Powering the wake of REVA
The 21st century has brought forth new challenges in its wake, with a whole new set of problems and also a sense of finding solutions to problems.
The population booms, coupled with spurt in standard of living and purchasing power, has seen a rapid rise in demand for essentials, coming with unavoidable supply crunches.
Take the number of petrol and diesel cars delivered daily. According to the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) data, the number of passenger vehicles (including family cars, SUVs) sold domestically during 2010-11 was more than 25.20 lakh.
The soaring prices of petrol and diesel and continuing volatility have burnt a hole in many a vehicle owner’s wallet. Besides, vehicles running on non-renewable fuels have always invited the wrath of environmentalists, who have frowned upon their tendency to cause environmental pollution.
As a much needed respite to vehicle owners and environmentalists alike, the government recently approved the plan to facilitate development of largescale electric vehicles (EVs). At the first meeting of the National Council of Electric Mobility (NCEM) convened in New Delhi, attended by Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel and New and Renewable Energy Minister Farooq Abdullah, among others, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan 2020 (NEMMP), a mission document for the National Mission for Electric Mobility, was adopted.
The NEMMP lays out an ambitious vision, sets targets and provides the roadmap for achieving substantial penetration of efficient and eco-friendly EVs and hybrid technologies in India by 2020, covering the gamut of two-wheelers, four-wheelers, commercial vehicles, and maybe, monorail.
It is estimated that the government will save up to Rs 30,000 crore in fuel costs by giving Rs 14,000 crore in subsidy to the industry for manufacturing electric vehicles, while the industry’s contribution would be about Rs 8,000 crore. The industry, which was waiting for such a fillip, will now gear up for more developments in this field.
Electric vehicles are not new to India, though they are yet to gain the requisite popularity. To add to this trend, there are companies that have set comprehensive visions for the future and embarked on setting standards in the EV realm. Though the country has seen significant numbers of electric two-wheeler purchases, cars are yet to make a splash on the roads.
Re-charged Mahindra REVA
When Bangalore-based REVA Electric Car Company (RECC) unveiled its two-seater REVA electric vehicle in Bangalore in 2001, it received little demand, though people did display a passing fascination with the revolutionary concept.
It was a first for India. A car that ran on electricity, igniting a combined air of disbelief and awe. It held scope for two people to commute within the city with negligible burden on the bank balance. But people viewed the rather odd, even faintly comic looking car, as more of a concept than a practical vehicle and RECC managed to sell only 4,500 cars across India and certain global markets, where electric cars are popular.
Nine years later, in May 2010, REVA Electric Car Company, now rechristened Mahindra REVA Electric Vehicles Private Limited, after its acquisition by the $15.4-billion Mahindra Group, has re-emerged to take on the formidable Indian auto market.
Chief of Strategy and Technology at Mahindra REVA and one of the pioneers of the EV revolution in India, Chetan Maini, says, “It is time for change, to move through traffic that is clean and quiet… there is a shift being seen in terms of rising oil prices, technological innovations and also the awareness and understanding of consumers,” he said, adding, “Ten years ago, people laughed at electric cars, but in recent times, a lot has changed.”
NEMMP will also focus on key issues such as providing incentives for EVs, supporting infrastructure and research and development (R&D) activities, subsidy for end-customers and promoting self-sufficiency for the country in this area.
According to Mahindra REVA Chief of Operations R Chandramouli, the NEMMP report will provide a clear picture to all stakeholders, bringing in the environment-friendly dimension that is bound to give a major impetus to the sector. “My generation completely bypassed this aspect, but the current generation is more conscious about the environment,” Chandramouli said. So what is the way forward now that NEMMP has been cleared?
India has set a target to produce 6 million green vehicles by 2020. If the country is looking at promoting electric vehicles, there are a series of initiatives that first ought to be incorporated, should the buyer practically be inclined to invest in one.
When observed, customers who might be contemplating an electric car buy seem to be facing similar problems world over. A study by research firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited’s (DTTL) Global Manufacturing Industry Group reveals a significant gap between consumer expectations of electric vehicle capabilities and what an electric vehicle can deliver today. Consumers generally felt that EVs should be able to go farther on less charge time for a cheaper price. In India, the problem has often been cited as one of high costs stemming from the sophisticated battery technology being used.
Mahindra REVA is enroute to launching a new conventional electric car, codenamed REVA NXR. With a said top-speed of 80 kmph, and a range of 100 km/every 6–hour charge, it claims to use only 50 paise/km, leading to savings of more than Rs 60,000 a year. “The company is optimistic of setting new standards in clean mobility and we hope that this new product would create the right buzz,” Maini said.
Going by its product development history and other indications from the company, REVA has not made the transition to nickel metal hydride batteries yet. The NXR comes with a standard lithium ion battery in tow. Contrarily, nickel metal hydride batteries used by REVA’s peers like Toyota, Nissan and Hyundai globally, is known to shrink recharge times and further accentuate the mileage factor –– an old Indian obsession.
For a supportive environment
The idea for EVs to achieve success and popularity needs an enabling environment, says Anumita Roychowdhury, Executive Director (Research and Advocacy) and Head of Air Pollution and Clean Transportation Programme at the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, adding, “It is a given that the future technological paradigm is tilted in favour of EVs, but a lot needs to be done to make it successful.”
Mahindra REVA is betting big on its new car and has recently opened a new facility near Bangalore, investing more than Rs 100 crore. Inaugurating the facility last month, Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra said that the company (Mahindra REVA) sticks by the framework of 5Cs that customers require viz., clean manufacturing, use and recycling of automobiles; convenience in acquiring and operating mobility products; clever vehicles with rapid integration of electronics and IT; and building cost-effective products themselves.
Simultaneously, the company is developing other allied solutions to attract buyers in the form of Quick2Charge, Sun2Car and Car2Home technologies.
The supporting infrastructure in terms of charging points should sprout across cities once EVs become convenient to run. “Manufacturers should come up with a diverse product portfolio to meet customer expectations and enable the switch from diesel and petrol-driven vehicles to EVs,” Roychowdhury adds. She says that downstream industries like manufacturing of car batteries using green technology to complement the efforts of EV manufacturers, are currently not in place.
Nevertheless, optimism is high among the advocates of EVs, considering volatility in fuel prices. Chandramouli says, “A slew of incentives for EV users like free car parking, subsidies and preferential treatment on restricted highway lanes will drive demand for EVs.” Bank loans at attractive interest rates will be a big incentive to promote EVs, he adds.
A report by the International Energy Agency with the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Clean Energy Ministerial’s Electric Vehicles and C40Cities titled, ‘EV City Casebook’ throws interesting insights on some of the best practices followed in 16 cities globally to promote EVs. In Barcelona, for instance, the incentives range from direct subsidies to buyers, lower electricity tax, benefits of up to 75 per cent on vehicle registration tax, free recharging at municipal points till the end of 2012 and new public car parks where 2 per cent of parking space is reserved for EVs. In Berlin, EV buyers get a 10-year car tax exemption.
“In Delhi, policies such as the Ambient Air Quality Standards and cross-subsidising have led to improvement and certain states have begun charging zero per cent road tax on EVs. These conscious efforts must be made in all states if EVs are to become popular,” Maini says.
Mahindra REVA has set out on a 5-year R&D plan, experimenting with different distribution models and offerings. Envisaging a total capacity of 30,000 vehicles a year from the new facility, it has already earmarked an initial rollout of 6,000 vehicles, believing that with the new plan cleared, more consumers would look at electric cars.