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The medical field may have already tried this with the new Coronavirus: Zapping it with electricity, and at least one maker of face masks has had a lightbulb moment when it created a mask made from an “electroceutical” fabric that reportedly damages or deactivates coronaviruses caught in it.

The automotive sector is probably wishing that dealing with the current slump could be that simple.

In the face of an ongoing global pandemic, with many businesses either struggling to keep afloat or have succumbed to the combo of collective fear, quarantines and lockdowns, the electric vehicle (EV) industry has not been spared the hardships. Globally, EVs, which are still fighting for their place in mainstream motoring, have had to carry an added load on their backs the past few months.

In their May 2020 analysis, experts from IHS Markit assessed, “Unfortunately, the (EV) industry is now coming face-to-face with an additional challenge in the shape of the CoViD-19 pandemic.” They added that, along with the wider automotive industry, sales of EVs are bound to be significantly affected. The economic lockdowns are also making an immediate adverse impact on the supporting industries of EV charging services and other allied supply chains for the deployment of charging stations.

In the Philippines, however, EV proponents have said that the electrification of mobility has not been switched off. They reiterate that activities revolving around their EV businesses and advocacies would continue as planned.

The Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (eVAP) is pinning its hopes on the Electric Vehicles and Charging Station Act, or Senate Bill 1382, which would help reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and foster greater energy independence. The Act has been estimated to reduce the local automobile industry’s oil consumption by as much as 146.56 million barrels and save $9.8 billion (P497 billion) per year. Senator Win Gatchalian’s proposed bill would require private and public establishments, as well as fuel stations, to allot slots with charging stations. It would also mandate companies, public transport operators, and government agencies to maintain at least 5 percent of their fleets as EVs.

To further drum up support for the bill and to promote upcoming EV technologies, eVAP will hold its 8th EV summit in September with a series of EV launches. 

Local EV manufacturer and social enterprise EMotors continues to provide electric shuttles in some areas of the central business districts in the country, and is busy supplying the demands of companies expanding their product portfolios despite the pandemic.

Japanese auto manufacturer Nissan, which positions itself as the leader in EV technologies, says its commitment to EV adoption in the Philippines continues.

Rommel T. Juan, eVAP chair, stressed that the organization’s activities haven’t stopped. He said the eVAP “has been able to form a new roadmap for the industry, and the EV bill is at the most advanced stage it has ever been with the help of Gatchalian.”

Juan also observed that the EV industry “has been driven by small and medium enterprises, with the development and introduction of e-jeepneys and e-trikes.”

He added, however, “Eventually, it will be the major brands who will make it mainstream. The Philippines, as it always has, will eventually adapt. We have no choice.” Juan further cited the brands pushing EVs into the mainstream: Nissan with its Leaf, Mitsubishi’s iMiev and Outlander PHEV, and Hyundai’s Kona EV.

“The local market will have no choice but to adapt to these new EVs as the world is going towards that direction. The infrastructure will follow, as the EV bill is passed and more EV owners install charging stations in their homes,” said Juan.

Ferdinand Raquelsantos, eVAP chair emeritus who owns an EV as his everyday ride, agrees that the local EV industry has not lost its momentum. Aside from the EV summit and Gatchalian’s proposed bill, Raquelsantos cites that Rep. Joseph Sto Nino Bernos has also introduced House Bill 4075, also called the Electric Vehicles and Charging Stations Act, which seeks to establish a National EV energy policy framework for the use of EVs and to establish a charging infrastructure to promote the EV industry.

“On Sept 24, the eVAP‘s 8th EV Summit will be held in a virtual platform. Several EV models will be launched. The discussions will highlight also the initiatives to support the EV industry, as well as the experiences and expectations for EVs to thrive in the local scene,” Raquelsantos disclosed.

“The effects of CoViD-19 in the local auto industry has brought down sales drastically.  This has also brought down the local assembly of vehicles and the corresponding production slowdown of auto parts makers. This has also affected the production of modern jeepneys (Class 1-4) under the DOTr’s Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP), wherein 20 percent of the vehicles are locally assembled EVs. We see a lot of opportunities to supply PUVs with electric jeeps. Likewise, for the passenger cars and commercial vehicles, we have started to see an increase in interest and demand to shift to EVs. There are several players who have started introducing e-cars and e-trucks in the market, and we see more brands coming in. There are even some plans to establish a completely knocked down (CKD) assembly of these EVs,” he added.

