Electric vehicles could transform energy and mobility in the next decade, says Chetan Maini, the man who gave India its first mass-market electric car
My interest in electric mobility dates back to when I was studying in the US. My university team raced across the country in a solar car and stood first. Then, we raced across Australia, and stood third in the world. The fact that we could do 3,200 km using solar energy and an electric vehicle convinced me that this was the future of transportation.
This also inspired me to think: what does it require to be successful in India? Here, our primary challenges include energy security, local pollution and climate change, coupled with the fact that we, as a country, want to grow but need to do it sustainably. How do we turn these challenges into opportunities? Electric mobility is the answer.
In 2001, when we launched the Reva electric car, we were a little too early for the market. But the launch did seed the imagination and demonstrate that electrics can work. Today, we see the coming together of technology, governance and people’s perspectives, which will harness the true potential of electric vehicles (EVs). The world’s best production EVs can go 500 km on a full charge, and can be charged in under 30 minutes; 10 years ago, the numbers were 100 km and six to eight hours. Battery technology is getting eight per cent better and cheaper every year, so you will soon see a huge shift in how it could be used.
Electric mobility works well with shorter distances, slower speeds and lighter platforms – all of which exist in India, where 90 per cent of fleet vehicles are smaller vehicles, and 90 per cent of trips are shortdistance ones. Also, the stop-and-go driving is great for EVs – whenever you brake, the motor recharges the battery. This surely augurs well for us, considering that by 2030, we will have 300-400 million vehicles on the road.
India has a target to produce 100 GW of solar energy by 2022. To put that in perspective, all vehicles manufactured in 2022 – about 30 million – could be powered by solar energy. By 2030, with a target of 300 GW, we could power all vehicles produced up to that date (350 million) by renewable energy. Thus, this is a great prospect for our country, and EVs can definitely transform energy and mobility in the next decade or so.
However, the challenge is a chicken-and-egg issue – if volumes are high, costs will dip. American auto giant Tesla had a pre-order for 4,00,000 vehicles – they had anticipated building 5,00,000 vehicles and constructed a battery plant accordingly, allowing 40-50 per cent lower production cost that let them price the car accordingly. A mature market, government tax credits and a host of other functionalities facilitated this. The model can be successfully followed in India, where the biggest concerns remain cost, performance, and range anxiety. Battery costs are falling every year; performance levels are comparable to petrol/diesel vehicles already (even surpassing them in some flagship vehicles); and range and charging times will get better with updated technology as well as arrangements for battery swapping within minutes. This technology ecosystem will make the cost structure of EVs similar to petrol or diesel cars, with no change in performance levels. That’s when we will have the big take-off! But how do we create the right incentives for higher volumes? Proper policy support is essential, and the government’s Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles India (FAME India) Scheme is a great step. Given the recent announcement of going all-electric by 2030, a lot more must be done, publicprivate partnerships for stronger infrastructure being essential. A good start would be public transport applications in select cities, as taxis, buses and three-wheelers currently consume the most electricity and cause the most pollution; they, though, will also have the quickest payback with electric mobility – the more you drive, the more you save!
We have a chance to make a big shift. Capacities across the world have grown at 1 to 2 per cent; India is growing much faster. We can redefine mobility in five areas: electric, shared, connected, with large levels of autonomy, and powered by renewable energy. All this could take us from point A to point B at a third of the cost. This is real, and this is happening!
– The author is an Indian automobile pioneer and the views expressed in this article are his own