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Nissan Officially Electrifies Philippine Car Market with the LEAF

Nissan introduced the LEAF to the Philippines on May 9, officially plugging the country into the electric vehicle era.

Nissan Philippines Inc. (NPI), the local sales distribution unit which is partly owned by Nissan Motor Corp. of Japan, is focused on an ecosystem approach to LEAF sales and support. The priorities are not only vehicle sales, but also charging stations and a development plan to increase charging stations ahead of sales volume.

It took nearly three years for Nissan to introduce the LEAF in the Philippines. The idea of the EV being part of the Nissan stable was initiated in 2018. In late 2019, NPI confirmed the LEAF’s place in the overall product strategy of the brand. Pricing, charging infrastructure, and the pandemic disrupted the original September 2020 launch. Nissan decided to push through with an “unofficial” launch, bringing the car to public view and showing it off to various government agencies, giving test drives and carefully introducing the idea that the car would be expensive, mainly because of the way imported vehicles are taxed in the Philippines.

“Finally bringing the Nissan LEAF to the Philippines is a high point in our efforts throughout the years to inform and educate the Filipino public on the benefits of EV adoption. The Nissan LEAF is key to realizing our vision of enriching Filipino lives towards a more connected, sustainable, and resilient society,” Atsushi Najima, President and Managing Director of Nissan in the Philippines, said in a virtual media press conference.

Nissan Leaf in Philippines

First commercially, but not the first

The LEAF may be the Philippines’ first commercially available EV, but it is not the very first.

The first all-electric vehicle from an automobile manufacturer to be mass marketed came from Chinese carmaker Chery, in 2011. It was one day late with its introduction at the Manila International Auto Show, but eventually made it. The compact Chery M1 and tiny QQ were designed to be sold in volumes. The timing of its launch was very bad, though.

The coming of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would lower duties from 30% down to 0–5%. Managing freight and acquisition costs from the maker and a separate battery supplier were additional tactics to lower the price. But when introduced it failed to gain traction primarily because of the short 50–80 kilometers traveling distance and a lack of charging infrastructure, though the car came with a bulky “portable” power charger.

Moreover, the intended pricing was never achieved. CAFTA didn’t happen until 5 years later, and the local battery supplier would not produce the deep-cycle lead-acid battery packs at the originally agreed price. Despite support from Chery China, the electric version of the QQ (a Chevrolet Spark knockoff) was to be sold for P590,000 [$28,910] while its gasoline-powered version was priced at only P360,000 [$7,500]. As none of the expectations for the two tiny EVs materialized, the project failed.

BYD, another Chinese automaker, present in the US through electric and hybrid buses, brought in the e6 EV in 2016. The pure electric crossover uses lithium-ion batteries and has a driving range of 300 km in one full charge and consumes 25 kWh per 100 km, or 1.9 km/ kWh. No vehicle has ever been actually sold until today, though BYD has other hybrid cars, the Tang Hybrid, that actually have found their way to some buyers.

In 2018, Hyundai introduced the Ioniq — though, technically, not for sale in high volumes. It was available to anyone who wanted it, on a per-order basis. As of this writing, it is unclear whether units have actually been sold. 

The same is true for Mitsubishi’s Outlander PHEV, which has been available since 2016. The reason for plugin hybrids was of course, to dispel range anxiety in a country where, before 2021, the only charging stations available were for electric tricycles and buses.

Since we are on the topic of hybrids, it is of note to mention that in 2009, Toyota Motor Philippines introduced the Prius. It had a hefty price tag and sold fewer than two hundred in its lifetime despite going into a model change 3 years later, the introduction of the smaller Prius C. Things may change now that Toyota has brought in the Corolla Hybrid as well. 

Nissan LEAF’rogs obstacles

The company “unofficially” launched the car last September 2020, to make good on a promise it made before the pandemic. A roadshow to present the car to various government offices, schools, and the public was conducted over a period of a week.

It is priced at P2.79 million ($56,500), which is over $24,000 more than the $31,620 sticker price at US dealers for the base model. The pricing makes it unappealing and unaffordable to most Filipinos, even those who want to get an electric vehicle. The simplest way to understand the convoluted tax and duties structures is simply this: 30% duties are levied on vehicles not imported from the ASEAN region, which now enjoys duties of between only 0% to 5%. If the vehicle is made in Japan, the same 30% import duties are levied (except if it falls under a strange category that exempts luxury vehicles like Lexus from the harsh taxes). So, whether the LEAF in the Philippines is sourced from Symrna, TN, or from Kanagawa in Japan, or the Sunderland plant in the UK, it still won’t enjoy any significant tax breaks.

Answering a question at the media forum two weeks ago, NPI President Atsushi Najima told CleanTechnica that pricing is an ongoing struggle. But to make not only the LEAF successful, but also overall electric vehicle adoption in the Philippines, cooperation of all manufacturers and related sectors is crucial.

“We will work with everybody, the European, the Chinese EV makers to hasten electric vehicle adoption in the Philippines,” Najima declared.

Nissan is establishing 7 charging stations in the country through its dealerships — which, compared to current US standards, is paltry. But this needs to be referenced in terms of the vehicle market too. When the LEAF arrived in the US, it only had over a hundred charging stations. This blossomed to 2,600 four years later, and today, including alternative plug-in stations, over 41,000 are available across the US.

In the Philippines, Nissan is at the forefront of creating the largest nationwide EV charging station network, starting with three ready to receive plug-ins. The locations of the EV charging stations are strategic in terms of geography covered — designed to enable LEAF owners to travel the full extent of the 300+ kilometer single-charge range of the car.

47 years of electrics

For Nissan, this realization developed over 21 years since the creation of its first production-viable EV, the Hypermini, which was not launched despite technical competence and achievement because battery technologies were not yet fully developed. The first Nissan LEAF, launched in 2010 in the United States and Japan, represented not only leaps in energy and battery technology development but also in powertrain technologies, which was observed from a distance by other carmakers.

Unlike other carmakers who entered the field early, Nissan opted to take the full electric vehicle route, instead of a hybrid approach, because it was targeting a completely zero-emission footprint from the vehicle side. Hybrids operate with small displacement petrol engines, to take away the biggest fear of electric vehicle owners — running out of power in the middle of nowhere.

And the payoff for sticking to its electric-only approach has paid off in terms of advancements in production, technology, and testing capabilities. Its knowledge and research is deep in terms of alternative fuel vehicles, as it has been in the business of making electric vehicles — in prototype and production forms — for 47 years. And primarily because of the LEAF, it is the number one seller of EVs in the world.

 
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Written By

Raymond Gregory Tribdino is the motoring & information technology editor of Malaya Business Insight (www.malaya.com.ph) in the Philippines. He has been covering automotive, transport, and IT since 1992. His passion for electric vehicles started with the failed electrification of a scooter in 1994. He wrote for EVWorld.com, one of the pioneer electric vehicle websites, in 1997. He was a college professor for 8 years at the Philippine Women’s University. He is also now a podcaster co-hosting for the Philippines' top-rated YouTube tech site “TechSabado” and the baby-boomer popular “Today is Tuesday.” He is a husband and father of five, a weekend mechanic and considers himself a handyman, an amateur ecologist, and environmentalist. He is back to trying to electrify motorcycles starting with a plug-in trail motorcycle.

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