South Korea has evidently tired of being a laggard when it comes to plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) adoption. Total PEV sales in 2014 were 850, well under one-tenth of 1% of the country’s 2014 light duty vehicle (LDV) sales. Compare this to its neighbor Japan, which had around 33,000 PEV sales in 2014. While that is still less than 1% of all LDV sales, Japan had around 110,000 PEVs in use as of the end of 2014, compared to around 1,800 in South Korea.
South Korea is now looking to jump-start the PEV market, announcing major investments in charging infrastructure and promoting technologies that can make PEV charging as easy as possible.
It’s somewhat surprising that South Korea’s PEV market has been slow to develop given the country’s reputation as a high-tech center and, more significantly, its strength in the lithium battery market. The lack of truly market-competitive PEVs has been a key factor. The Kia Soul electric vehicle (EV) was introduced in 2014 and quickly shot to the top of the PEV sales figures for South Korea. This year is expected to see the Hyundai plug-in hybrid go on sale, so Navigant Research expects faster sales growth of PEVs in South Korea. But a potential roadblock will be the difficulty of home charging in a country where much of the population lives in multi-unit dwellings.
Removing the Roadblocks
The government in South Korea’s largest city, Seoul, is looking to remove this roadblock with an innovative plan to support 100,000 new charging locations. As of the end of 2014, Navigant Research estimates there were fewer than 100 public stations in Seoul and around 700 to 800 privately owned stations. So, at first glance, installing 100,000 stations seems challenging indeed, but the stations will really be standard 220 outlets, where a portable charger can be plugged in. South Korean company Powercube manufactures the chargers, which reportedly cost under $1,000 and can be equipped with an RFID reader that will allow Powercube to track the user’s electricity consumption. The EV driver will be billed directly by Powercube. The RFID reader also transmits the time of the charging session, which suggests that the driver can take advantage of time-of-use rates.
The city government is looking to secure parking spots in garages and apartment complexes where drivers will have ready access to an outlet to plug in. The chargers, called EV-Line, only charge at 3.3 kW/hour, so they won’t be especially fast chargers. This could hinder interest, if the drivers knows it will take up to 8 hours for a full recharge, and could also cause problems with drivers unable to access an outlet as an EV occupies the designated parking spot for many hours. The program seems to be a way to address the charging problem without the massive investment that would be required to install large numbers of Level 2 public chargers, which cost $2,500 and up and have significant installation costs, as well.
Making the Commitment to the PEV Market
South Korean company Kodi is also jumping in to the low cost charging market. The company is set to release a 3.3 kW mobile charger, the MTC, that will also use a standard 220V outlet and be made available for under $1,000. Drivers will be able to manage the charger through their smartphones, which will also allow them to be billed for electricity used. Other initiatives include POSCO ICT’s commitment to installing its charging stations in hotels and across South Korea and telecom company KT Corporation’s pilot program to re-purpose unused telephone boxes into charging stations. South Korea is showing a real commitment to making PEV ownership more attractive and significantly moving the needle on PEV sales.