Drive Towards an EV Nation

Hundreds of students, stakeholders and officials attended EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase to learn more about electric vehicles as part of a nationwide drive
EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Students driving motorbikes and bicycles along the shaded roads at the Institute of Technology’s Phnom Penh campus isn’t an unusual sight. Nor are the many cars, vans and minibuses parked outside its entrance.

While the sight may not be anything out of the norm, the silence certainly is. As the vehicles zap around, the one notable difference is the usual vroom and splutter of motorbike engines has been eliminated. The reason? These are all electric vehicles (EVs).

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said 20-year-old student Chan Socheata, after giving an electric motorbike a test drive. “It was really easy to drive, and so quiet. I would really like to change from using my [traditional] moto to an EV. I want to help protect the environment, but I don’t know about the cost.”

Socheata is one of hundreds of students and other stakeholders to attend EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11. The one-day annual event featured a series of EV vendors showcasing their products and offering test drives and demonstrations in a bid to further accelerate Cambodia’s drive to transition to EVs.

EV Adoption in Cambodia

Cambodia has set a target to become carbon neutral by 2050. As part of this drive, the adoption of EVs is seen as key. The government has also pledged that by 2050, 40 percent of all vehicles and 70 percent of motorbikes will be EV.

According to figures from the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, in January, the number of registered EVs in the Kingdom sat at more than 700. This marks a ten-fold increase compared to the previous year. However, introducing the new mode of transport comes with challenges.

“EVs are very new in Cambodia,” said Yiv Phanna, CEO of YAEDA Cambodia, during a panel discussion at the event. “Therefore, we need to support the people to use it effectively. Most customers don’t understand how to use the batteries.”

EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

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Battery Swapping Solutions

In 2021, ONiON Mobility Co Ltd provided the first EV tuk tuks in Cambodia. Since then, it has pioneered the sector. In May 2022, it opened a $20 million electric motorcycle and electric three-wheeler assembly plant in Kandal province’s Suvannaphum Special Economic Zone.

At the event, Alex Yeonsung Jung, ONiON’s head of business and strategy, said that the aim of the company, which provides EVs to ride-hailing app TADA, is to support Cambodia’s vision for a sustainable future and bolster the local economy.

Part of this is achieved through its battery swapping system. ONiON currently operates 12 battery swapping stations in Phnom Penh and is seeking to further expand its operations this year in other major hubs, such as Siem Reap and Battambang.

Yeongsung Jung said the battery is the most costly part of EVs, and is often a barrier to entry for those considering shifting from traditional vehicles to EVs.

“The most important thing for us is the battery swapping model,” said Yeongsung Jung. “It allows us to provide and supply vehicles at affordable rates to drivers because they don’t have to buy a battery.”

In addition, he said it is beneficial for drivers as they do not have to wait for their battery to recharge. Instead, they can attend one of the battery swapping stations, exchange their battery for a fully charged one and get straight back on the road to earn money.

“It’s important for the drivers to be able to operate continuously and not have to wait hours for their battery to recharge. This way, they can be back on the road within five minutes,” added Yeongsung Jung.

Obstacles to be Overcome

A major barrier is the limited number of charging stations nationwide, which Phannaa referred to as a “chicken and egg” situation. As of March, Cambodia had 13 EV charging stations, with a legal framework being drawn up for the management and development of EVs in Cambodia.

“We need consumers buying EVs to enable the industry to invest in more charging stations. But for consumers to buy EVs, they want to see more charging stations,” Yiv said.

He added that another key element to increase EV adoption in Cambodia is collaboration. “We need the government’s support to improve the use of EVs in Cambodia,” he said, adding that in China, the government strongly supports the use of EVs through various initiatives. “This has seen strong year-to-year increase in the use of EVs,” he noted.

EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa
EnergyLab’s Electric Mobility Showcase on August 11, 2023. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Finances are often seen as a challenge for investing in EVs. To overcome this, YAEDA Cambodia has partnered with private loan companies, including Wing Bank and AEON Specialised Bank, to provide end-users with loans towards purchasing EVs.

“Because of the economic crisis, many people in Cambodia don’t have enough money to buy electric motorbikes,” he said. “Therefore, it’s important that we find partners to support providing loans for the end-user.”

Currently under the scheme, the loans can only be used to purchase EV motorbikes and not the expensive batteries that operate them. However, Yiv said he hopes that soon the programme will be expanded to include the purchase of batteries.

Yeongsung Jung noted that one key element to support the expansion of the sector and make it profitable for the domestic economy is to build up the skill-set so that EVs and other elements can be manufactured in the country.

“We need to have the right skills,” he told the audience, which comprised hundreds of students. “In Cambodia, we can see the beginning of the EV industry, but we currently don’t have the domestic skills to make it beneficial to the local economy.”

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