Charging ahead with EVs
Despite economic woes at home and abroad, not to mention sparse infrastructure, the push to transform Thailand into an electric vehicle hub continues
Although the automotive industry is struggling to deal with a worldwide economic downturn, local authorities and car makers are clinging to their ambitious goal to make Thailand a champion in electric vehicle (EV) business in the region.
Since lockdown measures were lifted, news and updates on EV projects in the public and private sectors keep rolling in, reassuring that the country remains on track towards the goal.
The EV policy was introduced in 2016, but at first it received a lukewarm response from car companies. Only state agencies began small-scale projects such as prototype charging outlets and EV facility management platforms.
The private sector, especially energy firms, later became increasingly enthusiastic in joining authorities to push ahead with EV development, viewing the business as an opportunity to catch the clean energy trend.
The government is also getting more serious about EVs, establishing the National Electric Vehicle Policy Committee (NEVPC) earlier this year to better drive the policy forward. In March, the NEVPC announced an EV roadmap to help the domestic car industry manufacture 1.2 million units in 10 years.
Among recent developments is a move by the Energy Regulatory Commission to apply more appropriate charging rates for EVs. Others including Energy Absolute Plc, Banpu Plc and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand going ahead with development of electric ferries, buses, motorcycles and tuk-tuk three-wheeled vehicles.
Chinese car maker Great Wall Motors Co (GWM) recently announced a strengthening of its car production base in Thailand, with the aim to become a leader in the EV segment.
Other smaller companies, meanwhile, advertise via social media their services to turn ageing petrol-powered cars and buses into EVs and provide home-based charging systems.
Sakun C Innovation Co under Choknamchai Group is preparing to enter the EV market as it seeks to make the Thai car brand more internationally recognised.
The Industry Ministry is following the NEVPC's roadmap to make Thailand a major EV production base within five years, said Industry Minister Suriya Jungrungreangkit.
The first phase of the plan, starting this year, is aimed at adding 60,000-110,000 EVs annually to roads until 2022. The numbers will increase to 100,000-300,000 by 2025 and range between 400,000 and 750,000 after 2026.
Foreign car makers are also stepping up work to expand their EV business. While still continuing to manufacture internal combustion engine (ICE) cars, GWM shows a strong interest in adding a range of EVs to its production lines, covering hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
German luxury maker BMW vowed to help build facilities to support the EV ecosystem in Thailand. Krisda Utamote, director of communications for BMW Group Thailand, said his company is committed to adding more charging stations in the country to have motorists gain better access to clean fuel.
BMW operates 141 ChargeNow stations at 63 locations in Thailand (91 public and 50 at BMW dealers).
Making EV infrastructure more publicly available would be a good start for the country to become a key player in the global EV market, Mr Suriya said.
Attaining the goal will require collaboration from both the public and private sectors. On the side of government, the push for EV industry development involves several agencies, including industry, energy, finance and transport, Mr Suriya said.
Sakun C Innovation Co, the vehicle marketing arm of Thailand's top auto body maker, Choknamchai Group, is preparing to enter the EV market and make the Thai car brand more internationally recognised.
The company is determined to complete these two missions after seeing Thailand serve as a global automotive production hub for almost 50 years.
The country is the largest car producer in Southeast Asia and in the top 10 globally.
Sakun C Innovation will position itself as a builder of vehicle bodies for specific purposes such as ferries, patrol boats, ambulances and electric boats under its branding strategy to avoid fierce competition in a market dominated by global giants.
At the same time, it will keep seeking new opportunities in the EV business.
When more charging outlets are available, the company will focus more on the EV market, said Sakun C executive director Weerapon Chaiteerath.
One of the brand's future projects is to enter the electric taxi market, providing products for drivers who want to move away from combustion engines.
Banpu plans to deliver electric ferries to operators to serve tourists in Phangnga Bay this year.
Like BMW, state agencies agree with the need to develop EV charging facilities to attract motorists who are still reluctant to buy EVs because of inconvenience in fuelling the cars.
They are worried about whether the number of charging outlets will be enough and how long it will take to fully charge the vehicles.
The state-run Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) is collecting data from a one-year test of its own newly developed electric motorcycles, buses and boats in order to plan for charging outlet installation in Bangkok and upcountry.
Egat chairman Kulit Sombatsiri said the data will tell how frequently motorists charge their vehicles and what the optimal distance between charging outlets should be.
Mr Krisada, also newly appointed president of the Electrical Vehicle Association of Thailand, said EV charging service providers need to join forces to manage their services under a single standard on the same platform, which eventually will be developed into a mobile app used by motorists.
Without this integration, each firm would have separately provided services available only for its own customers.
A goal is to make the charging outlets widely available, similar to ATMs or petrol stations, enabling operators to serve all EV motorists, Mr Krisada said.
The Provincial Electricity Authority (PEA), a state-run power distribution arm, is also helping increase the charging outlet numbers. It earlier announced plans to further develop quick-charging facilities as part of its EV project, which began in 2018.
The agency wants to build 137 stations between the second half of this year and 2021, covering 75 provinces.
Deputy governor Sekson Sermpong said the PEA is working on a plan to set a voltage standard for EV charging systems to secure enough power for vehicles while charging.
Quick-charging technology requires a huge amount of electricity, so the agency needs to make sure there are no interruptions or accidents during charging time, he said.
Energy Absolute Plc (EA) believes that the technology will be a "game changer" in the EV business, as it can solve the problem of motorists who complain about long charging times, said EA deputy chief executive Amorn Sapthaweekul.
His company is conducting a test run for an electric boat carrying people from suburban areas to central Bangkok quickly, avoiding heavy traffic congestion.
The boat runs on an 800 kilowatt-hour battery, which takes between 15 and 20 minutes to charge, according to EA. A fully charged battery allows it to make trips of up to 80 kilometres.
The Board of Investment also plans new incentive programmes to encourage investment in charging-related products.