Drivers overpaying because firms don't stock cheaper fuel
Most Hong Kong drivers are paying up to 5 per cent more than necessary for petrol because fuel companies provide only one grade, one that is best suited for use in sports cars.
The 98-octane petrol supplied in the city's service stations has an octane rating higher than necessary for average vehicles, which need no more than 95 and some even less, the Consumer Council says.
Elsewhere in Asia, where buyers are given a choice, including Taiwan and Singapore, 95 octane costs about 5 per cent less than 98.
But fuel companies say that when they introduced 95-octane petrol in Hong Kong 14 years ago, it did not sell well.
The octane number is a measure of the anti-knocking property of a fuel, with high-performance engines needing a higher octane.
A survey of 550 car models by the Consumer Council shows about 61 per cent can run well on 95. 'In other words, you pay more for nothing,' Professor Ron Hui Shu-yuen, vice-chairman of the council's publicity and community relations committee, said.
The minimum recommended level for Audi, Ford, Jaguar and Lexus cars is 95, the survey found.
Japanese brands including Mitsubishi, Nissan and Honda, can run with petrol as low as 91 octane.
Only 17 out of 105 Mercedes-Benz models require a minimum level of 98. The rest can use 95. Porsche, Volvo, Mini and Ferrari need 98.
In the European Union, sales of 95 octane accounted for 85 per cent of total sales of petrol in 2007.
The council said companies should introduce 95 octane in Hong Kong.
Engineer Lo Kok-keung, from Polytechnic University's mechanical engineering department, said drivers should check the compression ratios of their cars' engines in the user manuals.
If the ratio was 9 to 1 or 10 to 1, they should use petrol with the octane number 98, he said. If the ratio was 8 to 1, number 95 would be good enough. Petrol with a higher octane than needed did not harm engines, but did not improve their performance.
Petrol companies said they would consider introducing 95 octane if there was keen demand, but the lack of space for storage was a key constraint.
Caltex said it was uneconomical for the company to store and transport petrol with different octane levels, and to do so would result in increased costs and might push up the price of petrol.
Drivers, especially those who own high-end cars, had reacted with concern when companies introduced 95-octane petrol in 1991, according to Esso.
Shell said there had been a lukewarm response to petrol with the lower octane level.
A litre of regular unleaded petrol was selling yesterday for between HK$13 and: $14