Stop and shop — and recharge — at SM

IT’S A STRONG message when the country’s leading mall chain steps up its, well, electric vehicle game. This means the brand has gotten whiff of the future — which now obviously smells distinctly electric.

Last week, SM Supermalls staged the simultaneous launch of the country’s first-ever in-mall charging stations for electric vehicles. Four malls will initially feature the service: SM Aura in Taguig City, SM North Edsa in Quezon City, SM Mall of Asia in Pasay City, and SM Megamall in Mandaluyong. Charging is absolutely free, save for the standard parking fees.

In a statement, SM Supermalls President Steven Tan said the company “will remain true to (its) promise of creating a safe malling experience for… mallgoers, and part of that commitment is building a greener environment for everyone.” He added that the project reflects a ramp-up of efforts to drive sustainability in the chain’s 79 malls nationwide. “We want to urge everyone to consider more sustainable options in their everyday life, and shifting to e-vehicles is a giant leap toward a greener future for all of us.”

The EV charging stations are a result of the SM Supermalls partnership with the Department of Energy, Department of Transportation, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Science and Technology, and Department of Trade and Industry — and are positioned to “(assist) the government accelerate its renewable energy and sustainability initiatives.” In 2018, SM North Edsa opened an EV charging station for electric public vehicles. The new in-mall chargers today represent SM reaching out to the private sector in support of EVs.

“SM Supermalls will continue our staunch support of the government’s new EV law and the National Renewable Energy Program to promote a more eco-friendly society for all Filipinos. We remain steadfast in our goal of increasing our share of renewable energy sources by 50% by the end of 2022,” Mr. Tan continued, and promised to roll out more chargers. “Within the next few months you’ll see more of these coming up in Clark, Baguio, Tagaytay… the objective is really to put it in destination malls like (these and) Tuguegaro and Bicol.”

Meanwhile, in his speech, Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon M. Lopez lauded SM Supermalls for “paving the way (and for promoting) EV use.” The project, he said, is seen to reduce the “trepidation” people have about using EVs. Sec. Lopez also mentioned the passing of the EV Act into law, which basically provides a regulatory skeleton for the production and adoption of electric vehicles. The vision is to promote the industry as a “feasible mode of transportation to reduce dependence on fossil fuels.”

In a previous BusinessWorld article, Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza wrote that “industries such as cargo logistics, food delivery companies, tour agencies, hotels, power utilities, and water utilities have been set a 5% EV quota for their vehicle fleets, whether owned or leased, on a timetable to be determined by an industry road map.” This basically mandates — and ultimately promotes — the gradual electrification of mobility.

Interestingly, the road map also provides for “preferential parking slots for EVs and charging stations in dedicated spaces as key to their adoption,” as reported by Mr. Atienza. “According to the law, establishments with 20 or more designated parking slots should dedicate 5% of their space for the use of EVs and provide charging points.”

We spoke with Prudential Guarantee President and CEO Anthony Sy about the insurance implications that this EV age is ushering in. With more homes set to be fitted with EV chargers, will this necessitate a change in property insurance schemes? “We see the EV industry as being in its early stages here in the country, so the insurance considerations will be the same,” he told “Velocity” in an exclusive interview. “Fire insurance should be enough to cover potential risks with a home charger. For now, there’s no exclusion for the charger, and we anticipate that it will be a necessity in the future. The underwriting is the same as of today.” Mr. Sy compared the EV home charger concept to a cell phone charger, and that it’s covered in the event of a blaze as a result of a catastrophic failure. Globally, the insurance industry is still looking at the growing EV market intently to see how it may potentially affect claims.

As for EVs themselves, the situation is similar, except for a “minimally higher” fee owing to the prohibitive cost of high-voltage batteries on these fossil fuel-free vehicles.

On display at the SM Aura for the program launch were an Audi e-tron and Porsche Taycan — fully electric offerings from PGA Cars. Both can be plugged into the Wallbox Pulsar Plus 7.4KW AC chargers with Type 2 connectors deployed by SM Supermalls.

PGA Cars is seen to be leading the charge in EVs — having already invested an initial P300 million for “the construction of facilities specifically designed and equipped to address the unique requirements and safety standards of electric vehicles.” The distributor of Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Porsche cars also earmarked the sum to acquire manufacturer-approved equipment, tools and software, as well as an inventory of genuine parts. PGA Cars said it is set to make “additional investments… to further support the domestic adoption of electric vehicles.” The company also reported that, “to date, Porsche and Audi are the only global car makers to have sold in any significant number fully electric-powered vehicles in the Philippines. Both brands are set to expand the Taycan and e-tron ranges in the Philippines this year, with other fully electric models to follow in the future.”

Sec. Lopez made mention of something we should pay attention to. The Comprehensive Automotive Resurgence Strategy (CARS) program, first implemented under the late President Noynoy Aquino’s watch in 2015, was and continues to be implemented to “attract new investments, stimulate demand, and effectively implement industry regulations” designed to revive the local automotive industry, with a view toward developing the country as a regional automotive manufacturing hub. However, only two brands (Toyota and Mitsubishi) qualified for the program which rewards a fixed vehicle manufacturing output with government support.

Mr. Lopez proposes to allocate the third slot, which remains vacant, “for the development or the manufacture of e-vehicles.” That represents, he said, about P9 billion in state support. He is hoping that President Duterte can approve this proposal before stepping down at the end of June.

And while the recently passed EV Law addresses the infrastructure side of the EV equation, the DTI Secretary said he wants to help the sales side of it as well. Mr. Lopez proposes to entirely do away with tariff for EV vehicles, which currently stands at 30%. This will obviously result in lower prices for EVs here, helping remove their cost premium over their internal combustion engine-powered counterparts.

No matter how you slice it, it seems that electric vehicles are now coming in clearer focus. Hopefully, more people plug into the program.

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