Making Electric Vehicles more mainstream

  • Lack of a charging network is the biggest obstacle

Tesla, which is without a doubt the main driving force behind the rise of Electric Vehicles (EVs), is now the most valuable car company in the World, surpassing the automotive giant Toyota… well, this is true at least as far as the financial pundits at the stock exchange are concerned. But last year Tesla produced and sold about 350,000 vehicles, but on the other hand Toyota produced and sold over 9 million vehicles in the same period. Still, less than 2 percent of cars sold in the USA are electric. It seems that the stock market likes Electric Vehicles much more than the actual buyers.

So much for the hype and glamour, but the mainstream buyers are still not switching to EVs. This phenomenon is true worldwide but even more pertinent in Pakistan despite the incentives being offered.

EVs drive better, they are more economical to operate and require less maintenance. They are nippy and quick around town and are generally fun to drive. And above everything else they are good for the environment… So why is it that they are not selling in really big-numbers?

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When cameras went digital and the image quality started getting better and better, almost everyone switched to the digital cameras. It was, as they say, “a no-brainer”. We don’t even hear about the film cameras anymore. Companies like Kodak which were in the business of making camera films, went bankrupt. This was a major industry disruption. It would seem that similar scenario should take place for the EVs, but it does not seem to be happening, at least not the way it happened for the cameras.

If the EVs are to be encouraged the government should promote both the import and local production of plug-in-hybrids and offer same import duties for them as well so that people who tend to drive more than the range available on a charge on pure electrics can also benefit to reduce their expenses and carbon footprint for their daily drives. And at the same time make it compulsory for oil marketing companies to install fast DC chargers in strategic locations. Major EV importers should also be asked to actively participate in developing EV charging network in the country.

Almost all the major car manufacturers have come up with their version of EVs. Nissan, BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audi. Even the Koreans are not far behind with Hyundai Kona and Hyundai Ionic. But one notable exception is Toyota. They have been in the best possible position to launch a rock-solid EV for over a decade. They have a highly reliable and tested Hybrid Drive System (Toyota Prius, Aqua and Camry and some other models are equipped with it). All they needed to do was to increase the battery size and motor size and instantly they could have had a product that would be the most reliable and dependable EV. But they have waited… And are still waiting…. I think that there may be concrete reasons behind this wait.

I have been an EV user for many years now. I am certainly one of pioneers in Pakistan to switch to an EV. I drove a Nissan Leaf for many years and now I have moved to an Audi EV. I have found the EVs to be highly reliable, very economical, fast and fun to drive and extremely low maintenance; but when it comes to range, there are issues. Even the best EVs can realistically go less than 400 km on a charge. After that you need to find a supercharger (not available in Pakistan yet) to give you a range of another 400 km in about 30 minutes (under best circumstances).

So far there is no EV charging network in Pakistan and it may take many years for a dependable EV charging network to mature. Despite the much publicized promotion of electric vehicles the government is not pushing anyone to start developing an EV charging network. Oil Marketing Companies can easily be required to put up a certain number of EV chargers or the major importers of EVs can be asked to start developing a charge network as well. But this does not seem to be happening.

Another good answer lies in “Plug-in Hybrids”. These are predominantly electric cars with an internal combustion engine to help during long trips or when it is not easy to find a charging network. Generally a good plug-in-hybrid will be able to give you a range of 50-100 km on electric charge alone. But then there is an engine to take you further, if required. For someone like me and most users, the daily drives are generally less than 100 km. But every once in a while there is a trip to Islamabad or Sialkot or Hyderabad or Multan and back….. Which is not possible in an EV.

Coming back to the Toyota philosophy, the first most important vehicle that they have come up with in this category is just that. A plug-in hybrid version of their RAV4 crossover. It can be plugged in at night and will take you around town on electric charge (up to 80 km) and then switch to a petrol engine when required. So, you can enjoy the best of both worlds. The car is not just a “trophy car” but an all-purpose vehicle that you can rely on, even if your life depended on it.

For countries like Pakistan, the government should give special import privileges to this category of cars as well and treat them the same way that pure electric cars are treated. In countries such as Norway and Finland where EVs have really caught on, they treat the plug-ins as EVs as well and the owners of these also enjoy the special privileges that are given to pure EV owners. A hybrid and plug-in hybrid is easily distinguishable and import laws can be amended accordingly. This will certainly help make EVs the car of choice for many who are unable to buy them due to the absence of charging network which may take a decades to mature to the desired level.

Under the current scenario in Pakistan, if you buy an EV (Audi and MG seem to the available choices), anyone who spends from Rs 7 Million to Rs 20 Million will also need to have a spare conventional car for long trips. This is not possible for everyone. Thus if the EVs are to be encouraged the government should promote both the import and local production of plug-in-hybrids and offer same import duties for them as well so that people who tend to drive more than the range available on a charge on pure electrics can also benefit to reduce their expenses and carbon footprint for their daily drives.

And at the same time make it compulsory for oil marketing companies to install fast DC chargers in strategic locations.

Major EV importers should also be asked to actively participate in developing EV charging network in the country.

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Zubair Khaliq
Zubair Khaliq is an engineer who owns a business and lives in Lahore.

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