Auto majors hold steady on EV plans as pandemic wrecks ICE market

The core ICE (internal combustion engine)-powered vehicles of auto companies have been badly bruised by the pandemic, but that has not derailed their plans for the electric vehicle segment. Encouraged by the demand pick-up in the past couple of months, most of them are going ahead with their planned investments and models despite the current crisis, according to top officials at these companies. As a matter of fact, they are a lot more bullish on the road ahead for battery-powered vehicles.

The only exception is Bajaj Auto, which has de-prioritized its EV plans for a few months, after a high-profile unveil of the e-Chetak to ensure focus on the core motorcycle business. More on e-Chetak later, first on those hitch hiking EVs amid the pandemic.

Shailesh Chandra, president of passenger vehicle business unit at Tata Motors says if one compares the EV segment in the last two months, albeit on a low base, EVs have actually grown year-on-year. But for the demand from the fleet segment being non-existent due to the pandemic-induced curb on the public transport, the growth could have been much steeper had the fleet segment not got impacted due to the pandemic.

“Employee transport segment has crashed due to WFH (work from home) and e-mobility services companies are also struggling to utilize even their current fleet,” says Chandra pointing out that the EV industry will see an accelerated growth. Therefore, the company is going ahead with its plans to bring multiple options to fast track the EV adoption in India.  Presently, Tata Motors EV portfolio comprises two versions of Tigor EV- 140 km and 213 km range- and Nexon EV with 312 km range. The Altroz EV it showcased at the Auto Expo 2020 is under development, he said.

Mahindra and Mahindra, one of the earlier entrants in the EV space, too is going ahead with its launch plans, said Mahesh Babu, chief executive at Mahindra Electric. Mahindra that presently sells the e-rickshaw under the Treo brand too has the timeline packed with new launches in the EV space. Though there are minor operational delays, the Covid-19 hasn’t derailed our plans,” says Babu.

 Mahindra plans to launch the e- KUV1OO during this festive season followed by the Atom-- an e-quadricycle by end of this fiscal. This will be followed by the introduction of an e- XUV3OO by the second quarter of next fiscal. “The disruptions created by Covid are short term, EVs are the future,” said Babu adding that it has given an opportunity to the industry to re-think, reboot and come back strongly.

But not everyone is giving EVs the push amid the pandemic. Take Bajaj Auto for instance. Its maiden offering e-Chetak that broke cover in January this year, is unlikely to be available for sales in cities other than Pune and Bangalore where it presently sells as the company doesn’t plan to expand its foot print, says Rakesh Sharma, executive director at the firm.

 “We make a loss on every e-Chetak,” says Sharma without mincing words. One’s appetite for losses in this kind of a situation when you are trying to ensure your basics are taken care of, is not high, he added. He said supply chain related issues to be another reason for stalling the bookings and shelving expansion We have more bookings than what we can service, he said. We would first like to deliver models to those who have booked.” But Bajaj hasn’t “taken its eyes off the ball,” said Sharma adding that the company will revisit the plans in two to three months. It is presently using the time to strengthen its back end and core business.

Tata Motors’ Chandra pointed out that the growth seen in the EV space in the last couple of months is being primarily driven by the private buyers.  Earlier this month, Tata Motors rolled out the 1000th e-Nexon in a period of five months making it the highest selling EV model. Its maiden EV offering was launched in January 2020. But sales and production got impacted due to the lockdown.

India’s eZS and Hyundai’s Kona are some of the other launches in personal electric mobility space. Both the models are in a higher price bracket as compared to the e-Nexon. Meanwhile luxury carmakers Mercedes Benz and Audi also plan to launch their EV offerings this festive season.

 To a great extent the plans are being fuelled by the policy push. Though policies like the one declared by the Delhi government on 18 August, will spur faster adoption, the overall EV penetration in India is expected to remain low over the next 5 years, according to rating agency ICRA.

  • Mahindra to launch to launch 3 EVs this year
  • Tata Motors’ Altroz EV under development
  • EVs have seen y-o-y growth in the last two months
  • Bajaj’s e-Chetak remains confined to 2 cities, shelves expansion plans

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