By Aries B. Espinosa
SOMETIME last year, maybe it was in June or July (which really doesn’t matter, as all the days felt and looked the same during lockdown), I began to entertain the thought that, if ever I had saved up enough to buy a used car, I wouldn’t buy a used car. Instead, I’d use that money to convert my 24-year-old Honda Civic (which I shared with my life partner, who’s also a motoring journalist) into an electric vehicle.
It sounded crazy but, at the same time, made a lot of sense. To be clear, the 1.5-liter gasoline engine still purred beautifully. The body was still in good shape, overall. We just had the entire roof replaced, and then the body repainted, in 2019. Though a few creaking and squeaking noises could be heard from the suspension and brakes, they still held me up and held me back nicely. The lights and signals were working, the wipers were wiping, the horn was honking. The air-conditioner blew strong and cool. In short, this keeper of a car still worked.
Since the start of the lockdowns early in 2020, however, we rarely used it. I’d gotten back to riding my mountain bike (which I just recently converted into an e-MTB) and electric kickscooter for the short trips and errands in and around the village and the city. The car just sat there, gathering dust while piling on the days. Occasionally, I’d turn the engine on for a few minutes just so the batteries wouldn’t get discharged.
The “eureka!” moment for me was when I recently read in the news that an engineer by the name of Ferdie Raquelsantos, president of the newly formed Electric Vehicle Owners Society (EVOS) and chairman emeritus of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (eVAP), was able to convert his classic 1976 Toyota Publica minicar into a plug-in all-electric vehicle for just P250,000, cheaper than most second-hand cars currently in the market. He did this in 2010, when conversion parts such as the batteries, controller, and electric motor were much harder to come by.
Eleven years later, Mr. Raquelsantos’ EV, which was reportedly the first of its kind registered in the Land Transportation Office, is still running. It could still reach a highway-legal top speed of 60 kph and achieve a maximum range of 100 km.
I went over to my green Civic and whispered to its ear (well, technically, to its side mirror), “your future is set, old man. You will not be sold. You will not be scrapped. You will be reborn, as a four-wheeled Frankenstein! (Insert mad scientist laughter here).” Well, my thoughts ran something like that. But I wasn’t kidding. The future of cars, rather, the future of mobility, lies in electrification. And for me, that also means old ICE (internal combustion engine)-powered ones transformed into EVs.
A lot has been said and written about the numerous advantages of EVs over ICE-powered vehicles. EVs will be key to helping nations and industries achieve so-called “carbon neutrality,” where, in a nutshell, mankind’s activities don’t add any more greenhouse gases into the environment, thus minimizing humanity’s role in climate change.
On a practical level, EVs have been proven to be easier to own, operate and maintain, and they require less moving parts compared to ICE-powered vehicles. According to Consumer Reports in an article posted to consumerreports.org in September 2020, a survey among hundreds of thousands of its members show that EV and plug-in hybrid drivers pay half as much to repair and maintain their vehicles. The article goes on to say, “Consumers who purchase an electric car can expect to save an average of US$4,600 (about P225,000 in current exchange rates) in repair and maintenance costs over the life of the vehicle compared with a gasoline-powered car.”
The world is catching on to EVs. At the end of 2020, there were an estimated 10 million light-duty EVs around the world. Global sales took 4.2% market share in 2020, up from 2.5% in 2019.
Here in the Philippines, EVs are still considered novelties, an “extra unnecessary expense.” Yet, according to a recent ASEAN-wide survey revealed during the “Nissan Futures” webinar held early this February, a surprising 45%, or 225 out of the 500 Filipino motorists surveyed, stated they would consider an EV as their next car purchase within the next three years.
So, what’s holding the Pinoy back from buying an EV now, outright? It all boils down to that painful purchase cost. The cheapest brand-new EV in the market will set you back P1.8 million, and that’s just a compact sedan. The ordinary Juan or Juana will think, “With that price, I can already buy myself a gas- or diesel-powered luxury van or MPV, or a 4×4 pickup, or a top-spec midsize SUV.” Widening more the gaps between the rungs in this difficult ladder for EVs to climb is the government taking its sweet time in enacting laws to ease prices of alternatively powered vehicles.
So, until the government acts soon, or a car manufacturer has the gall, or balls, or the audacity to tag an SRP of a million pesos or less on its brand-new EV (highway legal and not a golf cart, okay?), then the only chance for electrification to take root in mainstream motoring is for home-grown EV producers to step up their e-game. I’m looking at people like Mr. Raquelsantos to jump-start a local EV revolution.
And I’m willingly volunteering my old Civic gladiator to the cause.