On Thursday, the Centre launched a first-of-its-kind pilot programme in the country to run two-wheelers on compressed natural gas (CNG) in New Delhi with plans to follow suit in two more cities.
But experts have welcomed the government’s effort with caution, stressing that availability of CNG in key markets, cost and mechanics were the major challenges.
The pilot project is being implemented by Indraprastha Gas Ltd (IGL) and Gail. Initially, the programme will involve 50 CNG-retrofitted two-wheelers. Of these, the first batch of 10 CNG retrofitted two-wheelers were flagged off on Thursday.
The vehicles choosen were Honda’s Activa, while the 50 scooters will be retrofitted with CNG kit manufactured by ITuk Manufacturing India Pvt Ltd in the pilot phase. Yadvinder Singh Guleria, operating head, sales and marketing, and senior vice-president, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India Private Limited, said that as a direction from the central government, promoting green was very much visible.
“They have announced that it is a pilot test. We are also keenly watching, because the product that they have chosen is Activa. They have converted an Activa with the CNG kit. The ARAI (Automotive Research Association of India) certification has also been taken by the company (ITuk) which has developed the CNG kit. We are in touch with them. We need to watch before commenting. Right now it is a retrofitting on Honda Activa,” he added.
On viability, he said: "As of now, we are not aware about the cost of retrofitting. As far as the running cost goes, in taxis, CNG is cheaper compared to petrol. The acquisition cost or conversion cost we dont know."
Commenting on the availability of CNG, he said, in the NCR region only CNG taxis are running. There are many gas stations dedicated only for CNG filling.
"Outside the NCR, CNG stations are limited and that is why for taxis and two wheeler they have converted, it is both on petrol and CNG. It is currently multipurpose," he said.
There are about 55 lakh two-wheelers in NCR alone.
Indian two-wheeler big-wigs such as Hero Motocorp, TVS Motors and Bajaj Auto have been experimenting with CNG powered bikes and had even developed models for a commercial foray. However, each of them scrapped their plans after issues like lack of acceleration, overheating and lack of availability of fuel cropped up. Company officials were not available for a comment.
CNG-run two-wheelers will not only emit 75% lesser hydrocarbons as compared to petrol-driven models, but would be more economical to run, said Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State (Independent Charge), Petroleum and Natural Gas.
However, experts have a different view. They are saying that cost per kilometer will be high, besides conversion cost will be an additional burden.
The other challenge would be availability of CNG in various parts. While as a country we got surplus CNG, the problem is distribution. Even some of the metros don't have enough stations for CNG.
Government officials said that technical and commercial feasibility of CNG-run two-wheelers would be explored during the pilot programme before commercialisation.
It may be noted, the Centre is trying all the ways and means to reduce pollution. By 2020, it was decided to switch over to Euro-VI type fuel from Euro-IV currently.