Text and photos by Iñigo S. Roces
The internal combustion engine is slowly falling out of favor. Following the recent leaps and bounds made by electric and alternative fuel vehicles as well as scandals and allegations of cheating by major companies over fuel consumption and emission figures, perhaps it's about time consumers and even some European governments have set a deadline for their demise. Set to take over are the electric cars, but are we ready to receive and run them?
Nissan is on the path to finding out. Early this year, it held the Nissan Futures event, a series of talks with experts on various topics concerning the state of the future of our favorite vehicles.
Frost & Sullivan
Serving as the perfect appertizer and a barometer of regional interest was the recent study conducted by research firm, Frost & Sullivan, into the market viability of electrified cars in South East Asian countries: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and of course, the Philippines.
The study sampled car buyers in the region and yielded some surprising results. First of all, the most interesting of all is that interest in electric vehicles is high. Overall in South East Asia, 37-percent of customers are willing to consider an electric car as their next purchase. In the Philippines, specifically, that number rises to an even higher 46-percent.
Perhaps the second, least surprising response, was the need for more charging stations. 70-percent of respondents said that the availability of charging stations, particularly in the vicinity of their homes, is of prime importance. Besides this, Filipino buyers are most concerned about the source of the energy used to charge the vehicle, leaning favorably to renewable resources.
Naturally, the main incentive to get one is favorable costs, not just in the long run but upon purchase. As much as 75-percent of the South East Asians surveyed say a tax waiver on EV cars is the biggest motivation to purchase.
All this was very telling, especially to established and up and coming vehicle manufacturers that have been hesitating to offer electric cars in our market. Their once prohibitive prices are also ancient history, thanks to the newly implemented TRAIN law. A provision in the new excise tax scheme grants a 50-percent discount on excise tax commitments that hybrids will receive under the new tax reform law. Fully electric vehicles with no internal combustion power source are exempt from excise taxes completely.
With the interest and desire there, as well as the taxes in place, the only ingredient left is charging stations. Currently, there are only a literal handful of charging stations available in the country and not exactly readily accessible to any buyer. Yet with Meralco and many other fuel companies looking into the possibility of putting up charging stations, that may change very soon.
So what could our electric future be like? For now, with the lack of charging stations, Nissan, for one, could start us off with e-Power before offering the Leaf.
For those unfamiliar, e-Power is Nissan's means of transitioning buyers from internal combustion to electric vehicles. Like typical hybrids, Nissan's e-Power system relies on an internal combustion engion to charge its battery, which in turn powers the electric motor. Unlike other hybrids, any Nissan bearing the e-Power badge cannot run exclusively on the internal combustion engine. Power will always come from the electric motor. In effect, the engine only serves as a generator for the battery and electric motor.
After a day of talks and presentations, we were brought up to the Nanyang Technological University's Center of Excellence for Testing and Research of AVs or CETRAN. In this controled space, many experimental and autonomous driving vehicles are first driven and evaluated before being let loose on Singapore's roads. Nissan had the Leaf on hand, along with the the standard Note hatchback with a gasoline engine, and the Note with the e-Power unit.
Driven back to back, the Note with e-Power was far smoother, quieter and more pleasurable to drive. The petrol engine only kicked in when the battery was running low, and was practically imperceptible when it did.
The one-pedal Leaf
Even more intriguing was Nissan's Leaf. Looking less like a futuristic bubble car and more like a premium European car, it now does a better job of blending in than sticking out. Armed with Nissan's e-Pedal, driving it is also easy. Nissan's e-Pedal system is designed to allow for one-pedal driving. The more pressure you apply, the faster it goes. Let go and it starts to brake itself. Modulate the pedal smoothly and you can practically drive without touching the brake pedal. Of course the brake is still there to stop in emergencies, but if you drive conscienciously enough, there's actually no need for it.
Indeed, the future of driving, at least as far as Nissan and elctrified vehicles are concerned, is quite interesting. We might still be a year or two away from being able to purchase our first electric car, but at least we already have something to look forward to.