Bangladesh on the road to an electric future

Isa Khan

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Bangladesh is now nearer than ever to joining the global trend of switching to electric vehicles in the name of saving the environment and cutting down costs. In fact, we are very close to manufacturing electric vehicles in our country.

Local automobile companies such as Bangladesh Auto Industries Ltd (BAIL) and Nitol Motors have been working since 2019 to set up plants to start manufacturing locally. Regulatory policies for EVs are also getting prepared to facilitate importing of EVs. Initiatives from the government, private and international companies present a promising future for EVs in Bangladesh.

The prime minister envisioned an electricity-run transport system when launching new power plants in September this year. Our country lies in a geographically dangerous zone with temperature rise and being one of the prime victims of climate change. The government's concerns regarding the climate issue coupled with our expanding economy seem to create a demand for an efficient and safe transportation system.

Government initiatives
The state-owned transport corporation, Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation, BRTC, is going to introduce 50 e-buses to the public transport system on long routes such as Dhaka to Chattagram. The project will be financed through foreign loans and the Bangladesh Government. If everything goes to plan, the buses will hit the road within two or three years.

The Bangladesh Road Transport Authority, BRTA, the road transport regulatory agency of Bangladesh, has also been working on a draft policy to expedite the import and domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles. The draft discusses Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations construction plans and tariffs. It is currently undergoing review by a committee and will be presented to The Road Transport and Bridges Ministry, where it will be finalised, according to sources.

Electric Vehicle Registration and Operation Guidelines-2018, by BRTA, was first drafted in November 2018. Since then, it has been updated and appears to be on its way to being finalised. It will also bring illegally run electric easy-bikes under control.

On the other hand, the Automobile Industry Development Policy 2021, drafted by the Ministry of Industries, has been okayed by the cabinet, according to multiple reports. It aims to develop the automotive industry in the country and gradually become an exporter. The enterprising policy demands tax holidays and fiscal incentives for investors for producing EVs and parts, tax benefits, restrictions on reconditioned vehicles, fiscal incentives for research and development and a few more benefits.

Private ventures
Bangladesh Auto Industries Limited (BAIL), a local automotive company, was set to manufacture EVs locally from 2020 collaborating with firms from the US, China, India and Italy. It was supposed to complete the planned plant on 100 acres of land at Mirsarai economic zone by the end of 2020 and begin manufacturing in June 2021.

However, the plans have been pushed back due to the global pandemic because suppliers could not ship the required equipment on time.

Nitol Motors, in partnership with one American and two Chinese companies, also planned to start manufacturing EVs in 2020 but had to delay the process because of the coronavirus pandemic.

With a planned project cost of Tk 350 crore, the Ishwardi plant of Nitol will roll out 20,000 units per year. They will have a driving range of 200 km and cost Tk 10-12 lakh. The model, named Suvare, will have a top speed of 120 km per hour.

The plant in Ishwardi and a research and development centre in the capital's Uttara has already been set up. The changed target to start producing cars is by mid-2023.

International help
Bangladesh's willingness to provide land and resources to help develop EVs manufacturing in the country has already started attracting international companies.

Omega Seiki, a member of the India-based Anglian Omega Network, plans to invest Rs100 cr (Tk 116 crore) in setting up electric vehicle development projects in Bangladesh. A UK based energy and environmental consultancy firm, Ricardo-AEA, is persuading the United Kingdom government to invest funds in this sector. The United Nations Development Programme has also offered $1.78 crore to support the charging station infrastructure.

Speaking of barriers, coordination among government agencies related to EV is not yet present, and that creates a great roadblock.

UNDP states that the lack of infrastructure, concerns about the lithium-ion battery's longevity, cost and maintenance of EVs, lack of technical guidelines and regulations will demotivate potential buyers and investors.

The registration cost of EVs is higher than combustion-engine cars and battery production is still very expensive; much of the components and equipment are still being imported. Subsidies on EV production are still not offered in Bangladesh.

EVs in Bangladesh
Tanveer Mostafa, Group Director at Megha Group of Industries, has owned a Tesla Model S P100D since 2017 and he is very content about the recent developments.

"There is almost no servicing cost as the car has very few moving parts.", he said. He has only had to repair a few flat tires and change windshield washer fluid in the past four years. He thinks people will receive EVs positively in Bangladesh because they also cost much less per kilometre.

According to him, the low price of locally manufactured cars will also attract buyers. However, there are some obstacles to owning electric cars right now as the registration process has not yet been designed. "The mileage claims may not show in the real-world driving because of the condition of the roads, traffic and weather in Bangladesh," he added.

These obstacles can be overcome by updating and implementing the draft policies properly.

The way forward
Electric vehicle's share in the global automobile industry is rising quickly and conventional cars are declining. General Motors announced that it would stop selling petrol and diesel cars by 2035. The European Commission unveiled a proposal on 14 July that would effectively ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035. The UK is banning all new conventional petrol and diesel cars by 2030; hybrids will stay until 2035 provided they meet certain strict criteria.

The prime reason behind the world's fascination with EVs is that they have zero tailpipe emission, cost less per kilometre, have fewer moving parts making servicing easier, and so on.

Bangladesh cannot stay in the combustion era forever. Ours is an environmentally tormented country, and to preserve it, we need to make the transition even quicker.

The government's concerns about the environment should come in the form of proper regulations and coordination among related agencies. Expenditures on research and development on EV technologies should be subsidised. Policies taken should be aimed towards encouraging local manufacture of components and reducing dependence on imports.

At this point, Bangladesh seems to be excited about EV technology, but how much of it is realised will be seen through proper initiatives and their implementations.

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