Local electric vehicle firm thinks big

Published by rudy Date posted on April 20, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – They zip by quietly, running under 30 kilometers per hour around ritzy Fort Bonifacio Global City. But it’s enough to get attention from shoppers and promenaders.

For the past months, about 40 electric tricycles have been ferrying people around the military facility-turned-commercial district in Taguig City. It is part of an ongoing experiment on the long – and often bumpy – road to go green. But, if the electric trikes or E3s prove successful, the ear-splitting rumble of gasoline-powered tricycles across the country could someday be replaced by the gentle hum of electric motors.

On the island paradise of Boracay, the local government there hopes to replace the tricycles plying the narrow rustic streets with the E3 to keep the idyllic quiet.

Several mayors have already expressed interest in the vehicles. About a hundred are plying Taguig City’s roads.

Car manufacturers around the world, including big names like Toyota and Honda, are designing electric vehicles with the private motorist in mind.

But Sean Gerard Villoria, president of Electric Vehicle Solutions Inc. (www.evsolutionsinc.com), which churns out the three-wheeled E3 from its factory in Taguig, thinks that electric vehicle mass transports could make the air even cleaner. Not to mention less traffic congestion.

For now, Electric Vehicle Solutions’ mainstay is the E3, which resembles an egg on wheels. But the company has an electric jeepney and a mini bus already on the drawing board.

Villoria drew his inspiration from the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”, which won former US vice president and environmental crusader Al Gore the Nobel Prize.

“Truth is, I never seriously thought about the environment,” he acknowledges, until he and his wife, Edelweiss, saw the movie. Since then, his wife pestered him to do something about the environment.

“Her insistence provoked me to focus on environmental projects from several opportunities we were considering then,” Villoria relates. “It pays to listen to your wife. Plus, I love peace in our home.”

The point of no return came in 2007 when crude oil prices rocketed into the stratosphere. All of a sudden, electric vehicles became fashionable. Americans eschewed their pickups and SUVs. “Unfortunately, usually something bad has to happen before people get a wake up call,” Villoria says.

The E3 has a maximum range of 100 to 120 kilometers on a full charge and a top speed of 40 kilometers per hour. Very limited and slow for the highway, but more than sufficient for short distance trips, which are the norm for the swarms of tricycles infesting towns and cities across the country.

With a price tag of P160,000 (a traditional tricycle fetches P170,000) and electricity much cheaper compared to prices at the gasoline pump, Villoria is confident of a runaway success once tricycle drivers realize that they could take home bigger pay.

Already, Electric Vehicle Solutions has received inquiries from 10 countries in North America, Europe and Africa.

According to USAID, jeepneys and buses accounted for 32 percent of vehicles on Philippine roads in 2005, and that the transport industry was second to electricity generation as a source of carbon dioxide emissions, a main culprit of global warming.

Southeast Asia ranks third highest in carbon dioxide emissions among developing countries, after China and India. Southeast Asia is forecast to increase its carbon dioxide emissions by 350 percent by 2050.

Electric vehicles are slowly making their way through Metro Manila’s smoggy streets since mid-2007 with the debut of electric jeepneys in Makati City, under an initiative by internationally renowned environmental watchdog Greenpeace.

The “Climate Friendly Cities” project calls for mass transport electric vehicles, service stations to recharge them, and a biogas power plant to supply the electricity to avoid replacing carbon emissions with another.

Late last year, as if taking a page from US President Barack Obama election campaign, the government passed a renewable energy law to attract investments and boost the economy.

Villoria’s biggest challenge may be changing mindsets as Al Gore can attest. People who are used to speed may find the E3 too leasurely. “We are all creatures of habit and we naturally resist change. We are always afraid to step out of our comfort zones,” he says.

Indeed, E3 drivers at Fort Bonifacio Global City took a while to get used to having everybody else zip by them. They were OK once they realized that taking it slow wasn’t that bad at all.

So far, the experiment results have been promising, Villoria says. Some promenaders at Fort Bonifacio even want to have their picture taken with it. Children see the E3s as amusement rides.

“I always want to do things differently, explore and push the envelope to solve a problem or create opportunities,” Villoria says. “I believe that if you stop being better, you stop being good.” –Norman Sison, Philippine Star

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