Gas becomes fashionable

Gas becomes fashionable

Monday, 25 february 2019 | Redacción CEU

The application of increasingly demanding regulations on emissions and the growing awareness among the population of the environment have stooped diesel vehicles from occupying the hegemonic place in the Spanish automobile market. When buying a car, consumers now consider new options such as electric hybrids, CNG, LPG and gasoline cars. The latter is presented as the most obvious option, but the sale of alternative vehicles has also experienced an appreciable rise. One of the most striking data is the growing commitment of Spaniards to gas vehicles, specifically, for liquefied petroleum gas powered cars. Why has the sale of LPG shot up? What special characteristics do these cars have? What are the differences between LPG and CNG vehicles? Is autogas really an ecological alternative?

 

According to the data obtained by the MSI advisory firm from the General Directorate of Traffic's figures, an amount of 73,881 conventional hybrids, 19,664 LPG and 4,636 CNG were registered last year. What is surprising about this study is not the growth of the commitment to alternative vehicles –the aforementioned context favors this situation–, but the sharp rise of autogas vehicles. One year earlier, in 2017, the number of LPG registrations was only 4,276. Now, the figure has almost been multiplied by five. To understand this change of trend it is necessary to know what special characteristics these cars have.

What is special about a LPG vehicle?

Both compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) are fuels that the European Union considers alternative. The vehicles which are propelled by CNG and LPG can be identified with an ECO label. The figures are on their side. In particular, according to Motorpassion, LPG vehicles can emit 95% less CO₂ than diesel and 14% less than gasoline, in turn, CNG will produce 10% less CO₂, 33% less NOx and 95% less particles than the Euro 6 diesel. Without a doubt, this is one of their great attractions. For example, in Madrid, the drivers of these cars can access the city center and avoid all kinds of restrictions related to anti-pollution protocols.

Nevertheless, what kind of vehicles are we talking about? Gas cars would fit into the category of hybrids according to current legislation. Although the use of this term can lead to a misunderstanding. In any case, it is clear that they are bi-fuel vehicles that can operate with two types of fuel. In other words, if the car runs out of gas during a trip, the vehicle can travel using gasoline. In turn, this also means a greater autonomy.

When people usually talk about gas cars, they usually refer to CNG and LPG vehicles, not hydrogen cars –fuel cell electric vehicles–. Once clarified this, it is also necessary to point out that, although CNG and LPG are always mentioned as a pair within the same category, they are completely different gases:

  • GNC: It is a gas mainly composed of methane that is stored at high pressures –usually between 200 and 250 bars–. It is similar to the gas that reaches our homes, the "city gas", and appears in a gaseous state.
  • LPG: It is a mixture of propane and butane gases that can be liquefied easily. This is similar to the one in butane cylinders.

The reason why there is a significant difference between the registration of autogas and CNG vehicles in Spain is largely due to the lack of infrastructure in the latter's refueling points. Refuel has always been one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to consumers deciding to bet on new vehicle alternatives –see also the case of electric and hydrogen stations–. While there are approximately 600 stations in Spain that offer LPG, the figure is ten times lower when we talk about CNG.

 

Gas becomes fashionable

A transitional alternative

There are also drivers who mainly motivated by the advantages of getting the ECO sticker of the DGT, decide to adapt their gasoline car to LPG. However, not all vehicles can undergo this process. The Spanish regulation only allows this conversion to gasoline models with an Euro3 homologation and the ones that were approved later –as a general rule, vehicles from 2001 onwards–. The price of the installation ranges between 1,200 and 3,000 euros according to different experts. Then, these cars have to become legal and pass their corresponding Vehicle Inspection Tests.

Thanks, in part, to this capacity of conversion of vehicles, autogas becomes an affordable option and also a real alternative to the future of cars. However, as the saying goes: "Every law has its loophole". Actually, these types of cars do not have to be more ecological than other cars without ECO labels. Everything depends on the use that is given to them. The Consumers and Users Organization (OCU by its initials in Spanish) points out that once on the road there is no way to check whether these cars are actually using those fuels or are running on gasoline. In other words, their environmental impact can be just as negative as the one of a vehicle without stickers or even more depending on its cylinder capacity. In short, environmental commitment is also a matter of ethics.

At The CEU IAM Business School, we are committed to a training which is coherent with current challenges. We believe that the professionals in the automotive industry have to live up to the circumstances and count on a deep knowledge of this field. That is the reason that has led us to design Master's Degree in the Automotive Industry Businesses and our Automotive Sector MDP.

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