ZIMBABWEANS driving Nissan vehicles risk having their cars damaged following government's decision to increase blending of ethanol with unleaded petrol from 10% (E10) to 15% (E15) despite car manufacturers and assemblers warning they would not have warranty for vehicles which could be affected by the fuel harmful to certain models.
This has deepened controversy surrounding the mandatory blending of fuel consisting of 15% ethanol and 85% unleaded petrol. Car manufacturers say the blending should not exceed 10% ethanol as that will damage mostly Nissan cars.
Zimbabwe Energy Regulatory Authority (Zera) CEO Gloria Magombo announced mandatory blending to E15 with effect from last Saturday. Fuel wholesalers and retailers were given up to 10 days to clear their current stocks after which they are expected to comply with the new regulations.
The increase in ethanol blending came after Zera wrote to car manufacturing and assembly companies requesting feedback on the impact of increasing blending of ethanol and unleaded fuel by 10%, 15% and then 20%.
Sources said most car dealers were uncomfortable with this as some warned an increase in ethanol content would be harmful to vehicles. Ethanol is corrosive.
A letter from Nissan Zimbabwe addressed to Magombo, dated November 8 2013, a copy of which is in the possession of Zimbabwe Independent, says locally assembled Nissan cars could only take a maximum of E10.
"Reference is made to your communication of the 19th of September, where you were requesting feedback on the possible impact of 15 and 20% ethanol ratios blending on the gasolene vehicles supplied locally by Nissan Zimbabwe," reads part of the letter, written by Nissan Zimbabwe's after-sales manager Mehluli Khumalo.
"Kindly note that consultations have been made with Nissan Technical Centre Africa (NTCAF) and the following is the summary on the findings after intensive studies on different engines already distributed locally:
Nissan vehicles are designed to take a maximum 10% ethanol blended gasolene ONLY. If this percentage is exceeded, Nissan products will have to have most fuel injection components changed and various rubber components installed into the fuel systems redesigning them to cater for a higher ethanol blend;
Any use of ethanol blend higher than 10% will render all Nissan products fuel systems UNWARRANTABLE;
As a mitigatory measure, every unit will need to be covered by a very costly field fix which will take a long time to institute as this will involve redesigning the different components of the different models for the units to be able to cater for the higher ethanol blend, and Nissan Zimbabwe therefore requests Zera to ensure that the existing fleet will have access to fuel with a maximum of strictly 10% ethanol for future success operation."
Magombo confirmed to the Independent this week some car dealers were against an increase in blending, but said there was nothing Zera could do as it was implementing government policy.
"We received the letters you are talking about as part of (the) consultation process, but the government has already taken a policy position on the issue.The government makes policy and we are there just to implement and advise," she said. "After our consultations, we compiled a report to the ministry and made recommendations and whatever we received from the manufacturers was forwarded to the government. I suggest you speak to the government because they are the policymakers."
Energy minister Dzikamai Mavhaire could not be reached for comment.
Lilian Muungani, the spokesperson for Green Fuel which produces the ethanol for fuel blending, referred questions to Zera.
A government official, however, said authorities were pushing hard for an increased use of blended fuel as part of efforts to reduce the country's importation bill. Zimbabwe consumes an average of 1,5 million litres of petrol a day, but consumption continues to rise owing to an increase in cheap car imports, especially from Japan. Zera recently said fuel blending had resulted in the country saving about US$4 million every month.
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe executive director Rosemary Siyachitema said her organisation understands the need for fuel blending as it helps reduce the country's importation bill at a time a severe liquidity crunch is gripping the country.
"It's something that has been adopted as a policy by the government so that we can reduce our import bill. Whatever we save can be used in other sectors such as education and health so this can be beneficial," she said. "But if there are concerns from reputable organisations and individuals, then there should be more dialogue. We had discussions on E10 and it's important for discussions to be held on E15 because we don't want motorists to be disadvantaged."
Zera announced mandatory blending of fuel ethanol at the level of 5% ethanol and 95% unleaded petrol on August 15, following the issuance of an ethanol production (mandatory blending) licence to Green Fuel on August 5. The announcement was made two weeks after the July 31 elections, but during the inclusive government era, then Energy minister Elton Mangoma resisted the project, arguing motorists should have a right to choose the fuel they want to use.