Until there is comparable infrastructure, they’ll be outnumbered by fuel driven vehicles 

Transport: Despite the government’s quest to make Bhutan a hot spot for electric vehicles, for every electric car sold, there are about 100 fuel-powered cars hitting the roads in Bhutan today.

In the last one-year, about 50 electric cars, mostly the Nissan Leaf, were sold in the country.  However, in six months since the import ban on vehicles was lifted and revised tax imposed, records show that a total of 2,572 new vehicles were registered.

Thunder Motor’s Chief Executive Officer, (Dr) Tashi Wangchuk, attributed the increase in fuel dependent cars to lack of infrastructure for electric vehicles.

“It took about 50 years to build roads, establish service centres and install fuel depots,” he said, pointing out that the infrastructure available currently was more convenient for fuel vehicles.

Last year the government spent more than Nu 8 billion on fuel imports.

“If we have 50 years with same level of government investment, we’ll get there,” he said, referring to the figures of new non-electric vehicles imported.

The electric car dealer is, however, optimistic that the situation will change with the installation of 15 quick chargers in the coming year.

Four charging stations will be installed in the capital alone, one at the Paro international airport, one at Lumitsawa, along Punakha-Thimphu highway, and four along the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway, including one at Chuzom.

Installation works begin next month, to ensure that all 15 charging stations are installed in the western parts of the country within a year’s time.

(Dr) Tashi Wangchuk said most owners of the Leaf are happy with their home chargers to recharge their car batteries in four hours.  However, he said, it was mostly the taxi drivers, who have been demanding quick chargers.

While only about seven e-taxis are currently on the road, two more are lined up in the service centre. “With installation of quick chargers, the number of e-cars are expected to pick up,” he said.

However, like the cars, the quick charger and its installation charges do not come cheap.  Each charging station costs about USD 14,000 and the installation cost of one, at USD 42,000 is three times the cost of the charging station.

The cost shoots up because, for every quick charger, two transformers have to be bought and installed with underground cables, besides setting up a shelter for an attendant and a toilet.

Although Nissan is bearing half of the cost of the chargers, (Dr) Tashi Wangchuk said Thunder Motors was bearing the remaining costs.

During the Prime Minister’s four-day official trip to Japan last year, he had also sought help of the Japanese government to support electric cars in Bhutan.

At the recent meet-the-press, lyonchoen said the government has done its part, and that it was now the private sectors’ responsibility to take it forward.  “Whether they sell Nissan Leaf or Mahindra Reva or any other cars, it’s their job,” he said.

He said taxes on e-car have been zero since the tenure of the past government.  But the current government, he said, has increased taxes for other vehicles, making it more attractive for people to buy electric vehicles.

“I was excited to launch electric cars because they’re very good for Bhutan, and I’m committed to see Bhutan take sustainable transport very seriously,” he said.

Besides, studying the viability of electric buses, he said, the government was also studying the possibility to support electric taxis. “Yes we’re committed, but it has become so politicised,” he said, pointing out that politicians are accusing the government of conflict of interest and even corrupt practices.

Meanwhile, lyonchoen said that electric cars were the substitution for lowering fuel imports, and the fact that Bhutan sells the cheapest clean electricity should further encourage people.

By Tshering Dorji