EV owners face challenges with high maintenance cost and fewer charging stations

Bhutan is taking a step towards a low-emission transport system, introduced Electric Vehicles (EV). However, EV owners shares that they are encountering significant hurdles including high maintenance costs, a lack of adequate charging centers, and the burden of monthly loan payments ranging from Nu 25,000 to Nu 30,000.

The Executive Director of the Bhutan Taxi Association (BTA), sheds light on the main issues faced by EV owners, particularly those with higher range vehicles.

He shared that the maintenance problems, especially arise when mishaps occur, as the technical expertise required for EV repairs is currently not there. This leads to extended periods of vehicle downtime.

“The maintenance in EV is technically not sound since we do not have experts who are well-versed in this field and the software is new, any technical problems with the vehicles can leave them idle for months.”

He mentioned that the cost associated with maintenance can be excessive, sometimes reaching up to Nu 1.2 million.

He shared that addressing the issue of charging stations, ownership complications have arisen due to the project which was initially under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) which later was handed over to the Bhutan Power Corporation (BPC).

However, he said that BPC lacks the necessary technical expertise, resulting in EV owners facing problems without practical solutions. The project is now under department of service and transport, ministry of infrastructure and transport.

He emphasizes the need for increased capacity voltage in charging stations as different models needs higher voltage.

He mentioned that while the capital city has an adequate number of charging stations, driving EVs is challenging, particularly when embarking on long journeys to other dzongkhags.

“Though charging stations are installed in all 20 dzongkhags, the problem arises when vehicles encounter long journey without charging stations. Currently, most charging points are installed within a range of 250 to 300 km. However, as our country’s topography is predominantly hilly, the placement of charging stations in plain areas poses an issue”, he said.

He shared on a positive note, the number of charging station issues has decreased compared to previous years, indicating progress in addressing this aspect of the EVs.

Further he shared that few EV owners are not satisfied with the products received and are charging the dealers.

“EV owners have expressed dissatisfaction with the vehicles they received. Specific features promised by dealers have not been delivered, and owners have noticed a decrease in the vehicle’s range, contrary to the dealers’ claims of eventual improvement. Furthermore, dealers have been observed charging significantly higher prices than the original cost.”

He added these circumstances has led to delay in loan payments, which has become a major challenge for EV owners.

“The lengthy maintenance process, as a result of delays in spare parts reaching the country taking 3 to 4 months, result in payment delays. This poses a significant burden, with a minimum monthly payment of Nu 25,000. If deferments continue, it could lead to non-performing loans (NPL), worsening the problem. As an association we are collaboration with banks, in considering individuals with genuine issues”.

EV coordinator Guru Tshering, also highlighted that while the charging infrastructure seems to be relatively smooth, the main challenge faced by EV owners lies in the high cost of maintenance.

He shared the he uses an MG ZS EV model and the other models available in the country include MG5, NetaV, BYD, Kona, and Tata.

He explained that although regular maintenance for his MGZS is not a major concern, the real problem arises if incase accidents occur which would cost him highly.

“The cost of spare parts for EVs is significantly higher, and unfortunately, these parts are not readily available in our country. The need to import them from other countries further adds to the expenses. Despite the PMO instructing that dealers must keep 70 percent stock of spare parts for running cars, it has been observed that dealers often maintain only 10 to 20 percent of the required parts. Consequently, when accidents happen, dealers estimate the necessary parts and place orders, leaving vehicles idle for months”.

He mentioned that since EVs needs to be imported, importing spare parts takes delay up to 5 months sometimes.  Although according to the terms and conditions, these parts should be delivered within 45 days.

He added that it is possible that dealers avoid keeping spare parts in stock due to the infrequent need for repairs, which would result in additional costs. However, in cases of accidents, the lengthy process leaves vehicles off the road for extended periods.

Regarding specific dealerships he said that there are five dealers, Kuenphen Motors handles NetaV, MG5, and MGZS, while Karjung Motor is the BYD vehicle dealer, Honda Motors is the Kona dealer and Tata Motors is Tata dealer.

Notably, he mentioned that there is an ongoing case involving Kuenphen Motors in the high court.

He mentioned that there are instances where maintenance costs reached a minimum of 1 mn, with one unfortunate BYD EV owner incurring costs of almost 1.5 mn and another MGZS owner facing expenses of around  1 mn due to accidents.

He stressed that unlike traditional fuel-powered vehicles, EV owners have limited options for seeking repairs, often relying on the same company for spare parts and services. He expressed the need for more workshops dedicated to EVs to provide owners with more options for maintenance and repairs.

He also emphasized that the work pressure for EV taxi drivers is three times higher than that of driving a regular vehicle. They must manage higher loan payments while balancing daily living expenses. In some cases, drivers have had to seek shelter in their vehicles due to the time required for charging before being able to continue their trips.

He mentioned that while the capital city has made progress in addressing charging station availability with nine stations, other dzongkhags face challenges with only one charging station, consisting of one slow charger and one fast charger. The reliability of these stations becomes a concern if they encounter issues.

“In Phuentsholing, although two charging stations were initially installed, one remains non-functional and has yet to be repaired. We are hopeful that dealers can contribute by donating additional charging stations, a request we have been making.”

“In our country, the majority of charging stations have a voltage consumption of around 60 volts. However, BYD EVs have a voltage consumption of approximately 71 volts. This poses a problem because we lack high voltage charging stations. If these vehicles charge first and then lower voltage consumption EVs use the same charging station, it causes overheating and result in faults”.

He added,“Despite the EV project initially starting as a pilot project and now has come this far, still specific parking spaces for EVs have not been allocated since its implementation. The cost of repairs for EVs is significantly higher compared to conventional taxi vehicles. If I cite an example, fixing a headlight on a regular vehicle like a Wagoner would cost around Nu 3000 to Nu 4000, whereas for an EV, the cost ranges from Nu 20,000 to Nu 50,000. This high expense can be attributed to the limited number of dealerships dealing with specific EV models and the lack of market availability”.

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