Many people expect electric vehicles to be inventory in a future world that depends on renewable energy. But not many EV companies started as renewable energy companies.
One company that is trying to achieve that feat is Bangkok-based Energy Absolute. The biodiesel manufacturer and the company for renewable energy branched out into the commercial electric car business in 2019.
In March this year, Thailand set a goal of 1 million electric vehicles on the roads by 2025 ̵[ads1]1; and they hope that the number will grow to 15 million a decade later. This will include not only private cars, but commercial vehicles – vans, trucks, buses and the like.
A former securities trader, Somphote Ahunai, started Energy Absolute in 2006. He listed the company on the Thai stock exchange in 2013 and began expanding into energy storage in 2016, when the company bought shares in Taiwan-based Amita Technologies, an energy storage manufacturer. It is now in the final stages of building a $ 3 billion battery gigafactory project to make lithium-ion batteries.
Ahunai told CNBC’s “Managing Asia” that the government’s efforts to promote EV adoption in Thailand have helped him start the project, and now he says he urges the government to “open up the market and create a favorable policy for the EV market. “
However, the pandemic has affected the company’s entry into electric cars. An order for 3,500 five-seater station wagons was canceled by a local taxi company when tourism dried up. Ahunai made a quick pivot to focus on commercial vehicles and battery storage instead.
“Many manufacturers, they focus on the passenger car. Not many people focus on the commercial vehicle yet, because they can not overcome how to make the vehicle charge faster and make the battery last longer,” said Ahunai.
Ahunai’s plan is to install 1,000 charging stations nationwide over the next few years.
A charging sign is sitting at an Energy Absolute Anywhere charging station in Bangkok, Thailand, 2019.
Nicolas Axelrod | Bloomberg | Getty pictures
“We have rolled out almost 500 charging stations across the country, mainly in Bangkok and the surrounding area,” said Ahunai, adding that the company has almost 80% market share for charging stations in Thailand.
His focus on commercial vehicles is in line with Thailand’s policy of putting around 70,000 commercial electric vehicles on the roads annually.
“If we succeed in securing [the commercial electric vehicle] segment … then we create economies of scale for us to enter the other segments, “such as passenger cars, Ahunai said.
Japanese, American and German car manufacturers have all produced cars in Thailand, but despite the country’s car manufacturer expertise, it does not have its own internationally recognized vehicle brand. Ahunai said he thinks electric cars can change that. He wants Energy Absolute to be the front and center for this effort.
“We believe that by using [our] technology and Thailand [auto-making] infrastructure, we can use it to be the springboard to the global market, “said Ahunai.” We can at least enter the ASEAN market, which has almost 600 million inhabitants. So it’s a good market for us in the beginning, to begin with. “
Right now, the bulk of the company’s revenue still comes from renewable energy such as wind and solar, but Ahunai said his entry into commercial electric cars will be an important source of future revenue.
“If you look at what we invest [in] now, “he said,” it will totally change the revenue structure of the company in a few years. “