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Sunday June 8, 2008

Motorists rush to check out NGV system

IF the surge in page views on the Hijau MOG Sdn Bhd website is any indication, it would seem that motorists are seriously considering the option of converting to the NGV (Natural Gas Vehicle) system to save on fuel cost.

The statistics counter showed that the website received 2,683 unique hits on June 5 (Thursday), a day after the Government announced the price hike in fuel. In comparison, there were 79 (Sunday), 112 (Monday), 232 (Tuesday) and 809 (Wednesday) unique hits.

Major drawback: One of the downsides of converting to the NGV system is the amount of boot space the gas cylinder occupies.

Dr Xander Thong, CEO and President of Hijau MOG Sdn Bhd, a company that specialises in NGV conversion technologies, says his office received almost 1,000 calls and the demand for system conversion has increased by 500%.

An NGV uses compressed natural gas (CNG) or, less commonly, liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a clean alternative to other automobile fuels.

In Malaysia, natural gas, which currently costs 63.5sen per litre, is widely used by taxi operators to cut down on running costs.

When Steven Sum, 47, converted his Pajero to the NGV system a few months ago, he noticed a slight reduction in the vehicle's power. But that's not been much of a bother considering the savings he is making in terms of fuel purchases.

He has managed to cut down fuel costs by almost 80%. At current fuel prices, Sum says, the cost to run his vehicle is 50sen/per km whereas with natural gas it is only 9 sen/per km. It cost him RM8,800 to convert the engine, he says.

“It warrants spending (conversion costs) but it is worth it in the long term. The investment can be recouped in a year,” says Sum who is now thinking of converting his wife's car as well.

Thong says the technology is viable for petrol cars. For a normal passenger car, the cost of conversion can vary from RM3,500 to RM5,000 depending on make and the type of system installed, he says.

“All petrol cars can be fitted with the system although you would need the right components for particular models,” he adds.

Thong claims that using NGV reduces fuel expenses by almost 75%, with certain cars able to get almost 90% on savings. He adds that natural gas is also better for engines and the environment because it burns cleaner compared to petrol or diesel.

“Change happens when there is a union of shifting values and economic necessity,” says Thong, referring to the public who were becoming more environmentally conscious and at the same time tightening their purse strings.

Nor Hanis Muhamad Nor, an assistant school administrator, recommends that people convert their fuel system to NGV. She drives a Toyota Unser, which would cost her RM400 a month if she were using petrol.

Using NGV, she says, she only needs to spend RM50, saving her RM350 a month.

The system cost RM4,500 to install, and after getting the approval of Puspakom and the Road Transport Department (RTD), she got a 25% discount on road tax.

Reduction in road tax is one of the government's incentives to encourage people to use natural gas.

However, there are a few downsides such as reduced boot space to fit in the gas cylinder while newly installed cars might face “teething” problems such as overheating.

“This is normal in newly converted cars as the equipment is maturing,” explains Thong.

Another problem is the limited number of stations supplying gas for cars, resulting in the normal scenario of long queues of taxis waiting to fill up.

In this case, the Government should seriously heed the call by Petekma (association for taxi drivers and taxi/limousine operators) deputy president Mohd Shahrir Abd Aziz on the government to put an end to the monopoly enjoyed by Petronas in selling natural gas.

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