Electric Vehicles to Dominate in Philippines’ Jeepney Modernization
The Philippines’ long-awaited Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program has gotten underway in earnest, with the effort being primarily directed toward replacing the country’s iconic — but environmentally unfriendly and hair-raisingly unsafe — jeepneys with greener and safer alternatives.
The jeepney modernization will see the mainstay of the Philippines’ public transportation network replaced with a largely electric vehicle fleet, and is the biggest component of the comprehensive initiative announced by the government in 2016. Other parts of the program, which the government hopes to complete by 2020, include overhauling the public transport route planning and franchising system; upgrading the country’s bus, taxi, and tricycle fleets; eliminating single-unit and other small operators by combining them into larger groups; and phasing out the “boundary” system in favor of regularized daily pay for transport drivers and conductors.
There are an estimated 180,000 to 230,000 jeepneys operating in the Philippines, the largest concentration of which — about 70,000 — are in and around Metro Manila.
The Department of Transportation has estimated that no fewer than 80 percent of the country’s jeepneys are more than 15 years old. Under an obsolescence program launched in January, jeepney owners are paid a flat price of P30,000 per vehicle, and can claim a subsidy of five percent (up to P80,000) toward the purchase of a new jeepney.
A DoTr spokesman told Motion Digest earlier this month that as of the end of January, approximately 1,100 old jeepneys had been removed from the road under the program. So far only a few of those have been replaced, but as the program accelerates, the next generation jeepneys are expected to appear in increasing numbers.
EVs take the Lead
For the foreseeable future, most if not all of those next-generation jeepneys will be EVs. The Philippines has a lively EV sector, producing primarily scooters and tricycles, and versions of e-Jeepneys have been operated on a limited scale for several years.
Currently, there are three distinct options among the e-Jeepney models available: One that is operated on a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) model, somewhat similar to the way Uber functions; three models varying in size from local EV builder PhUV Inc.; and a partial-solar model offering three body variations from Australia-based manufacturer Star8.
The COMET (Community Optimized Electric Transport) is a 16-passenger BEV produced by Vancouver, Washington-based Pangea, and is distributed and operated in the Philippines by Global Electric Transport Inc. (GET), founded by a former congressman. The COMET enjoys a bit of an experience edge over its rivals in that it was the first standardized model to be deployed at significant scale in the country; GET has operated the COMET on a couple of shuttle routes in Metro Manila and around the sprawling Clark Freeport industrial zone in Central Luzon since mid-2014.
GET also gained an early advantage by signing an agreement with one of the Philippines’ largest transport groups, Pasang Masda, to supply 10,000 COMETs as replacements for group members’ old jeepneys over a period of three years. That initiative has been delayed to some extent by top management changes at the company and the development and launch of the DoTr Modernization Program, but the GET-Pangea partnership is still aiming to deliver a total of 35,000 COMETs by 2021.
Those vehicles will in all likelihood not be the existing 16-passenger COMET, but a larger 30-passenger model called the COMET 3. An example of the COMET 3 was demonstrated in Manila in December 2017 and features an uprated powertrain with longer range (up to 150 km on a single charge, compared to a maximum of 85 km for the smaller COMET), and accommodation for wheelchair-bound persons with disabilities. The COMET 3 is due to begin arriving in the Philippines sometime in the second half of 2018.
The most significant difference between the COMET and the other vehicle options available under the jeepney modernization program is that the COMET is not actually available for free-standing sale.
“Investors are not purchasing a vehicle, but are rather forming a transport route corporation,” GET explains, a type of franchise under which the company maintains physical ownership of the vehicle and bears most of the maintenance costs. “We earn from the number of kilometers traveled, not the number of vehicles sold,” GET adds.
While this does provide some advantages such as greatly reduced operating costs, centralized route management, and the opportunity for drivers to earn a fixed daily income, it is the most expensive of the available options. The list price of the COMET 3 reportedly pegged at $43,500 (P2.26 million), considerably higher than the P2 million upper limit the DoTr has said it would like to maintain.
