BMW Thailand is placing high hopes on electric cars, seeing a promising outlook amid a growing market globally as well as locally.
Christian Wiedmann, president of BMW Group Thailand, said the German carmaker would continue churning out new models of its electric vehicles (EVs) due to confidence in the global market expansion, with Thailand included.
“In Thailand, BMW has expanded the market for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles [PHEVs] over the past three years. Sales increased 44 per cent per year,” Wiedmann said recently at the BMW head office in Munich.
That growth makes Thailand number three in the world in terms of market acceptance of PHEVs, according to Krisda Utamote, BMW Group Thailand’s director of corporate communications.
Wiedmann told a group of Thai media that regarding electric cars, the focus for BMW Thailand would now be on selling PHEVs, which had seen a rapid market growth worldwide. At this point, BMW will not import battery electric vehicles [BEVs] for sale in Thailand as it is still trying to determine the local demand and consumer response to fully electric cars, said Wiedmann, who assumed his current executive position on April 1. “We will see if there is a market for BEVs in Thailand,” he added.
Unlike PHEVs that also can run on petrol, BEVs are powered entirely by electricity and have no engine or fuel tank. Wiedmann said that like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, Thai motorists have concerns regarding fully electric cars.
Many motorists are worried that they may run out of power while driving a fully electric car for a long distance. Charging stations are not yet widely available like petrol stations, particularly in the provinces or rural areas. However, thanks to improved battery technology, newer models of BEVs can run a longer distance for each charge, up to 250-300 kilometres for the BMW i3, which has a “range extender” to generate more power to the battery.
The compact i3 model is popular in Europe and the United States. But BMW has no plans to officially market it in Thailand anytime soon, according to Krisda. He added that certain Thai agencies imported i3 cars mainly for research purposes.
Fully electric cars are more suited to smaller countries in Europe, while motorists in countries with larger areas and longer distances like the US may prefer plug-in hybrid vehicles, said a BMW expert who asked not to be named.
BMW offers charging services for EVs through its subsidiary ChargeNow, which has more than 100,000 charging stations the world over.
In Thailand, ChargeNow offers charging services to electric vehicles of all makes registered with its website, and not just BMW’s EVs, Krisda said. It plans to build 50 public charging stations at BMW dealerships and partnership locations by the end of this year.
Another partner in the charging services, GLT Green (Thailand) Co Ltd, which specialises in EV charging technology, has set up 73 charging outlets throughout Thailand and is adding another 47 outlets by mid-2018, according to the company’s business development manager Chayaphol Leeraphante. Altogether, GLT Green plans to set up as many as 160 charging outlets this year, he said.
Last year, BMW sales in Thailand exceeded 10,000 for the first time since BMW Thailand was established in 1998, a 43-per-cent increase from a year earlier. Wiedmann said the growth was the highest among BMW’s worldwide operations. He said that given the satisfactory growth, BMW Thailand was going to expand its local production, with plug-in hybrid electric cars included.
Four of the nine BMW models currently assembled and sold in Thailand are PHEVs – 330e, 530e, 740e and X5e, according to Wiedmann.
Wiedmann and other executives spoke at the Munich headquarters of BMW to a large group of Thai media who were on a recent trip to Germany. The trip was organised by Thailand’s petroleum giant PTT, which announced plans to become a Thai dealer for EVs. The energy company said future cooperation with the German carmaker in this area was possible.