Electric vehicle tech needs strong push

| | in Oped
Electric vehicle tech needs strong push

The dream to shift to an electric vehicle future has caught the attention of our policymakers and industry alike. But to meet the ambitious target by 2030, both must remember that the road ahead is likely to be bumpy

The recently concluded Auto Expo 2018 had the usual razzmatazz of global marques parading their latest variants amid glittery settings but this time, the expo had a much more robust presence of electric vehicle (EV) technology represented through a plethora of models from virtually every automobile major.

Even a conservative company like Ashok Leyland showcased their commercial electric vehicles developed in association with Sun Mobility, whose batteries could be changed within four minutes, reducing the vehicle downtime drastically and ensuring that the vehicle remains on road for a longer time. This change in the choice of fuels is heartening, considering the fact that India registers over 17 million two-wheelers and over 2.5 million cars each year.

But the ground reality is far from the theme seen at the Auto Expo. There is a lot of hype and hope around electric mobility but no clarity how to get there. The lack of clarity has been exacerbated by the recent announcement made by the Union Minister of State for Heavy Industry and Public Enterprises, Babul Supriyo, which was to the effect that the Government has no plans to make all vehicles powered by electricity by 2030. This runs contrary to the earlier statements made by former Union Power Minister Piyush Goel, who in April 2017, had aimed for 100 per cent electrification by 2030, and Union Road Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari, who at the annual convention of the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (SIAM) in September 2017 said that all fossil fuel vehicles would be pushed out by 2030 to promote electric mobility.

Though the Government is making optimistic plans, it is clear that India is highly unlikely to meet the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan target of having six to seven million electric vehicles by 2020. According to SIAM estimates, 40 per cent EV sales is possible by 2030 while aiming for a complete shift to EVs can be possible by 2047.

But many auto majors differ. Mercedes-Benz, India is reported to have urged the Government not to rush with the all-EV push and foreclose better technology options. Toyota is reported to have said that a 100 per cent electric fleet by 2030 is not practical and is not the way forward. The Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India has asked for a slow down on the issue.

But despite this skepticism, nearly all auto companies are building their EV portfolio. Though the current sales volume of EV is too low to excite or convince, yet the direction of change is certain. The Vahan Dashboard website of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways shows that though battery-operated EVs were 0.05 per cent of the new vehicle sales in 2015, between 2015 and 2017, the total sale of all EVs, including hybrids, saw an impressive seven-fold increase-from 10,321 in 2015 to 72,482 in 2017.

These figures prompt an obvious question: Given the dismal numbers and infancy of EV technology, is it too early for India to consider full-fledged electric pathway? The auto industry and automotive component manufacturers complain that full electric strategy will be disruptive; cause job loss;  and has no relevance when India is moving fast to adopt the much cleaner Bharat Stage VI (BSVI) emissions standards in 2020. But they are missing the big picture.

The global shift towards EV mobility will be faster to drastically cut carbon emissions and public health risks, and that will change the business landscape dramatically for all. The laggards will lose out.

India cannot stand isolated and miss the bus. According to the Global Electric Vehicles Outlook report released by IEA in 2017, the global electric car stock surpassed two million vehicles in 2016 after crossing the one million threshold in 2015. The new registration of electric cars achieved a record number in 2016, with over 0.75 million sales globally.

Indian EV strategy must include demand incentives, subsidies and regulatory mandate. More importantly, innovation will have to play a centric role in building up the EV market so that it draws on local expertise and is globally competitive.

India’s pathway to electric mobility will have to be different from advanced markets that are car-centric. India’s strategy will need to stem from incentives and subsidies linked with EV-based public transport-buses, para transit, feeders to metro, shared mobility, school buses and large fleet of delivery vehicles. Additionally, two-wheelers, a very polluting segment, can be yet another target of large-scale EV deployment. This strategy will yield quick and effective results as speeds in India are average over average distances and reliance on public transport is considerable.

(The writer is an environmental journalist)

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