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SWITCH 2021: Shell, Toyota, ION Mobility on the “hope and hype” of EVs in S’pore and beyond

It seems like 2021 is the year of electric vehicles (EVs). With Tesla finally entering our shores and more charging stations mushrooming across the island, Singapore is wholly embracing this shift.

With more technological advancements and Covid-19 precipitating the push for more sustainable forms of urban mobility, EVs are definitely here to stay, whether you like it or not.

In a panel discussion at SWITCH 2021 entitled “The Future of Electric Vehicles” yesterday (Nov 8), the panellists discussed the complexities of adopting electric vehicles, the transition to an electrified future, the practicality of that decision and the stumbling blocks it entails.

The panel consisted of Amr Adel the Senior Vice President Mobility East at Shell, James Chan, founder and Chief Executive Officer at ION Mobility, Prasanna Ganesh the Executive Vice President at Toyota Asia, and moderated by Dale Hardcastle, Co-Director, Global Sustainability Innovation Center at Bain & Company

A year of “hope” and “hype”

Prasanna Ganesh, Executive Vice President of Toyota Asia, began the discussion by categorising this year as one of “hope” and “hype”. He cites the last 18 to 20 months as an unprecedented time where we have faced a life-altering pandemic, and the effects of climate change cannot be ignored anymore.

For Prasanna, the year was hopeful in that many governments made commitments to its net-zero in the context of mobility. To add to that, many new technologies have been getting the attention and funding needed to scale up.

Many new electrified products are being announced, (and) new battery chemistries and technologies, including some policies, are making progress.

I’m personally very happy to see the progress we’re making on hydrogen. Investments are now being rewarded for being green and the fastest-growing segments are in the areas of combating climate change.

Prasanna Ganesh, Executive Vice President at Toyota Asia

While Prasanna acknowledged the strides that have been made in the EV sector and green energy by large, he also noted areas where it has fallen short.

“The discussion on decarbonisation is often just focused on banners and slogans, and actual action on the ground has not been prioritised,” he said.

The discussion has no nuance on how to decarbonise while still sustaining mobility needs economic transition, industry sustainability and customer choice. As is in the era of social media, that discussion is often distinct from the actual issue to bite-sized simplification.

Prasanna Ganesh, Executive Vice President at Toyota Asia

Despite these glaring pitfalls, Prasanna is still hopeful for the future of EVs, which is heading towards carbon neutrality.

What is stopping the move to decarbonisation

Electric vehicle decarbonisation
Image Credit: SWITCH 2021

After all, the end goal of electrification is decarbonisation. In order to move towards this objective, we first have to understand where these CO2 emissions come from.

Prasanna narrowed it down to two broad elements in a formula for decarbonisation: vehicular CO2 emissions and total distance driven.

When it comes to reducing vehicular CO2 emissions for many policymakers and industry players in outlining their approach to carbon neutrality, they would often declare heavy or even absolute adoption of battery electric vehicles.

Even though Prasanna agrees that “the zero tailpipe emissions, be it EVs or battery electric vehicles are indeed one of the optimal solutions that must be implemented”, these are still “heavily dependent on the energy mix”.

Various studies have shown that until renewable energy increases to a significant portion of a country’s energy grid, a strong hybrid electric vehicle could be an equally beneficial or better alternative, considering emissions from battery production and electric charge. Unfortunately, despite encouraging growth in renewable energy, most Asian countries are still heavily fossil-fuel dependent.

Prasanna Ganesh, Executive Vice President at Toyota Asia

The second major element is distance driven. When it comes to the number and type of product trends, Prasanna cites critical factors such as affordability, usage patterns and infrastructure available.

He sees the potential of EVs that are powered by renewable energy that is for personal use and even in logistics.

“We have to maximise all low carbon technology that can support mass deployment to policymakers and industry should embrace and support all electrified or low carbon technologies.”

However, for a sustainable transition to an EV future, a lot hinges on customer acceptance.

