If you lived near the Lahore airport and had to drive to Mall road regularly, you’d be open to buying a car whose fuel cost you less. Amir Riaz has that 50km commute, and he’s quite frank about his decision to keep a hybrid car. “I have a [regular car] too,” he told The Express Tribune. “But I prefer taking my [hybrid]. It is just sensible. It consumes one-fourth of the fuel.”
The hybrid guzzles less gas because it uses a combination of petrol and electric power (in the form of a battery). Pakwheels CEO Raza Saeed says over 90% of the hybrids sold on their website are the Toyota Prius manufactured in Japan. Other choices include the Insight and Reborn by Honda or the Civic hybrid. Some high-end names recently introduced to Pakistan are the Porsche hybrid and the BMW 7-series.
Porsche Panamera S-E Hybrid
While prices may vary depending on the model of the used car, something like the Toyota Prius will set you back 1.4m rupees. If you’ve got the cash to spare you could consider what Porsche, Mercedes and BMW have to offer at a hefty price tag of Rs13.5m. Porsche Pakistan CEO Abuzar Bukhari brought in the first luxury hybrid, the Cayenne, which consumes 13.76 litres of petrol for every 100 kilometres. Interestingly enough, this is an SUV giving you better road mileage than a much smaller non-hybrid 1300cc or 1000cc car. “Pakistanis should not be limited to […] for hybrids,” he argues while naming two companies. “We Pakistanis deserve better, why buy used cars from other countries?”
Imports are the most obvious option, though, especially since no one is making them locally. These hybrids, many from Japan and the UK, are being brought over the Afghan border in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. However, the majority of them are arriving at Port Qasim in Karachi. About two out of 10,000 used cars reaching Karachi shores each month are hybrids.
The hybrid is considered more environmentally friendly and economical when it comes to fuel consumption. And as petrol prices rise in Pakistan, some people are thinking this type of car is a better option. But despite these positives, this technology is struggling to become a viable player in Pakistan’s controlled market.
No bang for your buck
The government has put the squeeze on importing used cars. It now says that you can’t get them if they are more than three years old. It used to allow used cars that were up to five years old until the end of 2012.
According to official car import numbers, over 1,140 Toyota Prius were imported from July to October 2012 compared to less than a thousand units before the end of the previous financial year. But then the official policy changed.
Honda Insight Hybrid
“[Newer] used cars mean a higher price,” explains Salman Hameed, a hybrid dealer in Lahore. He was getting up to 70 cars until the government changed the rules. Now it’s just 20 and he thinks demand could sink further. This means that dealers like Hameed who used to be getting the 2007 models are now forced to get the 2010 ones. This means an average price difference of Rs400,000. “But it is also a newer car,” he says.
All of this would change if the government gave local manufacturers incentives. If not, people like Pakwheels CEO Raza Saeed feel that the market for hybrids will remain small because the choices are so limited. If local companies made the car, it would be cheaper and hybrids could possibly become the norm.
Take the example of India where there has been a concerted push by the government. Today, one of India’s leading local manufacturers, Tata, produces the Nano hybrid which is known as the world’s cheapest hybrid at a mere 100,000 Indian rupees.
On the other hand, in Pakistan, the government has deliberately kept a tight fist to protect the existing local car industry. The Federal Board of Revenue, which is the brains behind the import policy on hybrids, openly says it will not be opening the doors on this new technology because local manufacturers will be affected. FBR spokesman Israr Rauf admitted the previous government hadn’t done much to encourage it either. “We have to wait for the next budget first,” he says. “Even then, it is unlikely of the government to take any drastic steps to push local manufacturers to incorporate greener cars.” There is no roadmap on how to factor it into the budget either.
Honda Civic Hybrid
“The real issue today is that mainstream parties we have spoken to have little clarity on the long-term role of hybrid automobiles,” says Syed Umair, the head of the Lahore Chamber of Commerce’s environmental committee. It is certain though, that globally petrol-only cars will go, he adds.
Features and what to look out for
Hybrids are popular because people think they offer better mileage. Honda’s hybrid switches between the battery and fuel at a speed of up to 40km. The Prius operates dually at a speed of up to 120km, says dealer Hameed.
The ordinary hybrid car will likely have automatic windows, steering, a push start button, a remote key and a CD player. Others feature bluetooth, a GPS system, a back-view camera, an auto parking system, a hard-disk drive and a mini-disc player. Some more modified versions have two additional features of cruise control, a keyless entry by touching the car door and a keyless start option.
The deal-breaker is that these used cars don’t come with insurance. For some models the battery needs be changed after 200,000km which is about five years. When you buy one, advises Hameed, make sure you check that the battery is original and the synergy driver has not been tampered with.
Another concern is whether we have enough mechanics versed in this technology to repair them. But as has been proven in the past, when the market grows, eventually the manpower catches up. For now, it seems though that unless the government moves, hybrids will be stuck in the back seat.
Hybrids available in Pakistan
Cars Price Models
Toyota Prius Rs1.4m-Rs3.2m 2003-2011
Honda Civic Rs1.6m-Rs1.8m 2006-2010
Honda Insight Rs1.7m 2008-2010
Porsche Cayenne Rs17m 2013
All the cars mentioned above are imported
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 19th, 2013.
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Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that the Cayenne gives 13.75 kilometres a litre. The error has been rectified.