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Battery swapping is potential key to overcoming slow EV adoption in Southeast Asia

Written by Ursula Florene Published on     4 mins read

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Oyika is looking to revolutionize the nascent EV market in the region with its battery-swapping technology.

Southeast Asian countries are pushing to increase EV adoption but are facing hurdles such as high vehicle prices and deficient infrastructure. Firms like Singaporean smart battery startup Oyika are aiming to fill the gaps.

The company is ramping up its battery-swap service for e-motorbikes in Cambodia and Indonesia. At its dedicated stations, riders can exchange their drained batteries for fully charged ones. “The goal is to lower the barriers for EV adoption in Southeast Asia,” CEO Lee Jinsi told KrASIA. “We offer a no-down-payment, no-deposit, and no-contract power subscription plan that comes bundled with an e-motorbike for a weekly fee of USD 18.”

Oyika currently runs 11 swap stations in Phnom Penh and 16 in Jakarta, with another 50 to be added soon. The company has teamed with seven undisclosed brands that provide the bikes. Its batteries are now powering 200 e-motorcycles in both countries, according to Lee. In Indonesia alone, the company already has pending orders from 30,000 potential customers. To ensure it can deliver, the firm is looking to raise USD 100 million of fresh capital.

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Motorbikes are the preferred means of transport in Southeast Asia’s most populous country. More than 112 million motorbikes were on the roads of Indonesia in 2019, according to Indonesia’s statistics agency BPS, largely surpassing passenger vehicles by 15.5 million.

The lower price might be the biggest incentive for the popularity of two-wheeled vehicles. Lee believes that by switching to an electric version, riders pay almost 30% less, as electricity costs are much lower than gasoline. There are other advantages too. Oyika’s batteries can be monitored remotely via a phone, making it possible to track them down if they are lost or stolen. Riders can also easily locate nearby swap stations.

Since 2019, Indonesia’s government has introduced a slew of incentives to accelerate growth in the EV sector, including reduced import duties on unassembled and semi-assembled vehicles and import tariff deductions for machinery and materials used in its production. This year, it put forward plans for tax breaks for hybrid cars, while battery-powered EVs continue to be exempt from luxury tax. By 2025, the administration targets to have at least 400,000 electric vehicles on Indonesia’s roads.

Eliminating range anxiety

But drivers are still wary of going electric, mainly due to the lack of charging stations. Currently, Indonesia only has 37 stations run by state electricity company PLN. Battery swapping could help address the issue, according to Lee.

“It removes range anxiety—the fear of running out of power,” he said. “In the sharing model, a rider swaps his depleted battery for a fully charged one at a swap station, which is no different from his old habit of topping up petrol when he runs out of fuel. The rider does not own the battery, but instead uses its stored power.”

Battery swapping has been a successful model in China, with Shanghai-based EV maker Nio as a trailblazer. Since the service was introduced in 2018, the company has completed 2 million swaps at its 193 stations. Demand continues to grow as it reduces the wait time for the drivers to just five minutes.

Indonesia goes electric

Indonesia’s ride-hailing giants are jumping on the EV bandwagon too. Grab says it runs a total of 5,000 electric cars and motorbikes, while Gojek will start an EV pilot this year, with Chinese manufacturer Niu as supply partner, according to reports.

“We work closely with the likes of Gojek and Grab. They may have their e-motorbike fleets, but they are not in the business of building charging or battery-swap infrastructure,” said Lee.

Recent initiatives of large manufacturers to standardize batteries and chargers might offer an opportunity for Oyika’s business. “The big four [Honda Motor, Yamaha Motor, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and Suzuki Motor] have been working on standardizing e-motorbike batteries for a long time,” said Lee. He believes they can leverage Oyika’s equipment and facilities to do so.

What’s next?

The company is venturing into new areas too. Lee said Oyika is conducting trials in Indonesia to use its portable batteries to bring electricity to off-grid households in remote parts of the country. The batteries will be working with a home docking system that powers electrical appliances. Lee says he is working on this with PLN, which offers Oyika preferential electricity tariffs. The subscription fee for this service could be as low as USD 10 per month.​​​​​​​

The startup is also planning to expand to Vietnam. If half of the region’s estimated 250 million motorbikes are registered in Indonesia, Vietnam accounts for another quarter. “They are the third and fourth largest markets in the world,” Lee said. “So, Vietnam is the natural choice after Indonesia.”

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