Powering the electric road in India

Powering the electric road in India

Powering the electric road in India

The government has just set the ball rolling. The time is set for 2030, by when it is envisaged that India would transform into an ‘all-electric vehicle market’.

The ambitious National Electric Mobility Mission Plan (NEMMP) 2020, which promotes the 2030 resolve, aims to achieve having over six million EVs on the road by 2020, setting the stage for the country emerging as a formidable force in electric mobility.

If the NEMMP’s implementation goes according to plan, it would result in around 2.5 million tonnes of fossil fuel savings by 2020, translating to monetary savings of Rs 30,000 crore, apart from lowering vehicular emissions and carbon dioxide by 1.3% to 1.5%. As a bonus, the production of EVs will deliver economic growth and employment, along with reduced impact over the country’s foreign exchange reserves.

The government is proactive on several fronts, and is bullish on pushing EVs, among other alternative vehicular solutions. It has regularised the taxes on electric vehicles at 12% under the upcoming GST regime.

Recently, Nagpur became the country’s first city to run a fleet of 200 electric vehicles, including taxis, buses, and e-rickshaws, as part of a pilot project. Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari announced the Centre’s engagement with SoftBank for loans at low rates of interest for the green project, in a bid to introduce two lakh electric buses for public transport.

The project will also include 100 new Mahindra e2o Plus electric cars, and cab aggregator Ola has already invested upwards of Rs 50 crore towards EVs and charging infrastructure, starting with over 50 charging points across four strategic locations in Nagpur. Electric vehicles are also being sourced from other OEMs, including Tata Motors, Kinetic, BYD and TVS.

The government is also contemplating reducing the ticket fare of public transport by 50% in the country, and charging these vehicles will not be an issue as charging stations are being set up.

Despite the lofty stance taken by the government, EVs are yet to find many takers in the absence of incentives, infrastructure, and clarity on the policy framework. In FY2015-16, only 22,000 EVs were sold in India, of which, around 2,000 were cars, and the remaining two-wheelers. Also, enthusiastic entrepreneurs and manufacturers have been unable to break much ice with public fancy.

Against all odds
The approach to the EV market in the manufacturer’s perspective, is different from that to the mainstream gasoline-driven vehicle market. The methods by which demand is created, products positioned and priced, and above all, ensuring prolonged value and service delivery, are the important elements that makers need to concentrate upon.

Unlike with mainstream vehicles where individual segments create themselves, in terms of EVs, the entire market itself must be created from scratch by innovators.

In recent times, interestingly, there has been a paradigm shift in the Indian EV space. Many young entrepreneurs are trying to solve existing glitches and vying to become pioneers.

Offering India with her first electric, and gearless motorcycle, Pune-based Tork Motors is only months away from rolling out the T6X.  

“At present, there is change happening, where the consumer is saying, ‘I know electric vehicles work’,” remarks Tork Motors Founder and Director Kapil Shelke.

“With education and exposure, people will accept a product which is aptly priced and gives them a specific aspiration. With EV pilots running across India, the sentiment is right. It’s a matter of time that people would start accepting it, and it also gives companies like us time to gear up for the demand,” he says.

The T6X, which is under validation and testing at the moment, boasts of a 100-km range on full charge, through a battery capacity of 4 kWh, providing a top speed of over 100 kmph. This would make it faster than most 150 cc motorcycles running on petrol.

“It’s a motorcycle built from the ground up, wherein we’ve fixed issues of range, speed, and travel time. We’ve designed it to clock 80% charge in one hour, compared with earlier e-scooters taking eight hours,” Shelke says, adding that the T6X is available at a promotional price of Rs 1.25 lakh.

India today is aware of EV legends like Tesla, and would certainly covet them. But with the country’s engineering prowess and a booming Rs 4.5-lakh crore auto industry, it is prudent to Make in India.

However, there are around 10 small two-wheeler players in India today operating in the EV space, who have a vision, but lack the investment, technology and right engineering skills needed to realise it. 

Tarun Mehta, the Co-founder and CEO of Bengaluru-based Ather Energy, believes that while India is very strong in the automotive space, especially in two-wheelers, it lacks in many other areas. “If the market goes completely electric (by 2030), the entire industry stands at an existential question, because if local companies don’t scale up and start moving into electric, they stand to be wiped out,” he explains. 

A few months ago, Hero MotoCorp, seeking to enhance participation in the EV space and pursuing its internal EV programme, invested Rs 205 crore to acquire around 26-30% stake in Ather Energy.

Ather has devised the S340 scooter with a riding range of 60 km. A recharge of up to 90% can be accomplished in an hour, while the lithium-ion battery pack will offer a lifecycle of 50,000 km or a lifespan of over five years. It can do a 0-60 kmph spring in 12.11 seconds, with a top speed of 72 kmph.

Sustainable infrastructure
Experts declare that an EV is better than mainstream fuel vehicles, three-times more efficient, can be designed to be much faster in speed and acceleration, allow zero emissions, and be much quieter, rideable, and low on vibrations. It also offers the critical chance of having a ‘filling station’ at home.

“One minor disadvantage may be about people feeling that they have less range, say less than 200 km. But that constitutes only 1% of the total customer-base demanding EV motorcycles,” Shelke says, adding that there needs to be more aspirational vehicles with regard to the environment.

“If you are in an area where you are generating hydroelectric power, then it’s ecofriendly,” he adds.
Sustainability is the need of the hour. Price Waterhouse Partner Abdul Majeed says, “It is important to see to it that the power source is clean, and there is relevant infrastructure.”

While India has achieved major strides in power generation, a lot is to be done in terms of infrastructure. Even if charging infrastructure does not exist in scale, one cannot be forced to set it up. It is a chicken-and-egg situation, and as more vehicles hit the road, firms would cash in on the demand. For instance, the ACME Group has launched its battery swapping and charging station for EVs at Nagpur, while Ather is setting up over 100 points across Bengaluru, Chennai and Pune.

Meanwhile, EV manufacturers seek more clarity on the Centre’s policies too. “Clear government policy is a big concern today. While the government is extremely buoyant, and bothered about EVs, the policy isn’t there yet. If there is a firm policy which will stand strong for at least three years, the industry can find its feet,” opines Mehta.

Questioning the government’s subsidy policy, Shelke says, “Why give a subsidy when the tax can be reduced? Usually subsidies are only helpful to pick up, and is not suitable for long-term planning. Ultimately for the buyer, lower taxes matter more than subsidies.”   
          
Electric revolution
Meanwhile, car and busmakers are also bullish on the EV roar. Mahindra Electric, the go-getter of the Indian EV space and one of the participants in the Nagpur pilot, recently rolled out a comprehensive technology and product roadmap, leading to the next generation of electric vehicles — which the company internally refers to as EV 2.0, and which aims to produce 60,000 units of EVs per annum over the next two years.

“We are ramping up our investments towards developing the next generation of EV technologies and products that will cater to smart cities. Mahindra Electric already sells the e2o Plus, e-Verito and e-Supro in the domestic market,” says Pawan Goenka, MD of Mahindra & Mahindra, and Chairman of Mahindra Electric. 

Last year, Ashok Leyland introduced the first ‘Made in India’ e-bus ‘Circuit’, which can run up to 120 km on a single charge.

The vision of the government and the budding market is clear. But it is to be seen if that vision would be made as clear to customers, who are more aware, yet discerning today, and above all, would care for the environment.
DH News Service

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