Shortly after the business conglomerate Nishat group announced its plans to join hands with Hyundai to introduce the Korean brand cars to Pakistan, there was speculation as to what cars the company would bring. The group told the media that there was a feasibility study being conducted to consider bringing electric cars into Pakistan. Hyundai has earlier had success in introducing electric car variants in developed markets. Could they be introduced in Pakistan as well?
To some, it would seem even nonsensical to be discussing electric cars when already the country suffers from chronic electricity shortage issues. However, Hyundai is not the only one to propose bringing electric cars, and Pakistan not the only developing market. China is the biggest market for electric cars currently manufacturing 0.4 million cars. Meanwhile, next door neighbour India plans to become an electric vehicle nation by 2030 to curb pollution and lower import bill powering these cars by making investments in solar energy. Electric cars are considered very fuel efficient but they require a strong infrastructure, which is costly.
There was much media hype behind titular SuperPower cars, an imported electric car from China, which will come with a 12-volts battery that be recharged in-house like an inverter or UPS. However, the car would have a maximum speed of 50km/h and would require an electric recharge for at least seven hours to cover a distance of 120 km. With its limitations, the car appears to be overpriced at Rs0.6million.
Most electric cars, unlike SuperPower, require charging stations, of which there are only a handful in Pakistan. They also require long charging hours (8-12 hours for a distance of up to 200km) unlike traditionally fueled cars. Unless there are enough charging stations across the country, like petrol pumps, consumers cannot feel comfortable enough to purchase an e-car. With load shedding a norm in the country, the existence of charging stations cannot be enough either.
Even if investment in setting up the infrastructure (perhaps even in greater renewable energy) is made, and consumers can get behind adapting the technology in terms of its unique functioning, there will remain the matter of price. Will the new electric or even hybrid cars that may be introduced meet a price point advantage over traditional cars? It seems unlikely.
But there is no free lunch. Expensive they may be for now; there is a reason why the world is becoming electric car friendly. Global manufacturers are launching new models (prominent are Tesla, Audi, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes Benz, Mitsubishi etc.) and the number of electric cars in the world crossed the 2 million mark in 2016, growing by 60 percent in just that year. Over the years, the prices have also fallen.
Electric cars can bring the import bill down considerably in Pakistan as oil imports continue to overpower the current account. These cars also run on a single electrical motor, not requiring additional costs of oiling and other costs associated to the engine. The long term advantages of electric cars are many, but the investment required for these cars to kick off in the market are significant, both on the part of manufacturers and the government. Will Pakistan see a rise in electric cars over the next five years? Only time will tell.