While hybrids and plugins hybrids have been gaining ground, 100percent EVs have been slowed down by lack of infrastructure and high pricing
Baromkoch Leenutaphong, an electric vehicle enthusiast, also loves and sells upmarket electric motorbikes.
THAILAND has enthusiastically adopted electric vehicles over the past few years but reaching a critical mass is unlikely until 2025 when EVs are projected to take a more than 10 per cent market share.
Many green consumers remain discouraged by the exorbitant EV prices, unclear safety and other issues. The cheapest imported 100 per cent EV still costs nearly Bt2 million due to high import duties while locally assembled models are not yet available.
In addition, some Thais were shocked by images of a recent accidental fire at a Bangkok home where a Porsche plug-in hybrid EV was badly damaged during an overnight charging.
Another issue is the availability of public charging facilities outside Bangkok, since the latest versions of 100 per cent EVs currently have a maximum driving range of only about 400-500 kilometres.
Overall, Thai consumers are now more comfortable with hybrid EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs which still have internal combustion engines using petrol along with large batteries, while the adoption of 100 per cent EVs, which have no such engines, is still in the very early stage.
At present, there are more than 100,000 HEVs and PHEVs on the road in Thailand. but the number of 100 per cent EVs is quite small.
All EVs are subject to an import duty of 80 per cent based on cost, insurance and freight, while another 8-10 per cent excise tax is levied on the retail price, compared to an excise duty of 30-35 per cent levied on combustible engine vehicles.
For PHEVs (plug-in hybrid EVs), the excise duty is 10 per cent so a few automakers have set up local assembly lines for these vehicles.
BMW, for instance, is highly involved in electrified vehicles at the domestic level. Apart from offering locally assembled PHEV models for the 3, 5 and 7 Series in addition to the X5 (it also imports the i8 hybrid sports car), the German automaker also works with the King Mongkut Institute of Technology Thon Buri campus in terms of technology transfer.
“Sales of our PHEV models grew by as much as 269 per cent last year,” said Krisda Utamote, corporate communications director at BMW Group Thailand Ltd.
“And this year, from January to July, PHEV sales have grown by 59 per cent.”
According to Krisda, BMW will start producing high-performance lithium-ion batteries for PHEVs in Thailand in 2019.
The batteries are to be supplied to PHEV models assembled here, but could also be used for fully electric battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in the future if BMW decides to assemble one here.
While electric technology may seem like a feature for luxury cars – BMW 330e is priced at Bt2.32 million compared to Bt2.22 million for the non-electric 320d – it is available in lower price ranges as well.
The Toyota C-HR Hybrid, for example, is more affordable, retailing from Bt1.069 million to Bt1.159 million.
Nissan, the largest producer of electric cars in the world, is also expecting to offer its LEAF BEV in Thailand soon, with retail pricing expected to be in the Bt1-million-plus range.
But one thing that all manufacturers taking part in the electric vehicle race agree, is that the Thai government needs to provide more encouragement to users of electrified vehicles. Such encouragements could include buyer incentives such as more access to public charging infrastructures and parking privileges.
Earlier this year, Michael Grewe, president of Mercedes-Benz (Thailand) Ltd, said in order to ensure a smooth transition to EV (Electric Vehicle) use in Thailand, the government needs to make sure that there is adequate infrastructure to serve users.
Grewe said: “Right now we [Mercedes-Benz] are offering PHEVs which can be charged and that is good. But it can also operate without being charged [since it has an engine],” he said. “But for EVs, charging is mandatory.”
He said EV owners would charge their vehicles at home or at the office, and there needs to be special infrastructure to serve these vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz is also building a lithium-ion battery plant, to be operational next year. The German automaker states that by 2022, as much as 30 per cent of its product line-up would be electrified.
Both Mercedes and BMW are busy equipping charging equipment at venues where customers are expected to show up, such as shopping centres, hotels and service centres.
As the number of PHEVs and EVs grow in Thailand, customers also need to adapt to the change in lifestyle, similar to what has happened with smartphones of today, which require battery charging.