Monday, July 9, 2012

Driving A Green Car Culture

..MANILA, Philippines - High oil prices, green regulations and better battery technologies are behind the mad dash to create the ultimate electric automobile.

This was highlighted in the recent Philippine Electric Vehicle Summit held at the Meralco compound last May 24 to 25, which was proclaimed a huge success by the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) as it attracted support not only from the government but also from the private sector.

According to EVAP President Rommel Juan, the electric vehicle (EV) summit brought together, for the first time, local and foreign EV industry players under one roof.

''It was an opportunity for the local EV industry to discuss where we are right now, what we now have, and what we plan to do in the future,'' says Juan. The event also showcased the biggest collection of electric vehicles in one event, from two- to six-wheelers. ''We had everything from electric bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, quadricycles, jeeps, off-road vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, and a bus for everyone to see and test drive. We even had the Segway and Mitsubishi's pure electric car now commercially available outside the Philippines, the i-MiEV,'' shares Juan.

Great Potential

The EV industry in the Philippines started in 2006 when the Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturers Association of the Philippines initiated a program to create a local vehicle that will be produced by local parts manufacturers. ''Somewhere along the way, we encountered the electric jeepney initiated by ICSC (Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities), which was then importing from China. We said, why don't we do it locally? So we made a local e-jeepney for them,'' shares Juan, adding that the manufacturers eventually created the PhUV, Inc. (Philippine Utility Vehicle, Inc.), the commercial arm that sells the e-vehicles to both LGUs and private entities.

''There were other initiatives happening at that time as well, and because a lot of players were coming in, we decided to organize an EV association whose sole aim is very simple-to promote the use of electric vehicles in the country,'' Juan says.

According to Juan, the summit is expected to usher in brighter prospects for the local EV industry as it also drew the presence of major players from Japan, Korea and Taiwan, who not only shared their EV experiences and best practices, but also came to the country to look for either buyers, local distributors and joint venture partners to locally manufacture and assemble EV parts, components and services. ''All these countries are very high-tech, and they're now looking at the Philippines for a market,'' share Juan, adding that there is great potential in the Public Utility Vehicle sector, in particular. ''The way I see it,'' he says, ''it will be hard for the big car companies to go full electric [here in the Philippines], but public transportation spells a lot of potential. This is where our niche lies. Once we develop PUVs and make it electric, we have the market. If we play our cards right, the Philippines can even be the hub of EV manufacturing to support other countries in the region.''

Government And Private Sector Support

The recent summit proved encouraging for the local EV players as they also heard people from different government agencies talk about their intention to support the EV industry in the country. ''Department of Energy Usec. Loreta Ayson presented the Fueling Sustainable Transport Program that covers, among others, the EV industry for the next decade; Mr. Manny Pangilinan, president and CEO of power provider Meralco, also laid out their EV vision and the support they could give the EV sector, specifically on the most important infrastructure it needs-charging stations. He even indicated Meralco's interest in going into possible joint venture manufacturing of electric vehicles and components,'' shares Juan.

Department of Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras explained that the government is serious with its Alternative Fuels Vehicle Program. ''Sec. Almendras shared that he spends about two hours a week discussing and monitoring the program's development. And that's big for an important guy like him,'' Juan says, sharing that it was also the DOE Secretary who pushed hard for NEDA and presidential approval of the $500 million e-Trike program funded by the Asian Development Bank. ''The project aims to replace the smoke-belching gasoline-powered tricycles in the country. The beauty about this particular program is that the e-Trikes will be manufactured and assembled right here in the Philippines, which will not only provide employment but also spur the growth of the local EV industry and its support industries,'' he says.

Currently, there are some 3.5 million tricycles in the Philippines, both registered and not, and approximately 200,000 are in Metro Manila. These smoke-belching rides discharge some 10 million MT of carbon monoxide annually into the atmosphere. ''The e-Trike program will replace 20,000 units in Phase 1 and another 100,000 units in Phase 2,'' shares Sohail Hasnie, principal energy specialist of the ADB. ''We are now pilot testing 20 units in Mandaluyong City to formulate an operational template for its subsequent implementation in 15 urban areas in the country,'' Hasnie adds.

The Department of Trade and Industry, on the other hand, ''genuinely supports the use and development of economically viable EV and transport landscape that is in harmony with the environment,'' says DTI Secretary Gregory Domingo. ''To be more specific, the DTI will help local EV players meet international business partners who can help the local industry meet its strategic requirements on technology, capital, and later on, the development of EV-related products for domestic and export markets,'' he assures.

Trends, Challenges

According to Juan, battery trends will ultimately impact the industry in the next years. ''It [battery technology] will play a big part. Right now there are so many battery technologies being developed all over the world. What we need is something reliable, safe and affordable. Price is still a big factor,'' he says.

John Lee, vice president of PhUV Inc., the local manufacturer and assembler of the e-Jeepneys, cites the need for government support in the form of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives for both manufacturers and end users. ''This incentive will cause prices of EVs to go down by about 30 percent. On top of these,'' he explains, ''we will see more investments not only in local EV and parts manufacturing, but also in the much-needed infrastructure. House Bill 5460 has already been passed in Congress and we hope that the counterpart bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Ralph Recto can be passed as well before the end of the legislative calendar this June 2012.''

Lee was referring to Senate Bill 2856, otherwise known as the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Incentive Act. It provides for fiscal incentives such as exemption from duties, excise tax and VAT for nine years and from the motor vehicle user's charge upon vehicle registration. Non-fiscal incentives include priority in LTO vehicle registration and LTFRB franchise applications, exemption from the number coding scheme and provision for free parking spaces in new establishments, among others.

Juan also adds that establishing quality and safety standards is needed. ''We want the Bureau of Product Standards to come in to establish a quality of standard for EVs. We want it safe, and we want to develop the perfect fit technology for the Philippine market,'' he says. ''One of the things we have to tackle is if we should come up with a standard design or a common design that different users can alter on their own. Mahirap eh. If you have so many designs, how can you have economies of scale?''

The EV industry should really unite, says Juan, because there is a huge demand. ''If we do it the wrong way from the start, then it will fail before it even begun. That's why in the association now, that's what we're trying to do-organize, create safety standards, etc. for our members so that we do this right.''