An update on the progress being made by Thai utility provider Energy Absolute (EA), which in February this year firmed up plans to market its own electric vehicles (EV) in the Kingdom. Things look to be moving along well, with the company’s Mine Mobility subsidiary having officially unveiled the series production prototype of its passenger EV model at this year’s Bangkok Motor Show (BIMS) in March and immediately receiving more than 4,500 orders for it, as Bloomberg reports.

The Mine Mobility is a five-seat all-electric hatchback with a 30 kWh battery and an operating range of about 200 km on a single charge. Not the greatest range, but the allure comes from its price – at about 1.2 million baht (RM161,000), it’s 50% cheaper than competitors such as the BYD e6 and Nissan Leaf. That – and the promise of the earliest delivery – has been good enough to convince a group of five taxi unions in Bangkok to order 3,500 units.

According to Theppanom Phinsuwan, the group’s representative, utilising EVs will cut drivers’ expenses by half, increasing their profit and allowing them to pay off their car loans sooner. It typically costs a driver between 500-600 baht (RM67-80) per day in fuel for a petrol vehicle like the Toyota Corolla Altis, while the cost of charging an EV would halve that to around 200-300 baht (RM27-40).

Mine Mobility’s MD Thanapat Suksuthamwong says the company is targeting car-service providers such as taxi and ride-sharing as well as rental-car companies for much of the initial take-up for the vehicle, and for good reason. “There’s no better way to showcase the technology than to have people who drive long distances each day do it, he explained.

Adoption of EVs in Thailand has been slow, with less than 1,500 registered EVs — including buses and motorcycles — in the country as of December last year, but Energy Absolute is hoping to change that. It aims to put 5,000 of its EVs on the road next year, but it has competition.

It comes in the form of Chinese automaker BYD, which is planning to deliver 1,100 cars to Bangkok as part of a deal with the government to become the biggest supplier of pure EVs, and other automakers also have plans to produce and assemble EVs locally, albeit on a smaller scale.

The company’s game plan is a concerted one, integrating all stages of the EV life cycle from electricity generation and battery production to car manufacturing and charging-point installation. Aided by incentives granted last year by the country’s Board of Investment (BoI), the company is building a 200 million baht factory that can assemble as many as 10,000 cars, starting later this year.

It also plans to introduce two new models after the Mine Mobility hatch arrives next year, a cheaper compact with a 28 kWh battery and a sports car with a 45 kWh battery, all three offerings based on the same trio of studies first presented two years ago at BIMS.

It is also building a US$3 billion (RM12.4 billion) lithium-ion battery plant for the Mine Mobility range, and the joint venture with Taiwan’s Amita Technologies will see EA developing lithium-ion batteries for EV applications from 2021. If the factory reaches full capacity, it would catapult Thailand into third place globally in production.

Elsewhere, subsidiary company Energy Mahanakhon has about 400 EA Anywhere charging stations around Bangkok and plans to install another 300 this year. It was originally reported that it plans to set up 3,000 charging stations for plug-in hybrid and full EVs, and aims to have at least one charging point every five km.

The adoption of EVs in the region have been slow due to high prices of such vehicles, but Thailand’s government sees them as a way to ease Bangkok’s air pollution and fortify an automotive industry that generates about 12% of the country’s GDP. It is offering incentives for manufacturers to assemble EVs in the country, with benefits including corporate tax breaks for eight years, exemptions from import duties on machinery and parts and reductions in excise taxes.

Even as its domestic plans take shape, Energy Absolute is looking at expansion as nearby countries — including Indonesia and Malaysia — set targets for adopting passenger EVs. “Thailand will be the leader of EV technology in this region. We’re first, and that should give us a head start to develop the technology,” said EA founder and CEO Somphote Ahunai.