LPG bowsers could soon disappear from Darwin petrol stations entirely, potentially leaving hundreds of Top End LPG vehicle owners with worthless and unusable whips.
Once touted as the key to reducing our dependence on petrol while lowering emissions – and backed by generous government incentives – LPG vehicles have now been all but abandoned in Australia as car manufacturers and consumers turn their focus to hybrid, diesel, and electric alternatives.
All Darwin-based petrol stations contacted told NT News their LPG bowsers had either already been ripped out or would likely be decommissioned soon due to a drop in demand and rising maintenance costs.
For Darwin motorist Daniel Ross, the writing was on wall when he recently sold his LPG car “for way less than market value”, after years of relying on LPG vehicles to get him around the Top End.
I’d still have that car now if it wasn’t so hard to fuel up,” he said.
“The main reason I sold it was most servos had removed their LPG bowsers and I didn’t want to drive to Winnellie to fuel up every week as that was the closest servo with LPG.
“In my experience, owning an LPG car is great … just up here it isn’t the best idea.”
Introduced in 2006, the Howard government’s LPG incentive scheme, offering a rebate to customers who converted their cars to run on liquid gas, had strong uptake in its early years.
But as time went on, the once-soaring demand began to dwindle and the incentive was eventually switched off in 2014 after years of low uptake.
Waning interest in the market was made worse by an LPG fuel excise introduced by the federal government in 2011, which today sits at 14.1 cents per litre. Granted, that figure is still far less than the 43.3 cents the commonwealth taxes on each litre of unleaded fuel purchased.
For years, Danny Maxwell’s automotive repair shop in Winnellie boomed as customers – sometimes one everyday – rushed in to take advantage of the government supported LPG conversion.
“We converted hundreds of cars over the years,” he said.
“But we don’t do that anymore – we’ve pulled out of that industry because there’s nothing to be done, and it’s been that way for five years.”
He said he sympathised with the “couple of hundred” of LPG car owners in Darwin who had spent thousands on conversions or a factory fitted LPG vehicle, only for it to become effectively worthless in its current state.
”I feel sad for the owners of these vehicles, which they’re now stuck with,” he said.
“They own the car, they don’t want to buy another car, but if they can’t get fuel it becomes tricky.
“People have been left stranded – they can’t drive from here to Perth, their cars won’t make it because there’s no fuel along the way.”
Mr Maxwell’s shop has one of the last remaining LPG fuel pumps in the area, but he’s now reassessing if it’s an effective use of the space.
We’re looking at it going, ‘well, we don’t really sell much’,” he said.
“From there we could use the space where the big bowser is for something else – you just start thinking that way.
“If we do have an issue with the browser or anything along those lines, then from there there’s no one to really repair it.”
He said the federal government played a part in killing the industry it once helped build, and needed to step in to assist those who have been burnt.
“If (the federal government) pulls the rug out from underneath you, then they should have something in place that buys the cars from the people, so they can actually fund back into a normal car,” he said.
“That would be a fair alternative. If you haven’t supported the industry and you’ve left people sitting high and dry on some rocks, then you need to be able to help them transition into something else.”
However, a spokesman for the federal Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor told the NT News that the commonwealth had in fact supported the industry through tax credits to businesses to counteract fuel excises.
“Automotive LPG demand has reduced in Australia in the last 10 years and now makes up a very small part of Australia’s transport mix,” the spokesman said.
“This is despite the Government’s support for LPG through tax concessions on fuel excise.”
The spokesman pointed to external factors driving down the demand for LPG vehicles and said the federal government does not determine which fuels are sold at petrol stations.
“The fall in demand and availability of LPG vehicles has been driven in part by large fleet operators, such as taxi services, choosing to move to fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles,” the spokesman said.
“Despite this, there continues to be a significant number of LPG refuelling stations across Australia.
“Decisions about what fuels are sold at specific locations are a matter for fuel retailers and are strongly influenced by supply and demand for the fuel type.”
Extracted from NT News