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Taiwan weighs going fully electric, starting with motorbikes

Green two-wheelers seen as business opportunity as well as environmental boost

Gogoro, an electric motorbike startup, operates stations where riders can swap out depleted batteries for fresh ones.

TAIPEI -- Taiwan is considering switching fully from gasoline to electric vehicles, with motorbikes set to make the leap by 2030 and automobiles to follow.

Minister of Economic Affairs Shen Jong-chin told reporters at the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament, this week that the government had begun considering the change. France and the U.K. have already vowed to ban sales of gasoline and diesel cars from 2040, and mainland China intends to follow suit. Shen added that Taipei would discuss relevant business opportunities and building supply chains, emphasizing that the move will not just be an environmental measure, but an opportunity to cultivate an industry.

Electric motorbikes are gaining popularity in Taiwan, with the help of Gogoro, a startup whose CEO Horace Luke was formerly chief innovation officer at major smartphone maker HTC. The vehicles have emerged as a promising industry for the island as China's growing prowess in information technology casts uncertainty over Taiwan's prospects in that mainstay field.

Gogoro launched its electric scooters in 2015. Its battery swap stations on city streets have been well received, and the vehicles are spreading rapidly.

Taiwan had about 21,000 new electric motorbikes registered in 2016, roughly double the previous year's count, and is targeting 40,000 registrations this year and 200,000 in 2021. The government aims to support worldwide expansion and develop the vehicles into an export industry to follow IT.

Despite a relatively small population of 23 million, Taiwan has 13 million registered motorbikes, said to be one of the highest proliferation rates in the world. The economic ministry expects that shifting fully to electric bikes will create an environment enabling a similar switch for automobiles. Taiwan's annual auto sales come to about 430,000 units.

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