Spark It Up: Electric Vehicles in the Philippines

If there’s one thing that spells the future of an industry in more ways than one, it’s the electric car. With concerns over the climate and traffic in the Philippines at an all-time high, it’s about time for a new player to enter the scene. E-vehicles aren’t new to the country, or even to world history, but their spotlight is definitely overdue. Here’s a primer on the history of the electric car industry, and where it stands now in the Philippines.

Setting the Stage for Electric Cars

When you hear “electric car,” it’s likely that your first thought is of something out of a sci-fi novel. Clean energy-powered vehicles seem to be more advanced than the standard, gas-guzzling, smoke-belching machines that populate the streets today. But the history of the electric car stretches further back than anyone would likely expect. In fact, rather than being an invention meant for futuristic fantasies, the electric car is actually about as old as the standard diesel-powered automobile.

What sets an electric car apart from a diesel or gasoline engine is, of course, the rechargeable battery. While the invention of electricity was one thing, figuring out how to harness that energy in a way that could not only power an entire automobile, but also do so consistently and continuously, was a problem.

It was Hungarian inventor Ányos Jedlik who created the first type of electric motor, as well as a tiny car that could be powered by that same motor in 1828. His work was then followed by Thomas Davenport’s, who in 1834 also built a small model vehicle powered by electricity that was able to run on a circular electrical track. However, these vehicles, although impressive, lacked self-contained energy sources, which would make upscaling them difficult.

Luckily, in 1859 French Physicist Guston Plante developed a lead-acid battery. Further improvements upon his design were made by Camille Alphonse Faure, who increased the capacity of the battery in 1881, enabling industrial-scale production of the batteries. This meant that large-scale production of electric batteries for cars could actually be feasible.

The Rise and Fall of the First Electric Cars

The first true electric car could be said to have been invented by British scientist Thomas Parker in 1884, who had designed his own rechargeable high-capacity batteries. This was followed by the first successful electric automobile, developed in 1894 in Philadelphia by Henry G. Morris and Pedro G. Salom and called the Electrobat.

Following A.L. Ryker’s introduction of electric tricycles into the United States in 1895, the public began to take notice of the potential in electric-powered automobiles. The stock of electric cars began to rise in the 1890s and early 1900s, with electric battery-powered taxis becoming available in 1897 in London.

However, due to a lack of electrical infrastructure, mass use of electric automobiles was held back, and soon combustion engine cars began to eclipse them. With the discovery of petroleum sources all around the world, it seemed that the sun had begun to set on the nascent electric cars industry. By 1910, most electric car producers had gone out of business, and the technology was only used for small-scale transportation like golf carts and milk trucks, at least until the late 20th century.

A Surge in Popularity

There were a few more attempts to make electric cars popular, but almost all, including General Motors’ Electrovair in 1966, did not make it to mass production. However, other forces began to come into play that influenced the resurgence of electric car technology and paved the way for the tech today.

New concerns over the environment and the finite state of the Earth’s resources, including petroleum, began to surface around the late 20th century. Environmental, social, and political forces began to turn the wheels, so to speak, and the electric car once again became a viable transportation option. In fact, the first modern and mass-produced electric car, General Motors’ EV1 in 1996, was created in part due to new laws in the state of California demanding zero-emission vehicles.

Despite the feasibility of electric-powered cars, it would take a while before the public accepted them again wholeheartedly. The EV1 ended up losing GM money, and the shift towards hybrid vehicles began with the release of the Toyota Prius in 1997.

It wasn’t until Tesla Motors produced their Roadster in 2008 that a fully electric car became a distinct possibility, and the symbol of the modern age. The Roadster was the first highway-legal all-electric car that used lithium ion batteries as a power source. It was also the first battery electric vehicle (BEV) to travel more than 320 kilometers per charge, and reach a top speed of 200 km/h. In its production years (2008-2012), over 2,450 Roadsters were sold around the world, marking the beginnings of a shift in public opinions on electric cars.

Electric Car vs. Hybrid

While the age of electric cars might still be unfolding, hybrid vehicles have been around for decades. Hybrid cars are defined as cars that use more than one fuel source, in most cases combining a battery-driven electric motor and a gas-fueled internal combustion engine.

The success of the Toyota Prius and the visibility of the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) as a gas-saving alternative have ensured a small but steady production of hybrid cars over the years. According to How Stuff Works, the hybrid car also had its early roots in the 1900s, but only gained popularity and mass production with the introduction of the Toyota Prius.

The Prius, which has become the symbol of hybrid cars everywhere, was first created in response to a challenge by then-Executive Vice President Akihiro Wadi to develop more fuel-efficient cars. It was later launched in the United States in 2000, and was followed by the Honda Accord Hybrid (2002), the Ford Escape (2005), and many other models over the years.

Like electric cars, hybrid cars are an expensive initial investment, but have been found to save owners more in the long run. Hybrid cars can operate between 30-60% more efficiently than traditional gas-powered engines, compared with electric cars that are 59-62% more efficient than traditional automobiles.

