Going electric still a remote prospect
Earlier this year, the government laid out a plan to sell only zero-emission vehicles in the country by 2035. The policy, announced by the National EV Policy Committee in March, is highly ambitious, bringing forward the original target by five years.
The plan also targets 50% of total vehicle production being EVs by 2030.
While the government's policy looks inspiring and encourages manufacturers in the energy sector and auto industry, getting people to buy electric cars isn't just going to happen naturally. There must be incentives and a lot more "revving up" from the government. The success of this target is rooted in what the government does today.
We are slowly seeing an uptake in the use of EVs in Thailand. According to the Electric Vehicle Association of Thailand, with the use of all forms of EVS, including motorcycles, 3-wheelers, passenger cars, buses and trucks rising by 70% in 2020.
Currently, most vehicles in Thailand are powered by fossil fuel -- mainly diesel, petrol or relatively green natural gas. EVs make up only a small fraction, less than 1%, of vehicles. Last year, 3,591 new EVs were registered, or 0.13% of all new registered cars nationwide.
The question is whether the current uptake will help Thailand achieve its goal of net-zero vehicles by 2035.
There are a few hurdles that the government needs to remove as quickly as possible.
Firstly, there still aren't enough "fast" electric charging stations in the country -- by fast, we mean charging stations that can have an EV charged in less than an hour, as opposed to eight. At the moment, there are only four fast-charge EV stations in central Bangkok and 13 in Bangkok and its vicinity, all of which must be pre-booked by app.
The government is slow in adding charging stations. This year, it entered talks with three electricity-generating authorities about the development of smart grid infrastructure to serve the EV sector.
The committee is targeting a total of 12,000 fast chargers by 2030. The number of EV charging stations is supposed to increase from less than 100 to 12,000 stations by 2030. Each EV charging station needs about 40 million baht to develop electricity grid infrastructure.
To attain that, the government is making it a top priority to install more fast-charge stations. The government could approve or even subsidise an energy company installing more charging stations. Instead of buying two useless submarines from China, or second-hand trains from Japan, why not install more charging stations?
Fewer petrol-driven cars on the road means less air pollution. The Kasikorn Bank Research Centre reported that air pollution in the first three months in 2019 cost up to 6.6 billion baht in losses for the healthcare and tourism sectors. On smog-related illness, high PM2.5 levels have increased the number of patients with respiratory diseases by at least 2.4 million in Bangkok, or about half of the city's registered population. We wouldn't just be saving money on petrol, but on hospital bills.
Secondly, the government needs to cut the car tax for EVs, including imported electric vehicles. As of now, there are few locally made EVs, while environmentally minded car buyers need to turn to imported EVs and pay exorbitant tax.
The dilemma is it pays more for consumers to do good to society and the environment. A quick calculation of the latest EV in the Thai market brought the following prices: just under 2 million baht to buy a brand new EV, almost the price of an A class Mercedes, or paying nothing short of 20,000 baht to up to 80,000 baht a month.
This price range is only accessible to about 1% of the population. If the price of an EV car remains exorbitant and unaffordable for most. At this rate, the goal of seeing everyone driving EVs by 2035 will never materialise.
By 2035, 90% of the driving population could be rolling around in second-, third-, and fourth-hand petrol guzzlers because no one will be able to afford an EV.
In terms of tax, it is reported that policymakers are reluctant to offer cuts, for fear that traditional fossil-fuel auto makers will be discouraged and move their plants to countries with pro-fossil fuel auto industries.
If that is the case, the government needs to perform a balancing act by helping the current auto industry shift into clean energy production, while reducing the tax for EVs to enlarge the base of EV car buyers.
If the government is truly serious about reducing the carbon footprint, it must act to make EVs an affordable and practical choice.
Sept 7 was the UN's "World Clean Air Day".
Did the government take note? Air pollution is an even bigger killer than Covid! The question is whether our government is ready for the wrath of climate change. Judging by the number of EV charging stations and the price of these vehicles, all we can do is hope for the best.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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