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Bhutan aims high with Renault-Nissan electric car plan

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One of the world’s most remote capital cities is aiming to become an electric vehicle “hotspot” and a showcase for green technology, according to the prime minister of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Tshering Tobgay and other government officials said in Thimpu this week that the plan was to start replacing official government vehicles with the Nissan Leaf, an electric car, by March. Taxis and family cars would be gradually supplanted by locally assembled electric vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan, met Mr Tobgay in Thimpu recently for talks on the supply of cars and battery charging systems. Mr Tobgay also has been in touch with other electric vehicle makers including Tesla of the US.

“This government is going to attempt to make Thimpu an electric vehicle hotspot. We are confident that electric vehicles can take off here,” Mr Tobgay said in an interview with foreign reporters. Bhutan’s main export is electricity sent to India from hydro-electric plants, but the prime minister noted that almost all the proceeds of these clean energy exports were then used to import fossil fuels for transport.

Bhutan, a mountainous and largely Buddhist nation squeezed between India and China, is known for championing gross national happiness (GNH) instead of focusing merely on gross domestic product, and environmental sustainability is an important part of the GNH philosophy.

Some Bhutanese say the car plan is a “pet project” of Mr Tobgay, whose democratically elected government – the second in the country’s history – has been in office for only three months.

But Bhutanese officials, as well as Nissan executives and Tashi Wangchuk of Thunder Motors, the assembler of local prototypes, say Thimpu and its population of 120,000 present the ideal opportunity for such a venture: electricity is cheap; most road trips are short; residents depend heavily on a fleet of 3,500 small taxis; and the introduction of hundreds of electric vehicles will have an immediate impact in a small city that would be impossible to achieve in a metropolis such as Tokyo.
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