India’s push to power up their vehicles

Home charging point for Ather 450

With the global push for electric vehicles gathering pace, India too is steering towards a battery-powered green automobile revolution
Move over gun-toting baddies, looks like James Bond will be fighting a greater global nemesis, climate change. Reports have emerged that the suave British secret agent may be steering an electric Aston Martin in the latest Bond film.

As sensitisation towards and demand for electric vehicles are on the rise the world over, India too has been catching up, with some home manufacturers shifting towards battery-powered vehicles. “Over the last few years, electric vehicles (EV) are gaining traction, given the uncertainty over fossil fuel in the mid to far future,” says Sreeram Ananthasayanam, Partner – Government & Public Services, PriceWaterhouseCoopers India, which recently brought out a report on e-mobility and deployment of EVs as part of mass transportation in the country. “The increased pollution levels attributable to vehicles running on fossil fuels too have added to the popularity of EVs,” he adds.

Cutting import dependency
With zero tailpipe emissions, experts say, EVs would play a key role in counterbalancing climate change from other cumulative factors. By unplugging the thrust on fossil fuels, a battery-powered solution would also lessen India’s dependence on heavy oil imports and thus put less fiscal strain on the developing economy.

The Centre’s recent announcement of a massive outlay towards phase two of Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles (FAME) gives the necessary policy push towards moving in the right direction. Aimed at incentivising both manufacturers and buyers, the step also provides a fillip to boosting mass e-transportation, with incentives for over 7,000 electric buses for commercial use also coming under its ambit, a part of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan.

Despite a growing awareness, the road to embracing EVs is not without speed bumps. Says Tarun Mehta, CEO and Co-Founder, Bengaluru-based Ather Energy, that manufactures two electric scooter models: “For starters, with FAME II, issues relating to local sourcing and manufacturing, and building on domestic competencies have been addressed. There continue to be some gaps around certain standardisation requirements, like connectors for electric two-wheelers, but we see these being addressed in the months to come.”
Tarun, however, feels that with apt products and a solid charging infrastructure, the way ahead should be without much bottlenecks. “The problems we encountered primarily stemmed from vehicles being substandard in comparison to ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles, and a fragmented charging infrastructure. So our goal was to build a scooter that was light, with minimal redundancies,” he adds.

Battery make
The ‘lightweight’ factor hung on the mind of Pratik Gupta, co-founder of Mumbai-based Strom Motors, that is currently awaiting approval from Automotive Research Association of India for commercial launch, while designing its urban electric trike Strom-R3. With a ‘reverse-trike format’, Pratik says, bringing the number of wheels from four to three greatly helped in lessening overall bulk. “This also allows for greater longevity of the car by improving battery-efficiency and life,” says Pratik, adding that Strom-R3’s battery is designed to last about 1 lakh km before replacement.
Battery make is also a hurdle, with almost all electric vehicles still relying on lithium-ion batteries, which are higher on the price scale. “Nonetheless, estimates suggest that prices of the lithium-ion battery decreased by almost 80% between 2010 and 2018. We are expecting the prices to reduce further, the main reasons being falling commodity prices,” points out Tarun.

As regards feasibility for mass transportation, Sreeram is of the opinion that the scale would drive the cost-effectiveness. “Wider adoption will potentially reduce the price. It will also boost technology advancements in battery chemistry, which will aid in higher efficiency, lower costs, faster charging, higher range/capacities,” he says.

With many public sector transport entities throwing their hat in the EV ring and private service providers and manufacturers too driving in, it is expected to accelerate in the near to medium-term future. “The willingness to pay more for an EV increases once customers understand that the price delta between a petrol/diesel vehicle and an electric vehicle may even out in two to three years time,” feels Tarun.