Electric Cars in the Philippines

QZ reports that the number of electric vehicles (EVs) in the world has climbed up to 5.6 million, and is growing steadily. China alone has over 2.6 million registered electric vehicles, almost half the worldwide number. While the United States and China are the primary markets for plug-in electric cars, other countries like Norway and Japan are consistently strong consumers as well.

Mobility in Southeast Asia is a big market. This report by the ASEAN Post says that vehicle sales in the region look like they’re set to outpace the rest of the world, and estimates that vehicle sales will grow by more than 40% by 2040. With a market that big, it’s only natural for electric vehicle manufacturers to explore the possibilities. Luckily for EV manufacturers, interest in electric-powered automobiles in the region seems to be rising overall, which could bode well for the industry.

In the Philippines, the question of electric cars is a tricky one. As a developing country with a growing population, the need for fuel-efficient automobiles is great, but that also goes hand-in-hand with a lack of infrastructure. Electric vehicles require plug-in stations for charging, which in turn require regulations and support from local government units, which can be hard to come by.

The Republic of the Philippines has over 10.4 million registered vehicles in the country, a tenth of the overall population. Combined with congested urban sprawl and lack of mass public transportation, it’s no wonder that the country has a perennial traffic problem. Many are hopeful that electric vehicles, both for public transportation and private use, will lessen the air pollution and reduce the country’s carbon footprint.

Initiatives are already underway in terms of setting the stage for EVs in the country. The Department of Energy (DOE) has partnered up with the Asian Development Bank in reducing the Philippines’ CO2 emissions by shifting to electric public transport. Specifically, the project aims to shift to 100,000 electric tricycles (e-trikes) powered by lithium ion batteries, with pilot testing showing that drivers were more comfortable, able to carry more passengers, and increased daily income. The Department of Energy also enlisted the assistance of the academe, public, and private design practitioners through conducting a Best E-trike Design contest in 2012.

Once the project was underway, ten new companies began manufacturing e-trikes, translating to about Php 500 million fresh investments and more than 500 local jobs. This proves that there is government, public, and private will to invest in electric vehicles, boding well for the industry in the Philippines.

A Growing Industry

Despite the lack of infrastructure and difficulties in getting regulations passed, the outlook for electric cars and other EVs in the Philippines looks positive. Edmund Araga of the E-Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) recently observed that there was no more exciting time for electric vehicles in the country than the present, due to the discussions, regulations, exhibitions, and support all currently underway.

Senator Sherwin Gatchalian recently authored a bill aiming to ease the way for EVs to integrate into the modern automotive landscape. Senate Bill No. 2137 proposes installing parking slots and plug-in charging stations for e-vehicles in the Philippines, directing the Department of Energy to construct an “electric vehicle roadmap” that will promote EV adoption and pave the way for electric transportation in the country. The bill addresses the two main hurdles for electric vehicles in the Philippines: the lack of charging stations and the high cost of the vehicles.

Under the proposed bill, the DOE will include a “charging infrastructure development plan” to be incorporated by distribution utilities in the government power development plan. This will require private and public establishments to have dedicated parking slots with charging stations for EVs and also mandates the installation of plug-in stations at gas stations around the country.

While the bill is still waiting to be signed into law, in the meantime private companies have been taking steps of their own to expand the useable landscape for electric cars. Gasoline giant Shell in partnership with start-up firm QEV made plans in 2018 to put up battery charging stations in 10 Shell gasoline stations. QEV Philippines also partnered up with SM Supermalls to install charging stations in at least 100 mall branches in the country, allowing mallgoers to plug in their e-vehicles while shopping.

According to the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), there are currently 28 firms that are currently engaged in the manufacture of electric vehicles in the country. This includes electric cars, e-trikes, and e-jeepneys. DTI also reports that major cities in Metro Manila have begun to use EVs in the transport of transient workers and local residents, with electric jeeps and tricycles becoming more common in urban areas.

The DTI has also begun putting together an incentive package for e-vehicle manufacturers, which could include a temporary zero tariff for importers of electric vehicles who also plan to manufacture in the country. This could make electric vehicles more accessible to consumers, who currently have to pay Php 2.2 million for the Toyota Prius. Noted car magazine TopGear also reports that there are more incentives being proposed for the owners of EVs, namely that EVs could be exempted from number coding and be prioritized during registration processes.

In this article by the Inquirer, it’s reported that Korean EV manufacturers are looking for support from the Philippine government to enter the market and encourage investments in the country’s EV industry. Power retailer Meralco is also looking at investing in electronic vehicle manufacturing, with subsidiary eSakay e-jeeps launched in 2019 to connect the cities of Makati and Mandaluyong.

E-vehicle group EVAP is currently preparing for this year’s Philippine Electric Vehicle Summit, to be held at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City from July 17 to 18, 2019. Car manufacturers Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai will be exhibiting new electric vehicles, while battery maker Motolite will unveil its own EV. Given all the developments in EV infrastructure in the country, EVAP will now be able to move from introducing EVs to Filipinos, to actual end-user adoption of the technology. With all this and more, the future of electric vehicles in the Philippines is looking bright.

For more on the latest in science and technology, check out the Tech category on Daydreaming in Paradise.