It's no secret that many European automobile companies are making the big switch to electric, and are starting to practice social distancing against diesel.
But in the Philippine setting, that's not quite the case just yet. Diesel engines are still a staple for premium and luxury European brands here, as our local emissions standards are still Euro4 which are easier to meet for automakers compared to the more stringent emissions standards already in place in other markets such as Europe and North America.
The move to introduce more electric vehicles or even hybrids in the Philippines hasn't been exactly at lightning speed either. It's moving at about the same glacial pace as our internet service providers.
During the online launch for the Mercedes-Benz GLA crossover, we were able to catch up with some executives from Auto Nation Group (ANG), the distributor of Mercedes-Benz in the Philippines. And it seems that they already have more concrete plans to phase out diesel, and move towards electric.
“For the past few years we've been trimming down diesel engines; of course [because of] emissions,” said Benjamin Bautista, Mercedes-Benz Philippines Senior Manager for Product Planning and Development. “Mercedes-Benz is very clear about the strategy of the clean environment. Blue Efficiency: the future for clean mobility.”
Mercedes-Benz hasn't been highlighting their diesel models for a while now, and that's because they've been transitioning to having more small-displacement turbo gasoline engines; or turbo petrol for those more versed in UK English. Such engines are proving to be quite capable even when compared to diesel counterparts, particularly when it comes to torque at low RPMs; a key factor for improved efficiency. And petrol engines are also friendlier towards emissions compliance, so it comes as no surprise that this is their solution for the meantime.
But again, that's just for the interim. Mercedes-Benz Philippines is already planning for an electric future, and they've started by introducing mild hybrid drive systems called EQ-Boost. Basically, it's a 48-volt Battery Starter Generator system that provides an extra bit of power for the engine via an electric motor. It uses energy recovered under braking and is also able to shut off the engine for cruising.
Mild hybrid drive, like the small turbo petrol engine, is still an interim measure. The real plan is to move towards even greater electrification, and Mercedes-Benz already has the technology with their plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) line and fully electric vehicles which Mercedes refers to as EQ. But the introduction of such models will take far more time.
“We have to be careful in bringing these modes into the country,” said Rhomel Franco, Mercedes-Benz Philippines AVP for Sales and Marketing. “The tech is already available, but we have to worry about aftersales, homologation, and infrastructure.”
While some may see the importation of a vehicle as simply just bringing in the actual cars, a proper distributor with long-term prospects in the industry has to think about bringing the whole package which includes training, parts, spares, servicing, so on and so forth. They also have to worry about homologation with the Land Transportation Office, and right now there are supposedly some issues with regards to registering EVs. And add the fact that there really is no infrastructure for charging readily available.
“Infrastructure locally is [the] biggest concern. We don't have enough infrastructure in the Philippines,” continued Bautista. “It's political also.”
Currently, moving towards vehicle electrification isn't high on the priorities of the government for legislation. While EVs will enjoy zero excise taxes, EVs will still be relatively expensive compared to variants with internal combustion engines given the lack of incentives. But really, the lack of charging solutions is the issue. You can't just park in the mall or the gas station and hope that they'll have a proper high-voltage fast-charging station for electric cars.
So, from mild hybrids, Mercedes-Benz Philippines says they will move towards more PHEV models. While these models would greatly benefit from charging stations, they're as infrastructure-dependent given the presence of a small internal combustion engine as a generator for longer drives.
Unless legislation changes and charging stations become more readily available, Mercedes-Benz EQ models will have to wait much, much longer. For now, Mercedes-Benz customers in the Philippines can enjoy the benefits of their new range of turbo petrol engines, with or without the benefit of EQ-Boost mild hybrid.