Putting India on the electric mobility map

It may sound clichéd but the world was well and truly electrified when Tesla Motors launched the Model 3 a couple of months ago. As the bookings came pouring in, CEO Elon Musk tweeted that India was one of the destinations the electric car would be shipped out to from 2017.

Some weeks later, Mahindra & Mahindra launched its e20 in the UK and while it may not have had the glitz and glamour of the Model 3 unveiling, it was still a significant move. As in the case of Anand Mahindra, Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Renault-Nissan, has immense faith in electric mobility. There are many others in this growing list of EV (electric vehicle) makers.

China’s BYD Auto is one of the world's biggest players in this space as well as the largest maker of rechargeable batteries. It plans to make electric buses over the next few months at a facility in Uttar Pradesh. BYD has already delivered two buses to the Delhi government for trials in its DTC fleet.

Clean Motion of Sweden has also launched its advanced electric commercial vehicle, Zbee, in India. Already operational in Europe and Indonesia, it will used for last mile connectivity in Gurgaon. Back home, Tata Motors is commissioning a battery assembly pilot line in Pune which will help overcome the cost barrier for this technology.

Another Chinese company, LeEco which is better known for its smartphones and television sets has tied up with Aston Martin to make electric cars under the LeAuto sub-brand. The prototype of its first electric supercar, LeSEE, was unveiled recently and it may well enter the Indian market someday.

According to a report by Accenture Consulting titled ‘The Electric Vehicle Challenge’, the success of EVs depends on government regulations and subsidies, integration of EVs within the product portfolios of OEMs, charging infrastructure and marketing of e-mobility benefits.

Going electric

India aims to be a 100 per cent EV nation by 2030 which means its States will also need to play their roles effectively. Delhi has halved VAT on EVs and hybrids to five per cent. Karnataka has exempted EVs from state taxes while Maharashtra has also decided to waive VAT, road tax and registration charges. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh have sought the Centre’s help to buy electric buses for state transport.

The Automotive Research Association of India plans to test batteries in a simulated environment and release a prototype in a year. Hopefully, this will help reduce costs when batteries are mass produced in the country. The Centre is also working on a scheme to provide EVs on zero down payment for which people can pay out of their savings on fossil fuels. Aid of up to ₹1. 2 lakh per car under the FAME (Faster Adopting and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric vehicles) scheme could translate into a 1.7 million EV market by 2020, according to IHS Automotive. By the end of the day, though, the biggest challenge continues to be availability of charging infrastructure which is impeding growth of EVs. Manufacturers must also appreciate the fact that customers need reassurance on affordable ownership costs. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts to the S340 electric scooter from Ather Energy when it debuts in the coming months.

There is perhaps something to learn from Singapore where Nanyang Technological University and the Technische Universität München are collaborating on the Eva Taxi.

This concept is an electric car that functions as a city taxi and has gone from the drawing board to a tangible prototype in just two years.

With over 1.6 million vehicles registered in India as licensed cabs, the sky is the limit here for electric mobility. Sales of EVs jumped to over 21,000 units during April-December 2015 from 8,000 units in 2014, according to the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles. This could just be the beginning of a new dawn in e-mobility.

VV Ravi Kumar is a Faculty in Marketing and Parth M Doshi is an MBA from Symbiosis Institute of Business Management Pune

(This news story is from The Hindu Business Line)