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Debate swirls on merits of RON92 comeback amid concern over impending petrol hike

Although the cheaper petrol variant has not been available in Malaysia since 2009, it is still used in many parts of the world, including developed countries.

3 minute read
Fuel stations in Malaysia generally sell only two petrol variants, namely RON95 and RON97.
Fuel stations in Malaysia generally sell only two petrol variants, namely RON95 and RON97.

Anxiety has been swirling over the impending price hike for RON95, the petrol variant of choice for the majority of motorists, following the surge in diesel price on June 10 as part of the government's move to end bulk subsidies for fuel.

Any hike in petrol prices would leave consumers with little choice but to face further increases in the cost of living. 

RON95 is currently the most affordable petrol available at fuel stations. If subsidies are removed, prices will likely surpass the RM3 per litre mark as opposed to the current price of RM2.05.

And while higher prices would burden a majority of motorists, the B40 or those in the low-income category – many of whom use motorcycles – are likely to be the worst affected. 

The situation has sparked a debate on the merits of reintroducing RON92, a cheaper petrol variant that was once the main choice for vehicles in Malaysia. 

"If the government really wants to save more on blanket subsidies, what's stopping them from re-introducing the cheaper RON92? Basically almost all petrol vehicles in Malaysia can support RON92. As far as I know, cars which can't take RON92 are mostly continental cars and most are 'atasan' cars anyway. Not to mention most of our neighbours are using RON91/92 as well," said one comment posted on discussion site Reddit.

"Why not just get back the RON92 as the cheaper subsidised petrol, and let the RON95/97 as the premium petrol with floating price?" 

"Most German models can take RON91 as a minimum. In fact RON95 is considered super with 97-98 used by performance cars. Modern engines have knock sensors to adjust the timing, so it won't do damage," wrote another user.

RON refers to research octane number, a grading system based on the level of compression the fuel can withstand. The higher the RON value, the more compression the fuel can take, which in turn makes the engine last longer.

In Malaysia, RON97 is not subsidised and is currently sold at RM3.47 per litre. It is usually used in high-powered vehicles such as sports cars, as well as for supercharged and turbo engines.

Some automotive analysts agree that it is time for the government to reintroduce RON92, which was abolished in September 2009 and replaced with RON95. 

Automotive commentator Hezeri Samsuri said motorcycles don't need RON95, citing the example of Australia where lower RON fuels are still used.

However, he said several issues should be considered before any reintroduction of fuels lower than RON95.

These include factors such as the durability of the vehicle's engine, warranty, pollution and the number of fuel stations willing to add another fuel variant, he said.

A proposal to bring RON92 back to local pumps was made in 2018. The government at the time however rejected the idea, citing the fuel's higher sulfur content.

Auto engineering expert Ahmad Syahid Ahmad Fawzal said re-introducing RON92 would help low-income earners, and should be a serious consideration.

Ahmad Syahid said a normal engine would still be compatible with RON92 fuel, and even lower grades such as RON88.

He said RON92 would not be suitable for newer cars due to the compression ratio of new engines which requires high efficiency to convert chemical energy into mechanical energy.

"This high efficiency requires a higher RON. So, subsidies can be given for RON92 which is suitable for the cars ordinarily used by most people," he told MalaysiaNow.

He added that the wealthy do not use the cheaper RON92 fuel due to its incompatibility with premium vehicles.

"If they frequently fill up with RON92, there will be deposits, the engine warning light will also come on and there will be more emission from the exhaust. It will be damaging in the long run."

Ahmad Syahid nevertheless added that technology can help solve the problem of sulfur content in lower RON fuels.

He said the sulfur content argument itself was not entirely accurate considering that many developed countries still use fuels with lower RON values.

Petrol Dealers Association of Malaysia president Khairul Annuar Abdul Aziz said there were a number of reasons besides pollution that would make any reintroduction of RON92 unlikely.

"Most cars sold in the last five years are designed or modified to use RON95 and above, making RON92 unsuitable for new vehicles.

"In addition, changes to the refinery in order to produce from RON95 to RON92 will involve high costs, making it economically not practical," he said.