SEOUL -- The South Korean government is enhancing its policy support for purchases of electric vehicles, with the aim of boosting their sales and making Seoul's air cleaner.
In addition to a state subsidy program already in place, the government will install charging stations that support quick charging at high voltages and currents at all expressway service areas, as well as lowering highway tolls for EVs.
The subsidy program is aimed at enabling consumers to buy EVs for around 20 million won ($17,000). But the government is also working to develop infrastructure for EVs.
All 190 expressway service areas will be equipped with charging stations by the end of 2018. Newly built condominiums of certain size will also be required to have EV charging facilities. Condominiums with special parking spaces dedicated to eco-friendly cars like EVs will be eligible for favorable building requirements.
Currently, a typical EV can travel around 200km on a single charge. The relatively small range necessitates building many charging stations across the country to popularize EVs.
The South Korean government plans to increase the number of charging stations in the country from the current 300 or so to 3,000 by 2020.
Seoul also plans to increase the number of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles to 100 from only 10 at present during the same period.
The government will also decide on cuts to expressway tolls for EVs and FCVs. Special license plates will be issued for these green cars to differentiate them from ordinary gasoline vehicles for the preferential toll program.
Currently, the expressway toll for a passenger vehicle on the 130km from Seoul to Daejeon, a city in central part of the country, is around 8,000 won. That is much lower than the price level in Japan. But the government intends to slash tolls further for eco-cars to help boost their sales.
Clean cars subsidies
The government has already launched a subsidy program to make EVs more affordable for consumers. The program provides 12 million won of financial support for each EV purchase.
Some local governments add several millions of won to the subsidies. Still, EV sales remain paltry, keeping the total number of registered EVs at about 6,000.
By comparison, a Nissan Motor's Leaf EV can be bought in Japan for about 2.5 million yen ($23,800), including government subsidies.
As of March 2015, more than 52,000 EVs were owned in Japan.
South Korea is seeking to pump up EV sales by ramping up such non-price policy support as development of infrastructure for such vehicles.
Traditionally, the country's eco-car market has been dominated by diesel vehicles.
Sales of diesel vehicles, especially models offered by European carmakers, have been steadily growing over the years. Now, diesel cars account for some 40% of all registered vehicles in the country.
In contrast, EVs have been struggling to gain ground in the market, due partly to the lukewarm stance toward developing them on the part of the Hyundai-Kia Automotive Group, the nation's largest auto manufacturer, which boasts an overwhelming market share.
Volkswagen's emissions-cheating scandal, however, could make a dent in the popularity of diesel vehicles in South Korea.
Hyundai is now pouring a lot of energy into the development of EVs and other next-generation eco-friendly cars.
The government's target for its policy efforts to boost EV sales is 250,000 registered EVs in 2020.
Seoul's strong commitment to promoting EVs is motivated by air pollution in the capital.
The average concentration of particulate matter, a complex and harmful mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets, had been improving steadily before a sudden pickup in 2013. The level has since flattened out.
The average concentration of PM2.5 in Seoul was 23 micrograms per cubic meter in 2015, 30-40% higher than in Tokyo or Paris.
The government has set a target of lowering the concentration of PM2.5 in Seoul to the levels in Tokyo and Paris by 2026.