‘Tesla of Thailand’ keeps factories running in virus lockdown

‘Tesla of Thailand’ keeps factories running in virus lockdown

Energy Absolute plans to operaate a fleet to ferry passengers on the Chao Phraya River. (Energy Absolute photo)
Energy Absolute plans to operaate a fleet to ferry passengers on the Chao Phraya River. (Energy Absolute photo)

Thailand’s biggest electric-vehicle venture has stayed mostly in gear during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Energy Absolute Plc (EA) ontinuing construction on a lithium-ion battery plant and vehicle development.

The company’s EV-boat prototypes are now being river-tested.

The firm encountered some disruptions stemming from the government’s state-of-emergency measures and business closures, which affected various projects in different ways, according to Amorn Sapthaweekul, EA deputy chief executive officer.

Development of a battery plant in Chachoengsao province is running at full speed, but the lockdown “slowed” the installation of additional charging stations, he said. Disruptions delayed the commercial unveiling of its automobile model, with the date pushed back till the end of this year. Nautical vehicles are progressing faster, with the last hurdle to the operation of its EV boat fleet to ferry passengers on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River being the government’s approval, he said.

“This segment will have a huge impact on our future revenue and profit growth. It’ll be our next chapter,” Mr Amorn said in an interview, adding that innovation is necessary, especially during this period when many traditional industries in Thailand’s economy tumble.

EA’s core business is power generation from renewable sources, including wind and solar. The direct stake of founder and chief executive officer, Somphote Ahunai, is worth more than US$1 billion (31.9 billion baht), according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The shift toward EVs has prompted comparisons to Tesla Inc.

The interest in Southeast Asia for electric vehicle production and assembly will gain momentum in one to three years due to favourable government polices, according to a commentary by Fitch Solutions.

“Thailand will further cement its position as the largest and most attractive production market in the region,” Fitch said in its report, adding that more measures are expected as Thailand tries to diversify away from tourism, an industry bogged down by the pandemic.

EA’s shares have dropped about 9% this year, compared with a 15% decline in the Stock Exchange of Thailand Energy and Utilities Index. EA stocks rose 75 satang or 1.89% to 40.50 baht as of noon on Wednesday.

EA’s utility businesses have seen varied impact from the pandemic and recent plunge in fuel prices. Its main renewable power-plant segment has carried on almost as normal, while its biodiesel unit is expected to see demand drop on par with a 30% slide in Thailand’s diesel consumption during the lockdown.

That’s why the company’s big bets on EV and battery businesses are so important to future growth, Mr Amorn said.

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