Meeting of the Minds on the Electric Car

By webadmin on 10:01 am Jun 01, 2012
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Dahlan Iskan

Never before has the electric car been discussed so seriously as it was last Friday afternoon at a meeting at Yogyakarta Palace. The meeting involved high-level officials, with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono himself the initiator and leader of the discussion.

Yudhoyono led a discussion that involved more than half of the cabinet ministers and rectors of top state universities, such as the University of Indonesia, Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) and Sebelas Maret University.

It was these rectors who presented the results of an electric car study. I presented a five-member Pendawa Putra Petir, or Sons of Thunder, team that is now developing a national electric car prototype.

Under the supervision of Education Minister Muhammad Nuh and Research and Technology Minister Gusti Muhammad Hatta, the rectors presented surprisingly comprehensive and complete study results within the tight deadline the president gave them.

Yudhoyono had earlier invited the rectors to the Presidential Palace in Jakarta to discuss whether it was possible to produce an electric car. He then asked them to conduct an academic study, giving them just two and a half months to complete the task.

Despite the short timeframe, when Yudhoyono asked for the results on Friday, they were ready. An electric car could be developed quickly, their study found, because these higher learning institutes have been conducting thorough research and tests on the concept. There have even been student-built prototypes.

Students and researchers had hoped that their work would not just end on the drawing board. They have long dreamed of turning their studies into realities.

“We almost suffered a lack of sleep and could not teach [because we were thinking about the project],” said an electronic engineering doctoral student from the Yogyakarta-based Gadjah Mada University (UGM).

Yudhoyono seemed very satisfied with the presentation by the education minister and the UGM rector, who represented all of the rectors at the meeting. The president also expressed his strong commitment to the continuation of the project, drawing applause from the rectors.

The conclusion drawn from the meeting was that the electric car is a must. When is the right time to produce it? The answer is now.

“In terms of technology, human resources, market and industry, we are capable of doing it,” said Agus Darmadi, a UGM electronics professor.

The rectors’ optimism found an echo in the subsequent presentation by the Pendawa Putra Petir team.

The five, who were selected among more than 1,000 people to create a homegrown electric car, had to meet three main requirements: academic capability, industrial experience and passion.

One of them, Dasep Ahmadi, is an engineering graduate from ITB. He has long been involved in the car industry and is able to produce precision machinery. Dasep has been developing three electric car prototypes similar to the Toyota Avanza that are nearing completion and could be driven in a month’s time.

Another member of the team is Danet Suryatama, an engineering graduate who received a doctoral degree from the University of Michigan in the United States and has worked in the US car industry for more than 10 years.

Danet is preparing a luxury car to “beat the notion that electric cars are cheap cars.”

He presented his car design, which would make even Ferrari fans envious and will be ready in two months’ time.

Danet has returned to Indonesia to dedicate his life to the nation after working in the United States for 20 years. His motherland has called the man from Pacitan, East Java, back home.

Ravi Desai, another member, born and raised in Gujarat, India, is an energy expert who is focusing on energy conversion. He is now working to convert old cars with internal combustion engines into electric cars. When I visited his project in Serpong last week, I saw two Timor sedans having their old engines replaced with new electric ones. In two months’ time, the new Timors will hit the street.

Another Pandawa Putra Petir member is Mario Rivali, a specialist in electric motorbikes who studied at British and German universities as well as ITB. Mario has already made an electric bike that was patented after passing certification tests.

The electric car cannot be called “national” unless it has an adequate proportion of locally manufactured components. The fifth member of the team, Sedewa, intends to ensure that this requirement is met. Born in Padang, West Sumatra, he is an expert in developing motor components and already holds dozens of patents on products abroad.

“A car needs 150 motors. So, a million cars will need 150 million motors. All have been imported so far. Everything needs a motor, but we have not yet been able to make it so far,” he said.

This young West Sumatran intends to change that, and is in the process of building a team and recruiting reliable people from various universities to do so.

With academics and Pandawa Putra Petir onboard, the president heralded the birth of a new era for Indonesia’s automotive industry, spurred by new regulations and incentives. At the meeting’s close, Yudhoyono called for the new policies to be in place within three months, drawing yet another round of applause.