Auto firms bent on public release of alternative-fuel vehicles despite snail-paced process for e-vehicle lawBy Tessa R. Salazar
Philippine Daily Inquirer
WHILE a Chinese billionaire hogged the odd-news section last week for selling cans of fresh air, Filipinos waited with bated breaths in a roller coaster ride at the Senate, culminating in a collective sigh of relief with the Jan. 28 passage of Senate Bill No. 2856, or the Electric, Hybrid and other Alternative Fuel Vehicles Incentives Act of 2011 providing incentives for “the manufacture, assembly, conversion and importation of electric, hybrid and other alternative fuel vehicles.” But, suck it up again, folks, the Congress counterpart, House Bill No. 5460, passed on third reading on April 5, 2012, is still waiting, as of press time, for a bicameral conference.
And so, while statesmen do what they must, the move for sustainable progress must go on, whatever the pace. Inquirer Motoring took a quick look at the motoring landscape, and noticed that not a few vehicle manufacturers were already at the gates, readying their alternative-fueled horses for an imminent industry race. The ones that caught our attention were the hybrids Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, the full-electric Mitsubishi i-Miev and a Toyota Publica (converted locally by a private Philippine company into a full-electric car).
Among the four, the Prius (introduced to the Philippines in 2009) is the first commercial alternative-fuel vehicle available to the public. The Publica is just a demonstration unit by the company owner. This author had already driven the Toyota Prius quite extensively (literally from up north in Tuguegarao to as far south as Iloilo), and can safely say that the vehicle has grown on her. And the Prius gives some love back, no doubt: On Power Mode, it hauls metal like a 2.4-liter sedan in the body of a 1.8-liter Altis, only that it gives the driver a 24-km/l consumption reading—better than most subcompacts.
Honda’s Insight, meanwhile, flaunts its Integrated Motor Assist coupled with a 1.3L i-VTEC 4-cylinder SOHC, 8-valve engine. It features an engine auto stop (when the car is waiting at a stop sign, for instance), and is surprisingly responsive for its engine size, even in the Eco Mode (now imagine the zippiness increase many-fold when the Eco Mode is off, and the transmission is in the “S” or Sport mode). Driving on combined city and highway (on convoy with the Prius) yielded for the Insight 16 to 18 km/l at a 30-kph average speed.
Mitsubishi Motors Philippines also recently accorded this writer a rare treat: A 10-km supervised test drive of the all-electric i-Miev along the rolling hills of Cainta, near the MMPC headquarters. For a full-electric car, sluggishness was not in its vocabulary. Carrying a total of three humans inside its subcompact belly, the i-Miev had no difficulty climbing the hills. And it could go up to speed, as well (though we never did go beyond 80 kph during the short run). The i-Miev can punch well over the 120-kph mark, or run for a good 150 km in between charges, making one forget its an ecocar. The cost to run the i-MiEV per kilometer is just a third compared to its gasoline-fed counterpart, and can drop to as little as a ninth, depending on the cost of electricity in your region.
There are two ways of charging this car: using a normal 220-volt outlet, or through a quick charger. It takes about seven hours to completely charge the i-MiEV on a 220-volt socket, and 30 minutes for the quick charger to charge up to 80-percent battery capacity once the battery is almost empty. With its zero carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions and minimal well-to-wheel generation of carbon dioxide, the i-MiEV became a recipient of the “Environment Special Grand Prize” at the 25th International Automobile Festival in Paris. The i-MiEV is already commercially available in a number of countries and regions, including Japan, Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, Estonia and in the United States and Canada.
Now the Publica. This writer was fortunate enough to be given the keys to a fully operational, street-legal electric car—a yellow 1976 Toyota Corolla Publica—rather, the body of a Publica transplanted with an electric engine. The owner, Ferdinand Raquelsantos, president of the Philippine Utility Vehicle Inc., the business arm of Motor Vehicle Parts Manufacturers Association of the Philippines and the local assembler of the electric jeepneys and electric tricycles, tagged along, of course, and through the posh and quiet Ayala Alabang Village, he described his shocking little yellow car. This, he said, was the first LTO-registered electric car in the country. And while we savored the rush of fresh upper-class village air (no choice, the car didn’t have air-conditioning), this driver noticed the heaviness on the acceleration and steering (no power-steering, either). The silence of the engine was “magnified” by the absence of a stereo. At least, the car was running, and it could go up to 60 kph (enough to go on the expressways), and its brakes worked properly.
The most wonderful thing about it is that its creator—a true-blooded Filipino with the sustainability of public and private transport running circuits in his mind—was sitting right next to this writer. Raquelsantos—the man behind the creation of electric jeepneys and electric tricycles in the Philippines—makes it no secret that he supports the AFV bill, stressing that its passage would generate jobs and may give local groups a shot at exports.
Meanwhile, Froilan Dytianquin, Mitsubishi Motors Philippines’ vice president for marketing services, showed to Inquirer Motoring Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PhEv) Outlander, which reportedly yields an astonishing 67 km to a liter (on paper, at least). Dytianquin surmised that a PhEV would be more viable to introduce in the country than full-electric cars that need additional infrastructure for their charging requirements. “The quick chargers are growing businesses in other countries, and you’ll see it in malls’ parking slots and in 7-11 stores,” he reveals. That would take some time to set up here, he adds.
The Covenant Car Company Inc. president and managing director Albert Arcilla (TCCCI, the exclusive importer and distributor of Chevrolet vehicles, parts and accessories), when asked about the full-electric Chevrolet Volt, says: “To realize the Volt’s full benefits, there needs to be an EV charging infrastructure in place that is fed by green energy sources. In this respect, the Volt may be some ways off in the country. But there are other non-plug-in gasoline-electric hybrids in the GM product pipeline coming shortly. If the Volt were to be brought in on a tax-exempt basis today, it would cost in the vicinity of P2 million inclusive of the home-charging module.”
Karla Tecson, Nissan Motor Philippines Inc.’s public relations and government affairs department head, says that “there are still a lot to consider before we can bring the Nissan Leaf (electric car) here. If the government can establish the necessary infrastructure to support such vehicles, then it would be more meaningful to bring them in.”
Daniel M. Isla, Lexus Manila president, told the Inquirer that even before the alternative fuel bill came into public focus, Lexus had already made available to Filipino luxury car buyers its hybrid vehicles.
“As the leader in hybrid technology, we have always carried, and will always carry, a full lineup of hybrid vehicles, including the Lexus CT 200h—Compact Luxury Hybrid; Lexus GS 450h—Midsize Luxury Sports Hybrid Sedan; Lexus RX 450h—Compact Luxury Hybrid SUV and the Lexus LS 600hL— Large Luxury Hybrid Limousine.
“Lexus has put more hybrids on the road than any other manufacturer in the Philippines,” Isla asserts.
CATS Motors, exclusive distributor of Mercedes-Benz, among other brands, offers the S400 Hybrids fleet in the Philippines.