Electric vehicles are among Baromkoch Leenutaphong’s favourite toys – and a promising business opportunity for him.
He’s greatly impressed by American-built Tesla and owns an S 2015 and an X SUV 2017, as well as other electric vehicles.
For both short- and long-distance trips, he prefers the Tesla X, which has battery power of 100kwh for a range of 420 kilometres at an average speed of 100km per hour.
In and around Bangkok, the range is never a problem, but for a longer trip to, say, Hua Hin, a stopover for recharging the battery pack becomes necessary.
Baromkoch always has a charger with him so that an overnight stay at one of his resort condos allows the car to be fully recharged within 6-8 hours.
To ensure safety, the power outlet needs to have at least 32-amp capacity. Public concern arose over news reports of a Porsche EV catching fire following an overnight charge, but he says that was due to the use of inappropriate power outlets. Connecting power cables from the car to the outlet also has to be done according to safety standards.
Besides his two Teslas worth more than Bt8 million each, Baromkoch has a Nissan Leaf with 24kwh capacity. The 2011 model produces an equivalent of 110 horsepower, so it’s quite economical, with an energy cost of just Bt0.6 per km.
The Tesla X is probably more sophisticated. The manufacturer updates its software regularly through an Internet connection, for example, using a built-in Sim card.
On auto-pilot, Baromkoch said, the Tesla is more like an assisted-driving system that helps reduce the driver’s stress, especially in Bangkok’s inner-city traffic snarls. In addition, Tesla vehicles use both cameras and radar equipment to help drivers, such as keeping a safe distance from the next vehicle.
Another brand of electric vehicles being tested on the Thai market is BYD from China. A fleet of BYD E6 vehicles with a range beyond 300km will serve as limousines at Suvarnabhumi Airport, according to Baromkoch, whose family has long been in the automobile business.
Due to relatively cheap petrol and diesel prices in Thailand of around Bt30 per litre, there is less financial incentive to switch to EVs here compared to Europe, where fuel is much more expensive, he noted.
The Board of Investment has been encouraging automakers to set up 100-per-cent-EV assembly plants in Thailand, even though some luxury brands prefer for now to focus on boosting sales of plug-in hybrid |vehicles.
To boost EV popularity, there should be a consumer tax credit |per vehicle so as to make them more affordable for the masses, especially among pro-environmental groups.
According to Baromkoch, the global market for EVs is being shaped by China, which is currently the world’s largest automotive market, accounting for 30 per cent of the total annual sales of 100 million vehicles.
The Chinese government has announced plans to phase out registration of combustible-engine vehicles in favour of EVs.
The worsening air pollution in big Chinese cities is a key driver for China to accelerate the adoption of EVs via tax and state measures, so as to improve the quality of life.
In Thailand, Baromkoch said, EV safety is not an issue, but affordability is, due to the current high prices, running from nearly Bt2 million per unit to above Bt10 million, so only the rich can afford them at this stage.
In addition, the infrastructure, such as public charging facilities, is not yet widespread. The few available tend to be at luxury shopping centres, hotels and condos.
To help promote EV adoption, there is a proposal to require auto companies to sell a certain number of EVs based on assigned quotas, as determined by each company’s overall sales of automobiles.
Yossapong Laoonual, president of the Electric Vehicle Association of Thailand, said there was no safety standard for the installation of electrical outlets for charging electric vehicles yet, resulting in a recent accidental fire at a Bangkok home.
To boost the popularity of EVs, he said, the government needs to provide more incentives and subsidies to make EVs more affordable to the general public. At present, EV models are still very expensive due to high battery price and import duties.
Regarding government policies, he said, China, Britain and some other European countries have set a deadline to stop registering combustible-engine vehicles in favour of 100 per cent EV production.
In Thailand the outlook is still uncertain, despite a strong consumer interest to buy more environmentally friendly EVs.
Yossapong said Thailand is projected to have a critical mass market for EVs around 2025, when annual sales reach 10 per cent of total auto sales, which currently stands at about one million units.