THERE was a time when electric vehicles were seen more like souped-up golf carts that were better off staying off the roads, literally. But who would ever thought that one day, a good number of electric jeepneys (e-jeepneys) would start plying Philippine roads, and a car company like Tesla could convince vehicle buyers its electric cars were both hip and practical?
And come to think of it – the first electric jeepneys in the Philippines sprouted out of a failed project. That was in 2006 when a handful of local vehicle parts producers came up with a project to assemble a local utility vehicle that they called the Philippine Utility Vehicle (PhUV), which was supposed to be powered by a diesel engine sourced from China.
“It all started in 2006. I’m a member of the Motor Vehicle Parts Association of the Philippines or MVPAP. Basically at the time, what we [MVPAP] wanted to come up with was a local utility vehicle [which]we wanted to call the Philippine Utility Vehicle or PhUV,” said Rommel Juan, president of the Electric Vehicle Industry Association of the Philippines (EVAP), and chief executive officer and general manager of MD Juan Enterprises Inc.
“We came up with a prototype but unfortunately we lost our engine supplier. We had an engine supplier from China and suddenly it backed out. To cut a long story short, our first venture as a consortium of [vehicle]parts manufacturers failed,” he added.
In 2007, however, a non-government organization called Green Renewable Independent Power Producer (GRIPP) and the Makati City government came up with a project to deploy e-jeepneys in the city that, however, would be sourced from China completely built or assembled.
Juan told GRIPP that instead of sourcing the e-jeepneys fully assembled from China, members of the MVPAP could build them locally. That eventually led to the incorporation of PhUV Inc. and the supply of 20 e-jeepneys for Makati.
“We made a deal with them [GRIPP] that we make the electric jeepneys for them. That was in 2007 and we delivered in 2008 [to Makati City],” Juan said.
“I’m proud to say up to now, they [Makati e-jeepneys] still run,” he added.
Prior to Makati mobilizing e-jeepneys, the country virtually had no electric vehicle industry and no electric vehicles on the road.
Today, the number of electric vehicles like the e-jeepneys, e-bikes and e-tricycles on Philippine roads is increasing gradually. The Asian Development Bank also launched years back its e-trike program to replace gas-powered tricycles in select localities in the Philippines.
Juan, however, admits that because of the growing interest of the public in electric vehicles, there are “fly-by-night” companies that are simply after a quick buck and cannot guarantee their products. Hence, EVAP was formed in 2008.
“So the officers of PhUV formed the Electric Vehicles Association of the Philippines or EVAP to promote the use of electric vehicles [and]to gather all the credible players in the industry and to weed out the non-credible players,” Juan said.
EVAP currently has 50 members counting 10 manufacturers. The rest are dealers, distributors and enthusiasts.
Juan said buyers of electric vehicles, whether private or government, should make a thorough check of a supplier, because they might be dealing with fly-by-night operators or companies.
“Before you buy an electric vehicle. Do your homework. Number one, has the company sold vehicles? Do they have an office, a factory and after-sales services?” he asked.
Besides Makati, PhUV has supplied e-jeepneys to Ateneo de Manila in Quezon City, Puerto Princesa in Palawan, Plantation Bay Resort in Mactan, Muntinlupa City, the House of Congress and Filinvest City in Alabang for its 360 Eco-Loop.
There are approximately 800 electric vehicles in the country today, of which 300 are e-jeepneys and 500 are e-tricycles.
Obviously, the market EVAP is targeting in the Philippines are public utility vehicles. Juan said that based on their count, the country has about 49,000 taxis, 370,000 jeepneys and 3.5 million tricycles, which presents a very big market for electric vehicles manufacturers and suppliers over the long term.
He added that except for taxis, public utility vehicles (PUVs) are basically low-technology machines. That means the local fabrication of electric PUVs does not need the sophisticated robots and assembly lines used in the manufacture of passenger cars and SUV mostly for private use.
“The jeepneys and tricycles do not have airconditioning, so we can offer a clean alternative that does not require airconditioning,” Juan said.
NOT ONLY ABOUT BUSINESS
For Juan and EVAP, however, pushing for electric vehicles at this point is not about purely about business – it is more about advocating for cleaner solutions for the country’s transport system. In fact, he admitted if EVAP members relied only on electric vehicles, the organization would have stopped manufacturing and pushing for such vehicles given the limited market in the country at present.
“Definitely if electric vehicles were our main bread and butter, we won’t survive. Maybe it is an advantage that PhUV is a consortium and we all have our main businesses. Manly Plastics is doing plastics, Yazaki Torres has very big export of wiring harnesses [among others]. We are seven incorporators [of PhUV],” he said.
“We’re doing it like a start-up style. The gestation period is long, because it’s almost eight years [since PhUV was formed]. But finally now, there is clarity, yes [I’m taking about] the market response,” Juan added.
PhUV is actually looking to ramp up production of its e-jeepneys over the short term.
“We are trying to ramp up production. Our target is 1,560 units within two years,” he said.
The electric vehicle industry can also thrive with government support, which is why EVAP is strongly behind passage of measures pending in Congress to promote the use of alternative fuels and to provide incentives for the manufacture of electric vehicles.
“We are asking for tax and duty-free importation [of vehicle parts], income tax holidays and discount on taxes and duties,” Juan said.
For non-fiscal incentives, EVAP is asking for green lanes for the registration of e-vehicles, exemption from the number coding, and even free electric charging.
Juan said in some countries, the charging of e-vehicles is free of charge and subsidies are provided for the purchase of such vehicles.
“In China, they subsidize e-vehicles to the tune of $10,000 per unit” he added.
An article posted on the Reuters website on April 29, 2015 titled “China to roll back electric vehicle subsidies faster” showed total subsidies for the purchase of an electric vehicle in that country run up to 100,000 yuan or $16,119.70.
Juan said China is currently the top e-vehicle manufacturer in the world and a Chinese firm supplies the motor and other vital parts of the e-jeepney.
The China Automaker Association even forecasts electric car sales reaching over 270,000 by 2017.
HERE TO STAY
Because electric vehicles are less complex than those powered by internal combustion engines, they can be easily assembled in the Philippines. Also, e-vehicles having fewer moving parts means that they are ideal for use as public transport.
Juan said an electric vehicle has about 400 parts while a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine has more than 3,000 parts.
He added that an electric motor does not have parts that rub against each other unlike a typical internal combustion engine. This means an electric motor can theoretically last longer compared to a petrol- or diesel-powered engine.
And since it has no parts rubbing each other, an electric motor does not need motor oil, which is actually a major expense in maintaining a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine.
Despite the virtues of electric vehicles, however, there are quarters who will always find fault in such vehicles, like the high cost of batteries. Also, there were arguments many years back that electric vehicles will simply increase the demand for electricity, which in turn can result in the building of more power plants that can harm the environment.
Overlooking the virtues of electric vehicles, however, would be quite foolish. So far, the most outstanding quality of e-vehicles is their low operating cost.
Juan said that in case of the e-jeepneys in Makati, it takes about P460 worth of electric charging to operate it for one day. Operating a similar vehicle that uses diesel will cost about P1,200 per day.
The biggest car firms in the world are also manufacturing electric or hybrid vehicles. Even the new super car of Acura (a brand under Honda) will have three electric motors that complement its powerful 3.5-liter V6 twin-turbocharged engine.
So electric vehicles are here to stay.
“There will always be detractors, but how come electric vehicles are gaining ground right now? How come all the car manufacturers are introducing their own electric vehicles now? It’s the wave of the future. That is where we are going,” Juan said.