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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Can electric cars really conquer the Middle East?

EVs have captured our imagination but will they become widely used? The indicators deliver a mixed but interesting report

Tesla Motors has created quite a buzz around its range of cars. Justin Prichard / AP Photo
Tesla Motors has created quite a buzz around its range of cars. Justin Prichard / AP Photo

Ahmed Bahrozyan, chief executive of the Licensing Agency at Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority, told this newspaper earlier this year that a “revolution in transportation” is underway. To that end, the emirate is expected to start safety testing 10-seater driverless shuttle buses next month. Such vehicles could operate relatively smoothly on segregated routes away from more conventional cars and trucks, although the transition to a mixed traffic environment – roads where autonomous, semi-autonomous and driven cars jostle for space – will prove more complicated and is one that “smart cities” around the world are wrestling with. Separately, several developers of passenger drones, also dubbed “flying taxis”, have expressed an interest in operating in Dubai. Indeed, one of those companies began trials in September.

Driverless shuttle buses and passenger drones are on the frontline of that transportation revolution, but there remains an open question as to whether electric cars will see widespread uptake in the Gulf, a region that has traditionally embraced petrol-powered cars and, in particular, big, thirsty SUVs. Some suggest a “quiet revolution” is taking place, driven by near-silent electric cars. As The National reported, they are poised to be “the next big thing in the Middle East”. Certainly, Tesla Motors has captured the public imagination with its Model S and Model X cars, both of which were on display at Dubai International Motor Show last month, although the models are still far from common sights on the UAE roads, despite the excitement that the brand has undoubtedly generated.

That might change by 2020, as a raft of incentives, including free public parking, Salik exemption and discounts on car registration fees, could help entice car buyers in Dubai and across the UAE to think electric. For the revolution to take a firmer hold, one suspects further incentives would have to be delivered, but what is interesting is that the scepticism that once surrounded the ability of EVs to operate in this region’s extreme weather conditions has all but vanished. That fact alone suggests electric cars may well turn the tide in their favour.