DOHA: The scepticism about likely market share of electric-hybrid or electric-electric hybrid cars is set to take a hit, as a top Chinese brand mulls over launching its dealership in Pakistan next year if not by the year-end.
The car costs around $9,000, exclusive of taxes, with a range of 120 kilometres and maximum speed of 60 km an hour. Unlike the existing 800cc to 1,000cc, it comes with all modern features ranging from power windows to rear camera display to internet connectivity.
For now, its manufacturer has no plans to start production in Pakistan but remains confident that its 1,000-per-month production capacity can meet the initial demand. The electric car’s cost per kilometre is claimed to be around one rupee against Rs7 per kilometre of its older hydrocarbon-run cousins.
Spoiler-alert: the country will be paying a huge environment cost due to the diesel-powered vehicles plying on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) if it fails to adopt environment-friendly transport and regulations alike.
Pakistan is potentially a large market for electric vehicles by a long shot. China is the country with the largest selling percentage of electric cars. The good old Cherry QQ’s hybrid version Cherry EQ is on sale at $8,500 in China. Thanks to China’s highest demand for electric vehicle globally, over 200 electric vehicle (EV) start-ups are in the race for survival, while the government is trying to limit them to just 10 companies.
Following generous incentives, which led to the start-ups’ boom, Beijing is seeking a payback in the form of compliance with higher standards of products. In China, registering an EV car is easier than their conventional mainstream veterans, while insurance is much cheaper due to lesser maintenance and better technology.
The Chinese interest in Pakistan is in addition to the commitment by Renault, Hyundai, Toyota, Honda and Nissan to start local manufacturing.
Cynics of electric cars’ entry in the Pakistani market relate the old-fashioned lovers of manual film cameras. Not only are they fascinated with the function of digital photography today but also amazed at its phenomenal market monopoly. The digital cameras replaced the older, manual ones owing to their ease of use as well as affordability. Over a decade and a half ago, many did not believe that landline phones would be fraction of cellular telephony. Today, Pakistan is an attractive market for smartphone brands ranging from the top notch to the little known.
Critics to EVs roll-out in Pakistan may get satisfactory replies to their queries if they carefully study the smooth transition from landline phone to cellular telephony.
Besides caller-party-pays move, the government as well as the regulator played a really crucial role. The patronage led by Dr Attaur Rehman was catalytic in transforming the public perception. Not only thousands are employed in the telecommunication sector directly or indirectly, the country is reaping the benefits of 3G and 4G connectivity, even in some of its remotest regions.
The all-electric car manufacturers won’t need persuasion if the government spices up its lame automobile policy. To lessen its whopping oil import bill, the government must not only include an all-round tax break for the next generation vehicles but also incentivise entrepreneurs to install wind and solar power-based charging stations along the highways as well as motorways for starters.
China’s appetite for electric cars resulted from its government’s bid to curb haze and pollution. Pakistan has an added problem of expensive fuel.
Why would the government do away with an industry, which is a vital source of revenue for one that seeks subsidy as well as incentives?
According to OGRA’s recent report, the consumer has to pay 38% higher price for petroleum products to make up for the finance ministry’s revenue shortfall. On every litre of diesel consumed, a consumer paid up to Rs29.57 besides Rs6 in petroleum levy during 2015-16. From the government’s selfish perspective, the petroleum import bill matters little as long as it helps meet revenue targets without expanding the revenue base. The parliamentary opposition parties are complicit with their deafening silence.
Unlike cash-starved Pakistan, Scandinavian countries including insanely affluent Norway recorded around 25% all-electric cars registered last year. Despite possessing Europe’s second largest oil reserves, Norway’s reliance on electric cars is set to exponentially increase. For the Norwegians, environment comes first.
Contrary to perception in Pakistan, the soundless and environment-friendly electric car technology has been constantly evolving. Batteries, its key component, have been becoming cheaper and more capable. With the patronage of giants like Tesla, each year batteries improve by 20 to 25% while the cost nose-dives and the demand spikes. Think of them as your data storage drives (USBs) which over the years have become more compact as well as highly affordable.
The other key component of an electric car is its powertrain, which is not really complex to make. Given the incentives necessary, sufficient expertise exists to integrate domestically manufactured powertrain with imported battery packs in a locally designed car. The paybacks can be boundless.
Despite mushrooming universities, Pakistan remains devoid of research on hybrid and electric cars as well as alternative and clean fuels. Shunning the hydrocarbon-dependent lifestyle will enable the nation to catch up with global race to innovate.
The innovation plain is wide open when it comes to research and development in electric batteries. Your diesel trucks and buses also have to phase as soon as bigger, reliable and cheaper batteries are available to ensure higher torque. If electric car manufacturers get the requisite five-year tax breaks, the private sector will come forward to set up charging stations just the way it laid a network of compressed natural gas stations across the country.
Why would global specialists in electric car charging not be interested? The icing on the cake, however, would be to maximise tax-free investment in solar and wind energy production to not only lighten up the roads but also fuel the future cars. Is Pakistan ready for zero-emission power generation and zero-emission transport?
The writer is a Pakistani investigative journalist and academic with extensive reporting experience in the Middle East and North Africa. He is based in Doha and Istanbul. Twitter @naveed360
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2017.