Thai firm switches to electric vehicles from renewable energy sources

Many people expect electric vehicles to become an integral part of a renewable energy future. But not many EV companies started out as renewable energy companies.

One company attempting this feat is Energy Absolute from Bangkok. In 2019, a biodiesel manufacturer and a renewable energy company entered the commercial electric vehicle market.

In March this year, Thailand set a goal to bring 1 million electric vehicles onto its roads by 2025 – and hopes that in ten years that figure will rise to 15 million. This will include not only private cars, but also commercial vehicles – vans, trucks, buses and the like.

Former securities trader Somfot Akhunai founded Energy Absolute in 2006. He listed the company in Thailand in 2013 and began expanding into energy storage in 2016 when the company acquired shares in Taiwanese energy battery manufacturer Amita Technologies. It is now in the final stages of construction of a $ 3 billion gigafactory for the production of lithium-ion batteries.

Ahunai told CNBC Managing Asia that the government’s efforts to promote electric vehicle adoption in Thailand helped kickstart the project, and he now says he is urging the government to “open up the market and create favorable policies for the electric vehicle market.”

However, the pandemic has affected the company’s foray into electric vehicles. An order for 3,500 five-seat hatchbacks has been canceled by a local taxi company as tourism has dried up. Ahunai quickly switched to commercial vehicles and batteries.

“Many manufacturers are focusing on passenger cars. Not many people are focusing on trucks yet because they cannot decide how to speed up the car charging and extend the battery life, ”Akhunai said.

Ahunai’s plan is to install 1,000 charging stations across the country over the next few years.

The charging sign is at the 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 and around Bangkok,” Ahunai said, adding that the company owns almost 80% of the charging station market in Thailand.

Its focus on commercial vehicles is in line with Thailand’s policy of producing about 70,000 commercial electric vehicles a year.

Learn more about electric vehicles from CNBC Pro

“If we successfully defend [the commercial electric vehicle] segment … then we create economies of scale to move on to other segments, “such as cars,” said Ahunai.

Japanese, American and German automakers manufacture vehicles in Thailand, but despite the country’s experience in the automotive industry, they do not have their own globally recognized car brand. Ahunai said he believed electric vehicles could change that. He wants the Energy Absolute to be the focus of these efforts.

“We believe that using [our] technology and Thailand [auto-making] infrastructure, we can use it as a springboard to enter the world market, – said Akhunai. “At least we can enter the ASEAN market, which has a population of almost 600 million. So this is a good market to start with. “

Right now, the bulk of the company’s revenue still comes from renewable energy sources like wind and solar, but Ahunai said his foray into commercial electric vehicles will be an important source of future revenue.

“If you look at what we are investing in [in] now, “he said,” in a few years, it will completely change the structure of the company’s income. “

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