Sat | Jul 31, 2021

Car dealers ready to test Jamaica’s readiness for full electric vehicles

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2021 | 12:17 AMKarena Bennett - Business Reporter

Duncan Stewart, managing director of Stewarts Automotive Group.
Duncan Stewart, managing director of Stewarts Automotive Group.

Jamaica’s electric vehicle market, and the ecosystem to drive it, is still in its infancy, but Stewart’s Auto Sales is moving to test the country’s readiness for full-EVs with the Jaguar I-Pace, one of which it sold to the British High Commission...

Jamaica’s electric vehicle market, and the ecosystem to drive it, is still in its infancy, but Stewart’s Auto Sales is moving to test the country’s readiness for full-EVs with the Jaguar I-Pace, one of which it sold to the British High Commission last week.

The full-EV version being tested by the 83-year-old car dealership pushes Jamaica a notch beyond the EV variants the country now imports.

Over the past five years, Stewart’s Auto and one of its biggest competitors, ATL Automotive, has been marketing plug-in hybrid vehicles, or PHEVs, through luxury brands Mercedes Benz C350e and GLC300e, Kia Niro, and the Porsche Cayenne.

But the dealers are now ready to shake things up with the roll-out of full-EVs, properly known as battery electric vehicles, or BEVs. The move comes against pledges from the world’s biggest auto manufacturers to shift from the production of fossil-fuel vehicles to electric vehicles in hopes of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, and ultimately, averting climate change.

The momentum towards BEVs is expected to gather steam starting in 2022 as electric vehicles continue to go mainstream. Some automakers are eyeing a full shift away from fuel-operated autos to EVs within 15 years.

Ford Motor Company, which is US$1 billion for the build-out of its first electric vehicle facility, recently announced that by 2030, all of its autos on sale in Europe will be electric.

Jamaica itself has been slowly positioning for the EV market evolution since 2019 when light and power utility Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) announced plans to install EV charging stations at select locations across the country.

Under the pilot programme, AC by Marriott in New Kingston, a hotel asset held by the Stewart family that owns ATL Automotive, was first out of the blocks with the charging stations after striking a deal with the JPS to provide charging services to clients of its BMW Jamaica dealership, which sits next door to the AC hotel. The Stewarts of Stewart’s Automotive and the Stewarts of ATL Group and Sandals Resorts are two separate families.

Charged up, ready to go

The roll-out of the first public charging stations was at Boot Gas Station in Drax Hall, St Ann. Real estate development company, CEAC Outsourcing, also dipped its toe into the market, offering property owners the options of solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations with home purchases at its Aqueduct of the Vineyards residential development in St Catherine.

Stewart’s Auto is positioning to be the first mover in the sale of BEVs to the luxury market.

In addition to the Jaguar I-Pace delivered to the British High Commission, which will become the high commissioner’s official car in line with a British government policy initiative, Managing Director of Stewarts Automotive Group, Duncan Stewart, told the Financial Gleaner that Stewart’s Auto will be introducing new models to the market as they become available and was in the process of installing charging facilities at its own premises to support sales and aftersales services to clients wanting to power up their vehicles.

Expectations are that by 2022, more than 500 various EV models will be available globally and more than half of the passenger vehicles sold will be electrically powered by 2040.

Group sales and marketing director of the ATL Automotive Group, Stephen Hector, says ATL is now in negotiations with all its manufacturing partners, namely Honda, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Kia, BMW, and MINI on the introduction of BEVs to its line of vehicles.

“Each of our manufacturers has their own plans to introduce electric and plug-in hybrid cars in big ways to the global market over the next few years. For us in Jamaica, we are working with them to secure the future release of electric vehicles for our customers,” said Hector.

“We estimate that across EV, PHEV, and ‘mild’ hybrid vehicles, there are over 300 models available to us here in Jamaica. We’re excited to launch the Audi eTron, EV versions of the BMW X3 and X5, the Porsche Taycan, the ID.4 from Volkswagen, and EV product from MINI. We anticipate welcoming some of those models towards the tail end of this year,” he said.

The market acceptance of EVs will rest in large part on the ease with which they can be powered. The JPS plans to install 10 public EV charging stations this year at a cost of US$600,000 and has also signed contracts with Total Jamaica for the construction of charging stations at four of its locations: Ironshore in Montego Bay; Manor Park and Harbour View in Kingston; and Port Antonio in Portland.

The roll-out of public charging stations is just one component of a larger national strategy for electric mobility, or e-mobility. The JPS Foundation was selected by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as the executing agency to implement the BSEMEIA Project – Building a Sustainable Electric Mobility Ecosystem for Inclusion and Access.

The charging stations is one of several projects the IDB Lab and the JPS Foundation will be executing over the next three years. Under the BSEMEIA Project, one of the immediate targets is the training and upskilling of 400 individuals in maintenance and safety in relation to BEV technology. It will also offer support to 15 green business models and create 50 new employment opportunities for the renewable energy and EV sector.

Green transport

Overall, the project is aimed at fast-tracking Jamaica’s path to a cleaner transportation system.

As part of the launch of the BSEMEIA Project, the JPS Foundation hosted its first electric mobility public forum on March 18, which brought together voices in the areas of policy, financing, training, urban planning, and the automobile industry to explore Jamaica’s level of readiness and help chart the path for the electric mobility ecosystem.

Coming out of the discussions, Minister in charge of MSTEM, Daryl Vaz, has given assurances that that work is progressing around the drafting of legislation and the building out of infrastructure that will support the introduction of BEVs in Jamaica.

The priority for automobile dealers is the build-out of conveniently placed and accessible charging stations and the formulation of policy to incentivise early adoption of EVs in the public-transportation sector. But also top of mind for them is a duty structure for EVs that is facilitative of the market.

“BEVs are more expensive than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles, and they require a different fuelling strategy. Whilst the import duty on BEV’s is lower than hybrid and petrol internal combustion engine vehicles, the vehicles are sufficiently more expensive to purchase from manufacturers,” Duncan Stewart said.

Currently, EVs are more expensive than conventional vehicles but as battery costs fall and the economies of scale improves, EVs are expected to reach price parity with their gas and diesel counterparts over the short term, and eventually become cheaper.

Importation of BEVs in Jamaica attracts import duty of 30 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, while PHEV duties are applied at 38 per cent. Those rates are better than two years ago when the JPS entered into discussions on EV charging stations with the Jamaican Government. Then, the duty was calculated at 60 per cent for EVs, exceeding that of petrol internal combustion engine vehicles at 52 per cent.

Still, Stewart is pushing for import taxes to be set at 15 per cent on BEVs, saying that that rate would make the vehicles more feasible for both car dealers and consumers. The calls for a reduction in import duties are supported by ATL Automotive.

“We need to work quickly and diligently with the Government,” said Hector. “If you look around the Caribbean, you’ll find countries such as Barbados and Curaçao with well-established duty structures that factor in the environmental benefits of EVs and create favourable conditions for them to be imported. For instance, Barbados now has hundreds of public charging stations,” he said.

karena.bennett@gleanerjm.com