Why not electric jeepneys to modernize the ‘kings of the road’?

NEW ‘KING OF ROAD’ Francisco Motor Corp. seeks to reclaim the road from mini-buses and aging, diesel-fueled jeepneys by rolling out full electric jeepneys initially at a discounted price of P985,000. —PHOTO TAKEN FROM ELMER FRANCISCO’S POWERPOINT PRESENTATION

When eFrancisco Motor Corp. chair Elmer Francisco rattled off their ejeep’s accessories during a virtual launch on the night of Nov. 30, Bonifacio Day, some viewers gasped in awe.

There’s nothing like it yet on the market. It’s got Wi-Fi, GPS system, CCTV, video and audio system, dashcam, AC. But that’s just the bling. 

The real deal lies under the hood: full-electric powertrain from Tembo e-LV, a global provider of electric utility vehicles. Unlike its aging, diesel-fueled cousin, the ejeep has no emission. It can travel up to 150 km after full charging, rev up to 120 kph, climb slopes at 50 degrees, and load up to 5,000 kg. 

With a gearbox nominal torque of 475 Nm, the ejeep can outmuscle traditional jeepneys even on Kennon Road’s tortuous zigzags. Traditional jeepneys’ torque is only up to 275 Nm. 

“It’s brand-new. No need to change oil after 5 or 10 kilometers. It has no motor oil,” Francisco told the crowd of mostly jeepney drivers, operators and members of transport cooperatives via Zoom. 

Unsurprisingly, a unit comes with a high price tag. 

That night, Francisco, 45, a Wharton-educated entrepreneur who cut his teeth in assembling jeepneys at 14 in the shadow of his father Jorge, made a special announcement: He’s selling a unit at a discounted P985,000 for the first 1,000 buyers.

“Francisco Motor is not selling a jeepney; it’s selling a livelihood,” he told the Zoom viewers, echoing his father’s sales pitch. (Jorge Francisco, together with his brothers Anastacio and Fernando, built Francisco Motor by churning out thousands of vehicles modeled on US military jeeps from 1947 onward.)

Economies of scale 

It’s the cheapest one can get on the market. 

To lower the cost to below P1 million from P3.3 million five years ago, Francisco got rid of extraneous feeshe ditched the idea of a showroom, among othersand transferred operations from Las Piñas to an export processing zone in Camarines Sur that offered tax breaks.

“We’re able to achieve that because of the economies of scale,” he said. “Economies of scale means we’re not going to make 100 jeepneys, or 1,000 jeepneys. We’re going to manufacture hundreds of thousands of jeepneys.”

To replace the 250,000 15-year-old traditional jeepneys plying Philippine roads, Francisco unveiled a plan to manufacture 25,000 ejeeps a year, or a total of 250,000 in 10 years. He plans to roll out 100 units by the second quarter of 2024.

In a sense, he’s offering both the government and the transport sector an eco-friendly solution to the years-long conundrum called the public utility vehicle modernization program (PUVMP). His solution also ensures that the “king of the road” isn’t written off the map, or the road. 

No doubt, Francisco Motor’s ejeep retains the iconic features of its “high-flying cousin”the hood, headlights, and grill guardbut like a mini-bus, it has more head room.  It can seat 11 passengers on either side but leaves ample space in the middle for at least eight others to stand.    

Charging stations, powered by renewable energy such as wind and solar power, will be set up on the jeepney routes. The cost of charging will be twice as low as the cost of diesel for a 15-km route. But there’s a caveat: Don’t charge a unit at home, it’s going to cost a leg. 

“You’re going to regret it when your Meralco bill comes,” Francisco said.

The company is introducing an ewallet, called eFMC, for passengers to pay for their fare as well as for the jeepney drivers to pay for charging. 

What to do with the dilapidated jeepneys once the modernization is underway?

With some scrubbing and fresh paint, they can be turned into food vans by the government, and parked at tourist destinations or inside airport terminals and seaports, Francisco said. 

37,500 letters of intent 

But has anyone grabbed his offer of a discount?  

Francisco expressed hope that some 37,500 letters of intent he received from consolidated transport cooperatives and single operators in the runup to the virtual launchincluding 701 from Lucena Citywould translate into purchase orders. 

He acknowledged that only 15% of the jeepney market was “bankable,” or able to buy their own unit, but 85% could not.

Financing concerns were raised during the launch. One operator wondered if Francisco could help them secure bank financing and another asked if the “boundary payment” scheme would be an option given the long queues for bank-loan applications.  

“We want EVs too, but the price looks good, too,” one of them remarked.  

Francisco encouraged them to create an account at https://jeepney.io and earn commission from referring fellow operators to Francisco Motor, and from their “unli-rides” program.   

“If you’re able to refer many, you might get your jeep for free,” he said. 

To operators and drivers fretting about the government deadline to file their petition to consolidate themselves into cooperatives by Dec. 31, Francisco advised that they form one-person corporations.

“There’s now such a thing called sole corporation. Even if you’re just one person, you can form a corporation,’’ he told CoverStory.ph hours before the launch. “If you’re a single operator of one jeepney, you can form a corporation.”

Then you buy your own electric jeep, he added. 

Transport strikes

The past two weeks saw transport groups Manibela and Piston mounting separate transport strikes to protest the Dec. 31 deadline for the franchise consolidation applications under the PUVMP. They have announced plans for more such protest actions.

The goal of consolidation is to enable franchise holders to pool enough resources together to buy modern jeepneys. 

As of Oct. 31, 56.7% of public utility jeepneys and UV Express vans have consolidated to form cooperatives or corporations, according to an Inquirer report. The rest are still resisting the idea of consolidation that requires the surrender of their franchisein essence, the sole power to run their own business.  

This early, Francisco said, the government should move the deadline and introduce the idea of “milestones” to the cooperatives and operators by way of cajoling them into embracing modernization. 

“That deadline has been moved three times because the government knows it’s impossible for all to consolidate by Dec. 31,” he said. “Surely they’re going to move it again. Why not move it now, in the spirit of Christmas?”

Francisco said that instead of imposing deadlines, the government should initiate ways to help cooperatives, operators and drivers “modernize” their units in batches. 

“If there’s anything that the Maharlika Investment Fund should invest in, it should be PUV modernization,” he said, referring to the controversial sovereign wealth fund established by the government. “It’s nation-building.”

Read more: Needed: a just transition for jeepney drivers and operators

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