The nation of Bhutan wants its capital city Thimphu to become an electric vehicle hotspot. “We are confident that electric vehicles can take off here,” said Tshering Tobgay, prime minister of the Himalayan kingdom bordered by China and India. The first challenge is getting the EVs shipped there, but the first ones could soon be on the way.
While the capital only has 120,000 people, 2,000 EVs could soon be on its streets.
Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn has taken Bhutan seriously enough to visit there recently. Ghosn met with Tobgay in the capital city for talks on the supply of Nissan Leaf EVs and the necessary battery charging systems. While the city only has a population of 120,000 people, Tobgay would like to see 2,000 EVs on its streets. It may very well work – electricity is cheap in Bhutan, most of the road trips taken are short and residents already depend on a fleet of 3,500 small taxis. Taxi drivers are spending about 800 ngultrum ($13) a day on fuel, while recharging an EV would cost 10 ngultrum or less, government officials say.
EVs could solve today’s vicious circle. Bhutan’s electricity comes from hydroelectric plants and there’s enough produced to export some to India. The problem has been that proceeds from the clean energy exports are typically used to import dirty fossil fuels for transportation. Bhutan is famous for championing what it calls “gross national happiness” (GNH), and EVs would play well into its environmental sustainability goals, considered an important part of the GNH philosophy.
While communications have taken place with Tesla Motors, Renault-Nissan is getting the first contract. The government will start replacing its vehicles with Leafs by March. Taxis and family cars will gradually be replaced by locally assembled EVs. Some of the Bhutanese residents think the EV plan is merely a “pet project” of their prime minister, who has only been in office a few months and is the second head of a democratically elected government in the country’s history.
Bhutanese officials are taking it seriously, as is Thunder Motors, local assembler of EV prototypes. Thunder Motors has spent $2 million on R&D and another $1 million on building the first 100 vehicles for sale (but not much on a website). The company is using the bodies of new Maruti cars from India, along with imported batteries and electric motors. Thunder uses it proprietary technology to bridge an interface between the engine and the gearbox.