Among the most active EV proponents in the mainstream auto industry has been Nissan. Widely anticipated would be the release of its bestselling Leaf this year, which will be delayed due to the pandemic.

Despite the temporary setback, Atsushi Najima, Nissan Philippines Inc president and managing director, still sounds optimistic, observing that the lockdowns gave the public the opportunity to see for themselves the clear effects of reduced vehicles on the roads during lockdown.

“As a leader in the EV technology globally, we in Nissan firmly believe in EVs as the next phase in the evolution of the automotive industry. While the country and different industries, including automotive, face an immense challenge to recover this year, we see this as temporary. We also see this period of recovery as an opportunity to plan for future growth. During the lockdown, the public saw a decrease in air pollution, and the need to develop an electrified transportation and infrastructure. We therefore encourage the government to continue pursuing EV adoption in the country, as it is an important policy for developing the transportation sector and protecting the environment in the long term. We will continue to reinforce our commitment in promoting awareness and developing infrastructure plans for EV adoption in the country by continuously working with private and government stakeholders,” said Najima.

Edmund Araga, eVAP president, said that the EV industry is still “hopeful”, even though most of the manufacturers, suppliers and fleet operators have been as similarly affected as conventional auto assemblers.

“Operations were decreased to be able to survive and somehow continue what is left. This new norm will not stop us from our advocacy. Instead, we strive to push for regulations and standards by helping lawmakers from the Senate and Congress on the approval and implementation of the bills, which would provide fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to further enhance both local production and importation of EVs. We have also actively participated in the technical committee created by the Department of Trade and Industry/Bureau of Product Standards that would focus on EVs and their infrastructure,” explained Araga.

EMotors Inc, a wholly Filipino-owned EV manufacturer and assembler that has been supplying shuttle vehicles in some of the country’s central business districts, told Inquirer Motoring that “it continues to serve the needs of its clients by integrating the use of EVs in their operations and serving their expansion plans amidst the pandemic.”

Its president, Elizabeth H. Lee, added: “The industry is on the right path to growth with increasing adoption and acceptance of EV usage by the general public and by some LGUs. A faster and sustained shift to EV use requires various strategies to include fiscal and non-fiscal measures with elements surrounding the ‘EV infrastructure’, a major pillar for accelerated integration.”

Lee, former president of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines Inc, added: “Currently, the government’s response may be appropriate at this time, but its influence on what has already been started will continue positively for the industry moving forward. The pace may pick up once the focus on stemming the tide of the pandemic eases and cases decline.”

Putting the ‘e’ in modernization

To make vehicle electrification truly beneficial as a sustainable mass transport option, Araga explained: “We are relying on the PUVMP as our key to localization and an opportunity to be at the forefront as a modernized jeepney and be recognized by private and commercial banks aside from the DBP and Landbank. Regulations on two and three-wheeled vehicles from the Land Transportation Office is our key, as well as the implementation of traceability and registration to further address concerns on consumer protection and safety.  We encourage EV infrastructure to be in place by coordinating with battery manufacturers and suppliers as well as the charging stations providers.”

He observed: “During the various stages of the community quarantines, e-jeeps and e-trikes were being deployed to transport frontliners, proving that it makes more sense to use emissions-free transport for the optimal health of the passengers.”

The EV of mass awareness

Juan assessed that the local EV industry, in general, is in the same situation as the rest of the local automotive industry: “Everything is on standstill, as projects have stopped and financing has slowed down. But I would say that awareness is at an all-time high as people stuck at home have had more time to contemplate.”

He added: “Around the world the shift towards EVs is becoming more apparent. Tesla is now the most valuable car company in the world, a testament to how valuable the EV future is in the perception of the public. Almost all car companies are slowly introducing their electric models. And people have decided that pollution is something they could very well live without. That is when the argument of having EVs becomes compelling.”