The best developed solution for jeepney replacement as of now, the e-Jeepneys assembled and distributed by Philippines-based PhUV Inc. offer a range of capacities to suit various routes. Ranging in price from P1.3 million to P1.6 million ($25,000 to $30,800), the PhUV models are available in 14-, 16-, and 27-passenger versions.
The smallest of the three, called the “Alamid,” is intended for use on short-range shuttle or feeder routes, is powered by a 7 kW motor capable of driving the 1,250 kg vehicle at 40-45 kph. The 84v/225Ah battery pack requires 8-10 hours for a full charge, good for 55-70 km of driving range, depending on load and road conditions.
The largest PhUV model, called the “Aguinaldo,” is positioned as a direct replacement for the conventional 22-26 passenger jeepney, and has similar performance: Load capacity of nearly 2 metric tons, top speed (electronically limited) of 60 kph, and a full charge range of 85 km.
The biggest advantage PhUV e-Jeepneys offer is an extensive service network, organized with the help of the Electric Vehicle Association of the Philippines (EVAP), and the fact that the vehicles are assembled in the Philippines. Even the supplier of the initial designs and some of the imported powertrain components, Taiwan-based Teco, has opened a manufacturing center in the Philippines, greatly simplifying the supply chain.
Star8 Solar Jeepney
A relative latecomer to the market, Australia-based Star8’s Solar Jeepney may present the best overall value of the currently available options, thanks to its solar-assisted charging system that reduces daily power costs to as little as P80 ($1.60) per day, compared to P400 to P500 for most other e-Jeepneys, and an average of P1,100 in fuel for a diesel-powered jeepney.
Fitted with a rooftop solar panel in addition to its standard charging system, the 20-passenger Solar Jeepney is powered by a 6V/225Ah battery system (arranged in two banks of 12), driving a 16.6 kW motor producing a top speed of 45 kph. A full charge of 10 hours is good for 85-100 km of travel, with the solar system adding another 10-15 km of range during daylight operations.
The Star8 is available in three configurations, open, closed, and air-conditioned, and features such touches as provisions for WiFi and individual electric fans above the rear cabin seats. Prices are comparable to other e-Jeepneys, ranging from P1.3 million to P1.6 million.
In mid-2017, Star8 announced the intention to provide up to 1,300 Solar Jeepneys to local government units throughout the Philippines. So far, a fleet of 45 of the vehicles has been deployed in Tacloban in the central Philippines — the city devastated by 2013’s catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan — and the Solar Jeepney has attracted “numerous” private customers, primarily resorts, according to the company.
On the Horizon
With development in the EV segment well underway, Philippine manufacturers and transport operators are next turning their attention to development of program-compliant diesel-powered jeepneys. Despite the country’s experience in building jeepneys, this aspect of the program has lagged, in part because the quick solution — modifying existing vehicles with Euro 4-compliant engines — has largely been a failure.
The Philippine Truck Manufacturers Association, which is developing light commercial vehicle platforms for the PUV Modernization Program explained that the Euro 4 emission system is not just about a change of engine alone.
“It is a complete emission system that measures not only the quality of the exhaust fumes but also the performance of the engine, fuel system, air intake and exhaust systems, engine management, performance feedback system, on-board diagnostics, and many more. Therefore, Euro 4-compliant vehicle performance cannot be met by merely replacing a used surplus diesel engine with a Euro 4 diesel engine. It is not as simple as this, as some groups have proposed…the vehicle will not pass the Euro 4 certification process.”
While effective solutions will undoubtedly become available in the near future, a recent overhaul of the Philippines’ tax structure may make cost a significant concern, no matter how efficient the new diesels are. Changes in the fuel excise tax have driven up diesel and petrol prices by slightly more than 25 percent since the beginning of the year, and under a best-case scenario, fuel taxes will continue to rise by 4 to 10 percent per year for the next several years. Given the uncertainty over this and availability of vehicle options, as well as the government’s open support for EV adoption, e-Jeepneys seem set to enjoy a clear advantage for some time to come.