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After months of negotiation and planning, the Automotive Remanufacturers' Association (ARA), an association of the Retail Motor Industry Organisation (RMI), will be piloting its "powered by gas" programme, commencing 22 June at two of its selected workshops in Randburg, Gauteng and Virginia in the Free State.
Attie Serfontein, ARA National Director, says interest in autogas was first identified as an ARA project in 2017 and the ARA committee were tasked with investigating and exploring possibilities of autogas technology/energy in the Automotive Aftermarket Retail Sector (REMAN) arena. “ARA has made excellent progress to date liaising with autogas specialists and other key industry players to the point where we are now able to implement a National gas-conversion project, piloting at Almo Engineering and Randburg Diesel and Turbo. Both owners, Frank Mac NICOL and Johan Botha respectively, have been involved with gas conversions for many years. The project is being run in conjunction with gas specialist consultant, Eddie Cooke, ARA Members from all major Regions and other expert industry stakeholders.
Serfontein says earlier this year ARA toured the country to ensure there would be sufficient specialist workshops to manage the conversions and subsequent maintenance and repairs on any units installed across Southern Africa. “This includes both the commercial and passenger vehicle car-parc,” says Serfontein.
COVID-19 unfortunately stalled the start of the pilot (with the brent crude oil price playing a crucial role) but the teams are now ready to move forward. Training will commence via a virtual platform from Italy, where the supplier of the goods are situated, to South Africa. “The training will be ground-breaking in the sense that the required skill will be transferred (virtually) in order to do a successful conversion on the internal combustion engine, as we know it. In South Africa a new qualification – the Engine and Fuels Systems Management Mechanic – has been developed and registered to facilitate this,” says Frank Mac NICOL, ARA Chairman and owner of Almo Engineering.
The workshops will each supply a "guinea pig" vehicle for the test period. The technicians will first undergo virtual training via electronic media from Italy, where after the two vehicles will be converted to run on LPG. The training and conversion exercise will run over a period of five days.
After completion, testing and monitoring will be performed over a period of two to three months. “The two vehicles are equipped with tracker systems, which will be used to monitor driving habits, speeds, fuel consumption etc. Once all data has been collected and compared with previous records we can safely roll the program out to workshops throughout the country,” says Mac NICOL.
Serfontein says ARA is very positive about progress made thus far. Gas is such a great alternative energy option for motorists. “Autogas conversions are relatively simple to effect. Further, the payback time on conversions is modest, depending almost entirely on mileage. Autogas is a great alternative energy option for the immediate future.
Current research by a participant gas conversion engineering company, estimates that conversion of state vehicles would immediately produce savings of over 60% - a higher figure than in the private sector due to the factor that gas cannot be stolen, unlike petrol. It further estimates a break-even time period for a conversion at six to 12 months, depending on daily mileage,” he concludes.