Many people expect electric vehicles to be part of a future world that relies on renewable energy. But few EV companies have started as renewable energy companies.
One company trying to pull off this feat is Bangkok-based Energy Absolute. The biodiesel producer and renewable energy company entered the commercial electric vehicle business in 2019.
In March of this year, Thailand set a target of 1 million electric vehicles on its roads by 2025 – and it hopes that figure will rise to 15 million a decade later. This would include not only private automobiles, but also commercial vehicles – delivery vans, trucks, buses and others.
A former securities trader, Somphote Ahunai, started Energy Absolute in 2006. He took the company public in Thailand in 2013 and started to expand into energy storage in 2016, when the company acquired shares. in Amita Technologies, a Taiwan-based energy storage manufacturer. He 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 the adoption of EVs in Thailand had helped him start the project, and now he says he is urging the government to “open up the market and create a favorable policy for the EV market “.
However, the pandemic affected the company’s foray into electric vehicles. An order for 3,500 five-seater sedans was canceled by a local taxi company as tourism slowed down. Ahunai made a quick turn to focus on utility vehicles and battery storage instead.
“Many manufacturers focus on passenger car. Not many people focus on utility vehicle yet because they don’t know how to speed up vehicle charging and extend battery life,” Ahunai said.
Ahunai’s plan is to install 1,000 charging stations across the country over the next few years.
A charging panel sits at an Energy Absolute Anywhere charging station in Bangkok, Thailand, 2019.
Nicolas Axelrod | Bloomberg | Getty Images
“We have deployed nearly 500 charging stations across the country, mainly in Bangkok and surrounding areas,” Ahunai said, adding that the company holds nearly 80% of the charging station market share in Thailand.
Its focus on commercial vehicles is in line with Thailand’s policy of putting some 70,000 electric utility vehicles into service each year.
“If we succeed in securing [the commercial electric vehicle] segment… then we create economies of scale to allow us to go into other segments, ”like passenger cars, Ahunai said.
Japanese, American and German automakers have all made vehicles in Thailand, but despite the country’s expertise in car manufacturing, it does not have its own brand of internationally recognized vehicle. Ahunai said he believes electric vehicles could change that. He wants Energy Absolute to be at the forefront of this effort.
“We believe that by using [our] technology and Thailand [auto-making] infrastructure, we can use it as a stepping stone to the global market, ”Ahunai said. “At least we can enter the ASEAN market, which has nearly 600 million people. So it’s a good market for us to start with, to start with. “
At present, the bulk of the company’s revenue still comes from renewables such as wind and solar, but Ahunai said his foray into commercial electric vehicles will be a significant 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.