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This is the story of how a Filipina CEO is revolutionizing the automotive and transportation industry in the Philippines one e-trike at a time, following Elizabeth Lee’s journey towards kickstarting the shift towards green transportation in a developing country.
E-Motors Inc. is the country’s first and only fully Filipino-owned social enterprise that assembles and manufactures three-wheeled vehicles in the Philippines. Led by its CEO and founder, Elizabeth Lee, E-Motors provides a “clean, safe, and efficient” market alternative for conventional Internal Combustion Engine-powered tricycles through its Züm E-Trikes. E-Motor’s Züm E-Trikes are clean, green, 3-wheel vehicles that work like golf carts and operate similar to a mobile phone that is “plug-and-play” and chargeable through a conventional 220V socket. Züm E-Trikes are quiet, economical, and good for the environment. “The concept of electric vehicles has been around for a while,” says CEO Elizabeth “Beth” Lee in our online zoom interview with her one Thursday afternoon. “It’s just that electric-powered vehicles have not yet reached the mainstream and we are so used to Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles,” she continues. Hence, she explained that “the innovation in E-Motors, Inc. is not the making of the vehicles but rather the use of vehicles. Using what we have and using it to enrich others.”
The next question you may ask is why—why sell e-trikes? Well, Tricycles have a large carbon footprint. In the Philippines, there are 3.5 Million tricycles. One tricycle dumps 2 tonnes of CO2 in the air a year. Elizabeth, with her vision to “make an impact on society and make the planet a safer place to live in,” reiterated that the goal behind Züm E-Trikes is to try to complement, not compete. She identified where they could use electric vehicles for short, multiple, frequent trips, and that was in e-trikes.
Ultimately, E-Motors aims to provide a solution to three compelling problems: low income, high cost of tricycles, and high pollution, through Züm E-Trikes and E-Motors’ program that helps aspiring business owners to fund their E-Trike livelihood. Guided by their core principles, Job Creation and Poverty Alleviation, Women Empowerment and Values Formation, and Environmental Responsibility, it is unsurprising how E-Motors is succeeding at pursuing a path that promotes sustainability, combats corruption, and serves as an ongoing solution for the social injustice of unemployment.
The idea behind E-Motors did not spring up out of nowhere. It stemmed from a pioneering business program grounded in making a positive difference in the lives of the Filipino people. Before Elizabeth Lee ventured into social entrepreneurship, she served as the Chief Operating Officer of Universal Motors Corporation - Nissan for 12 years. It was during her tenure in UMC - Nissan that the seed of social entrepreneurship was planted. Nissan was faced with a difficult situation when sales dropped due to the economic crisis. They needed to either lay off people to sustain profitability or develop a brilliant plan to bring the sales back up. Refusing to lay their people off, Elizabeth and her mother conceptualized a program called Ur Van, Ur Business as part of Nissan’s marketing strategy. Beyond its marketing objective, UVUB, at its core, wishes to improve the quality of life of every Filipino by cultivating their entrepreneurial spirit through the use of the versatile Nissan Urvan as a tool for business. The program’s target market is those actively searching for practical ways to earn extra income for a better living.
More than just encouraging Filipinos to be entrepreneurs for their own benefit, UVUB advocates for entrepreneurship with a noble mission of helping others and giving back to society. Through the UVUB program, Urvanites have the opportunity to empower fellow Filipinos by providing them jobs and inspiring them to become entrepreneurs themselves for them to reach their own dreams. Php 1,000 is donated to the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) for every Nissan Urvan sold, a Christian foundation organized to fight poverty and social injustice in the Philippines. CCT used the seed money from the program to assist underprivileged microentrepreneurs and fund Entrep-Skwela (Entrep-School), a training program covering the basics of entrepreneurship. UVUB was actually the first in the automotive industry to incorporate vehicle sales into poverty alleviation.
True to its advocacy, the program was able to help change the lives of 7,400 families for the better. Elizabeth witnessed how the seed money uplifted the lives of countless Filipinos and the difference it could actually make. This changed her perspective on doing business, and it changed her as a person as well. Making a positive impact on people’s lives is a fulfillment that she has come to realize. “It’s about having a purpose and knowing that the little things you can do...making use of the life God gave you, the talents He gave you, the abundance...to be able to actually pay it forward and help others become who they want to be,” she shares. Elizabeth did not know yet, but her musings would cement the fruition of E-Motors.
