Chattogram-based apparel stock lot trader Sanalullah used to spend around Tk5,000 for his car's petrol every month, but the recent sharp 51% hike in petrol price increased his worries.
The unprecedented hike was announced at a time when his business as well as his family were feeling the pinch of soaring inflation.
Sanaullah was reluctant to spend more on car fuel. However, compromising daily rides was not a good option for a promising businessman like him.
In such a situation, the young man, like many others, installed a compressed natural gas (CNG) cylinder and fuel kit system in his car with over Tk65,000.
The subsidised new fuel, CNG, is now costing him at least 60% less than what it would cost for superior petrol, known as Octane.
Mansur, a middle-aged private company executive in Dhaka, also converted his petrol-run car into liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) or auto gas-run one immediately after the fuel price hike on 5 August. He spent over Tk75,000 for the conversion which reduced his fuel cost by 45-50%.
Like Sanaullah and Mansur, most limited-income car owners in the country are now in a rush for such conversion.
"Since Saturday [6 August], we have been getting ten times higher customer queries regarding CNG, LPG conversion," said Masudur Rahman Talukder, a senior service manager at Anudip Autos Ltd, a reputed workshop for vehicle fuel system conversion.
The company is installing more than double gas cylinders in cars after the fuel price hike. "It can grow manifolds unless there is a shortage of CNG cylinders in the market," he said.
Southern Automobiles, another popular refuelling and conversion chain, was installing 20-30 CNG or LPG cylinders in petrol-run cars every month. "After the petrol price hike we have done the same job in just four days," said Shoharab Hossain, operations manager at Southern, which operates 6 conversion workshops in the country.
The situation was different a few years ago. People then almost lost their interest in CNG conversion after several price hikes in a short period. They could save merely one-third to one-fourth with the CNG conversion which cost a huge amount.
On the other hand, octane was popular then as it needed no conversion investment.
Take Intraco Refuelling, a publicly traded refuelling and vehicle conversion chain, for example. It scaled down its conversion team in recent years due to decreased work.
However, it is now calling technicians back amid the sudden spike in vehicle conversion demand thanks to the new hike, according to its CNG conversion unit's Assistant Manager Khairul Bashar.
"Due to soaring import costs amid earlier slowing down demand, industry players reduced their import of CNG cylinders. The shortage in CNG cylinder supply might be a concern now," said Anudip's Masudur Rahman, adding that LPG cylinders and kits, however, are available in the market.
Meanwhile, several hundred small workshops – most of which use low-priced grey market cylinders and other kits – are seen busier than the reputed conversion service brands like Navana CNG. The rush is mainly due to the 35-45% less cost of conversion they ask for.
Both the Southern and Anudip managers said, amid a scarcity, used and refurbished CNG cylinders and replica kits are available in the market at cheaper prices and people, especially old car owners, are opting for those from nearby small workshops.
Safety is being compromised in the grey market conversion and authorities should dig deeper to stop the use of substandard products, said the conversion service executives.