Opinion Piece
For my 40th birthday this year, my wife surprised me with a glimpse into the future: a sleek electric motorbike.
31May 2024
For my 40th birthday this year, my wife surprised me with a glimpse into the future: a sleek electric motorbike.

From the moment I started riding, I knew electric motorbikes were the future.

It’s silent and fast, with no risk of burning my leg on the exhaust pipe. Charging is easy - I simply plug it into a standard plug in the carpark overnight and I wake up to a full battery. And when it's charged using renewable energy sources like solar or hydropower, I’m gliding on zero emissions.

And I’m not alone - globally there are about 65 million electric 2 & 3-wheelers, making up about 8% of all two and three-wheeled vehicles on the road. But in Cambodia - a country that loves motorcycles - we’ve only just begun scratching the surface, with less than 1000 electric motorbikes registered.
Electric cars like Teslas and BYDs are also starting to appear on the streets of Phnom Penh, but they are all too rare.

This needs to change if we’re to tackle climate change. Cambodia set a target that 70% of motorbikes and 40% of cars to be electric by 2050 - and that means getting a lot more EVs into the hands of Cambodians.

Getting there won’t be easy. Cost, model availability, charging, skills and the impact on the energy grid will all need to be addressed. But new research from the World Bank shows some positive trends we can build on.

Firstly - and most excitingly for a nation that loves motorbikes - the new World Bank analysis shows that electric motorbikes in Cambodia are already cheaper over their lifetime than a petrol moto.

For instance, the Sunra Robo-S is the same price as a new Honda Dream. You can use either bike to get to the province on the weekend, but the Sunra will only cost you $28 a year to charge, compared to $120 a year to fuel the Honda. This adds up to a saving of $500 over the life of the moto.

This means that EV bikes make economic sense today.

But we’ve still got work to do to unlock EV bikes at the scale we need. Currently, there’s a limited range of models to choose from. While local and international brands are offering better models every day, we still don’t have an E-Scoopy or E-Dream. We need EV bikes to become so common that everyone knows them.

We also need to make sure that high quality bikes are coming to Cambodia. People have the right to expect their bike will work hard and be reliable - and we want to avoid creating more waste. Building a skilled workforce that can repair and maintain the new influx of EVs willhelp ensure that Cambodia gets the most from these new bikes.

Government and businesses can help here. The higher the demand for EV bikes, the more companies will ship them to Cambodia. And if Government can set firm targets for annual sales of EV bikes and limiting the sale of ICE bikes then Cambodia will really be a prime destination.

Passenger cars are a little more challenging - but going in the right direction. The upfront cost of a new electric car is more than an ICE vehicle. For example, a BYD E2 is $28,900 whereas a comparable Kia Morning will cost $15,000. But the higher upfront cost is largely offset by lower running costs - with annual fuel costs around 80% less for the BYD.

This price gap will only get smaller as more cars come to Cambodia - with manufacturers rapidly increasing the range of new vehicles.

The difference in upfront cost also means that access to finance is vitally important - with an EV you’ll save significantly on running costs, but you need to be able to make the initial investment. Banks and Government can work together on this, to make sure we don’t lock-in dirty engines.

We also need to drastically increase access to charging. Drivers need to know that wherever they go they can charge their car or motorbike. Good work is being done here, with the UNDP working with the Government to develop an EV roadmap - but there’s a lot more to be done. A good start would be to make permitting quick and easy, as well as working with charging companies to design electricity tariffs to encourage deployment.

Finally, we need to ensure that the electricity grid is up to the task of powering all these new EVs - a challenge that EnergyLab has started working on. I look forward to sharing more about this exciting work in the months to come.

The transition to electric cars won’t just happen on its own - and strong government policies are the signal that car companies need to prioritize Cambodia.

The Royal Government of Cambodia has already started this vital work, and EnergyLab was proud to support the Ministry of Economy and Finance to consult with Development Partners and the Private Sector on the draft Electric Vehicle policy - and we look forward to continuing to support the Government, private sector and communities in this journey.