PHL electric-vehicle dream running on borrowed time
First of three parts
DAVAO City and Manila—The first thing one hears on an electronic motorcycle—e-trike it's called—is nothing. The e-trike fails to produce the ear-piercing screams of revved-up motorcycle engines running on fossil fuels.
Driver Carlo Bultron, 22, laughed at the levity as he drove his e-trike on Uyanguren Street in the busy Chinatown area here, the BusinessMirror his only passenger on the three-tired vehicle.
Bultron, once in a while, pressed a red button and a mild beep caught the attention of pedestrians, some waving as the stealthy e-trike weaved through congested roads, passing by police and traffic personnel minding the traffic flow.
He is careful not to abuse the tolerance extended by the authorities, as the city government has barred e-trikes from plying the highways, and main downtown streets.
"We would be on our own, to pay for the fines or whatever consequence," if we get caught violating the admonition of the city transport authority against plying outside inner streets, Bultron said.
BULTRON'S e-trike is one of a handful still running on the inner city streets.
The e-trikes have only been seen in the city of Davao for under six months, after the first units donated by motorcycle and appliance dealer William Lima to the city government a decade ago became absent in the streets.
Councilor Danilo Dayanghirang, chairman of the City Council Committee on Finance, said he could not recall anymore what happened to the electric vehicles (e-vehicles) that Lima donated.
What Dayanghirang knows, he told the BusinessMirror, is that these e-trikes hit a snag in terms of classification at the Land Transportation Office (LTO) of Davao City.
Dayanghirang said the City Council should start looking anew at the operation of the e-vehicles to ensure their roadworthiness and safety of passengers.
"Maybe, we should look at where it is getting electricity, and can it run on sloping roads?"
Because it runs on electricity, the government remains unable to extend franchise permits or license for the vehicle to take on a particular route. Hence, the e-trikes were barred from running on major thoroughfares.
THE e-trike that Bultron is driving is one of several units provided by the Dumaguete City-based Racal Group of Cos.
"These e-trikes are not intended for commercial purpose and profit," Rojeto Quimco, area manager of Lvjia, told the BusinessMirror. "They [are part of] the advocacy of the owner to provide livelihood to pedicab drivers—those poor who have been rejected by motorcycle companies and dealers."
Quimco said the corporate owner, Junito Racal, already tested the ecology-friendly e-trike three years ago in Luzon and the Visayas. Racal, he said, found the units to be satisfactory for both the driver and the environment.
"It's a corporate social responsibility to provide for the poor but who are trying to earn a living," he said. The Racal Group of Cos. is credited with the local manufacture of most of the e-trikes seen in the city of Davao.
IT was something in the air that brought the government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to plan on bringing e-vehicles to the country's mass-transportation system. The metals in the air, caused by pollution, has been touted as one cause of climate change.
The Philippines is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the ill effects of climate change.
As far back as 2012, the ADB said 13.6 million Filipinos are bound to be displaced due to rising sea levels by 2050.
One of the main reasons for rising sea levels is air pollution. The ADB has said in the Philippines, the carbon-dioxide emissions level could quadruple in the year 2050.
While this is due to various factors, the ADB said more than two-thirds of all air pollution in the country is due to the transport sector.
To prevent this from happening, the previous administration decided to help build a national e-vehicle industry.
The effort began with an ADB-sponsored project to support the establishment of an e-vehicle parts industry, battery-supply chain and charging stations, including five off-grid solar-charging stations.
Among the e-vehicles, the government and the ADB chose to begin with the building of e-trikes.
At the time the project started, there were 3.5 million gas-fuelled motorcycles and tricycles operating in the Philippines. They serve as short-distance taxis, with the average tricycle driver earning less than $10 a day.
The ADB extended a loan of $300 million to replace 100,000 gasoline-burning tricycles in the Philippines with clean, energy efficient e-trikes.
BEING the first sustainable transport project in the Philippines, the project also received a $100-million-worth loan and $5-million grant from the Clean Technology Fund (CTF).
The $5.6-billion CTF is a funding window of the Climate Investment Fund, which is managed by multilateral lenders, like the ADB and the World Bank.
According to its web site, a total of $3.5 billion (over 60 percent of CTF funding) "is approved and under implementation and expecting $32 billion in cofinancing."
The ADB said the Philippine government is providing $99 million in counterpart funding for the e-trike project. The project will run for five years, with an estimated completion date of December 2017.
The project pushed through despite opposition from civil-society groups. The NGO Forum on ADB, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and the Freedom from Debt Coalition, among others, urged the Trust Fund Committee of the Washington-based CTF to reject the granting of the financing for the e-trike project.
The groups opposed to the project cited that e-trikes are "not needed" in the streets and that the design of these units are flawed. These groups urged the use of the CTF funds for more innovative programs.
DUE to a failure in the first bidding for the e-vehicless, the e-trike project was only awarded in 2015 to a Japanese firm, Bemac Electric Transportation Philippines Inc. The firm is a domestic subsidiary of Uzushio Electric Co., a company that's considered a pioneer in the Japanese electric-vehicle industry.
Bemac Sales, Marketing and Dealer Development Division Vice President Yvonne Palomar-Castro told the BusinessMirror the Department of Energy (DOE) required the company to complete 1,200 units by the first week of September and the remaining 1,800 units by the end of 2016.
As of press time, Palomar-Castro said around 300 electric tricycles are in the assembly line and another 400 are being built. She remains confident Bemac is on track to deliver the 3,000 units.
Each unit costs around P360,000 and has a five-year warranty worth around P170,000. Part of the cost is the importation of the three key elements of e-vehicles: the motor, controller and the lithium-ion battery specified by the ADB.
With the successful bidding and the ADB support, the e-trike project appeared to be a walk in the park.
However, things were not as hunky-dory for the players as the e-trike project was implemented.