Karnataka can't keep China out of electric buses

Karnataka can't keep China out of electric buses

Experts say other vendors find it difficult to match the scale of production and pricing that Chinese firms offer

An electric bus on trial. Credit: DH Photo

India may have made rules to curb Chinese imports, but a look at transport corporations' efforts to procure 490 electric buses shows that there is no alternative to Chinese products for now, at least in the electric vehicle sector. 

Over the last few months, officials have been struggling to procure 490 buses, including 390 for the Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation and 50 each for KSRTC and NWKRTC. Last week, BMTC buses started a trial run of an electric bus provided by Evey Trans Pvt Ltd, a special purpose vehicle of Olectra Greentech Ltd which has emerged as a leading company due to its technical collaboration with China-based BYD.

An official said that apart from Evey, several Indian companies, including the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), have come forward to participate. "Of the five bidders, only one met our expectations. We had sought a bus that runs for at least 250 km on single charge. The only bidder who could match that range was one whose buses had Chinese products. We have reduced the expectation to 220 km. But other companies are struggling to cross 100 km," he said. 

Highly-placed sources in the government said discussions were held on a letter by BMTC which sought clarity on "Chinese products" offered by the Indian bidders. 

"Officials in the corporation have sought clarification on the Centre's rule which says the government can restrict 'procurement from bidders from a country sharing a land border with India'. The rule doesn’t bar products imported from China by Indian companies. However, considering the scale of procurement, there were concerns that taking such products will open a backdoor for Chinese companies," the source said.

Experts, however, suggested that there was no escape from China when it comes to electric vehicles as other companies find it difficult to meet the scale and the pricing of the product they offer. 

Kavan Mukhtyar, partner and leader - Automotive, PwC India, noted that EV technology in India is still in its nascent stage and requires time and capital to evolve. He noted that China was the largest EV market in the world. 

Without commenting on a particular company or a country, he said, "A lot of companies are trying to localise but the process will take time. It's a Catch 22 situation. Unless the demand grows, localisation would be difficult to justify. Quite likely India will be import-dependent for at least next 2-3 years," he said.