Tashi Dema

While many taxi drivers, who switched to electric vehicles (EV) through a government project wait for the vehicles to reach the country, few who got their vehicles also have to use conversion to recharge them. 

This is because the charging system of EV taxis they bought was not compatible with the charging stations installed through the project, raising brows of those following the EV project closely.

The vehicles have GBT charging stations, also known as Guobiao, which is a Chinese standard for EV battery charging.

A source said the standard bidding document for the government initiated three-year project called ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System’ requires electric vehicles with CHAdemo and combined charging station (CCS- Combo 2 inlet).

“Page 71 of the bidding document specifies the requirement of the DC fast charging vehicle inlet standard,” the source said. “The requirement is CCS Combo 2 inlet or CHAdemo inlet.”

The source said EVs with GBT charging standard do not qualify as taxis because of that requirement. “Chinese EVs with GBT standards are much cheaper than ones with international standards such as CCS and CHAdemo.”

Sources said that if the project officials allowed EVs with GBT charging stations against what is specified in the standard bidding document, other brand cars from India such as Mahindra should have also been allowed to participate.

“Mahindra could not qualify because it did not meet the driving range on a single charge requirement as specified in the bidding document, which was 200km or more on a single charge,” a source said.

The source also alleged the Chinese EVs with GBT charging standard do not have Worldwide Harmonised Light-Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) proving the 200km or more driving range on a single charge. “Hyundai and other EVs have the certificate.”

People familiar with EV issue alleged that allowing EVs with GBT charging standard and without 200km WLTP certificate violates the standard bidding document.

A former project official said what they tendered is different from the bidding document as an external consultant advised them not to limit the technology.

He claimed Kuensel referred to the document that was used as a reference and they changed the requirements after consultants specified the requirements.

He also said they changed vehicle specification after discussing thoroughly with the EV dealers.

But sources maintained tender documents cannot be changed after the tender.

A source said the charging standards have remained the same.

The former manager explained there are several charging standards like our mobile phones adopted by different manufacturers. “We cannot afford to install every standard that is available.”

He cited the example of how the government cannot install a Tesla computable charger just because a person bought a Tesla EV.  “We adopted the most commonly used chargers which are the CHAdemo and CCS. Those who go for other brands of EVs with their own charging standard must understand this before they buy.”

An official from the information and communications ministry said they did everything as per the bidding document.

He also cited the parameter on vehicle homologation and safety standard that specifies on GBT to justify GBT charging standard is allowed.

But it was learnt the homologation requirements simply state that the vehicles can be made in Europe, China, Korea, Japan, and India and certified by the certifying authorities there and it has nothing to do with the specific DC fast charging inlet standard.

Meanwhile, people are also questioning if it is really the pandemic that is hampering the import of EVs.

Only 14 of the 244 electric vehicles ordered through the project arrived in the country today.

Some taxi drivers, who had issues with their EVs said the vehicle is not pliable on our pothole-filled road.

“The battery got damaged because of the poor road condition and it is costing me more than Nu 200,000 to replace it,” a taxi driver said. “We believed in the project and it is coming at a huge cost.”

The official from the information and communications ministry, however, said EVs get damaged because of the carelessness of the drivers and not because of the road condition. “The physical parameters of the EVs are feasible in our topography.”

Information and Communications minister, Karma Donnen Wangdi, during the recent virtual meet the press session said the objective of the project is to facilitate the initial stage of low carbon transition in Bhutan’s urban transport system.

Through the project, about 300 fossil fuel taxis will be replaced with electric vehicles to annually reduce 43,000 tonnes of carbondioxide emission in the country. “It will also reduce the fiscal deficit by reducing dependency on fossil fuel.”

He said the pandemic had delayed the project implementation, particularly because of the vessel schedule limitations imposed by the national and international Covid-19 protocols.