The 2nd regional Nissan Futures Conference was held in Hong Kong last March 8 to 10. With further data reinforcements from Frost & Sullivan on the Future of Asia and Oceania’s cities on top of the knowledge shared from last year’s conference in Singapore, the regional media was presented with updated statistics confirming the current status of key cities in the region together with each country’s unique challenges in order to appreciate both the solutions and difficulties in adopting mobility electrification to address the preservation of our natural environment, improve our daily lives with a vibrant and sustainable future while significantly reducing mobility congestion.
I applaud Nissan’s aggressive policies, strategies, and products to enlighten everyone to the problems we all face collectively as we share our planet. Aside from both international and domestic governmental regulations and policies that have already been set with more to follow as we all try to improve our lives for today and the future, Nissan also used the opportunity to announce that they would definitely be importing both the standard and enhanced versions of the 2nd generation LEAF to our Philippine market in 2020. It’s a great confirmation but it’s honestly particularly bittersweet for us for two reasons that are bound together. One, we projected that the Nissan LEAF, and other fully EV, Hybrid, and alternative fuel vehicles from other brands would already be brought in and be available to consumers within the year thanks to the excise tax exceptions and lower tariffs written into law by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, officially cited as Republic Act No. 10963, signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte on December 19, 2017 and became effective on January 1, 2018.
Which leads to the tethered second issue. After more than a year since the law took effect, the Implementing Rules and Regulations (also known as the IRR) which provides the precise instructions, details, and implementation of the changes introduced under the TRAIN, which covers incentives for EV, Hybrid, Alternative Fuel, and Pick-Up trucks, HAVE NOT BEEN submitted to the LTO for action. What does this mean to both the consumers and automotive industry? Even if you desire an EV vehicle and bought one today, you wouldn’t be legally allowed to use the said vehicle on public roads because you still can’t technically register it and get a license plate since the LTO still uses its current policies that require a stenciled engine number and chassis number when registering. Oh wait, since the IRR is not in play, all the incentives cannot be applied yet either. Brilliant isn’t it.
With the all-new 2nd generation Nissan LEAF having a range of 240 kilometers in standard form and 363 kilometers in the more powerful LEAF Plus, they and their direct competition with similar capacities, have more than enough daily driving range for the general consumer in our country. So, what we need to do now is persuade our government to ACT more swiftly on releasing the IRR for the said EV and Hybrid vehicles together with reminding them to police and aggressively implement the clean air act. In order to effectively reduce traffic and improve our environment, it is imperative that we aggressively enforce the laws already in place building on REPUBLIC ACT No. 8749 also known as the PHILIPPINE CLEAN AIR ACT OF 1999 (authored by Senator Miguel Zubiri).
I’ve been repeating myself every year with the same set of solutions yet our government still keeps pursuing every obtuse angle to serve some sort of quasi-appearance of effort. So, instead of suppressing the hard-working men and women of our society that genuinely contribute to the common good by imposing higher taxes and more aggressive number-coding traffic measures, our government would best serve the nation by doing the unpopular but immediately effective actions of instilling strict discipline in regulating traffic while simultaneously prohibiting any vehicle that is not fit for public roads.
What makes a vehicle unfit? It is not age. There are immaculately and passionately maintained cars on the road that are almost 70 years old but they genuinely pass emissions, have all the properly functioning lights and drivetrain, and religiously register and pay for their privilege to use our roads. The perennial problem has always been that the modest cars, motorcycles, and trucks that are almost always ignored for pity or camaraderie’s sake are allowed to grow exponentially on the road without any regulation. We have all witnessed how the authorities allow public utility jeeps, buses and tricycles, to do what they wish while they also create the most devastating amount of air pollution that is progressively killing their occupants with all the poison they create from their poorly maintained vehicles. These guys also don’t follow the same rules on the road and are rarely caught unless the cops are being watched by the press or some VIP who is checking that particular spot for that period of time. You can easily count how many of them actually follow rules and don’t pollute.
Last May 5, 2017, Public Utility Vehicles in Quezon City, in a single day exercise of inspecting 88 vehicles, the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) stated that 76% to 86% failed the emission standard. If these vehicles have been penalized with a three-step progressively increasing system of financial penalties, on the 4th strike these vehicles would have then been grounded permanently. This system alone would heavily reduce the number of vehicles unfit for public roads, help improve our air quality, and it would give the government the funds that they need for infrastructure development.
For additional perspective, our famously plentiful 7,107 islands have a total land area of 301,780 square kilometers (116,518 sq. miles), which is slightly larger than the state of Arizona in the United States, and sold 404,051 vehicles in 2016. The massive difference though is that less than 7 million people live in the desert state while we have almost 120 million population. Now, California, a US state that more readers may be able to relate to with its majestic wide-open spaces and some of the greatest roads on the planet, is 122,185 square kilometers (47,176 sq. miles) larger than the Philippines and has a current population of about 42 million. California sold over 2.4 million cars for 2016 yet traffic is only truly horrific in the Los Angeles area during rush hour. The state of California has been selling cars with huge numbers like that for decades. Vehicle retail prices in the US, especially in California, are also very consumer friendly. And since cars have to be maintained properly and pass emissions to be able to be used on public roads, most of the cars, which include some real old classics, are still on the tarmac despite the huge new car sales yet travel is still very manageable and very enjoyable. My point? With proper discipline and regulation, we should be able to enjoy driving in our country as well, and since we now have a President that leads with an iron fist, I’m hoping he and his cabinet would raise our countrymen further by instituting real practical measures to alleviate our traffic problems that sicken our nation.
I do recognize that there have been great strides in building new roads and infrastructure but even if the body may be made stronger, the arteries that feed the system will limit it. The traffic cancer must be dealt with directly and swiftly, precisely so we can all enjoy exploring our beautiful country without compromising our environment.
Aside from the announcement of the importation of the LEAF, three particular panelists stood out for different reasons; Dr. Maarten Sierhuis, Chief Technology Director, Silicon Valley, Nissan Research Center, Tim Washington, Founder of JET Charge, Australia, and our very own Leonido “Bodie” Pulido III, Assistant Secretary Department of Energy.
Maarten led a team of researchers tasked with developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for autonomous vehicles, connected vehicles and Human-Machine Interaction and Interfaces (HMI²) to help shape the future of intelligent cars capable of driving themselves. Maarten spent 12 years at NASA where he created a computer language that was used to develop an intelligent system for all communication between Mission Control and the International Space Station. He also developed an autonomous system to monitor and give advice to astronauts during spacewalks. The key fundamental personal principle that he expressed during the conference really struck home for me. While he develops the ultra-sophisticated Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for Nissan, human interaction and the ability to take control will still be at the core of the new systems.
Washington is the founder of the JET Charge company in Australia which is the largest supplier, installer and manager of electric vehicle charging stations there. He is more than a successful and energetic businessman; he and his company are literally leading the charge in EV adoption in Australia by reducing the barriers to EV charging and creating practical solutions for consumers.
Pulido certainly made our Philippine media contingent proud with his eloquence and thoughtfulness while also being entertaining. His keynote about embracing the future while protecting each country’s unique heritage was a masterstroke.
Rounding out the Nissan Futures symposium this year was a media test drive of the LEAF on public Hong Kong roads that took us to areas mostly traversed by locals, and witnessing the Formula E-Prix racing series in the Hong Kong Central Harbourfront with Sébastien Buemi and Oliver Rowland at the helm of their Nissan Team DAMS ABB FIA Formula E Championship racecars.