Saudi Arabia ranked among top 10 developing economies in e-commerce

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: A robust electric vehicle transition that will support Saudi Arabia’s energy goals can only occur with the needed infrastructure, the CEO of the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Co. has told Arab News.

Mohammad Gazzaz said the Kingdom has outlined “clear plans” for its ambitions toward electrification, making the need for a framework to fulfill the goals imperative.

Research carried out by his firm – a collaborative effort between the Public Investment Fund and the Saudi Electricity Company – outlined that while there is “huge interest” in EVs among the Kingdom’s population, one of the barriers for potential buyers is the lack of infrastructure.

However, in what was described by Gazzaz as “the chicken or the egg situation,” investors are not keen to put money into the infrastructure because of the high capital cost and the limited number of EVs on the road.

EVIQ is hoping to break the stalemate by installing over 5,000 fast chargers across 1,000 locations throughout the Kingdom.

“In order for those (electrification) ambitions to be fully recognized, one of the key aspects in terms of helping achieve that vision and ambition is the availability of a robust public charging infrastructure network,” Gazzaz said.

He underscored the pivotal role that the SEC – which owns 25 percent of the company – will play, aiding in the development and enhancement of the ecosystem.

The body will be able to “quickly address” some of the apparent issues in the market.

Similarly, Gazzaz noted that PIF’s “very conscious decision” to make an investment in EVIQ aims to tackle the stifling of growth in international markets due to the lack of a functional charging network.

The initiative will aid in facilitating progress within the sector as a whole, the executive outlined, saying: “There are other strategic related projects, such as SEER and LUCID, that the PIF has invested in, and this is going to enable those companies in terms of having the infrastructure available. But also just overall in terms of EV adoption and the decarbonization targets of the Kingdom.”

The company is working with automakers that are offering, or are soon to start delivering, EVs in the Saudi market, to ensure a seamless and efficient user experience, with goals of integrating EVIQ’s charging network into the cars’ onboard navigation systems. 

All we’re doing is just setting the first milestone, in terms of making sure that across the Kingdom there is a robust infrastructure and there is going to be a lot of room for other investors to come in and it’s going to get much more attractive as EV adoption grows.

Mohammad Gazzaz, Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Co. CEO

Despite the fact that the number of EVs on the road remains limited, the venture hopes to catalyze the transition needed to “ignite the sector” through collaborating with a broad range of partners, including those in real estate, vehicle manufacturers and governmental entities.

“If we talk about the Public investment Fund, essentially, there is a portfolio of companies that exists in there, that is one of the areas where we were able to build a lot of collaboration and create value across these companies,” he said.

“For example, we’re having conversations with real estate companies within the portfolio to ensure that for new projects that are being built, the infrastructure required is taken into account as part of that process of building out these new locations and for existing locations, it’s ensuring that they start thinking about electrification,” he added.

By deploying the chargers across the Kingdom, the CEO noted that this will lead to a market that is inherently more attractive and viable for the private sector investor, drawing more interest into the sector.

“They will be coming into a market where adoption is growing for EVs. It’s going to be more predictable, if you will, in terms of what the adoption rates are going to be,” Gazzaz said.

“At the same time, it’s going to be a market where there is local talent, there is local capabilities and local know-how in terms of how to deploy this infrastructure,” he added.

The EV and electrification industry remains an area with tremendous room for growth, as a multitude of companies within the global automotive sector have set clear goals of moving to 100 percent, or close to 100 percent, electrification over the next decade or so, according to the CEO, making the option of having a fuel vehicle “more and more constrained in terms of optionality.”

By looking at markets that have undergone this transformation in the last decade, it becomes apparent that this undertaking within the Kingdom cannot be tasked to one single entity. Rather, it births opportunities within the sector for players in manufacturing, maintenance and installation, according to the executive. 

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EVIQ is working with automakers that are offering, or are soon to start delivering, EVs in the Saudi market, to ensure a seamless and efficient user experience, with goals of integrating its charging network into the cars’ onboard navigation systems.

“To hit that 1,000 locations, there is going to be a big jump that’s happening on the tail end of 2030. And to be able to scale that kind of thing, you need to have a lot of partners in place that are very capable,” Gazzaz said.

“Ultimately, there is not one company or one organization that’s going to address all the EV infrastructure requirements. There’s different areas that need to be addressed as well … we’re working with different government entities as well. And more importantly, in the private sector are the electrical procurement and construction partners,” he added.

Part of the company’s mandate is to collaborate with a multitude of players over the next couple of years, noted the CEO, with installation and maintenance being the biggest “ticket items” for the infrastructure framework. The company intends to work with local companies nationwide to fulfill these roles.

EVIQ is outlining projects for destination charging, inner-city charging and intercity charging to ensure broad coverage. However, it does not intend to address the entire market’s infrastructure needs.

Gazzaz said: “All we’re doing is just setting the first milestone, in terms of making sure that across the Kingdom there is a robust infrastructure and there is going to be a lot of room for other investors to come in and it’s going to get much more attractive as EV adoption grows.”

Education and awareness are integral to the transformation, thus becoming a “major factor” of the company’s mandate. Gazzaz noted that the EV space remains surrounded by various misconceptions about efficiency.

By working with other companies within the ecosystem, the company aims to address the myths regarding charging speed, noting that the shift will need a change in habits for the consumer.

“One example is it takes hours to charge an electric vehicle. And I think one thing I always tell people, I have been driving an electric vehicle for some time now, and ultimately it’s just a change in habits,” Gazzaz said.

“It’s not that when you’re low on battery, you go to a location and you charge your vehicle the way you do with a fuel vehicle. It’s about charging whenever the car is just sitting around doing nothing. So for me, I go home, plug it in and leave it overnight and wake up in the morning and just continue with my day,” he added.

As technology continues to evolve rapidly, EVIQ is establishing a closed research and development facility, to be announced in the upcoming weeks, ensuring that it remains updated with the ever-growing ecosystem.

“Today, depending on who you ask, it’s a very, very small number of electric vehicles that are on the road. But over the next couple of years, we’re going to see those numbers increase quite significantly as more models become available in the market,” the CEO said.

“We see the technology continue to advance on a regular basis; charging speeds are going down, efficiency is increasing quite significantly. The range that these cars are getting is, in some cases, significantly well over your typical fuel vehicle,” he added.

Gazzaz said the company aims to test various chargers with a multitude of new technology and numerous vehicles to ensure that as the initiative develops, it continues to enhance its platform network.

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