Though the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) initiated the project on electric vehicle (EV) with the intent to provide safe, reliable, accessible and affordable transportation system, however, the ministry received several criticisms, from the public, dealers and taxi drivers as the project encountered problems in the very beginning of the implementation process.
The project aims to roll out 300 EV taxis in Thimphu within three years within the provision of 20 percent subsidy and provision of loan with equity of 50 percent from the financial institutions.
Specific to the project, the ministry has identified four EV dealers with seven different models based on the evaluation of the vehicle specifications and standards prepared by the ministry.
Four dealers, Thunder Motors, Bhutan Hyundai Motors, Karjung Motors and Kuenphen Motors, were awarded the tender to supply seven models of EV, Nissan LEAF and ENV 200, Hyundai Ioniq, BYD-T3, iEV7S AUDA and EU5 AUDA.
Following this, Kuenphen Motors ordered 12 EVs from China and when another dealer who wanted to import just one car from China was not given the import license by the Department of Trade saying they have directives from Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, Kuenphen Motors who was earlier given license to purchase 12 EVs, and when the cars reached Kolkata, the Department of Trade issued orders to Kolkatta office not to release the cars.
Karjung Motors said it was selected to import EVs from China but was also denied its trade license.
The owner of Karjung Motors argued that Kuenphen Motors was given the import license to import 12 cars, but when they applied for only 1 car, the director of trade had instructed not to issue the license as approval was required from the foreign ministry to issue the license for import of cars from China.
He said, “The Director also said that he was not aware that the Department of Trade had given license to import 12 vehicles as he was out of the country. But we are aware that to get the license we need to get the approval from the Foreign Ministry.”
The owner questioned as to why is there a restriction on only automobiles from China? He pointed out that Chinese goods flood the market in Bhutan with no restrictions. He said a lot of telecom equipment is imported from China.
He said, “The discussion on EV did not start just recently but the discussion was there since four years, and since then, we have been networking and having lots of meeting with the Ministry of Information and Communications, and even the official from Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA) attended the meeting along with officials from UN as it was funded by UN.”
BYD is manufactured in China but all the investors are from America and the office was set up in China because the labor is cheaper there. But out of all the models, our model is the best, he said.
He said that he had initially tried to supply from Tata but Tata could give only 140 km per charge, whereas, the demand of taxi drivers is at least 200 km per charge.
He further said that there are many buses from China plying on our road, including a car called Kuki that was distributed in the market earlier. As the vehicle from China did not fare well in the market, the business closed down. He said such issues might be the reason why the trade license is not being granted.
Another dealer of EV, Hyundai said, “Even before the start of this taxi project, we brought in one or two vehicles and since our prices are quite high, we are not sure how much taxis will be interested.” As of now, Hyundia dealer is just keeping one to two EVs in stock.
EV initiative was launched in 2014 by the former government with the same vision or objective to adopt EV as the preferred mode of transport, but what went wrong is that EV is an emerging technology. During the former government there seemed to just one dealer, Nissan. The former government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Nissan and they wanted to bring in 1,000 Nissan LEAF but that didn’t happen.
A senior official from MoEA said that the main reason why the Department of Trade kept the license pending is find out if it is authorized or not. “After learning that there is no issue, we issued the license for import of vehicle from China,” said the official.
The PM also said that the issue was one of protocol and procedure and once it was sorted out there was no issue.