Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fast cars could lead to an EV future

Mar 28. 2019
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By The Nation

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Bangkok should bid to host a Formula E event so Thais can see electric vehicles at their best

There is a good chance that Bangkok could be successful if it were to bid to host the Formula E championship race, an event that’s built up a global audience in the past year or two. Touted as “more environmentally friendly” than the long-established Formula One Grand Prix, the newer, so-called E-Prix has attracted broad attention because it involves 100-per-cent-electric vehicles.

Hong Kong and the Chinese resort-city of Sanya on Hainan Island earlier this month became the fifth and sixth locales, respectively, to host legs of the annual 13-race season, which started in December and will end in July in New York. Just as Hong Kong did, Bangkok could pitch some of its city streets as a potential track for a future race. Being chosen as a host would bring several benefits. 

First, it would send a powerful message to the world community that Thailand is ready to embrace electric vehicles (EVs) with an eye to preserving the environment and curtailing automotive emissions that contribute so much to climate change.

Microscopic PM2.5 particles polluted Bangkok’s air earlier this year and are far from abated as yet – and they continue to befoul other urban centres in the North and Northeast. That problem will only get worse in coming years unless proper steps are taken to reduce our dependence on combustion-engine vehicles and to promote electric passenger cars, trucks, buses and motorbikes.

For decades, Bangkokians have endured unrelenting growth in both population and the number of vehicles on the roads, most of which have the more polluting diesel engines, resulting in worsening air pollution. To bring about the major change necessary, the public needs to start getting excited about EVs, and one way to foster enthusiasm would be showing what the latest such cars can do on the race track. A thrilling race might lead to wider acceptance of electric vehicles for daily street use.

Formula E racing cars are capable of hitting a top speed of nearly 300 kilometres per hour, not far behind the combustion-engine speedsters seen in Formula One. Unlike Formula One, e-racers do not produce ear-splitting engine noise as they fly around the track. Formula E vehicles are more environmentally friendly not just in terms of emissions but also noise pollution.

Hong Kong cordoned off a 1.8km section of inner-core streets for the E-Prix earlier this month. Bangkok could do the same, closing a loop of downtown streets for just the day of the race.

Besides giving a big push to EV awareness and adoption, Bangkok as a major tourist destination would gain immensely from a further boost in foreign visitors. Already the world’s most visited capital several consecutive years in a row, it could use a fresh tourism magnet. An E-Prix would be particularly attractive to younger foreigners who have shown a preference for EVs over combustion-engine vehicles.

The governor of Bangkok should lead the way and consider making a bid to host such an event, making plans and setting up financing in partnership with the private sector. If successful, the event would project a positive image of the city among the global audience that follows the E-Prix on television and in social media.

Aside from the tourism industry, the event would also help the government accelerate its stated national policy of boosting domestic EV production and sales.

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