The Velocity Q&A: Rommel T. Juan (Chairman Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines)

Interview by Kap Maceda Aguila

AT NO POINT in the country’s history has there been this many electrified options in mobility — ranging from traditional hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and battery electric vehicles. The concerted move toward the ultimate goal of weaning mobility away from fossil fuels has long begun, but not without the anticipated hiccups and stumbling blocks as policies and legislation struggle to keep up with the momentum.

Take, for instance, the highly polarized discussion on what to do with light electric vehicles (namely, e-bikes and e-tricycles) and the potential risk for accidents they pose as they jockey for position on major thoroughfares. While the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), via pronouncements made by MMDA Chairman Romando Artes, is putting its foot down in this matter, the final version of the IRR is surely far from hammered down as stakeholders weigh in.

But there appears to be no stopping the inevitable as the people become more aware — and rightfully afraid — of how we’re imperiling our future by polluting the planet and causing climate change. There needs to be a decisive step toward cutting our carbon footprint.

The Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP) has long been espousing the advancement of the electric vehicle (EV) industry — doing yeoman’s work in enlisting champions from legislature, government, and the private sector. It prides itself as “a catalyst for the growth and development of electric vehicles in the Philippines by advocating policies, providing technical expertise, and promoting collaboration among stakeholders.” Significantly, it stages the annual Philippine Electric Vehicle Summit (PEVS) as a venue to showcase, discuss, network, and ultimately ascertain where our industry is.

We talked with EVAP Chairman Rommel T. Juan on our EV scene — its challenges, needs, and opportunities; how we compare to our neighbors; and what the future looks like.

VELOCITY: How would you describe our local EV scene compared to our ASEAN neighbors?

ROMMEL T. JUAN: ASEAN neighbors such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia are ahead, but we are catching up. We are ahead or at par with the other neighboring countries.

The country has obviously gone a very long way toward the electrification of mobility from the early days of EVAP’s campaign to today. How mature or adequate are the state’s policies to promote or hasten the adoption of electric transport?

I think EVIDA (Electric Vehicle Industry Development Act) was a huge step already. However, as experienced in countries where EVs have really boomed, we really need more fiscal incentives and subsidies. We hope that the CREVI (Comprehensive Roadmap for the Electric Vehicle Industry) can address this once it is finalized.

What remains on your wish list?

Local EV battery manufacturing and leasing is on my wish list. I believe that this is the main thing needed for us to locally make more affordable e-PUVs and e-trikes.

Electric tricycles and e-bikes have recently been on the news for the wrong reasons, and they seem to fall through the cracks of policies and regulations. In your opinion, what needs to be done?

I think we need to regulate EVs the same way we do ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles. Small e-trikes with less-than-certain power ratings should not be allowed on major thoroughfares. And, like regular vehicles, they must be registered.

It’s notable that more OEMs now are bringing in fully electric offerings, but one of EVAP’s thrusts is to get local enterprises and businesses in on the action, so to speak. How do you see this happening, and how can this be hastened or promoted?

I still think the niche of local EV production is in electric PUVs and e-trikes. But as I mentioned, the price is still too high. The answer lies in battery leasing. Take out the cost of the battery when you buy the unit, and just lease or rent it from a battery leasing company.

There is still considerable pushback that the country is not ready to go full or even significantly EV on account of the lack of charging infrastructure. What do you say about this? Some say that hybrids are the way to go.

I think that the country is ready to go full EV. The technology is there and the infrastructure is catching up fast. When I say catching up, I only mean the public charging stations. However 98% of EV users charge at home and would only use public chargers when they need to go long distances.

It appears that developed economies which had been previously full throttle on EVs are starting to reconsider their position for a variety of reasons.

I think this is merely a speedbump. There are many reasons why the demand suddenly went down. One is that EVs experienced unprecedented high sales during the pandemic, and the market is just correcting. Another is that some big car companies which sold EVs could not keep up with the demand because of an inadequate battery supply. Also, the world leader, which is Tesla, has been aggressively lowering its price — thereby disrupting the market.

Another concern is that increased governmental incentives to shore up the EV industry may actually one day hobble economies by taking away all of the revenues and tariffs normally going to government.

Hopefully when this time comes, people would have successfully transitioned.

What is the realistic timeline you see for EVs in the Philippines? When will we see a majority of vehicles being electric or electrified here?

It’s tough to say. I think it will take a very long time for EVs to overtake ICE-powered vehicles in the Philippines. I’m not waiting for that time. I just want to see more and more people get to try using EVs and feel the difference. Owning an EV is so very liberating. Just plug in when you get home or in the office, if possible, and you never have to worry about getting gas, or even think about its fluctuations in fuel prices. At EVAP, we have been advocating the use of EVs for 15 years, and we are simply delighted that more and more big brands are introducing their EV models and that more individuals are getting to try them — and actually later purchase EVs. It’s just like switching from a regular cellphone to a smartphone; it’s just better and easier to use.