India might honk itself hoarse, but for electric vehicles to be our future, it has to put in a lot more effort in research and development as well as infrastructure. Otherwise, its plan to become 100 per cent electric by 2030 will just be a pipe dream. According to Coal India’s report “Coal Vision 2030”, at present there are just over four lakh electric two-wheelers and a few thousand electric cars in India, a long cry from 100 per cent electric mobility.
In a report titled “India EV Story” by Innovation Norway, it is pointed out that in India there are only two electric car manufacturers, about 10 players in two-wheelers and three to four original equipment manufacturers (OEM) in electric buses. And, as per data collected in a report in 2016 by Grant Thornton on electric vehicle, titled “Electric Vehicles: Is the Indian Automobile Sector Ready?”, sales of electric and hybrid cars contributed to only a fraction of the three million passenger vehicles sold in the country.
According to the Society of Manufacturers of Electric Vehicles, electric vehicle sales in India was 22,000 units for the year ended March 2016, of which only 2,000 units were four wheelers. A joint study by ASSOCHAM and Ernst and Young pegs electric vehicle industry at less than one per cent of total vehicles, of which two-wheelers constitute 95 per cent.
Where’s the policy?
The question then is, why despite schemes by the government, there seems to be little progress in pushing forth the electric vehicle dream. In April 2015, the government had launched a scheme called FAME, or Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Electric Vehicle, with much fanfare to boost the manufacturing of hybrid and electric vehicles in India, with the target of seven million electric vehicles by 2020. Since then it has extended the deadline three times, the latest extension of the scheme will be deemed to have come into effect from 1 April this year and will be valid till 30 September 2018.
Union road transport minister Nitin Gadkari might have rubbished the need for a policy, by stating during Auto Expo 2018 that “what we need are just action plans”. But, the industry players think otherwise.
For Ayush Lohia, CEO of Lohia Auto Industries that manufactures electric vehicles in the two- and three-wheeled category, a clear policy framework for electric vehicles is the need of the hour. The government has already missed the deadline for issuing the policy framework for electric vehicles – it was supposed to have come out towards the end of 2017. Also, the draft on National Auto Policy issued by the heavy industry ministry in February has nothing on electric vehicles. “We are waiting for the framework for the last one-and-a-half years and hope that it will come out in the next three months. It is important to have a policy on time, for it will shed light on the long-term vision of the government for electric vehicle and will help consumers have faith in the initiatives. It will also encourage business communities to invest for the long term,” says Lohia.
The industry players also believe that conditions that prevail here is unique to India and it may not be feasible to adopt policies that are successful in other countries. “When we look at electric vehicle penetration strategies globally, it boils down to ‘every nation to its own’, thereby implying that there is no set formula on a policy that India can pick or borrow. Every nation has to adopt policies according to one’s own strengths and weaknesses in line with the entire electric vehicle ecosystem. For India, at the moment, our government is in the drafting phase, seeking inputs from different nodal agencies and other stakeholders,” says Mohit Arora, associate director, IHS Markit, which is a London-based company providing business information and insights to its clients.
Not a smooth ride
Another reason why known industry hands like Toyota Kirloskar Motor’s vice-chairman and whole-time director Shekar Viswanathan believe that the government’s target of setting up an all-electric fleet in 2030 will be possible only in 2050 is because the major component of an electric vehicle, the lithium battery, amounts up to 50 per cent of the cost. India still has not found a way around this yet. However, it does have plans: according to the electric vehicle policy blueprint, the development of battery and the infrastructure for charging have been identified as the key to its success. It insists on setting up a 250 megawatt per hour battery plant by this year with an aim to reach one gigawatt of production by 2020. But, the fact is that India does not have lithium deposits, making viable battery manufacturing unit a big challenge.
More than the manufacturers, consumers face a very different kind of crisis using electric vehicles in India, something that is not directly dependent on the need to have a clear policy. A frustrated user Sourabh Nerakar recently vented out the difficulty of being an electric vehicle owner in India on the social media platform Quora. He wrote, “I got a Hero e-scooter in 2008. Since it could go beyond 45 km/hr, it needed RTO registration and all other documentation. That made it costlier than the price they quoted at the showroom. In monsoons, the battery for my bike was under the footrest, so I had to cover with a plastic bag to not let the water reach the connectors. There were many other flaws like costly battery change that could go up to Rs 9,000 each year thus I have to sell it off only using after 11 months.”
The consumers are hesitant because they do not want to be caught behind obsolete technology. Some have issues with reliable charging and range. But, there clearly exists a demand. When the Japanese carmaker Toyota Kirloskar Motors announced the shipping of around 4,000 Toyota Yaris sedan, it claimed to have received 60,000 customer enquiries. But, with a handful of charging stations, EV 2030 dream is irrelevant says the company’s Viswanathan. “The Central government itself has backtracked on the target of 100 per cent e-vehicles by 2030. It realised that you can’t have electric charging infrastructure in place by 2030 to achieve that target.” According to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s report last year, there are 350 public electric vehicle charging stations, compared with around 57,000 petrol stations. Fewer number of charging stations means that there is a significant probability of vehicle being stranded without finding any charging station nearby, which in turn is a discouragement for consumers to buy electric vehicles.
However, there are more deterrents for consumers that the industry can address on its own. Speed, choice and cheaper prices will nail the deal with consumers. Says another user of an electric vehicle Mohd Salim on social media, “First of all, there is lack of choice. For instance, Mahindra has e2O and eVerito. There are electric scooters which are slow, but there are no electric bikes. We need quick charging infrastructure. Range is another issue. People do not want to have range anxiety and a real-world range of around 250 kilometres or so would make things a bit more usable. On top of that, there is no dedicated electric vehicle parking with some sort of electric charging facility at offices, malls, etc.”
Despite the delay in putting together an environment conducive for electric vehicles, the industry players believe that with proper guidance from the government, both the consumers and manufacturers can be nudged towards going electric. Anupam Jalote, CEO of iCreate – which is working on design, construction and development of electric vehicles under the supervision of NIDHI-PRAYAS scheme of the Department of Science and Technology – the government believes that the momentum is building up rapidly. “In the 2016 Indian Auto Expo, there were only a handful of auto manufacturers which were displaying electric vehicles. However, in the February 2018 Auto Expo, almost all the manufacturers were either displaying concept electric vehicles or talking about their hybrids.” Although critical of the laxity of the government towards electric vehicle plan, Lohia of Lohia Auto Industries agrees with Jalote. “Vehicle manufacturers are keen to get into electric vehicle manufacturing and in the next five to 10 years, the shift will actually happen. The base is getting created for the electric vehicle and once that base is firm, the operations in India will become smooth. This shift will definitely take time, as it is not a short-term but a gradual process,” says Lohia.
Since there are not many charging stations, the idea of battery swapping has been proposed by Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala of the Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, who is also the principal advisor to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Ashok Leyland is exploring this idea and had manufactured an electric bus based on battery swapping named Circuit S in collaboration with Sun Mobility. But, Jalote of iCreate says that electric vehicles must first be made popular among users. “This is a classic chicken-and-egg situation: without rapid charging stations and/or battery swapping stations or long-range batteries, demand for electric vehicles is not going to grow exponentially. In the meantime, there is no reason why such initiatives should not be thought through, debugged and developed so that they become practical.”