Tata Nexon, Maruti Suzuki Vitara Brezza CNG in India a distant dream: Reasons explained

While CNG is the most affordable as well as efficient fuel we have, it is not as widespread in all parts of the country. Nonetheless, the manufacturers have a different reason for not launching it with compact SUVs.

By:Updated: May 31, 2021 12:41 PM

If we look at the Indian automotive scene, quick realisation dawns that only a handful of manufacturers offer factory-fitted CNG kits. Out of these manufacturers, no one offers it in a compact or full-size SUV. Come to think of it. A full-size SUV that is more economical to run than its diesel counterpart. That is a win-win situation. However, the sales of big-size SUVs are nowhere comparable to those of compact ones. The Indian market hasn’t matured yet for the same is a common sentiment. In India, we regard CNG as a “cheap fuel” and hence use it only on affordable cars. Moreover, those buying SUVs also aren’t much in favour of the same. Express Drives spoke to Maruti Suzuki to check their response on the same. C V Raman, Senior Executive Director, Engineering, Maruti Suzuki India Limited said

Currently customer preference of a variant of CNG in such SUV vehicles is limited. Hopefully in future, if we see more interest from this customer segment, we can expect some penetration, especially as a diesel replacement and also considering the hefty increase in gasoline and diesel fuel prices.

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So, all hope isn’t lost and it is on us to keep hounding the OEMs for a CNG-equipped, affordable to run SUV. While CNG is common in naturally aspirated petrol engines, what about the turbocharged ones. We have seen Tata Motors do it with the Zest turbo petrol motor but that was strictly for the fleet market. Is this a technical challenge? Rajendra Petkar, President & CTO, Tata Motors, in an exclusive conversation with Express Drives said,

Adding a CNG Kit on a turbocharged (TC) petrol engine is technically feasible. This, however, involves development work like reconfirming/validating injector, valve & their seat material, pressure regulator and turbocharger for the desired application. Currently, available engine management software are generally capable of handling CNG option provided the application is without any additional vehicle/engine feature requirement (for instance start-stop). However, considering the additional cost of the CNG kit (over and above the turbocharged gasoline option) along with peripherals of TC engine such as intercooler, hoses etc., would make it an expensive proposition to implement. However, this is ultimately the strategy that individual OEMs would like to pursue basis pros and cons of the individual case.

C V Raman says

Technically it is possible to design a turbocharged engine with CNG fuel. CNG fuel has a better octane rating and has the potential to be used with higher air charge using a turbocharger, deriving better performance and better fuel efficiency as well. Unfortunately, it comes at a higher cost and needs a higher development effort. Current economics are not in favour of such a development.

Nissan India says that

We do not have any factory-fitted CNG kits available on Nissan and Datsun models. However, we see that many customers choose to fit aftermarket CNG kits.
Well, that’s quite true given the scores of Datsun Go models running around in taxi sector with CNG kits. A Nissan Magnite turbo petrol, while being truly frugal at the pumps, could get even better with a CNG kit. What say? Nissan’s statement also begs the question? Is it possible to fit a CNG kit aftermarket to turbo petrol engines? As far as what OEMs have to say, it is but doing so will void the warranty. Plus the fit, finish, safety you get with a factory-fitted unit may be missing.

Mahindra and Mahindra which recently switched to turbo petrol engines, also said that this conversion is possible. The company in response to our query mentioned that “There are no technical/engineering challenges to have factory-fitted CNG turbo petrol engines, the effort will be same as the naturally aspirated engine for adaptation and calibration. We do have turbocharged CNG mono fuel engines, so technically there is no issue like NA engines
in bifuel mode, the cost increase for bi-fuel will remain same as the NA engine. In fact TC CNG engines with higher boost we can reduce the power loss with respect to the gasoline engine and we can bring efficiency better.” However, Mahindra also said that the Indian market is usually used to a naturally aspirated petrol engine in hatchbacks as well as other passenger cars.

Turbocharged engines have slowly started penetrating this strata and hence none of the makers are doing it a turbo engine with bi-fuel mode. Moreover, CNG and high-end cars aren’t looked upon exactly with a premium look. Mahindra says, CNG has a “Commercial Brand Associated with it” and hence isn’t present in premium vehicles.

There you have it. CNG in a turbocharged petrol engine is quite possible and should be good to drive as well as fuel-efficient (the taxi owners swear by it). While CNG is the most affordable as well as efficient fuel we have, it is not as widespread in all parts of the country. This could be a deterrent. Here is an important question for you readers. How many of you will buy a CNG-equipped compact SUV? Maybe the manufacturers may take notice of your responses and bring one to our market.

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