Green gold? Electronics makers eye 'Make in India' in electric vehicle push

Electric cars
India’s growing electric vehicle (EV) industry presents a huge opportunity to the country’s manufacturers of electronics and electronic components. Keen to cater to the component requirements of EV makers, they are seeking adequate policy support from the government.

At present, the zero-duty policy for certain products supports imports. The industry lobby Electronic Industries Association of India (ELCINA) is pushing the idea of reducing import dependence through ‘Make in India’.

The domestic electronics manufacturers are already supplying various components to the automobile industry, which uses more than one processing unit as part of its intelligent control of the vehicle. They might see an entirely different opportunity coming up in terms of supplying to the electric vehicles, including charging stations, according to industry experts.

"Electric vehicles have a completely different module. Today, most of the manufacturers are getting controllers and other components from abroad; these are mostly imported from China. We are telling our members that this is a big business opportunity; you need to explore this,” says ELCINA President Pankaj Gulati.

The lobby will have detailed sessions with the electric vehicle teams and it has already planned to organise small sessions among its members and automobile manufacturing companies to identify the products and items that could be manufactured domestically. However, it is difficult to put a number to the opportunity at present.

"More than the vehicles itself, the opportunity is in the field of charging stations. There will be a need for many charging stations," Gulati added.

The industry is expecting the government to give a push to its ‘Make in India’ plans. When the LED lights made their entry into India, many in the industry were sceptical, since the CFL lamp industry was well established and the market had matured for the latter. But the government pushed for LED lights and that triggered the growth for the LED light industry in India. Our industry is expecting a similar approach with electric vehicles, especially given the government's thrust on making electric vehicles common in the next decade or so.

At present, the brain of a combustion engine car is its one or more Central Processing Units, depending on how premium or luxury the car is. On an average, a passenger car at present has 30-40 different Printed Circuit Boards engaged in various aspects of the control – brakes, ignition, lights, engine control, power, air and so on.

In electric cars, the quantum of electronics might remain the same, or it might even have more electronic components, depending on how the technology evolves. There is a lot of opportunity for new technology in terms of charging, battery management, the software that goes with it and sophisticated motors.

"It is a completely different, new business opportunity for component manufacturers. There will be lot of new investment and technology required,” said Paresh Vasani, founder, CEO PCB Power Market, a company that supplies 70-80 per cent of its production to the automotive industry (both two-wheeler and four-wheeler). This could be a domestic-driven growth if there is government support.

According to the annual report of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) 2016-17, the demand for electronics products and systems in India will grow to about $400 billion by 2020 and a majority of this might not be met by the domestic industry.

The report quotes the Automotive Component Manufacturing Association (ACMA) projection that the Indian automotive electronics sector will be worth around Rs 365 billion till 2020 and the global market for automotive electronics will account for $230 billion by then, compared with $140 billion in 2010. It points out a few electronics items in the automobile industry, such as the Antilock Breaking System (ABS), Body Control Module (BCM), Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Electric Power Steering (EPS), etc, while parking, cam, crank and oxygen sensors are the key sensors to be focused on.

The report adds that the automotive electronics industry has grown from Rs 56.29 billion in 2012-13 to Rs 72.78 billion in 2013-14, while the figures for the rest of the years are not available.

The future of electric vehicles will have more electronic components than electricals, says P Bala, chief technology officer at Ratan Tata-backed Ampere Vehicles Pvt Ltd.

"It is no more going to be an electric vehicle. It is going to be an electronic vehicle. The battery, the moment it is moved from lead-acid to lithium, it become electronic – lithium is managed with proper battery management system. The wireless communication is going to transform electric vehicles. It is going to become a whole lot of sensors. All electric control units are going to be connected, intelligent and software driven," he said.

Hardware will become a standard platform while the major problem of designing a vehicle would be a the software issue. The vehicle itself would be a network, connected with other vehicles around it and other objects and the amount of sensors required would multiply, he said in a recent discussion organised by ELCINA in Chennai.