The ‘silicon island’ of Taiwan has the know-how to become a regional leader in electric transportation, but its domestic industry is accelerating slower than many hoped.
Taiwan is synonymous with Information Technology. Acer, Asus and HTC are just some of the multinational IT brands to have originated from the East Asian island state. Microchip and semiconductor manufacturers such as Foxconn, United Microelectronic and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing also carry the famous ‘Made in Taiwan’ title.
With this strong IT background, Taiwan has been widely predicted as a hub for electric vehicle (EV) development. Such predictions, however, appear premature.
At present, Taiwan’s EV status could be said to be in ‘demonstration mode’. Much was made, for example, of the 20 Luxgen electric vehicles that served as the “green shuttle” for last year’s Taipei International Flora Expo.
Yet options for Taiwanese EV consumers remain extremely limited. The government has yet to make clear preliminary measures on key issues such as tax rebates or standardisation. EV infrastructure has also been slow to take off.
Electric scooters mark the most probable area for early entry within the island state’s nascent EV market. However, sales of electric scooters last year only reached 5,193. As a percentage of total scooter sales, which hit nearly 14 million in 2010, it’s clearly early days for two-wheelers as well.
The Luxgen Leap
Taiwan is not without its domestic EV pioneers, however. One of the first and most important local players is Yulon Group. The group is a classic Asian conglomeration, including automobile R&D and manufacturing alongside textiles, real estate and a range of other business divisions.
As the holding company of CMC Motor, Nissan Taiwan and Yulon GM, Yulon Group is the force behind the home-grown Luxgen models. The company began work on its first EV in 2007, releasing the Luxgen7 MPV two years later.
“Building a Taiwanese brand with premium quality has always been my dream . . . Taiwan can be a leader in next automotive trend”, Yulon’s chief executive K.T. Yen tells EV Update.
Built with cooperation from AC Propulsion, the Luxgen model represents Taiwan’s first foray into full EV manufacturing. The Luxgen7 MPV is equipped with a 150kW electric motor with 220N-m torque, similar to the Tesla Roadster. The motor is provided by Fukuta, a Taiwan-based electric motor manufacturer and supplier to Tesla Motors. With a battery capacity of 40kWh, the prototype has 186 miles range per charge.
As well as the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo, the Luxgen serves as the ‘green shuttle’ for the Eco Taiwan Expo 2010. Yulon’s battery-powered EV is the first legal EV with special-made EV license plate in Taiwan.
Yulon’s subsidiary companies are also busy. Recently Japanese auto maker Mitsubishi, the long-term business partner of CMC, launched a demonstration shuttle service for the Taiwan High Speed Railway.
The joint project provides Mitsubishi’s all-electric i-MiEV as a transport solution to Hsinchu Station and nine other areas. In total, the three-year project is expected to involve 3,000 vehicles, making it by far the most ambitious pilot currently underway.
The IT factor
Where Taiwan’s EV industry really promises to come into its own is the application of its IT knowledge to the automobile industry.
Again, Yulon provides an early example. Smart phone brand, HTC, has teamed up with the company’s subsidiary Luxgen Motors as a technology partner and an investor.
In cooperation with HAITECH, one of the automotive technology companies within the Yulon Group, HTC has started developing an in-car multi-media control system called Think+. As HTC’s first venture into the EV field, Think+ has emerged as a key feature of the Luxgen range of EVs.
Foreign manufacturers are beginning to draw on Taiwan’s technological expertise for applications in the EV market too. Most of AC Propulsion’s components, for example, originate in Taiwan.
“We helped Yulon to develop batteries and the whole vehicle integration and they’re building the drive system and batteries in Taiwan for Luxgen EV under the license from AC Propulsion”, says Tom Cage, chief executive of AC Propulsion.
According to Taiwanese industry expert and Auto Online chief editor, Kevin Lo, the quality of Taiwanese EV products stand it apart from neighbouring mainland China. He predicts a 15% premium for EVs and associated equipment made in the island state as a result.
“EV manufacturers in Taiwan have already set up the highest standard for electric motors, batteries and connectors ”, Lo concludes.
Taiwan may have disappointed optimistic predictions of early EV growth, but commentators remain confident of its long-term prospects. Its expertise in the fields of IT, battery technology and automobile electronic components all bode well.