As petrol prices rise, more Egyptians convert to duel-fuel vehicles

Taxis and cars are filled up with gas at Natural Gas Vehicles petrol station in Cairo, Egypt on November 27, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 09 December 2019

As petrol prices rise, more Egyptians convert to duel-fuel vehicles

  • Fuel prices have been increasing since 2014
  • Officials say the number of private cars converting is rising

CAIRO: The number of Egyptians switching to duel-fuel vehicles is accelerating as the government pushes motorists to use cheaper, cleaner and plentiful natural gas.
About 300,000 vehicles, mostly taxis and minibuses, have been converted to duel-fuel systems since the 1990s — a small fraction of the 11 million vehicles licensed in the country.
But authorities are encouraging more drivers to switch by subsidising vehicle conversions, keeping compressed natural gas (CNG) prices low, and building CNG fueling stations and conversion plants.
Nearly 32,000 vehicles were converted during the financial year from July 2018 to June 2019, two petroleum ministry officials said. The target for this financial year is 50,000 vehicles. That compares with just 6,000 conversions in 2015/16.
Officials say the number of private cars converting is rising. They hope this will soften the blow of petrol price hikes after recent subsidy removals, as well as reducing pollution and cutting the import bill for liquid fuels.
Egyptians have seen steep increases to fuel prices since 2014, with most energy prices brought up to international levels under a three-year, IMF-backed reform plan completed this year.
But gas has remained cheap compared with liquid fuels.
One cubic meter of CNG costs 3.5 Egyptian pounds, roughly the equivalent of one liter of diesel at 6.75 pounds or one liter of 80-octane petrol at 6.5 pounds.
“The ministry of petroleum has maintained an appropriate price so that natural gas always stays at 50% of the 80-octane petrol (price), which encouraged drivers to turn to conversion,” said Abdelfattah Moustafa Farahat, head of Egyptian International Gas Technology GASTEC.
Private cars now make up 30% of conversions, Farahat said.
Officials say a boom in natural gas production and exploration since the discovery of the giant offshore Zohr gas field in 2015 spurred them to act. Egypt became self-sufficient in natural gas in late 2018.
“The discovery of Zohr field and achieving self-sufficiency in natural gas have encouraged the state to think: why don’t we use this gas as a domestic fuel and work to expand its use,” said ‭‭‭‭Ayman Shalaby, assistant vice chairman at the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS).
GASTEC is one of two state-run companies, along with the Natural Gas Vehicles Company (Car Gas), that dominate the sector. Private and foreign companies have also entered the market the past few years.
GASTEC plans to set up 54 new duel-fuel stations with CNG over the next three years, in partnership with Italy’s Eni , as well as building more fueling stations for public buses, Farahat said. Currently, Egypt has 187 CNG fueling stations and 72 conversion centers.
The government also has a plan for minibuses, a common form of cheap transport across Egypt. Under the scheme, 142,000 minibuses would be converted and another 88,000 old diesel minibuses replaced with biofuel equivalents over the next three years, while more than 350 fueling stations would be built.
Motorists gave the duel-fuel system mixed reviews. Some praised cost savings on fuel, but complained of reduced power or luggage space.
Officials say conversions are preceded by technical checks and the cylinder size and shape can be adapted to the vehicle.
The government is subsidising and providing low-interest instalment plans for conversion systems, which cost 5,000-7,500 pounds ($310-$465), as well as encouraging assembly plants and importers to provide vehicles with built-in systems.


Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Updated 22 January 2020

Frank Kane’s Davos diary: Swiss efficiency lapses, but so far Davos lives up to the cuckoo-clock image

Davos comes and Davos goes, but over the last five decades, the one thing you can rely on is Swiss efficiency, right? The trains run on time, the cuckoo clocks chime on the hour, and the snow is swept from the pathways within minutes of the first fake falling. That is the common (even cliched) view of the Alpine nation and its showpiece event, the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos.

But — and whisper it very gently beneath your breath — maybe the legendary standards of Swiss efficiency are slipping as the WEF celebrates its 50th birthday. Evidence of a lapse from the highest levels of attainment came at Zurich Airport, when the luggage belt seized up inexplicably, and a full 10 minutes elapsedbefore a maintenance man came to attend to it. Tut tut.

Further signs of falling standards were on display at the railway station. The booking desks were besieged, as usual, by WEF delegates keen to complete the final leg of their journey up the Magic Mountain — a two-hour rail journey involving two stops at increasingly higher altitudes.

But only two of the 10 grills were manned, and the line grew longer and more grumpy with each passing minute. The mood was not helped when some trains were canceled and an extra hour was added to the journey. There was much muttering and dark looks shot when the train finally pulled into Klosters.

But thankfully, once you got to the heart of WEF-land, normal service was resumed. There had been a reasonable fall of snow that morning, which gave the place its usual fairytale appearance, but no traffic snarl ups as in previous years, when massive snowfall had caused the place to grind to a halt.

The shuttle buses that are the arterial life-channels of Davos — for those whose budgets do not extend to the black Mercedes limo — were running with their usual Swiss punctuality: Every 10 minutes or so, or even more frequently during peak rush hours.

These, in my experience over the past few years, are becoming frequently extended. Having battled through the registration process and attended one event at the nearby Seehof hotel, I imagined it would be easy to catch a ride on a virtually empty shuttle back to Klosters at around 9.30 p.m. But even at that hour, there was a long queue of unhappy souls waiting to make the same 20-minute trip to the other side of the mountain and their warm, welcoming hotel rooms.

It was the same thing on the opening morning of the annual meeting. I left my hotel — the homely and comfortable Cresta in Klosters — at 7 a.m. in the dark, and at minus 5 degrees Celsius. Again, there was a crowd of people standing huddled at the shuttle stop, shivering and stamping their feet.

The WEF shuttle service was up to the job, however, and I got into the Congress Hall with little trouble. The airport-style screening process — maybe a little more thorough than usual in view of the impending arrival of US President Donald Trump — passed smoothly. One request though: Please WEF, install some hot-air machines in the security hall. The body shock when you remove outer clothing to pass through the metal detectors was wicked.

Then down to business, which for a journalist at Davos means finding somewhere in the congress complex where you can rest a laptop while also providing a good people-watching vantage point. Over the years, I have learned that the Central Lounge — strategically located between the main plenary meeting halls and the (private) members lounge and bilateral rooms — is the perfect spot. Now, who will come my way in Davos 2020?