Bhutan plans to become an electric vehicles hotspot

THIMPHU: The small South Asian nation of Bhutan is leading the global revolution in green technology by replacing conventional cars with modern electric vehicles. It is not the first time that Bhutan has attracted international attention. Bhutan also made headlines when it pioneered the concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as opposed to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of a nation’s success.

Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay announced that plans are underway to first replace government vehicles with the electric car Nissan Leaf and then slowly replace conventional gasoline, diesel taxis and private family cars with electric vehicles assembled locally by ThunderMotors.

The Financial Times reported that Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan met Mr Tobgay in Thimphu recently for talks on the supply of cars and battery charging systems. It was also said that Mr Tobgay has been in touch with other electric vehicle makers including Tesla of the US.

“This government is going to attempt to make Thimphu an electric vehicle hotspot. We are confident that electric vehicles can take off here,” Mr Tobgay said in an interview to reporters.

Bhutan has a per-capita income of $2,420. It may not seem the ideal market for a car that costs around $20,000. But Bhutanese officials, Nissan executives and Tashi Wangchuk of Thunder Motors, were reported by Financial Times saying Thimphu and its population of 120,000 present the ideal opportunity for such a venture. Electricity is cheap, most road trips are short, residents depend heavily on a fleet of 3,500 small taxis and the introduction of hundreds of electric vehicles will have an immediate impact in a small city that would be impossible to achieve in a metropolis such as Tokyo.

Government officials also argue the move would save the country money in the long run because it would no longer have to import expensive fuels and could instead rely on its capacity to produce cheap hydroelectric power. They further added that a typical taxi driver would see his daily fuel costs fall from $13 to about 16 cents.

“Nissan applauds the initiative taken by the Bhutanese government to leapfrog oil-dependent mobility in favour of zero-emission transport and is keen to support their ambitions,” the company said.

Thunder Motor’s Mr Wangchuk, an environmental scientist turned entrepreneur said “Electricity is like oil for us. It is the most abundant resource and it makes a lot of sense to go all electric”.