After serving as a toy for the rich, for making an environmental statement, or be a hobby, electric cars have suddenly become a necessity. As the global climate warms up and the world weans itself away from fossil fuels, there is suddenly a rush on battery-operated vehicles.
In Nepal, the government deliberately refused to provide incentives to battery-operated vehicles for many years because it would reduce revenue, but two years ago, slashed taxes on electric vehicles and increased the taxes for diesel and petrol cars. Since then, electric car sales in Kathmandu have soared.
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At present there are over 500 electric cars, more than 1,500 battery two-wheelers and a few thousand electric three-wheelers on Nepal’s roads. But with Sajha and other bus companies poised to induct electric buses, and private owners showing a keen interest, the electric car market is poised for growth.
Agni Incorporated, which imports the popular Mahindra e2O, plans to convert its popular petrol KUV crossover to battery and bring it to Nepal early next year. With a 180 km range, the eKUV will cost Rs3,500,000 and be able to comfortably get to Pokhara with a fast charge along the way.
Agni has already sold 400 two- and four-door e2O, and slashed prices on them from Rs3,100,000 to Rs 2,200,000 by reducing the range for city driving, and the model is selling well in Kathmandu and other metros.
Continental Trading Enterprises introduced the electric version of its KIA Soul two years ago and sales have picked up after the tax on similar petrol vehicles was hiked. Despite its boxy look and price, the e-Soul is doing well, and KIA is preparing to introduce the e-Niro crossover with a range of 380km next year.
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China’s BYD made high-profile launches of its e6s by having President Bidya Devi Bhandari, the National Planning Commission and the Nepal Electricity Authority ride around in them. But its main market is in buses, and earlier this month, got the Prime Minister to launch two of its e-buses on trial for Sajha Yatayat.
“We would like to use our best technology, and share our know-how to serve the Nepali market and the next generation, we see possibilities for e-mobility here,” Liu Xueliang of BYD Asia-Pacific Auto Sales Division told Nepali Times. BYD hopes to establish a training school for electric vehicle engineers, and provide electric buses for airside conveyance at airports like Kathmandu, Bhairawa, Pokhara and elsewhere.
The main challenge for the spread of e-vehicles has been the lack of charging stations. KIA has installed a fast-charger in Kurintar halfway to Pokhara, and hopes to install 12 more around the country. Mahindra is also planning to build charging stations in Naubise, Mugling, Bharatpur and Pokhara for inter-city drivers.
“Actually most e2Os are used for city driving, so the lack of charging stations is just a psychological barrier. Still, we will need them when the longer range KUV starts selling here,” says Agni’s Cabinet Shrestha, who is working on universal chargers that will work with any type of car. BYD also plans to establish 50 fast and slow charging stations on main highways, says Prasidha Panday of the BYD distributor in Nepal, Cimex Group.
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Suhrid Ghimire at Continental agrees: “Till now, no one has ever complained about running out of charge, EV owners are smart and think ahead, but it is our responsibility to add charging stations.”
Before buying the KIA Soul, I was aware it was a city car and it has low ground clearance. But I was more attracted by its plus points like low operating cost, air conditioning and no gear clutch. Being associated with research on air pollution in Kathmandu, I wanted to take the initiation towards being a part of the solution.
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The National Plan of Action for Electric Mobility that the Prime Minister unveiled this month has three priorities: setting up a new entity to promote EVs, a national program on infrastructure and market, and financial incentives. The Plan hopes to turn 20% of public buses into electric ones by 2020.
The Nepal Electricity Authority is already putting up 20 charging stations around the country to encourage electric transportation. For Bhusan Tuladhar of Sajha Yatayat, this is a great leap: “The introduction of the Action Plan means the government has taken ownership of e-mobility promotion.”
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The other obstacle for e-mobility future is still taxes. Although customs duty on e-cars has been slashed to 10%, the tax on electric two-wheelers has been increased, and electric three-wheelers have been banned in some Tarai cities.
The 50 paisa per litre that consumers pay as Petroleum Tax has now grown into a kitty of a billion rupees, and could be invested in clean energy public transport. Last year, Nepal imported Rs150 billion worth of petroleum products, nearly double of the value the previous year. The country’s strategy should be to reduce this fuel import bill by switching to EVs.
Says Tuladhar: “I do not see electric cars taking over Nepal’s roads any time soon. Petrol and diesel vehicles will be around but we must make a start with electric public transport. It is good for public health because it will reduce pollution, and for the national economy.”
Arbinda Tuladhar, 60, has been using electric scooters to commute 16km one way from Swayambhu to Kathmandu airport. Being an electrical engineer, he has struggled with many brands of battery-powered two-wheelers but always found the torque inadequate.
Finally, he has found one with enough oomph: the Japanese-made Terra Eco. “With this one, I don’t have to stop half-way up the incline on my daily commute.” Terra is one of several two-wheeler brands in Nepal that offers many advantages over petrol-powered ones. It started selling in Nepal in 2014, and has sold more than 1,000 units.
Now, Chinese scooters brands like Bella and NIU have also opened showrooms and are tapping the greater awareness about the environment among Nepal’s price-conscious youth.
Says Shyam Sapkota of Terra Motors Nepal: “We did a survey last year and found out that out of 1,800 respondents, most were senior citizens who wanted comfort and ease, and youths who wanted affordability.”
Arbinda Tuladhar, for instance, spends Rs250 on average on electricity and maintenance, compared to Rs4,500 a month if his scooter was petrol. The upfront cost of electric scooters also range from Rs100,000 to Rs260,000, which is similar to the prices of petrol scooters. the pricetag could come down further if the government cut the 10% customs duty and 13% VAT, and since battery prices have gone down worldwide, the price of e-scooters will be even lower in future.
The scooters provide up to 80-100km on a full charge, and can pull a pillion rider even on the uphill of White Gumba. They can be charged at home like mobile phones. Terra and Bella both plan to introduce more powerful scooters in 2019, as customers want fast charge and extended driving range. NIU is setting up a scooter charging station in Labim Mall.
Electric scooter drivers in the past did not need a driving license nor did they have to register their vehicles, but the government has now made both mandatory. This dampened demand, but now it has picked up again. Competition is also growing, and Terra now offers free lifetime maintenance, while NIU will exchange your petrol scooter and minus it from the price of a brand new one.
E-scooters are also spreading outside the Valley. Terra has dealers in Narayanghat, Butwal and Lahan, NIU has reached Pokhara, Itahari and Butwal, and Bella has 18 dealers across the country.