Posted : 2014-03-10 17:29
Updated : 2014-03-10 17:29

Jeju emerging as test bed for EVs

Ray all-electric rental cars are lined up at a charging station on Jeju Island early this year in this file photo.SK Networks is the only company that rents electric cars on the island. / Courtesy of SK Networks

Resort island seeking to become carbon-free by 2030

By Choi Kyong-ae

Global carmakers are looking to Korea's Jeju Island to test their electric cars as the local government has vowed to make it carbon-free by 2030.

"France-based Mia Electric and Tesla Motors in the U.S. have been contacting us to run a wider range of tests of their electric cars in Jeju," Kim Young-A, who is in charge of the Smart Grid Division for the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, told The Korea Times by telephone Sunday.

"Multinational electric carmakers seem to be taking aim at Korea and other Asian markets after completing a pilot test project in Jeju."

This year, BMW and Nissan Motor have joined three domestic automakers ― Kia Motors, Renault Samsung Motors and GM Korea ― in the expanding island-wide test program, she said.

Five all-electric vehicles are currently available on the southern scenic island. They are Kia's Ray, Renault Samsung's SM3, GM Korea's Spark, BMW's i3 and Nissan's Leaf, according to the Jeju government.

"Jeju is a very good place to test a pure electric car as there are ups and downs deriving from a mountain (Mount Halla) in the middle. When an electric car runs downhill, it automatically charges itself," said Kim. "Moreover, climate conditions such as high humidity and high winds also help test electric cars."

Under the "carbon-free island by 2030" project, the local government is hoping to make almost all registered vehicles on the island powered by battery by that year. Jeju expects car registrations to reach a total 371,000, up from 334,000 at the end of 2012. Initially, Jeju aims to change 10 percent of its vehicles into electric cars by 2017.

Rental cars and commercial transport vehicles such as buses and taxies are also subject to the 2030 plan.

SK Networks, a trading affiliate of SK Group, began to rent the Ray electric car in July 2012. It is now putting greater focus on the electric-car rental business by increasing charging stations. SK Networks is the only company which rents electric cars on Jeju.

"A 24-hour use of the Ray electric car costs customers only 17,500 won, except for insurance costs," SK Networks spokesman Lim Hyun-woo said by phone. "Customers are getting more comfortable with the use of an electric car in terms of cost and charging."

In recent years, Jeju has stepped up efforts to promote electric cars.

To give customers easy access to electric cars, the central and provincial governments rolled out an incentive program under which buyers of electric cars can receive 23 million won (about $22,000) per vehicle in subsidies. The five all-electric cars carry price tags between 35 million won and 69 million won.

Kim said, however, "All the buyers of an electric car should be Jeju residents and they are required to own the car at least for two years."

The Jeju government introduced battery run vehicles for its own use in 2011, and in late 2013 began to sell them to Jeju residents with subsidies. It provided 160 battery cars to Jeju citizens last year.

As of December, 360 all-electric cars, or 20 percent of the country's 1,870 electric vehicles ran on Jeju's streets. Most of the electric cars in Korea except for Jeju are used by government agencies.

"This year, we are targeting to sell 500 all-electric cars as Kia plans to add the electric version of the Soul compact sport-utility vehicle after April here," Kim said.

As Jeju residents are increasingly showing interest in electric vehicles due to fuel costs, the official said the carbon-free program will be boosted going forward.

A customer who drives a gasoline-powered car can save up to 2.4 million won a year if they replace it with a battery car. If the driver runs 30 kilometers a day, his monthly fuel costs will likely drop to 50,000 won from 200,000 won to 300,000 won, she explained.

A fully charged electric car could run up to 100-120 kilometers, or 62 miles. Given the total length of Jeju's coastal roads is 180 kilometers, the incentive for using electric cars in Jeju is rapidly spreading, the local government said.

Taking a step further, Jeju will hold the 1st International Electric Vehicle EXPO, the first of its kind globally, for a week from March 15. Mia Electric Chief Executive Michele Boos is scheduled to deliver a speech on electric cars during the EXPO, according to the EXPO committee.

MIA and Tesla couldn't be reached for comment.

"About 50,000 are expected to visit the EXPO. Electric car makers, including BMW, MIA and Nissan, and related businesses will come to Jeju to discuss ways to spur awareness and sales of electric cars," Hur Su-jung, PR manager of the committee, said by phone.

But there are still obstacles to the spread of electric cars to the rest of the country. Even the global electric car industry is also in a state of infancy.

Different types of charging systems need to be integrated into one for the convenience of customers. Building a suitable charging infrastructure is an integral part of the quest to ensure that electric vehicles become mainstream, Kim said.

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