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Segment Y in the press
Nissan considers introduction of electric cars in Thailand
Alysha Webb,14 August '13
Segment Y in the press
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Nissan is scoping out the electric car market in Bangkok.

It just signed a memorandum of understanding with the Metropolitan Electricity Authority there to test the Nissan LEAF.

"We have started by readying the infrastructure in order to make sure that Nissan's electric vehicle technology will respond to customer requirements effectively and gain positive response in the Thai market," said Nissan Motors Thailand president Takayuki Kimura.

A pure electric vehicle is unlikely to be popular with Thai consumers, said Paul Blokland, director at Segment Y, a Bangkok-based consultancy.

Bangkok is hot and humid. Temperatures soar to more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and the humidity means running a car's AC full-blast most of the time. Now add relatively long commuting distances for many Thai drivers.

"These are not ideal conditions for electric vehicles," Blokland said.

To date, four LEAFs have been sold in Thailand, all in 2012, said Blokland. The LEAF might make sense in Bangkok as part of a "mobility package" that included another car, he said. "Whether that would fly in Thailand, I don't know."

Lower taxes on hybrid gas-electric vehicles - the non-plug-in variety - make then fairly popular in Thailand, said Blokland. "The Thai customer is not that interested in the technology but they like the fact that they can get a Camry or a Jazz [sold as Fit here] effectively at a discount," he said.

No plug-in electric vehicles are currently for sale in Thailand, said Benjamin Asher, an analyst at a provider of automotive forecasts in Thailand.

As for the suitability of the market for pure electric vehicles, he agrees with Blokland that demand is likely to be low among consumers.

People are moving to the suburbs and "long traffic jams with air-conditioning on full would no doubt take a toll on the battery," Asher said.

Though there is a trend for professionals who work in Bangkok to move to the city from the outer regions, that is usually a second home, he said. They buy a car so they can go home on weekends to see their family.

"So while the daily commute may be short, they would also want range to get back to their home-towns," he said.

Bangkok is not so different in that from another Asian cities like Beijing. There, traffic jams are terrible and commutes can be long, in time as well as distance.

Beijingers also often buy cars so they can get out of the polluted and congested city on weekends, so range will be an issue.

One advantage Bangkok does have over Beijing - some 70% of Bangkok's energy is from relatively clean natural gas. Most of Beijing's electricity comes from burning coal.

Let's not forget the Nissan LEAF and other electric cars have no tailpipe.

So even if consumers might be slow to adopt EVs, governments will recognise electric cars add no emissions to city air while long lines of other cars are stuck motionless in grid-locked traffic jams, idling and spewing pollution.