“A lot of people talk about TCO (total cost of ownership), but not many people can actually afford a vehicle that gives you a TCO years or seven years. People need to ensure that they are able to get about product could be lower emission reasonably quickly.”

From that perspective, Toyota would like to provide multiple pathways towards carbon neutrality. Carbon neutrality is the goal, Prasana stressed.

An integrated approach towards an electric future

amr adel shell
Image Credit: SWITCH 2021

Amr Adel, Senior Vice President Mobility East at Shell, shared Prasanna’s sentiments of decarbonisation as Shell too is heading towards a net carbon zero footprint by 2050.

For Shell, they have been incredibly busy in terms of innovation, and creativity “in terms of management and implementing the energy transition”.

“I have seen a clear movement towards dialogue and understanding that there’s a migration from slogans into actions and implementations on the ground”, said Amr. To understand the move towards an electrified future, one needs to know that the solution has to be a multi-pronged one.

It’s been wonderful to see and observe that there’s a clear realisation now, from my perspective, that there is no intention of an isolated solution. It’s a multi-dimensional solution that entails and actually dictates that everybody plays to that tune whether it’s governments, society, industry players, and by all means, customers.

Amr Adel, Senior Vice President Mobility East of Shell

To alleviate our current carbon woes, he stressed that we cannot only rely on the energy sector to fix the problem. It is impractical and unrealistic for the world to immediately stop using fossil fuels and diesel.

Instead, this is an energy transition, and more time must be given to allow EV infrastructure to develop that to scale that can support the current appetite.

“It is providing a mosaic of opportunities for low carbon emissions, LNG (liquefied natural gas), hydrogen, and EV charging. Then working together in sync with the governments and industry players.”

E-motorbikes and their unique challenges

james chan ion mobility
Image Credit: SWITCH 2021

In the realm of electric vehicles, things get even more interesting when you throw electric motorbikes into the mix. For James Chan, the founder and CEO of ION Mobility, two-wheeler electric bikes pose their unique set of challenges as well.

Despite the pandemic slowing down social and economic activity during the pandemic, the number of personal mobility devices has remained healthy. There have been motorbike bicycle bands that have completely sold out, but the sales of electric motorbikes have remained muted.

“This tells us that there remains a gap between the desirability and the affordability of what is currently offered on the market with what the consumers want to pay for,” said James.

Given that more than six times motorbikes are being sold in Southeast Asia compared to cars, I think we’ve selected that interesting space upon which to bring us a hardware first business that hopefully can evolve over time to become a software business

James Chan, CEO of ION Mobility
Electric vehicles, electric bike Ion mobility
Image Credit: ION Mobility

When we talk about owning an electric vehicle, one of the limitations is always the lack of charging stations. James acknowledged that the issue does extend to motorbikes, but unlike electric cars, the battery for motorbikes is 10 to 20 times smaller.

Moreover, in the B2B motorbike space, battery swap is a solution. However, for the B2C space, most people would need to use their phones to secure a spot.

To combat this, James believes that the solution lies somewhere in between. “It’s not going to be whole swaps. You don’t want to have that much lithium and nickel sitting in the network waiting for you. It’s not quite like petrol, you can just pour it in,” he explained.

One of the advantages of having an electric motorbike is that it can be charged from the wall socket. With these automotive-grade motorbikes, James believes that we can have the electrified grid as the best distribution with augmented swaps as a way forward.

For him, the answer lies in carbon offsets and renewable energy certificate space.

Between our RECs and carbon offsets. I don’t see them as one or the other. I see the carbon offset journey being a much longer one. I see the REC journey being a much quicker one. Because not everyone’s going to have the luxury of land and technology and infrastructure to produce all the green energy they want.

James Chan, CEO of ION Mobility

The field of EVs is a rapidly developing field where innovation is constantly happening and new developments are happening every day.

When it comes to adopting EVs, there lies a lot of variabilities and there is no quick and easy answer and no one-size-fits-all approach.Still, the topic of EVs remains a vibrant, intriguing space and is our first step to a more sustainable world.


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Featured Image Credit: Screenshot of SWITCH 2021 by Vulcan Post

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