Yangyel Lhaden 

Almost two years after an electric vehicle (EV) project called ‘Bhutan Sustainable Low Emission Urban Transport System’ started to replace 300 fossil fuel taxis in the country, there are only 16 EV taxis through the project on the road today.

This, according to a project official, is because of the pandemic. “Success of the project depends on the arrival of EVs in the country.”

About 244 taxi drivers placed orders for the taxis with the three EV dealers, of which 124 taxi drivers ordered to Kuenphen Motors, three to Karjung Motors and five to Bhutan Hyundai Motors (BHM) last year.

The project provides a 20 percent subsidy on the cost of the EV with a maximum ceiling  of USD 5,500 (Nu 407,330) and a 70 percent loan facility from the financial institution. A taxi driver has to pay only 10 percent of the cost upfront.

The proprietor of Kuenphen Motors, Thukten, said he placed the order for EV in February 2020 but only eight EVs has arrived in the country.

He said with the second Covid-19 vaccination, he hopes he could import 30 EVs every month. “This year, I received additional 42 orders for EV taxi.”

BHM received additional one EV order this year, which is expected to arrive in the country by end of August and Karjung motors received 69 orders of taxi EVs this year.

Although sources said EVs could have been delivered on time if the three dealers were given an equal number of orders, the project official said the supply of EV was not tendered out as there would be a monopoly and only one dealer would benefit.

He said there were 32 parameters of specification of EV that dealers must comply with to import EVs in the country. “Initially, according to the expression of interest four dealers fulfilled the criteria.”

He said an international consultant developed the specification of EV for Bhutan after taking into consideration the country’s geographic terrain and climate.

The project official said from this year all dealers for EV could import EV if they fulfilled all the parameters.

He explained it was up to taxi drivers to choose from which dealer they wanted to buy EV. “Kuenphen motors offered a good deal for EV which was why he received the most orders.”

EV focal person of BHM, Ugyen Dorji  Moktan, said since the price of EV with BHM ranged between Nu 2.6 million (M) and Nu 2.7M, not many taxi drivers were interested to place an order with them.

Meanwhile, taxi drivers said that although EV was expensive, it was profitable if the cost saved from fuel was calculated.

A taxi driver, who bought a Prince I5 EV a few weeks ago for Nu 1.6M and has to pay a monthly loan of Nu 18,800, said with fuel price at Nu 77, he had to at least spend Nu 1,500 for fuel every day, which equates to Nu 45,000 every month.

He said EV was profitable and paying back the loan was not a problem.

However, he said his brand of EV was not compatible to charge in the charging stations installed through the project.

A project official said charging stations installed through the project was a combination of CHAdeMo and combined charging station, which was commonly used and compatible with most EV. “We cannot afford to install every type of charging station.”

Thukten said he had procured two GBT charging stations compatible to charge Chinese EV brands such as Prince I5.

He said through corporate social responsibility, he was installing six charging stations in Tsirang, Mongar, Bumthang, and Phuntsholing in collaboration with the project and Bhutan Taxi Association. “Post-services for EV is important to encourage people to gain confidence in buying new technology.”

The project official said that on August 5, the government is going to finalise installing charging stations in other dzongkhags. “Nu 69M is approved for installing charging stations.”

The project has also prepared EV until 2035 roadmap, which would be presented to the Cabinet.

The project official said the project was time-bound and a holistic approach for the faith of EV in the country was important which was why they prepared a roadmap.

Edited by Tashi Dema