With the push towards alternate modes of mobility becoming stronger than ever, the automotive sector at large has sought to look towards reliable options for cleaner fuels. While electric vehicles are on the definitive path of becoming dominant modes of passenger transport in near future, relatively cleaner fuel options like compressed natural gas (CNG) can help supplement the drive of controlling emissions.
Offering nearly a 15 percent to 27 percent reduction in greenhouse gases compared to conventional fuels in a well-to-wheel analysis, CNG is more cost-effective and is now making its presence felt in the personal mobility segment.
Globally, India comprises a sizable chunk of the CNG market and the demand for natural gas has increased substantially over the past decade. Maharashtra, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, and Delhi account for nearly 85 percent of the CNG passenger vehicles (PVs) offered in India, led by tier-I cities. Tier-II cities are also showing a rising inclination towards CNG-powered vehicles, primarily due to the reduced total cost of ownership they offer. The rising absorption of CNG is expected to follow due to the proliferation of CNG pipeline network planned by the government of India.
Several myths such as CNG being unsafe, or not performing as well as liquid fuel cars, among others have acted as significant barriers to its usage in the past.
In fact, CNG is safer in an event of a collision as compared to vehicles powered by gasoline or diesel, owing to its nature, storage conditions, and location in the car.
A CNG car also returns higher fuel economy and leaves no residue in internal pipes, reducing wear and minimising maintenance costs.
The dispelling of such myths and increased cognisance of the advantages of CNG cars are now helping promote growth in its adoption. Therefore, leading automakers are leveraging this opportunity and striving to expand CNG offerings while popularising its key benefits.
Earlier, CNG fuel type was associated more with the fleet segment in cars, three wheelers or buses amongst other adjacent segments. With offerings from car makers in the personal segment, consumers have been able to experience the advantages in city runabouts in addition to the inherent advantage of being greener.
Additionally, convenience features and premium CNG offerings have also significantly helped change its perception.
Measures such as prevention of starting a car unless the fuel lid is completely closed with prominent visual display in the instrument cluster and other leak detecting features are a few examples that help improve the safety perception. The convenience of starting a car in CNG mode also adds to consumer confidence.
Google trends, a lead indicator of purchase sentiment, has witnessed a constant spike in search for ‘CNG car’ whenever there is a rise in the petrol prices. Leading automakers are devoting close attention to customer needs and leveraging their insights to provide cost-effective, well-performing CNG cars.
The increasing popularity and acceptability of CNG vehicles in the Indian market promises a significant room for growth for automakers and they must make the best of this opportunity. In FY2022 alone, CNG sales in the PV segment recorded nearly 55 percent Y-o-Y growth, accounting for approximately 8.6 percent of total PV sales compared to an approximate CNG PV share of 6.3 percent in FY2021. Currently, there are 16 models, across original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that come in CNG variants, which already collectively comprise over 11 percent of the market. Further diversification in offerings in the CNG segment, coupled with necessary innovation geared to solve customer apprehensions, will be decisive in paving a smooth road ahead.
On part of authorities, a strong push towards extending infrastructure for CNG accessibility will help in rapid adaptability. Current trends indicate positively on this front, with the number of gas stations expanding. From a company growth perspective, CNG is a bullish market for OEMs and introducing CNG powertrains in some segments has provided a much-needed boost. According to the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas & Housing and Urban Affairs, there were nearly 900 CNG fuel stations in 2014, and in 2021, the number crossed 4,500. This number is expected to touch 8,000 by 2024. Even if a situation comes up where CNG is not immediately available, the bi-fuel nature of CNG vehicles provides a buffer to customers, who can temporarily switch to liquid fuel to run their cars. Some local governments have even encouraged CNG as a cleaner fuel by allowing cars with CNG to ply on all days while restricting cars powered by petrol or diesel to ply on alternate days.
Like any other sector, the automotive industry also functions with multiple determining factors, including customer demand, feasibility, and infrastructural requirements. Ushering in the next phase of mobility, remaining open to several modes of clean fuels will be critical in promoting a sustainable and gradual transition. CNG can augment this movement as a significant, easily available, and relatively clean fuel option, while other alternate fuel vehicles including electric cars make themselves more prevalent.
The author is VP, Product Line, Tata Motors Passenger Vehicles Ltd.
The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.
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