Worries over Energy Ministry plans to limit LPG vehicles
The Energy Ministry's plan to limit the number of new LPG-fuelled vehicles in the future has sparked concern among businesses.
Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal told the House of Representatives last week that the country should cut the use of liquefied petroleum gas by new vehicles in the future to tackle the shortage of the fuel and accidents. However, vehicles already using LPG could continue doing so.
He added that the Transport and Industry ministries should also step up efforts to ensure that the LPG systems installed in vehicles met safety standards.
Pongsak will discuss this idea with the Transport Ministry, which oversees vehicle registration, and the Industry Ministry, which is in charge of the installation of LPG systems in vehicles.
While it remains to be seen whether this idea can materialise, Apisit Tanadumrongsak, deputy managing director of SCG Autogas, said reports of Pongsak's comment had prompted a 50-per-cent drop in his company's LPG customers. He said the company was waiting to see a clearer policy from the minister.
SCG Autogas, a major player in the business of retrofitting gas systems for vehicles, has felt a very slight impact because 90 per cent of its business focuses on fitting natural-gas systems for major carmakers. LPG, used in Thailand largely as a cooking gas, is a different product from NGV.
As for LPG-driven vehicles catching fire, Apisit said this could be blamed on gas systems being fitted by illegal operators who do not follow an accepted standard, or on car owners not maintaining their vehicles properly.
Instead of banning LPG systems, he said the government should amend the law and require that all LPG-driven vehicles are checked every year or even every three years instead of the five years as required at present.
LPG-refill stations should also refuse to fill cars with unregistered systems or those that do not pass the check-up, he said. This way, car owners would be forced to have their vehicles undergo routine checks, and this would help cut down the number of accidents. Apisit said he was also concerned about rumours that the Land Transport Department would extend the required check-up period of NGV-driven vehicles from every year to every three years. He said it was better to maintain the existing requirement to ensure safety.
Moreover, the department should also take strict action against unregistered companies, he said.
However, one retail LPG operator said the government was not likely to be successful in controlling the number of LPG-fuelled cars as long as cooking gas is cheaper than other types of fuel. Plus, cutting down on LPG-fuelled vehicles will affect the Bt10-billion business of retrofitting gas systems in vehicles.
Somnuk Bumrungsalee, deputy director-general of the Department of Energy Business, said it had regulations requiring LPG refill stations only to fuel vehicles carrying a registration sticker. If the government really wanted to limit the number of LPG-driven cars, then the department would work out punitive measures to slap on stations failing to comply with regulations.
Energy expert Manoon Siriwan said the government could also float the price of LPG to meet the actual cost in order to control the number of vehicles.
As of January, up to 32,719,000 vehicles have been registered, of which 23,060,000 use petrol, 8,069,000 use diesel, 1,014,000 use LPG, 330,911 use compressed natural gas (CNG, also called NGV) and the rest rely on other types of fuel.
Of the LPG-fuelled vehicles currently plying the streets, 805,558 are vehicles meant for seven passengers or less, 123,722 are vans or pickup trucks and 37,600 are taxis. Of CNG-fuelled vehicles on the streets, 132,428 are vehicles for seven passengers or less, 70,280 are taxis and 47,164 are vans or pickups.
The maximum cost of outfitting a car with an LPG system is around Bt30,000, while the CNG system costs Bt40,000.
Somchai Siriwatanachoke, director-general of the Land Transport Department, said his agency was registering LPG-fuelled vehicles as usual, and the department would inform the public right away if the government decided to cancel this process.