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AMEinfo Exclusive: Do you know what car brands think of electric vehicles?

AMEinfo got the chance to speak with many of the car brands that were attending the Middle East's first electric MotorShow, learning what their vision for this product exactly is.

“Hybrid cars are more powerful than gasoline-powered cars" - BMW's Gaston Paulikevitch revealed Customers will enjoy unprecedented savings following their initial investment, which might seem rather large to some EV awareness and education are on automakers' priority list

With the Middle East’s first electric MotorShow closing its doors yesterday, we take a moment to look back on the automakers who took this leap of faith in bringing the region its first taste of electric vehicles (EVs) – both informatively and practically. Dropping in by Beirut, attendees were able to test drive some of the vehicles on display.

AMEinfo spoke with many of the participating brands, and we found that there was a common sentiment in wanting to raise awareness about EVs.

“The importance of this event is to introduce people to the concept of electric vehicles and to convince them that this is a very real thing,” Georges Aouad, Senior Sales Consultant at IMPEX, Chevrolet, said. “Even us, as dealers, are slowly getting acquainted with these new vehicles.”

“The e-MotorShow is an entry point for us into the market,” George Bitar, Service Manager, BYD, said. “We need to educate the public about EVs before we can sell them these new products. It’s not a question of infrastructure – it’s a matter of education.”

“The e-MotorShow will allow us to gauge the reaction of customers to EVs,” Serge Trad, EV Specialist at Saad & Trad SAL, Jaguar, said.

For some companies, the timing of this event is even more relevant. Companies like Volvo are aiming to electrify their entire lineup by 2020, as we learned from Ziad Ammoun, Sales Consultant at GAA & CO S.A.L., Volvo. As such, the event is even more important to a company like Volvo that is in the midst of pushing an electric lineup.

Selling the public on EVs

So how do you actually encourage consumers to buy into electric? Most of the brands AMEinfo spoke to agreed on one thing: Savings.

“You have to show customers solid numbers – in this case, show them how economical a car is,” Ammoun said. “Customers will naturally lean towards the option that provides better savings.”

George Bitar, Service Manager at BYD, concurred: “The first thing most customers think about is the economy of a car.”

At their current prices, EVs pose a significantly larger initial investment than fuel-based vehicles. However, Bitar explained that customers should look at the purchase as a long-term investment – 8 years into the future, for example.

He continued: “Note down everything you would have paid for in an internal combustion vehicle over a period of 8 years. From oils, to spark plugs, to air filters. Write them all down – every single one. Do it.”

“Then, cross them all out.”

(The Chevrolet Bolt EV’s innards)

EVs are known for having less moving parts than gas-powered vehicles, and require significantly less maintenance. Besides maintenance, however, you have fuel savings to consider as well.

“It costs you 12,000 Lebanese Pounds ($7.96) to top-up our [fully-electric] Bolt EV at home,” Chevrolet’s Aouad explained. At a rate of 199 LBP ($0.13) per kW (with government-supplied electricity at home), the savings (when charging at home) in comparison with fuel prices are astonishing.

A fully charged Bolt EV will net you a whopping range of 400km, but the range shoots up to 520km once you take regenerative breaking into the equation, Aouad explained. (Regenerative braking stores the energy retained when braking in an EV’s battery to extend its range.) For the average office worker city dweller, this 520km range can likely get you through the whole month on a single charge, for a shocking $8 in an entire month.

When it comes to topping up a hybrid with fuel, BMW’s Gaston Paulikevitch, Certified Sales Consultant, chimed in with a similar declaration.

“Our [plug-in hybrid] customers fuel up once a month,” he said. As for the electric portion of the hybrid vehicle, he said that “in a small country like Lebanon, you don’t have regular 2 or 3 hour trips where you’ll need to top up your battery frequently.”

Paulikevitch also puts any concerns about EV performance to rest.

“Hybrid cars are more powerful than gasoline-powered cars,” he stated. “Our gas-powered BMW X5 puts out 330 horsepower, whereas our hybrid X5 produces 394hp.”

(The hybrid BMW X5 on display at the e-MotorShow)

Ted Mourad, Board Member at Bazerji Motors, GAC, told us he believes the exemption of Lebanese customs tax on fully-electric vehicles and the reduced 20% customs on hybrids will surely help bring customers aboard. Melissa R. Gemayel, Certified Senior Sales Consultant at Porsche, shares this sentiment. She also noted that the positive impact on the environment will tide the public over.

Infrastructure-ready?  

The savings you make and the power of EVs might seem enticing and all, but what about infrastructure in a country like Lebanon, where it is still in its early stages?

“We might not have the appropriate infrastructure just yet, but companies like Medco are already working to solve this,” Chevrolet’s Aouad said. “Electric is the future globally and, eventually, locally and regionally.”

While the infrastructure is slowly being put in place in Lebanon, infrastructure on the personal, private level will improve faster.

Globally, many EV customers install specialized home chargers, but these are costly and not everyone has to purchase them. Most EVs come with a free charger that customers can use to plug in into an AC socket at home to charge overnight. This, however, would entail that these customers have a private parking where they can charge their vehicle. In an overpopulated country like Lebanon, a private parking is still a luxury.

“Realistically, and at this current moment in time, customers who are able to charge at home are those who will be the first adopters of EVs in Lebanon,” BYD’s Bitar said.

Many of the high-ticket brands seemed to believe customers in the premium sector would indeed be the first adopters.

“In the [premium] segment of the [Lebanese] market, there is a demand for EVs,” Gergi El Murr, COO at Volvo, said.

“We sell some highly luxurious cars,” Jaguar’s Trad highlighted. “For our customers, it shouldn’t be that big of an issue for them to maintain EVs [and accommodate them].”

Most of the other brands we spoke to simply reiterated that the savings netted by the purchase and use of EVs will eventually lead to mass adoption, which would be closely followed by improved infrastructure.