a reduction in LPG
duty of 9p per kilogam, equivalent to 3p per litre, frozen until 2004. LPG now
retails for less than 40p per litre compared to average petrol and diesel prices
of 72ppl to 80ppl.


At the same time, the main drawback to LPG – where to fill up – is gradually being dealt with. From fewer than 100 refueling points just a few years ago, there are now 700, with 1,000 expected to be open by the end of the year. Simon Hawkins, sales and training manager with Jaymic Alternative Fuel Systems, says: “We have more than 150 trained installers around the UK. There are six or seven other companies doing similar work, importing the conversion kits, and training staff to install them.


“For the most part it is the high-mileage private individual who is the most enthusiastic LPG ‘convert’, but we are also seeing more interest among small fleets.


“One difficulty is that people want to know what the LPG conversion will do
to the residual value of their vehicles, and whether the fuel price differential
will stay with us after 2004.”



Wider ignorance about LPG is also an issue says Bedini’s Adam Raven, who explained:
“I run a Galant converted to LPG and took it to a main Mitsubishi dealer to
trade it against an estate. He was not interested in the deal because he knew
absolutely nothing about LPG.”



For those, and others like him, Simon Hawkins points out benefits additional
to running costs. “LPG is a cleaner burn as there is no cylinder wash – the
fuel is already a vapour when it is drawn into the engine. Also, you don’t get
the oil dilution so it is better for the engine.

LPG retails at 40p

per litre, making it a far cheaper alternative to
Petrol and Diesel

“It almost seems too sensible to be true,” added Hawkins, “and people wonder
what the catch is, but with the Queen owning three LPG cars, and John Prescott
and Tony Blair having one apiece, it’s getting a higher profile.”


As for the workshop business opportunity, Hawkins commented: “It’s straightforward
enough. If you are an experienced technician, and have the basic garage equipment,
the training is reasonably priced.”



Because of its business potential, there are concerns that it will be exploited
by rogue operators. It needs only one bodged conversion on a non-approved car
and a tank explosion to blacken LPG’s image. Also, there are the sceptics who
argue that if LPG market penetration is sufficiently high, a subsequent rise
in fuel duty will make it less attractive for the consumer.



Even so, for Adam Raven the pros outweigh the cons. His primary concern is that
the British auto industry is not taking full advantage. “With more than 650
fitting stations now in place and most major OEMs offering Autogas options on
their vehicles, the LPG industry is here to stay.


“However, we are lagging far behind Holland and Italy. We need people in Britain
working on solving the technological and electronics challenges that newer vehicles
pose for LPG conversions, instead of constantly having to look for solutions
abroad.”



Adam Raven agrees: “Modern vehicles are becoming more and more challenging to
convert to dual fuel and there is a need for positive and forward-thinking designers
with automotive and electronics backgrounds to address the issues.”



Contacts:

Liquid Petroleum Gas Association: www.LPGA.co.uk

Government information: www.transportaction.org.uk


To view related research reports, please follow the links
below:-

Electric
& Alternative Fuel Vehicles & Components – Private Companies Report

Forecourt
Retailing (UK)