Emma Connors, Singapore/Jakarta – Indonesia's home-grown, super-app giant Gojek has pledged to lead the country's transition to electric vehicles, a key element in the nation's plan to become a world leader in battery production.
Gojek's ride-hailing and delivery business works off the back of 2 million motorbikes, and the company plans to shift these to electric mode by teaming up with energy player TBS Energi Utama. The joint venture will nurture an "ecosystem" for two-wheel electric vehicles where battery-swap stations replace petrol bowsers.
Over the next five years, the two companies believe the initial $US10 million ($14 million) investment will balloon to $US1 billion as other players come on board. Gojek wants its entire fleet to be electric-powered by 2030, the company's founder and CEO, Kevin Aluwi, told a virtual press conference last week.
The goal is to build "a cleaner, more accessible and sustainable mobility system – ultimately making EVs the norm in our country, contributing to the country's emissions reduction targets and improving air quality in our cities", Mr Aluwi said.
Gojek is also closing in on its planned listing. After merging with Tokopedia this year, the joint entity known as GoTo Group raised more than $US1.3 billion in a pre-initial public offering fundraising round this month.
The government of President Joko Widodo views the EV industry and battery manufacturing in particular as a key growth sector for Indonesia. It allows the country to play to its strengths in terms of natural resources while moving it up into the value-added industries that will generate high-quality jobs.
Two years ago, Indonesia banned exports of nickel, a crucial element in the second-generation lithium batteries that are expected to power much of the electric vehicle revolution.
However, Gojek first has to convince the drivers it contracts to get passengers and all sorts of deliveries to destinations across the country that EVs are the way to go.
Samsuri, one such driver, was surprised but optimistic when asked about the planned switch while he waited for a job outside a shopping mall in East Jakarta. For the past thee years, Samsuri has worked for Gojek part-time to supplement his income as a public servant.
"If I could get an electric motorbike in instalments, I would definitely want to do so," he said. Another driver, Samsul, was not convinced. "The charging will be the problem," he said.
Gojek's rival in the ride-hailing business, Grab, began coaxing its food delivery drivers in Jakarta onto motorbikes powered by lithium-ion batteries last year. There were some hitches, though, said a third Gojek driver, Ari Pribadi
Once the battery is drained, drivers have to find a station where they can swap in a fully charged one.
"My friend, a Grab driver, found the distance he could go using the electric motorbike was too limited, and there were other performance issues as well. He's gone back to a petrol-fuelled bike," Mr Ari said.
Gojek hopes a staggered start will help prevent its drivers from making similar reversals. Its pilot project is starting with 500 EVs and will guide future technology and infrastructure investment.
Indonesia plans to use its presidency of the G20 to showcase its EV capabilities. The G20 Summit scheduled for Bali next year will feature electric motorbikes and cars.
Construction of a 15.9 trillion Indonesian rupiah ($1.5 billion) EV battery factory has begun in Karawang, West Java, and Joko Widodo's government is focused on all elements of this emerging industry, according to Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
The government plans to have 31,859 EV charging stations and 67,000 swap stations for motorbike batteries by 2030, and has emphasised the "environmental friendliness" of the nascent industry.
However, while moving away from petrol consumption will reduce pollution, Indonesia's slow switch to renewable sources for electricity production mean most EV batteries will be charged using coal-fired power for some time.
This has prompted some observers to question the degree to which the EV adoption will reduce emissions.
"If we want to use EVs, the generator should also be low carbon or zero carbon," said Mohammad Rachmat Sule from the Faculty of Mining and Petroleum Engineering at the Institute of Technology in Bandung.
"In my view, some of the targets linked to EVs are unrealistic."