When she left UMC - Nissan, an opportunity knocked on her door when asked to join the government as the Commissioner of Customs. Because Elizabeth wanted to serve her fellow countrymen, she accepted the offer. However, she was not at ease with her decision because she was searching for something missing, although she has already made a name for herself in the automotive industry and spent much of her life selling high-end cars. After a little pondering and her decision getting vetoed by her mom, she decided that she was meant for a different direction. She recalled that she was the happiest when she saw the lives that were changed through the UVUB program, and she wanted to continue its impact—that's how E-Motors was born. Her newfound passion for helping and her experience in the transportation industry led her to use electric tricycles to address social and environmental issues. “I am happy to put my energies in what matters to me and others and that I tried to make a difference in what I believe needs to get done,” she says.
E-Motors, Inc. goes beyond manufacturing zero-waste emission vehicles. With nearly 10 years of operations in the automotive industry, E-Motors, Inc. was able to change the everyday lives of Filipinos, living up to their vision to meet needs, serve others, and glorify God.
The impact of E-Motors, Inc. is three-fold: business, society, and environment. First, the business impact can be divided into two opportunities, one is the public sector, and the other is the private sector. According to Beth Lee, the impact on the public sector will definitely increase should the plans of LGUs to replace tricycles with E-Trikes accelerate. Similarly, in the private sector, should logistics companies and couriers take the initiative to shift to electric vehicles. A ripple effect may take place, increasing the likelihood of electric vehicles reaching the mainstream market.
Second, the social enterprise touches more than just economic and business issues but rather. It also aims to touch on societal issues that the Philippines currently faces today. Through the initiative of E-Motors with its Züm E-Trikes “pilots” or ambassadors, they can eliminate a social ladder, elevating the way the E-Trike drivers see themselves in society through values formation and enrichment in their training.
Lastly, as an electric vehicle manufacturer, E-Motors strongly advocates for climate change mitigation. By providing a clean and green alternative to public transportation, they contribute to reducing the CO2 emissions of the country.
The E-Trikes improved the quality of life of those who commute to work. Several people were surveyed on how the company's services improved their well-being. The mostly women respondents said that they were now able to get to work on time. One of them mentioned that “E-motors gave one hour of my life back, and in that one hour, I could spend more time with my family.” Because E-Trikes is now an option, they no longer struggle and waste their time during their commute. It has given them the chance to spend less time in the hot, humid, and polluted outdoors and allowed them more time for their families. This is what Beth Lee considers as innovation. She stated that “innovation is not the making of the vehicle but the use of the vehicle. It is using what we have and using it to enrich others.” With this, we could conclude that they were able to achieve their innovative mission, to enrich people’s lives.
Looking forward to the next five or ten years, Beth Lee aims to further collaborate with corporations and the Local Government Units. This would be an avenue for E-motors to further expand and develop their vehicles. Beth Lee mentioned that she wanted to “be the change you want to see,” and she explains that an impact of E-motors in this world is how their vehicles are being used and the benefits the tricycle drivers are experiencing.
She also shares that when these drivers are asked which of the two vehicles would they choose, e-trike or the regular old motorcycle, they would choose the e-trike as they could benefit from this more in the long run. However, they should be able to have the appropriate tools and know-how to maintain their electric vehicles. She highlighted how important partnerships are because E-motors' continued growth and success hinge on collaboration with companies, clients, and other SMEs.
One of the core principles of the company is environmental responsibility. Their climate change mitigation includes reducing Air pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. With this principle, there are advantages of using the e-trike as compared to the old traditional tricycles. First, it has zero-emission which reduces carbon dioxide emissions as it minimizes air pollution. Second, it also avoids excessive fuel consumption and reduces oil dependency as it is 100% electric. Third, it is very easy to use, which leads to the last advantage, that it would eventually increase job opportunities and tricycle drivers’ income in the long run.
E-trikes are very sustainable and easy to use for these reasons. It requires minimal maintenance for tricycle drivers compared to the traditional tricycles, which produce too much carbon dioxide and contribute to air pollution. Drivers are also required to have their emission tests, monthly maintenance, gasoline bills, etc., which are very costly and bothersome on their part.
Elizabeth H. Lee, CEO
E-Motors, Inc. is the first in the Philippines to conceptualize and build electric tricycles to address the global climate change issue while also helping in alleviating poverty in the country. The social enterprise's dedication to sustainability is evident due to its effective integration into its management practices. The company can contribute to tackling relevant social issues such as women’s welfare, unemployment through livelihood creation, environmental protection through the introduction of an eco-friendly transport option, as well as alleviation of impoverished families by providing affordable funding schemes for interested trike operators to support E-Motors’ goal of progressing towards a more sustainable transport landscape in the Philippines.