Jeju Island has over 27 golf resorts with seven more planned or awaiting provincial approval. Each of them runs scores of battery-powered carts that carry golfers and their clubs. Add to that number dozens of golf carts and light electric vehicles that are ferrying tourists around Marado, Udo or other islets.
Could it be pure coincidence that some initial models of the island’s electric vehicles to be deployed by the Jeju provincial government look more like souped-up golf carts re-fashioned for motorways? Eyeing the island’s rapidly growing EV market, CT&T, a Korean manufacturer that specializes in producing cart-style electric vehicles, is building a 49,000 square meter assembly plant in Wolpyong, Jeju City. The company has been commissioned to supply some low-speed models to the province.
One of the biggest hurdles in popularizing electric vehicles in Korea has been their relatively high price. However, according to new government proposed legislation, buyers of electric vehicles will soon be paid up to a combined total of 30 million won in subsidies from Seoul and local governments. The subsidy effectively eliminates the price gap between conventional gas-powered cars and electric vehicles.
With the issue of affordability soon to be resolved, prospective buyers are now turning their attention to its practicality as an everyday car.
E-Zone, CT&T's best-selling electric car, can cruise at up to 60 kilometers per hour and drive about 50 kilometers before its battery is depleted, according to company data released on its Web site. A 50-kilometer range per single charge might be good enough for some provincial cars used, for example, by traffic wardens issuing parking tickets. But it is far lower than the average daily mileage of ordinary islanders, who would easily log up more than 100 kilometers a day traversing one of the most well-paved provinces in Korea.
To shatter the preconception about electric cars being a specialty government vehicle, or a golf cart with a hardened shell on the road, electric car manufacturers will need to tackle two issues: making the driving range comparable to that of traditional gasoline-powered car as well as providing the luxury of a mid-size sedan.
The prototype E-Zone and some production electric cars currently on offer for islanders promise neither. The provincial government has recently pledged to install 159 battery charging stations, mostly near government offices and key tourist attractions. However this raises another issue; can islanders tolerate the 30-minute charge time especially if they are in a hurry?
Mindful that the mass adoption of electric cars will never happen unless these concerns are resolved, General Motors and other auto companies have come up with a compromise — a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.
General Motors will launch Chevrolet Volt, the company’s first mass production electric vehicle this November. Volt can cruise up to 64 kilometers on its lithium-ion battery. But when the battery is depleted, an on-board 1.4 liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that the company calls an “range extender” kicks in to generate electricity to power the 149 hp motor, extending the car’s driving range up to 380 kilometers.
Early last week, Jaguar unveiled the C-X75 at the Paris Motor Show, a plug-in hybrid super car that taps into a twin gas turbine engine to power four 195 hp motors attached to each wheel. C-X75 can cruise about 110 kilometers on its battery, but with the help of a gas turbine generator, its driving range can be extended up to 900 kilometers per single fueling.
An electric engine is far more efficient than a combustion engine. Whereas gas engine cars can go 10+ kilometers on one liter of gasoline, a plug-in hybrid car can generate enough electricity for some 100 kilometers of driving with the same amount of fuel, achieving a much higher fuel efficiency. Though criticized by electric car purists for their partial adoption of the fossil fuel engine, both Volt and C-X75 satisfy the requirements of modern car buyers while reducing its carbon footprint dramatically.
“An island is an ideal place to beta test the feasibility of electric cars tied to a micro-grid system and fine tune its control algorithm,” said Kim Dae Hwan, CEO of Daekyung Engineering who is striving to transform Gapado, an islet off the coast of southern Jeju, into a green energy proving ground. If the system performs well and is judged ready for full-scale commercial application, Kim believes he can transplant the model to Jeju and the mainland.
Such a routine of scale in the application of systemic innovation is not new. Better Place, an Israel-based start-up that aims to transform ground transportation by employing electric cars and nation-wide battery swap stations, started its first experiment in Hawaii, before it applies the concept to the mainland United States.
If done right, Jeju's initiative in the adoption of electric vehicles can reverberate throughout Korea. But are they willing to go the extra mile to decipher the deeper psychology of their ultimate target customers—drivers on the road?
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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