Coventry Motors Corporation president Chris Ward is hopeful but careful. "There may be a hunger for EV coming, but you could end up with a situation where, if we’re not careful, we going to have a range of products stacked in the showroom but nobody wants to buy." | Photo by Kap Maceda Aguila

Car exec: PH will start shift to EVs in 3 years

On June 13, Coventry Motors Corporation (CMC), official distributor of the Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), will unveil the all-new version of the Range Rover Evoque. The second generation of the five-door SUV was just released in London on November 22 last year, and now formally makes its way here.

The Evoque marks the first salvo for CMC with Chris Ward in a leadership role for the both CMC (as president) and the dealership All British Cars (as general manager), and he’s understandably looking forward to it.

In a recent lunch meeting with members of the motoring media, Ward also communicated his intent to push electrified vehicles of the two established UK marques in the near future.

The challenge posed to wider EV use is obviously there, he stressed, borne of “miscommunication, misconceptions, perhaps a little nervousness about EVs.” There are more tangible hurdles as well, such as the lack of charging infrastructure.

And while there has been a measure of fiscal relief offered to electrified vehicles under the Tax Reform for Inclusion and Acceleration Law (which also levied increased excise tax on other vehicles), Ward underscored that the road to greater EV adoption must be led by government. 

Why all the talk about EVs? As a company, JLR professes that “environmental innovation is part of (its) vision for a better future.” On its website jaguarlandrover.com, the firm said: “We’re constantly looking to work in harmony with our natural and social environments and reducing the impact on the world around us. Innovation holds the key and we’re not just focused on creating ultra-efficient, advanced vehicles. We want to make a difference when it comes to tackling big challenges in the wider world.”

Among other measures, the automaker vows that from Year 2020, “every new Jaguar or Land Rover will have the option of electrification.”

The halo car for this journey is the I-Pace, Jaguar’s first electric performance SUV, which joins petrol-electric plug-in hybrid versions of the Range Rover and Range Rover Sport.

Given the company’s push, one could say that there is pressure on Ward to pave the way (or at least help reckon local consumer readiness) for EVs. “Is the market aligned to the product strategy of JLR as a global brand?” he averred. “We want to make sure that our products are consumers want to buy.”

Asked for his projection on the start of a local shift to EV, Ward replied, “My gut tells me three years… Mainly because of us as manufacturers. We’re on the journey, and we’re banging it home. It has to be on the agenda. But within three years’ time, all the premium players will have a PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) as a minimum in every showroom because we have no choice. Whether it’s a little bit configured with a petrol engine or diesel engine for the majority, it will be commonplace… The premium market will adapt quicker than the volume market.”

Christopher Ward assumed his two posts last February 12, and brings 35 years of in the automotive industry with brands that include Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo, Fiat, Porsche, Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Nissan. “Prior to joining Coventry Motors, Chris was chief operating officer of Arian Capital Iran where he managed a passenger car distribution company consisting of nine owned showrooms, 34 dealers, and 26 car service centers,” reported CMC in a release.

Here are excerpts from our group interview with Chris Ward. Wheels.ph got a chance to throw some questions his way.

WHEELS.PH: Are EVs something that JLR is looking into heavily, particular in this territory?

CHRIS WARD: I’ll be honest – yes. I guess that’s one of the reasons I want a bit of feedback. While not right now… but clearly the global direction for us as a manufacturer, absolutely. All of our future product plans are EV-based… I’m looking hard at what’s going on – where the country is in (terms of) readiness. This is coming at me; I’m not going to have the choice whether to take an EV car or diesel or petrol car. The petrol or diesel car won’t be available (as) it’s not in the future lineup. I’m not talking about this year or next years, but in terms of the next three to five years. The strategy is completely different. I need to understand if everybody’s ready… There may be a hunger for EV coming, but you could end up with a situation where, if we’re not careful, we going to have a range of products stacked in the showroom but nobody wants to buy.

How do you see the Philippine market thus far since you’ve been here?

The great thing is that you’ve got plenty of choices. Your cars are pretty fresh. I know everybody’s had a bit of stock clearing because of the difficulties of the changing taxation (TRAIN, Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion), but that’s kind of settled down now. You’ve got access to the good stuff, you’ve got sensible importing rules in terms of getting homologation – a lot simpler than what I’ve had to fight for in other markets… You’ve got a good infrastructure for sales and repairs. Generally, the industry seems to be healthy… The economy’s fairly stable.

As far as hybrids go, taxes have been lessened to 50 percent. So, if you guys are going that route, that’s something to look at.

That absolutely helps. The affordability is also a critical thing. It’s not just getting past the hurdle of (wanting to) step in and be an early adopter for this new technology. But I do have to pay a premium for it as well which typically for hybrids is 15 to 20 percent. This is generally offset by the benefit of cuts in taxation.

Are you bringing in hybrids this year or the next?

It’s certainly coming.

For the two brands?

Land Rover is further ahead on hybrid in terms of its routine modern range. Overseas, you can get a Range Rover and Ranger Rover Sport PHEV. Whereas in Jaguar right now, we skipped the PHEV and went straight to I-Pace which a BHEV (battery hybrid electric vehicle)… It’s a bit early to bring in I-Pace because, being full electric, we’re restricted clearly on customer usage. But I would still like to have our strategy clear for bringing that car. It’s a premium car. I don’t think it’s the only car a person would have in his garage. I think it will be a great car for a certain customer. 

Just to underscore, the marching orders for you as Coventry Motors Corporation president would be see to the growth in sales and to ascertain the readiness of the market for EVs?

That’s one of my tasks. I have a responsibility to the brand, to the shareholders of Coventry Motors, to make the most of the relationship and make the most of the market. I want to make sure that as a brand we are attacking the market and getting our relative share of the premium sector, and that yes, our strategy of production and future products is aligned with the market ability and opportunity… (Also) to support the retailer arm of the business to make sure we’re the delivering the right customer service, we’ve got the right competency of people, so that our duty of care through the ownership of the customer and the car is the right experience.

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